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Baird, Ken

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    Posted: April 26 2010 at 15:26

There's something very endearing about the music of Ken BAIRD: a combination of exquisite, melodic orchestral prog with pastoral, almost elemental acoustics. His four albums to date provide some outstanding progressive moments spiked with folk elements. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, BAIRD had his first piano lessons at the age of fourteen and then went on to study classical music at McMaster University. In 1994, he released an album with the band PERPETUAL ANGELUS and then went solo when the band broke up. All of his cd's are self produced and self sold (available from his web site).

Words by Lise (HIBOU), CANADA

I caught up with Ken Baird for a presentation of his career and work.

When and where were you born and what’s your musical background?
 
I was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1971, growing up and living still in Dundas, a smaller town beside Hamilton. My family is very musical, so I was lucky with that! I played violin and sang in church choirs and had some piano training early on, but didn't really get fully immersed in music till about age 13. That was around the same time I began writing music and learning songs by ear. From there I started taking it all very seriously; piano being my main instrument. I did all the conservatory exams and went on to study music at McMaster University. It was a very exciting time for me. It was also great fun playing in bands and discovering progressive music. Genesis was the first and my biggest influence, and then Yes, ELP, Tull, Kate Bush, Mike Oldfield, Vdgg and many more--I was aware of and liked some of the current music in the 80's, but I tended to mostly go back to older recordings from the 70's.
 
Please tell us more about Perpetual Angelus and the album you released with them.
 
It formed out of other high school bands and it was around from roughly 1990 to 96.  I was caught up at University and the other guys were pretty busy too, but when we did get together, it was a special place to be! There were 2 configurations of the band, the first being Kirk Dawson on drums, JR Wallace on guitar, bass and mandolin and myself on keyboards and vocals. Kirk left after the first couple of years and so we had Mike Truax come in on drums. We were always trying to be a progressive band but the album we eventually recorded came out as a mix of prog, folk and new age. It carried the very lofty title "Echoes of the Sylvan Door" but in a way, it was the first nature-inspired work I was involved with, so I guess the title is ok. The town of Dundas and surrounding area is a very beautiful area full of conservation land--being around this environment has influenced all my recordings in some way. It's also the reason my label is called "Perpetual Tree music".
 
We released it on cassette only and most of the copies were given to friends, although it's amazing how some people I've just met have bootlegs of that recording today! There are no current plans to get it to CD. If we ever do, I think we'd re-record it in the same way IQ released their first recording http://www.progarchives.com/album.asp?id=620-they had the original recording and then the re-recorded version. I think that would be the fairest way to release it as the quality of the original mix isn't very good.
 
I miss the times with band a lot. We used to rehearse at a an old barn in the country about 10 minutes drive outside of Dundas so we could make as much noise as we liked! Kirk was great and a very exciting drummer, but then Mike seemed to fit the band even better. JR had a really good style and sound on the guitar in particular. It was a very fun and very important time to me, but I more or less was the one to end it as I felt we weren't going anywhere and I was very eager to get into the world of music. I didn't feel the guys had the same drive or dedication that I had, or so it seemed to me at the time, but I do regret ending the band. I could have kept it going and done other stuff as well.
 
When it comes to your own albums; please give me your (long or brief) thoughts and low downs on.......
 

August from 1996
 
August was a very natural CD to make--I wrote and recorded the whole thing in the August of 1996 when I had no other commitments.  It was a great time of making music most of the hours of the day.
 
A good friend of mine at the time suggested I do a solo record, even though I've never been that comfortable with using my name on things. Certainly on August, it is a true solo record: I played all the instruments, the only addition being the voice of Susan Fraser who was such a help to me on the albums to follow as well. Like the Perpetual Angelus album, it was done on 8-track cassette and I think it sounds amazing considering the gear! With this being my first true release, I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that in Atropos Magazine in Spain, it was rated the #1 album of the year by one of the top reviewers!
 
From a writing perspective, I was VERY influenced by Mike Oldfield on that release as well as Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow, but now when I hear it, it actually sounds pretty original. One problem in the writing was the same tendency I had on the Perpetual Angelus release which was that I tended to sometimes repeat themes without development. Some of them develop nicely, but some of them sound too repetitive. I was guilty of that in quite a few spots, but aside from that and a bit of rough playing here and there, I'm happy with it.



