Dale Baker was a long-time member of the pop group Sixpence None the Richer. Dale’s played on hit singles such as “Kiss Me” and “Breathe Your Name”. Here, Dale graciously answers our questions about his experience with the band, and music in general…
How did you get your start in music?
Hmmm, Let’s see here. I started piano lessons in third or fourth grade and then picked up the drums in fifth grade band when I was told they didn’t need any more saxophone players. Because of my earlier training on piano I was able to read music fairly easily and so this helped me as I began taking private lessons and such. Because our town was so small I found (through my first teacher) opportunities to play at the local “College of the Ozarks” for their summer musical series. I think my first show was “Diamond Studs” and then later “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “The Fantasticks.” I sort of taught myself how to interpret the scores to these shows by buying the original Broadway soundtrack recording and then faking my way through the rest. I kept my eyes on the conductor and tried not to “get in the way.” Eventually I ended up playing in some of the college jazz ensembles and concert band/ wind ensembles before I was out of High School. These early opportunities encouraged me to follow music as a career path. I figured, if I could find a way to make a living doing something that came this easy to me, and that I enjoyed so much, that would be the life to have!
How did you get connected with the other musicians in Sixpence None the Richer?
After graduating from the University of North Texas I moved to Farmers Branch to move in with this guy Martin Baird and to more fully pursue music performance as a career. In college I had studied to become a music educator and my first attempts at being a band director were pretty awful and anyway some great performing opportunities opened up for me after graduating, so I decided to make a go of it as a “professional drummer.” Martin was an up and coming engineer recently having moved back to Texas from Nashville, TN and one of the first acts he helped record demos for was Sixpence, in one of their earliest incarnations (for those of you keeping score at home, that incarnation was, TJ Behling, Leigh Nash and Matt Slocum). One of the demos they did became my favorite tape to listen to and so I would put it on continuous play and listen to it ALOT. As it turned out, Sixpence got signed and they ended up doing their first CD with REX (The Fatherless and The Widow) and when it came time to tour and they needed a drummer, Martin suggested me to them as a possibility and I went to Austin, and auditioned for Matt.
What is the songwriting and recording process for Sixpence None the Richer like? Has it changed over the years?
I think originally I felt as if we were writing the songs together, but as Sixpence became more of a legitmate organization with people getting paid and all, it became more of Matt’s songwriting vision (as opposed to a traditional group effort) and those of us in the band fulfilling his musical vision. Overtime, I think I realized that I work better when someone shows me a demo of the song they’ve written and then I work within the parameters of that demo to take the song to the next level musically as a drummer. On some of the early records you can hear my influence on some of the songs (such as “The Garden”, doing Steve Taylor’s “Bouquet” in 6/8, and some of the beats on This Beautiful Mess and Tickets for a Prayer Wheel) As a side note: I think my one songwriting credit from the self-titled album was due to the fact that I figured out the riff JJ was playing was in 11/8 (grouped as 6+5). I don’t think my credit came from any sort of input on chord structure or melody. And actually, I think in theory Matt didn’t have to give me a songwriting credit on that one, but he was kind in doing so none the less. Due to that one little sliver of songwriting credit (thanks Matt!), I was able to start my own boutique publishing company, 833 Songs, which I’m very proud of for having done.
What are some of your favorite Sixpence songs?
I really like how Bouquet turned out. That was the first song I recorded with Sixpence, my first introduction to Armand Petri and the whole Buffalo/ Jamestown scene up there (10,000 Maniacs, John and Mary, Goo Goo Dolls) Eating wings and pizza at the Anchor Bar, ah yeah that was the life!). I really like the first song on the self titled record…it’s such a slow burn of a song. The sizzle cymbals just well, you know, “sizzle.” Russ Long did a great job of capturing our performances on that song. I love the fact that Mark Nash and I did a drum duet on “Love” (also off the self-titled album) but when you listen to it, it sounds like one barely competent drummer playing his heart out for all he’s worth (or at least that’s what it sounds like to me). I like the fact that all the drum tracks were recorded for the album “This Beautiful Mess” in like 4 days, with PZM’s for overheads taped to a Ping Pong table at OmniSound Studios in Nashville. There is a definite energy/ vibe to those recordings. I think the songs on that record were alot edgier and sort of unformed compared to the stuff we did later. I also like some of the stuff that we did for Divine Discontent (some of which didn’t make it to the final album and were released as B-Sides or never saw the light of day). I really thought “Us” was a strong song, and it was fun to play. And that song with Mark Isham playing trumpet was pretty cool and creepy. Also, we did this song called Loser which was pretty cool. But then again, I also like some of the songs that made the final cut like, Melody of You with that little Chet Atkins/ Nashville finger picking thing Matt does and my little samba beat/ country brush thing. Also, that song, is it, “I’ve been dreaming”? It’s got that beautiful falling electric piano part and then my requisite Jeff Porcaro wanna-be fill – single tom hits spaced out over a couple of measures and then that little quick roll…- can you tell I’m proud of that part? Plus I like the ghost notes I got to play. But then again you wouldn’t hear any of that if Tom Lord Alge hadn’t of mixed it so darn well. He really did a good job of highlighting all the little tid-bits we all played.
