ed: This interview was conducted in July of 2011. Royal Baths played their last show as a San Francisco band on August 6th as a part of Regional Bias.
by Mariana Timony
When I call Jeremy Cox of Royal Baths to let us into his Haight apartment, I’m surprised by the youthfulness of the voice that answers. I’ve been listening to Royal Baths for the entire drive up to San Francisco, and young is not a word I would use to describe disquieting songs like “Bad Heart” and “Needle and Thread”.
When Jeremy appears, he’s definitely young – 23 years and 3 days at the time of the interview, to be specific – but he’s dressed like an old photograph: hair parted and slicked back, white shirt buttoned all the way up, black cardigan, and pressed black slacks. His long lashes are darkened with mascara. When I ask him about his attire he says he dresses like this everyday.
Jeremy leads us up a tiny flight of stairs into the house. It’s constructed strangely–there’s a bathroom off a kitchen and windows too high for anyone to see out of, like the Winchester Mystery House or the interiors of a Hitchcock film–San Francisco to the core. We meet singer-guitarist Jigmae Baer in the kitchen where it appears the two have been at work on a 1/4-full economy size bottle of Jim Beam. They’ll polish it off during the interview. Accompanied by the whiskey and a box of cookies, we follow Jeremy and Jigmae up yet another flight of stairs towards what must be Dorian Gray’s attic, or so the gothic atmosphere would suggest.
But no. When we reach the top, it’s the prettiest room I’ve ever seen, a tiny jewel box of a bedroom encased in glass. Sunlight pours in from the surrounding windows and french doors open up onto an unguarded ledge (more like a rooftop, but who can tell in this jumbled up house). The view is what stuns us the most – a panoramic postcard vista of San Francisco, framed by the blue of sea and sky.
“When I moved in here I said that if I ever moved out I would have to leave the city,” says Jeremy. This is exactly what Royal Baths are doing. They’re taking the opportunity to turn next their tour across the United States into a full scale relocation. When Baths get to New York, that’s where they’ll stay. They don’t know who they’re playing with for their “last show” in San Francisco, and don’t seem particularly interested in learning either. It’s clear that, for better or for worse, Baths are done with the city.
Here’s the thing: despite the candy brightness and youth-oriented culture that’s been its calling card since the Gold Rush, San Francisco is a difficult city to survive in, primarily for the young. It’s sinister how so pretty a place can be so harsh at the same time. Baths’ music has heretofore drawn from a darkly lit and brutally honest view of San Francisco, but soon they’ll be working with a new geography, musical history, and identity. New York is a city that, in some ways, is the diametrical opposite of San Francisco. I can’t wait to hear what Baths do with it.
Where did you guys meet?
Jeremy: Jigmae and I met when I was in Arcata, which is where I’m from. We just kept running into each other, and I moved to Portland, Oregon during my senior year. We kept in contact for a few years before I came here and we started playing together.
What do you think is unique to San Francisco that makes it have such a defined sound, for lack of a better word. What about this geography promotes the sound?
Jigmae: For rock and roll, the coasts seem to be focal points for gathering artists. Between Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, San Francisco is pretty appealing. It’s hard to live in San Francisco, though. It’s expensive to be a part of a band and even just to live here. That pressure must inform the music. Pressure is a lot more prevalent here than in Portland, where it’s very easy and laid back. L.A. is kind of a little schmoozy from my perspective. San Francisco is the first choice for me on the West Coast. It’s the middleground of not being an asshole but also being serious about your music.
Jeremy: I feel like SF is more of an incubator for music and creativity and when bands go outside they’re appreciated more than when they’re actually in the city. It’s always interesting to see.
What’s the most exciting thing about moving to New York, which has a totally different musical history?
Jigmae: New inspiration and learning new things is really exciting for us. That’s the beauty of it. You can’t foresee how you’re going to be affected by change but it’s an exciting prospect rather than facing stagnation and playing with the same ideas.
Do you think San Francisco needs an all-ages venue, like the Smell in Los Angeles?
Jigmae: Very much so.
Jeremy: The city’s starved for any all-ages venue or any DIY venue. A lot of people have tried to start them, but they’ve been crushed.
Jigmae: Crushed mercilessly. We were excited for our last warehouse show because it was all ages. The cops broke it up after the first band played. It’s just a shame how rigorously they’ll shut down these cool things.
Do you like warehouse shows?
Jigmae: Depends on the warehouse, but those are my favorite if they’re done right. There’s some shitty warehouses, but the good ones…Also, something thing that’s exciting about New York is that our experience with warehouses there is that they’re really well supported.
Why do you like warehouses the best?
Jeremy: I feel like people running the warehouses are very excited to be there, they’re obviously voluntarily there and setting everything up and they’re involved. Whereas at bars people are kind of…they don’t really want to be there and be dealing with bands. That’s not always the case.
Jigmae: There’s some good people, but it can be weird.
So what are your recording plans?
Jigmae: We finished our second record and beyond that we have 7″s that are embarrassingly overdue to turn in so theoretically we’ll be finishing some singles. They’ve been so delayed that it’s hilarious to say we’re going to finish them. I think it’s three of them now that we have to turn in. Beyond that we are actually preparing for a third record. We have at least half a record ready. We’re just raring to go.
Will that be recorded in New York?
Jeremy: Probably. I kind of had fantasies about going to New Orleans and recording during tour. That’s a beautiful town and it has a romantic charm to it.