 

Fields from 1998
 
Since August had been mostly instrumental, I brought back the vocals for Fields. Both "New Universe" and "Little Air to Breath" had been performed by Perpetual Angelus previously, but the rest of the songs were relatively new ones. Mike Truax also came back to play some drums as well as Sue coming back to sing the backing vocals and some lead. I also had Jacob Moon come in for guitar and backing vocals on a track or two.
 
I had just bought an 8-track ADAT digital recording machine, so I was pretty thrilled to have the better sound quality. When Fields came out, I didn't really think too many people would take notice. I felt like it was a good collection of my personal songs with some proggy moments but the reception to the album was universally really positive. I must admit that whenever I put it on (although I haven't for a few years now) I always listen all the way through whether I planned to or not. I think something went very right with Fields. We did quite a few shows of the album, with new drummer Chris Lamont (yet another Dundas native) Jacob Moon and then later, Steve Cochrane on guitar and John Mamone on bass. It was these shows that led me to the next project.


 

Orion from 2000
 
Orion had a good band feel to it, with Chris, Steve and John all putting in some great work. Even more proggy in the keyboard parts, drums on every track. Two of the tracks were longer tracks and these have remained very good concert songs: for myself "Shadow Walls" and for Sue "Orion". I had to dump some weaker songs off the album though, which makes the CD a little short at 37 minutes. Also, the cover of the CD is awful even though there's a great booklet inside. I think I rushed the release of the CD too much: even the mastering job is too trebly for my liking. Nevertheless, I think it contains some of my best compositions and it's one I continually go back to for live shows. 


 
Martin Road from 2003
 
Martin Road is very much a life album. August, Fields and Orion had been written in an unrealistic climate where I didn't actually earn much money and had lots of time to work on music. By 2000 I sadly had to grow up! At least a bit! I inevitably couldn't ignore real life anymore and I had to take a cover band job (top 40 stuff) to make money along with more piano teaching, and recording sessions for other artists, so while Martin Road has once again a personal feel like Fields, it's darker and less friendly in some ways. It's not the most prog album in many ways; At the time I was listening to lots of Gordon Lightfoot, Nanci Griffith and other folksy songwriters even though I still was into progressive bands. I do think it contains great moments, but I also wish I could rewrite some passages or edit it down a bit: some of the verses were over-repeated or the chorus came back too often. I also should have taken more care with the vocals--Some are fine, but some sound a bit tired in places.  Physically, I was tired. The picture on the back of the album clearly shows I'd gained some weight too! Oh well. Some great moments though-- "This Old Boat" turned into an amazing concert song along with "Victoria Day". I'd really like to play "Brave Anna" from there too. Yes, there are some good songs on there, I just think I could have realised them better.
 
So, while not a perfect album, some good friends of mine think it's my best which just shows you never really know. I was quite happy with the lyrics and feel they're probably stronger than on my other albums.
 


Further Out from 2009
 
Further Out was absolutely the most difficult CD for me. I think it turned out great in the end, but it was a huge struggle. The main problem was the new equipment. I bought a 32 track machine to replace my ADAT meaning my recording possibilities were suddenly increased, I had used various recording techniques to coax about 14 tracks out of the ADAT actually, but it's still a big change. And so I had some left over tracks from the Martin Road sessions, plus the new ones from about 2005. It took simply ages to get everything worked out. I also took some vocal coaching, not wanting to repeat my subdued performance of Martin Road. I mean those vocals probably worked for the album, it's just I needed to break out of some bad vocal habits if I was to continue to be able to sing at all.
 
My listening habits at the time had swung back to prog with a bit of art rock like Split Enz thrown in, but I found I was also listening to the more accessible side of prog like Saga, Asia and  80's Rush and I felt that type of more direct sound made it's way to the record. It gave the album much more energy than previous albums, but many of the shorter songs could have developed more and they maybe sound "over-edited" in the same way that Martin Road wasn't edited enough. 
 