What is it like to hear on the radio your playing with Sixpence (on their hits “Kiss Me”, “There She Goes”, “Breathe Your Name”, and “Don’t Dream It’s Over”?
Hold on there…I didn’t play on Don’t Dream it’s Over. That would be Sixpences new drummer Rob. (my last show with Sixpence was in December of 2000 at the Taft Theatre in Cinncinati, due to reasons we won’t go into here (oh the suspense!) I haven’t played with them since). Anyway back to your question. It’s a pretty cool thing to hear yourself on the radio…that was always one of my dreams was to hear myself on the radio…I just think that’s so cool. So even though I went to this fancy pants music school in Texas, in the back of my mind I was always trying to figure out…how do those guys do it like the JR Robinsons, and the Jim Keltner’s and Jeff Porcaros, Steve Jordan’s and the ton of guys you’ll never read about in drum magazines. How do they figure out what to play on records? How do they play in such a way to support the song? I thought it was pretty cool that “kiss me” doesn’t feature any cool drumming…it’s just a fun little pop ditty…I’m so proud to have been a part of that. I feel like I did my job. Just enough to support the song, but not so much that it detracts from the band or artist. I think it’s always fun to hear Sixpence songs in the random places they show up. I heard a Sixpence song from Divine Discontent before that record was released that I played on on (the now-defunct WB show) Birds of Prey. My wife and I were walking through Home Depot and we heard Justin’s bass line from Breathe Your Name pumping through the tinny speakers hanging above our heads…that was pretty exciting…It’s like you hear yourself and you want to run through the store saying…”that’s me on the drums!” or “I know those guys, I used to be in that band!”
How does the mainstream success of Sixpence affect you personally, as well as the music?
The music business is pretty messed up and as hard as everyone tries to stay loyal, “Christian,” civil, or pleasant, things just get screwy once you start negotiating contracts and dealing with managers who have no respect for the history of a band and accountants that only see band members as a an business expense and thus are “easy” to replace. I think Steve Taylor really poured his life, heart and soul into making Squint work and to redefine the artist record label relationship. I really admire Steve for his vision and desire to “get it right.” I think Sixpence’s success is primarily due to that fact that Steve just poured himself and his company’s resources into making Sixpence succeed. As far as my relationship with Sixpence is concerned, as we became more successful, I saw my friendship with Matt and Leigh and subsequently others disolve into a “he said she said” type of relationship with the then manager and accountant being each sides spokesperson. I found myself having to argue for my worth and justify my existence and I think in the end, I just became a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal (fitting for a drummer, huh?) I’m such an idealist that I believe there is a way to have your cake and eat it too. A way to grow together as a group and keep your friendships intact. However, that said, I think it’s a really hard business to navigate once you achieve a certain level of success and it’s amazing that any band is able to survive given the strains success puts on every one involved.
What other projects have you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
Other projects I’m proud of include things I’ve done here in North Carolina and most of the stuff I did in Nashville that no one ever heard…like JJ’s record, a Derry Daugherty record produced by Terry Taylor, some stuff I did with Matt Bronleewee called ChainGuard. This cover I did with a couple of the guys from Jars of Clay during the tail end of one of the Honey sessions we did together. A cassette recording of me trying to sing like Mark Kozelek over some music that Matt wrote that became “Lines of My Earth.” Oh, that Gram Parsons song I did with Buddy and Julie Miller, Victoria Williams, Mark Olsen and Jim Lauderdale was a favorite of mine too.
In North Carolina, I’ve gotten to work on some great singer songwriter albums and played with some great artists here that no one will ever hear of. Alot of the sessions have been real fun, loose and laid back. I’m really proud of the work that I frequently do with Wade Baynham, and Rob Seals. I’ve also enjoyed working with this band the Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. With that band I’ve been able to do some really cool drum&bass beats and try some real cool lo-fi stuff.
