Interview: Chris Baron

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

I released a new single on February 14th 2024, called “Anonymous #10”. I wrote it in a campground the Fourth of July prior, on that date itself! The song process with this one was slightly different than my normal. I had a totally unrelated musical thing that I liked and was trying to force, but had no idea what lyrics to sing over it. It was in a strange time signature, and very pretty. I messed arround with it for maybe 20 minutes, sitting on the campsite bench, getting nothing that I could latch onto. Suddenly, unexpectedly out of the blue, I played the chords and sang the first line that you hear now as the fourth verse of the song: “…sittin on my own with a thought that I thought was my own, thought it was original, thought I was invisible…”
The chords and lyrics were in no way related to what I was working on a minute ago…it was a fresh thing. An inspired thing. I composed the rest of “Anonymous #10” right there, to the point where you hear it today. While I was on tour with the band over the rest of Summer and into Fall 2023, we asked the audience to suggest titles for it, then performed the song. People listened carefully! and wrote down possible titles on napkins, receipts, cigarette boxes, scraps of paper, dropped them into the tip jar. They typed out ideas on their phones, and messaged the band in various creative ways later on. I gathered these all up, and created a projector screen slide. All the best suggestions (many people thought of the same kind of title which was really cool) are part of the official music video in that grandly striking scene in the second verse.

How do you approach the process of songwriting, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

I think of a phrase or set of lyrics usually out of thin air, randomly inspired by a quiet mind or steady hum. At the same time they come themselves with a melody and a beat. Paired from the beginning. From there, it’s just “putting in the work” of molding it into something that I want to play in the live set. I sing about ideas more than tell linear stories, as a general rule, if I really think about it. The themes and emotions are there for you to discover if you want to.

As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?

I navigate that balance by composing for communication. I have an innate creative freedom. I like to create, therefore I do. My main thing is performing Live, solo or with bandmates, and some songs consistently tend to get a very strong response from the listeners present no matter what city I’m in. That’s what I write towards: the connection, the identification the listener and I figure out that we feel together.

What do you find most challenging about being an independent artist in today’s music industry?

The amazing amount of music being produced is at an all-time level and an all-time high. Simply creating that high level music and training to replicate it live consistently in order to communicate the message is the foundational step, but more time needs to be spent hustling. And you don’t want to compete or squeeze anyone else out, you just hope that you can be noticed. It all comes down to whether listeners choose to listen to You specifically. It’s their choice, you can’t control it, not even if you buy it.

Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

I love playing music with other people. Especially live music. I cover my friends’ songs, my bandmates’ songs too when they’re not around. It’s Good Music and I enjoy sharing it with an audience, along with a story if they want it…and sometimes just to test it to see what kind of response people might have to a song they’ve never heard before and aren’t expecting. I invite my composer friends to join me onstage when it’s possible. Their creativity rubs off on me and I do find myself emulating the aspects of them that I enjoy most. On my 2024 album I perform a folk/pop song written by a Texas bandmate of mine, he passed away in 2012. We recorded three full-length albums together, and were able to release two of them. This particular track, “Lost & Found”, was never recorded. I only heard him play and sing it once, sometime in 2011. But he handed me the hand-written lyrics one day during a car ride, and after he was gone, his family gave me permission to record it and share it with the world in whatever way I could. Another song on the album, “Love & Live”, had a chorus that was four lines long and the whole song was very catchy and I considered it ready for Live. But one day when I was at the coast my bandmate came out and his opinion was that it needed the chorus to be twice as long…he wrote four more lines, making eight total, and they rhymed and flowed real pleasantly, and now that is the way I do the song every time. As far as my normal band lineup, all my players get to write their own parts as they see fit. They are experts on their instruments and valued role players within the band culture…even though I could compose for them, I like their light shining on elements of the Music that didn’t occur to me. When I propose a new song, I play it all the way through for them, emphasizing the points that I think are the dynamic crux, and then I explain the overall “theory of the song/music”, letting that bounce off of them and their experience and their expertise. We fine-tune it all together, to get it ready for the live performance.

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

I am not a consumer of social media, I don’t enjoy it personally. For those that do, though, I post regularly on multiple platforms. Usually it’s video. Sometimes it’s the full song, sometimes just a short clip. Yesterday we wrapped a music video shoot and I posted some photos of the studio and stage setup on Instagram. Technology includes ProTools though, an awesome recording program, and that’s how I make my recordings. Demos and final songs are run through the computer at a certain point. All my lyrics are in the Cloud, so I can access them and work on them anytime, anywhere.

Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?

The Punch Brothers got me on a train of whimsical and pleasantly meandering lines of music, and I’ve been exploring more of a no-limits bending of genres and movements lately thanks to that. The Avett Brothers got me hooked on their brand of storified emotional anthems, and that pushed me more into the folk world than I had been previously. My harder rock edge comes from my early life love of Incubus, System of A Down, 311 Alice In Chains, Guns & Roses, and the Toadies. Dave Matthews also had a big impact on me, for his band arrangements and simply my enjoyment of his melody choices. The Beatles were my first love in music and although I cover more Paul songs as a general rule, John was my favorite composer.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

I tour constantly and I love seeing them all out there on the Road. Thank You for coming to The Show!

Could you describe a memorable live performance experience or tour that has had a lasting impact on you and your music?

I competed in the Tucson Folk Festival performance competition in April 2022. There were 155 applicants that year for 10 slots. Each of the 10 finalists got to play 3 songs on a Friday night in the desert. It was my first night ever in Tucson Arizona. I won first place. One of the prizes was to play four songs on the main stage the next night, Saturday, right before the headliner. I was nervous, but had 3 weeks of solo touring under my belt, so I planned out my bang and ended with dramatic high energy flourish. I got a standing ovation. The emcee came out and asked the crowd if they “wanted more Chris Baron.” They stayed standing and hooting and it sounded deafening to me. I played another song. Same reaction. I ended up doing eight total songs that evening, a four-song encore, unprecedented in that festival’s 37-year history. I didn’t expect to win in the first place, and that was the biggest stage I had ever played on at that point. It led to more.

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

It is really hard to stand out. Anyone can produce music and release it. Anyone with money can pay to promote it. There is so much excellent music and in order to rise above the general noise you have to buy your way up. People who can play their songs Live really well have a chance at meritocracy but it still involves lots of luck, just plain straight luck. I focus on what I can control: write excellent music, do a better-than-good job at performing it live consistently, show up on time, be polite and understand context, and support everyone you can because life is hard in general.