In any case, the album still came out sounding huge! Each song on there, whether long or short, absolutely has its own story, its own originality in chords and melody. So many moments I enjoy, but my favourites are "Spinning Wheels" which has a neat Pat Moraz inspired keyboard lead as well as excellent guitar from new friend Andrew Aldridge, and then  "Everything to Lose" is a good proggy one, and "Further Out". To me, "Further Out" is the best song I've ever done, also containing amazing stuff from Chris Lamont on drums and bass player Dino Verginella. Dino had already played on a couple of tracks on Martin Road, and on Further Out I brought him in full time.
 
Although I was thrilled with the end result of the album, from the cover, to the booklet to the music, I started to get some very negative and needlessly hurtful criticism, especially in Germany. I kind of saw it coming in some ways--I knew some of it maybe didn't fit the prog "market". But it's not a pop album either-most pop fans would find it too progressive. 
 
I'd say only "Stainless Skies" sounds like a pure pop song to me, and it still has a very unusual intro and outro. That song is crucial to the record, as I repeat the theme in other songs such as Further Out itself. I guess "The Sound of Rain" is also pretty pop, but to me, it's an 80's Rush sort of pop/rock which I think has a great energy. There's a rock song on there which is "As the Highway greets a Friend" but again, I think it's like an 80's Rush or Saga type of thing. Anyway, I'm glad to say it got some very nice reviews here on Progarchives and in Progression Magazine in the USA.
 
What is the latest update on your activities?
 
My new stuff I've been working on is different yet again. Without a doubt, it will be the most ambitious album I've done and it has another 20 minute piece, something I haven't done since August! So, the development that was maybe lacking in some of the Further Out songs will be the thing I'm working on with the new one, plus a few more keyboard solos which I didn't do that much on the last couple of albums. I'll also be including at least a couple of instrumentals which also something I haven't done since August (there was only one instrumental track on Fields) I'll be a little while before it's all ready though. The writing isn't quite finished, but I do have a fair bit ready to be recorded.
 
All your albums are self-released. Please give us the pro and cons of doing it yourself (DIY).
 
The pros are that you don't have to fight with anyone to get anything done, and the cons are that you end up fighting with yourself!
 
How do you promote your albums?
 
Apart from doing a few shows, interviews, reviews and giving away a few promotional CDs and paying for a few ads, I don't do nearly as much as I used to. Some Internet prog radio such as Aural Moon has played my stuff. I did a radio interview for Further Out at a college station here in town. There are a lot of great college stations in Canada that have progressive shows. We did a CD release concert in Toronto for Further Out. I just do whatever comes up and don't think a lot about it. I mainly just want to get the music out there for people to hear and hopefully enjoy.
 
As far as increasing sales, to me it's partly down to lucky breaks and obviously more gigging of my music would be the best thing I could do and I am looking at doing more. The problem these days with me gigging, is cost. I have to make money to pay my band at the shows, otherwise I lose too much of my own money. My drummer Chris Lamont is actually a top session drummer here in Canada. He's played for people like Carol Pope, Ellen Reid from Crash Test Dummies, and Sass Jordan. He also plays lots of Jazz gigs. Dino Verginella, it's the same deal although he's a bit closer to home these days even though he's played for Chantal Kreviasuk in the past. Andrew is really busy as a guitar player for all kinds of upcoming artists, and formerly for Sarah Slean. So, I always make very sure every gig has money for these guys, because that's their living. It's mine too, but I don't play keys for other artists like I used to, but I know at least a little bit what it's like. You need to get paid, even when you're good friends.
 
Solo performance is another option I've sometimes done. I find that the shorter songs work best in that environment. The longer tracks are really hard to do at a solo show though.
 
So, the live "equation" is a constant struggle to work out. I have friends of mine like Jacob Moon who use loop devices to play live, so they can get a band feel even when it's just him, so maybe that's stuff I need to look into in greater detail.
 
I think Youtube is a great way to put things out now. I do have some concert footage, but none of it is quite to my satisfaction one way or another. I might change my mind and post something soon though. Either that or I'll just do a vid of playing in the studio.
 
  
Are there any causes you actively promote and care about?
  
I've given money to WSPA which protects animal life all over the world  http://www.wspa.ca/ but I don't like to get political in an obvious type of way with my lyrics or anything, at least not in an obvious way. I'd be much more likely to hint at a certain point or morality within a song, but I'm not very direct or preachy. I will be for animals though. Animals can't speak for themselves!
 