I’m also proud of my work with Claire Holley and being part of her trio (along with Rob Seals). Working with her brought me in touch with Judd and Maggie who are like my new favorite band. I tracked drums and loops at Wade’s Second Story Studio for a 5 song ep they are putting out in the next few months.
My newest project is a short movie I provided the soundtrack to (with help from Wade) called, The WingNut and You. It’s sort of a parody of 1950’s educational films. This was my first experience coming up with music for a film. I’m glad to have gotten the chance to do this. Hopefully it will show up at some independent film festivals over the next year or so. Oh and you can hear me on the Carolina Hurricanes jingle they play on the radio down here.
Oh yeah, and that Kim Taylor record I played on. I’m really proud of that one. Jack Henderson recorded that. Geesh, quality stuff there if I do say so myself.
You’ve worked with some great musicians: Steve Hindalong, Matt Slocum, Leigh Nash, Steve Taylor, Over the Rhine. What is it like to work with these people?
Working with all of these people was like a dream come true. I admired these folks’ music and their creativity long before I met them and so when the time came to play with them I just wanted to do my best to serve their musical needs (as it were) with respect and wisdom (if that doesn’t sound too hoity-toity – to coin an antiquated term). I think the thing I enjoy most about playing drums is that process of collaboration. The idea that we’re bringing the best stuff to the table, sifting and sorting through it to get the best track on tape. I’m thankful for the education I received and the pools of information I can draw from to come up with drum tracks that are (hopefully) original and do what they need to do for a song. I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with Steve Hindalong. I think he and I really hit it off good, I’d love to work with all these artists again, but especially Steve. He’s got a great sense of what makes music special.
Who are some drummers (and other musicians) that you admire the most? What are some of your favorite CD’s?
Drummers: Jim Keltner, Ed Soph, Carlos Vega (rip), Jeff Porcaro(rip), the guy from Nada Surf, Mimi from Low, the drummer on Death Cab for Cutie’s Photo Album…there is some great stuff on that record…inventive and reminiscent of another favorite of mine: Stewart Copeland. Also, Pat Mastelotto back before he started playing for King Crimson…Musicians: Kim Taylor, Judd and Maggie, Jack Henderson….since I have a small child I can’t think of any other music that I listen to now than The Wiggles, Veggie Tales, and the occasional slice of music on NPR. Sad isn’t it? My how our priorities change…
Music: Online radio in the form of www.Kexp.org (University of Washington) and KCRW in Santa Monica, my friend Brandon Forbes…he listens to more music than I could ever hope to these days…he’s always telling me about a new band from Sweden or the Czech Republic or something like that…
Bands: My classic faves are: Radiohead of course. Doves, Coldplay, Nada Surf (Let Go), Low, Jude Cole (from a long time ago), the Williams Brothers, Victoria Williams (Loose), Buddy and Julie Miller, Buck Owens, early Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton ( I grew up on that stuff), Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, okay now I’m starting to ramble. Oh also, The Story.
Do you have any advice for young drummers out there just picking up the craft?
Do it cause you love it. Learn all you can about the music business so that you can make informed decisions, otherwise you’ll get eaten alive! The other thing is to realize that your job as a drummer is to serve the music. Not the other way around. People come to shows to hear great songs and great performances, not really cool fills or flashy stick twirls – well okay maybe people do come to shows for that, but the thing that’s going to get you hired is your ability to play well with others and to support what the other musicians in the band and the artist are doing. At some point, you might need the flashy chops but I’ve found that most of the time not attracting attention to yourself is a good thing. Oh and learn how to play a couple of other instruments and maybe study the art of songwriting and crafting a tune.
What is in the musical future for Dale Baker?
I plan to continue pursuing playing and touring opportunities, and most likely will spend a large part of my time continuing to develop my website as well as developing my home studio (the dorm room). I hope for further collaborations with Wade Baynham, and Alex, Perry and David from The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. I’ve been trying to work on a solo album for a couple of years now and have about given that dream up. However, I may come out with a custom drum loop cd at some point…stay tuned…who knows! Oh, and my wife and I have toyed around with starting a country band…but we’ll see about that.
Any other comments?
Check out my website at www.dalebakerdrummer.com and let me know what you think! And if you hear of anyone needing a drummer have them drop me a line via my website…