Are you guys fans of My Bloody Valentine?
Jeremy: I’ve never listened to them.
Jigmae: Yeah. I respect that band and listen to them occasionally, but very infrequently. They are in that vein of that sound, that area of music of bands that we listen to.
Cosmonauts are the ones who recommended Royal Baths to me. Their band seems to be building on the same sort of influences as you, but their music sounds completely different.
Jigmae: For anyone to make anything worth listening to it’s based upon the influences in your life. It comes from yourself so it’d be kind of frightening if our bands sounded the same. Hopefully we’re not clones.
Are you into noise bands at all?
Jeremy: I feel like noise is something that occurs within a project that doesn’t necessarily have to be defined. When it is the definition of the whole project it can become overbearing or obnoxious.
Jigmae: I got into really heavy noise and I’m kind of past that, but it still stays in my head. You’re just a product of different phases in your life. I feel like with the best noise bands, if you strip it down, you can still find some folk structure in it.
Are your songs basic in that sense as well?
Jigmae: The root of them, the essence of them, are folks songs, blues songs.
How do you write your songs?
Jeremy: Jigmae and I will come up here and I’ll have an acoustic guitar and Jigmae writes all the lyrics. So he has a typewriter and I have a guitar. It’s nice to not be attacked by iPhones and computers where you’re trying to write a song. Silence is a huge part of our songwriting.
Jigmae: It’s nice to just see the words on the paper in a nice font as you go.
What kind of equipment do you guys use?
Jigmae: Marshall stacks, the bigger the better.
Jeremy: We use the same guitar amps for recording. I like to explore to get sounds on a record, not have each song sound exactly the same. So for our sound we change guitar amps a lot and also for our sound we sing through guitar amps just because I like the sound.
Jigmae: It’s also a question of poverty and what’s available to you.
Jeremy: On our first record we used one microphone for every track except for the drums. It was just out of necessity. We did it track by track.
Jigmae: Jeremy’s really into building guitars, he always seems to always have a new Frankenstein guitar.
Jeremy: I love taking things apart.
That’s really cool that you build your own guitars.
Jeremy: My uncle helps me. I’ll go to his house, which is up north a couple hours, and he’ll help me put together a guitar. It’s always nice to build your own.
What’s your favorite guitar you’ve built?
Jeremy: Embarrassingly enough I like the Wayne’s World reissue guitar from the 90s. I like how that one feels. I put new pick ups in it, and that’s my favorite. Some of the cheap guitars feel a lot better than the more expensive ones. With equipment, I don’t like to focus on aesthetics. I like a guitar that I can trash around.
On “Litanies” you used a lot of different instruments like the xylophone. Are you going to be using them again on your new record?
Jeremy: I don’t know if the xylophone will be finding it’s way back. I took cello lessons for three or four months. I’m not really too fond of keyboards. We’ll probably try to incorporate more string instruments. Sometimes the electric guitar gets kind of tiring.
Your band recently released singles on a European label. There seems to be a historical kinship between London and San Francisco and a lot of residents really appreciate our music more than local residents do.
Jigmae: There’s a strong history of rock and roll in England some of Europe and, just from what I’ve seen, their generation is not really pursuing making that music. It’s more been electronic based. So I’m sure they’re hungry for it, they’re just begging for it.
Are you not into electronic music?
Jigmae: There’s the occasional band that strikes me.
Jeremy: It has a place. I would hate to say I don’t like an entire type of music. It’s always frustrating when people say that because it’s really band by band.
Jigmae: We listen to Suicide and Kraftwerk.
But just because you play synths doesn’t mean you sound like Kraftwerk.
Jigmae: I try to stay away from negativity.
Jeremy: A lot of synth music tends to be super power poppy and that kind of stuff just bugs me, but, then, guitars do too.
When people talk about your band and how you fit into the San Francisco scene, they always say that you made the music that you guys wanted to hear, that you thought was lacking in the area. Do you feel like your music is “dirgey” and “funereal” and other words that reviewers have used to describe you?
Jigmae: We have mottos of the month and we come up with a new one every so often. The latest one was, “The Baths are here, the party’s over.” We’re not making something to our ears is ugly, we’re making what to our ears is beautiful. It’s how you perceive beauty and maybe our perception of beauty is different. We just try and be honest. We don’t try to dwell. It’s just an honest reflection of our lives and the lives of our friends around us. If that comes out as sad then…We’re just trying to look at things as they are, clearly, and not trying to skirt around things and create a false persona.
Jeremy: I also think our music isn’t necessarily dismal or sad, there’s a lot of comedy in it.
Jigmae: It’s satirizing the sadness sometimes.
Jeremy: A lot of it’s satirical and I think people’s perception of bands are different. What you were saying about Cosmonauts citing the same influences as us, they probably perceive the music differently than we do. That’s important to recognize. So there.
Was your music a reaction to the music that was being played around here, like one-too-many boring 3-chord punk bands?
Jigmae: I don’t have a problem with 3 chords.
Jeremy: We usually don’t change chords at all. We can’t really knock that.
Jigmae: If you pay attention, not to sound overbearing, but if you listen to a lot of the bands we admire and that other people might admire, they complained also during their time. There was no renaissance. Maybe there was a renaissance, but many bands are in a vast forest of shitty bands and shitty generic ideas. That might instigate it, but it’s more about trying to create something. What are we here for anyways? We’re idealists. There’s no nihilism here.