I also have many environmental concerns. I like forests, both big and small, and clean rivers and lakes. I have concerns about over-expansion, over-population. Who doesn't think about these things? I think these kinds of subjects do find their way into my lyrics and the music.
 
Your music comes across as a blend of Vangelis and Mike Oldfield, but with the same attitude as Guy Manning's excellent music. But how would you describe your music and who would you compare yourself with?
 
Thank you for the compliment! I think certainly, as I've said above, that the kind of music I'm listening to at the time always has an effect on what I record. Hopefully not in a "let's rip that off" kind of way, but I'm sure sometimes it does influence me quite a bit. So, I think each album is a bit different. Mike Oldfield influenced me a ton on the first album and that influence still is there. I even directly quoted a bit of Oldfield's "Incantations" on Orion. I never thought of Vangelis as being a big influence but I do think he's fantastic. I have a "best of Jon and Vangelis" record. I mentioned Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow as also having a big effect on me and perhaps Vangelis had something to do with that record?
 
A couple of songs on Fields were influenced in part by the songwriters of Hamilton. I was spending time downtown and performing at open mics and things, so there is a bit of a local influence too. It was the beginning of the sort of "dark folk" that I'd do more of on Martin Road. Another part of the influence on Fields would be from classical music. I have studied, taught, and played a lot of classical music over the years, and that comes into my writing too.
 
I can't remember how I came up with or who I was influenced by at the time of Orion. I know Sue quite liked Renaissance out of all the prog bands, so that's an influence on her track Orion most certainly. I was listening to lots of Van der Graaf Generator at the time, but I'm not sure how much influenced my writing on Orion.
 
Martin Road, as I said, was more of a folk influence and then Further Out was partly the more accessible prog or art rock listening that I was doing.
 
Recent influences? Hmm, I've been listening to lots of IQ over the last few years and I think that influence may be heard on some part of the new CD. Oddly, I discovered them when I read a review of Orion on Progressiveworld.com where Stephanie Sollow commented that my voice and the track "Shadow Walls" was a bit like IQ. At that point, I'd never heard them, but 9 years later now, and they're one of my favourite bands and they're influencing me. Thanks Stephanie!
 
Anyway, getting back to your question, and who I'd compare myself to, I'd say it changes, but I think Tony Banks and Genesis is the main initial influence and probably the main sound people have compared me to. Since he's the artist that made me want to play keyboards and write songs and compose in the first place, I'm ok with that!

Being a songwriter and male solo-artist, people automatic think Bob Dylan (and when he arrived, people automatically compared him with Woody Guthrie). With all this ‘X Factor’ and ‘Pop Idol’ nonsense, how do you find people's attitude to songwriter and solo-artist?
 
I can't stand any of these stupid reality shows, whether music or otherwise. I will say that I don't care for the stigma of being a solo artist and partly for the same reasons you suggest above. I'd actually rather be a band and I may release my next record under a band name. We'll see though, It's something I never seem to make up my mind about, so it may another Ken Baird record. Another name is on the cards, let's say that?
 
I find that at least locally in this part of Canada, people accept that a singer/songwriter can be a little different, and that's possibly the only reason I've stuck with it, plus the fact that I really have written 90 percent of the stuff on my albums so far. 
 

How is your gigging situation at the moment?
 
It’s been pretty non-existent in the last little while. We did the gig last summer, but that's been it. I do hope to play stuff from the next CD possibly before it comes out, as I'm kind of thinking in terms of band arrangements right from the get-go with this one.
 
What are your experiences with the music industry and where do you think it is heading?
 
I haven't had many experiences with the music industry. I've always been on the outskirts which I can now appreciate, and it suits me fine.  I don't know where the industry is heading, but probably nowhere good. I mean, when The Moody Blues can't even release an album of new material without the record companies wanting part of their touring revenue, what does that mean? It means it's time for everyone to go independent and let the companies continue to die their slow death I should think. They won't die completely of course.
 
Do you have any regrets in your career?
 
Tons really. There are lots of things I could have done differently, or better.
  
I guess music is not your main occupation. How do you earn enough to the daily bread and butter?
 
