Since the April 2013 release of the album ‘The North Borders,’ the electronic music group Bonobo has gained immense popularity by performing more than 175 concerts in 30 countries around the world, delighting over 2 million fans from Milwaukee and Moscow, to Istanbul and England.
Along with a core group of live instrumentalists, Jack Baker made heads nod all along the way with his incredible drumming and percussions. I reached out to Jack, who was very kind to answer a few questions for the first interview I’ve ever posted on ‘Brian Writing.’
The truly wonderful North Borders – Live album was just released. Do you have any favorite moments or tracks on it? Did you know an album was in the works as you were performing on the tour?
Cirrus is my favourite tune on the album, mostly because we start the live set with it. The adrenaline kicks in when I hear the opening bell parts and you know the show is about to start. Every time I hear it now it puts me right back in that place.
Simon works a lot when we are on the road, he sits in the back with his headphones on making tracks. Simon is either touring, DJing or making music in his studio so we know when there is an album in the pipeline. He tours then writes, tours then writes and has done for a while now. Some albums take longer than others but the North Borders was fairly quick to put together so there wasn’t a huge gap between finishing the Black Sands tour and starting the North Borders one.
When did you get involved in the Bonobo project? How long have you been drumming and touring?
I’ve been playing with Simon ever since the live band got put together in 2004. I’ve had many other projects that I play with, one being a soul singer called Alice Russell. I produce and write music for a number of different artists including Yungun aka Essa and a fiery vocalist called Lea Lea and had my own projects out in the past under the name The Jack Baker Trio. I’ve been drumming since a kid and playing with many different bands but the touring didn’t start until leaving university in 2003. My father was a drummer so I just followed in his footsteps.
What’s your daily routine like when you’re not on the road? Do you wake up and start working before your first cup of coffee, or does it take a while to sit down and get to it?
I’m a worrier not a warrior! The second I wake up I’m working till the second I’m sleeping. I’m always thinking of new projects or ways of making money, hustling to get gigs or a recording session. I’ve got my own recording studio and I work from that a lot. I share the studio with a couple of the guys from the Bonobo band so we’re often in there having a laugh and making strange music (mostly going for long tea breaks and getting nothing done!).
To make a living in music in England is hard and you have to work at it. Shows will only bring in so much money and unless you are playing ever night of the year you are going to struggle. You have to think of other ways of making money, fingers in pies!
How amazing is it to travel as much as you do? Which places or experiences stand out?
I got into music partly because I wanted to travel. I’m one of those guys that likes to keep moving, it get itchy feet if I stay in one place for too long (I’m guessing you know the itchy feet saying in America? I don’t actually get itchy feet!!).
I’ve been so lucky to travel around the world a number of times and see what I have seen. It opens your eyes to how other people live and how they make (and listen) to music.
People always ask if we actually see much of the countries we go to and I think we experience more than if we were a tourist. We get taken to the best restaurants, see the tourist sights before sound check, hangout with promoters for dinner and learn about the city, party with the locals in the best bars and clubs in each city, I would never do this if I was just a tourist!
Places that stand out is Japan for its madness, America for its natural beauty, Australia for is beach life, Easten Europe for is exciting harshness and the warmth of its people, Europe for its culture and food, England for its architecture. Everywhere is amazing!
What are you in to lately? TV, music, websites…
You can’t go wrong with Gospel Drummers on Youtube.. Those cats are crazy! I’m also watching Treme and Homeland, series 4 (I have no idea whats going on with Homelands, but its cool!). The music I’m listening to is, Badbadnotgood, Jaga Jazzist, James Blake (on repeat!), Flume, A$ap Rocky, Clap! Clap! Gilles Peterson podcasts and a load of Hip Hop, Jazz and Ragga. I like music that makes me wanna shake my head or close my eyes and listen.
Do you ever have creative impulses that push you to things other than drumming? How do you stay focused on your craft?
At the moment it’s all music music music, it’s my hobby and my career. The music that I play changes all the time and thats enough to keep me busy. However I do have a dream to sail round the UK one day and I have just passed my level one yachting certificate. I’m not sure I trust myself in charge of a boat but it would be awesome to do.
Is the internet making it easier or harder than it used to be to earn a living as a musician?
I think the internet can only be a good thing. You can’t live without it, it is the music industry, and it’s every other industry too, you can’t operate without it. Other than the actual act of playing the drums, everything else is now done online.
I’m just starting an online recording sessions website called The Online Players and it will act as a portal for people to get the best musicians in London to record on their tracks. Many of the best musicians are always touring so this website will reach them when they have some spare time and get them in the studio.
I think before the internet you had to work hard for your income, now you can make money whilst drinking a gin and tonic from the comfort of your own home!
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
Getting on some terrible Russian planes!!! Also giving up my day job and being a musician full time, that was scary but lucky I had a great boss at the time and he was amazingly supportive and believing that I should do music for my career.
When’s the next tour?
How long is a piece of string? You never know what’s around the corner, it could all go quiet tomorrow, who knows. There is a lot of waiting involved but I’m hoping that the next Bonobo album won’t take too long and we can all get back on that dusty road.