It is my occupation, but very little money comes from selling my own music. In fact, I lose money every time I put out CDs and sometimes I lose money at gigs too. I get some back, but it's never enough. There's no monetary reason for me to continue doing this, except I really hope to at least break even next time and start paying myself back. I put CDs out because I get the feeling that this music needs to be out there, that the Cds are being enjoyed and that they might be unique. That's the only reason I ever do anything. I have that feeling again with the new stuff, so here I go again.
 
Most of my money lately had been from teaching piano. I enjoy it, although it's tiring. I think there is a lot of hope from the kids too. About half of them are really musical kids for the most part, they like good music, they're not average. I have lots of hope that maybe other people don't see too often.

 
How do you see your own future? 
 
The big picture, I have no idea, but in the near future I'll be doing the new CD. I'm very eager to try live playing again too. 

What is your five all-time favourite albums? 
 
This changes all the time and I'd way sooner put 50 albums here, but I could say:
 
Yes: Relayer
Genesis: Foxtrot
Rick Wakeman: Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record
Van der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts
IQ: The Seventh House
 
Anything you want to add to this interview?
 
I'd like to thank Torodd and Progarchives for the interview, and I hope everyone is enjoying the very cool world of progressive music.
 
Cheers, and thanks for reading!

We are the ones who should say a big thank you, Ken.

His PA profile can be found here and his homepage is here 






Edited by toroddfuglesteg - September 10 2010 at 03:38
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tszirmay Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 26 2010 at 22:31
Bravo Torodd!
 
And cheers to you Ken.
 
I have all the KB albums and will support you on the next one ! Let me know when I can purchase it by PM.
Dundas is sooo beautiful too!
 
Thomas
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote january4mn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 21 2010 at 22:53
Thanks Thomas! Support is good!
 
I do hope I can make some money back on the next one. I've just re-read the Martin Orford interview here at Progarchives and so much of what he says is so sadly true, there's too much illeagal downloading and it's putting too many artists out of business!
 
Anyway, have a good weekend. Glad you like Dundas too!
 
Cheers,
 
Ken.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote memowakeman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 08 2010 at 23:26
Wow this was an excellent interview. I am very interested in his music!

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mellotron Storm Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 09 2010 at 12:56
I'm a big fan as well.I think "Martin Road" is my favourite but they're all so good.It's hard to put my finger on why i like Ken's music so much.I'm not into Folk but then i wouldn't describe this as such.These are meaningful songs that are "real" if you know what i mean.
Thanks for all the amazing music Ken !
"The wind is slowly tearing her apart"

"Sad Rain" ANEKDOTEN
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Thanks guys!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote january4mn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 18 2011 at 20:29

I was just re-reading this after about a year and it struck me as typical that while I like maybe 90 percent of what I said, with some of it I sound silly or it's just plain wrong. I think on this site,I have the rare opportunity to go back a year later and correct a couple of things!  

For starters, regarding my first band Perpetual Angelus, I said  "I didn't feel the guys had the same drive or dedication that I had, or so it seemed to me at the time" and I feel this is quite untrue.
  
Thinking back, Mike was very, very dedicated (and was in several other projects with me afterwards including "Fields") and JR provided a huge amount of the initial drive that got me into making music in the first place.  The truth is that we never really had a business plan which I've now learned is crucial to have a successful band. Good music is what it's all about of course, but if you have no proper plan with promotion, and it has to be a very good one,  it's very difficult to find success.
  
Regarding the record industry, I do believe the record companies in the 1970's and very early 80's were much better and more concerned with actual music than today, but I find that my comments about "record companies continuing to die their slow death" are immature. I'm actually very sad about the current illegal downloading problems in the music industry, but especially for the smaller artists. I also would like to applaud all of the smaller labels  such as Insideout for the prog world, or Razor and Tie for folk. There are good record companies out there, but I do feel the big ones have lost their way/or stopped caring about the actual "sound of music". Maybe this will change?
 
And finally, regarding my second album "Fields" it's obviously not quite true that it had "universal appeal" although it was mostly well received.
 
Anyway, I'd like to say a big "oops" on all of that stuff!
 
I'd like to again thank Torodd for the interview, I just wanted to fix a few things- Thanks for reading!


Edited by january4mn - October 22 2011 at 02:47
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