“Four dilettantes with a knack for hooks” is written on their FACEBOOK page. Fans of 90’s sound and 60’s vibe love their music. On the single “Coming After Me” the Viennese band BAITS picks up four chords, spits blood and knows that everything is constantly changing. One thing is for sure: In autumn BAITS’ first album will be released on “Numavi Records”. SONJA MAIER, CHRISTOPHER HERNDLER and FAZO explained to Christoph Benkeser what remembering MTV and KURT COBAIN means to them, which privileges they have earned through hard work and how it works out to produce a radio-suitable album with the highest possible snot content.
You just released the first single for the upcoming album on “Numavi Records”. Baits have been around since 2014, why did it take you so long for the album debut?
Sonja Maier: I started the band in 2014 with Miguel and Javier Figuerola as a side project. The target was not to think too much, to jam, write songs fast and play live. Maurizio [Massaro, note] joined the band on bass before the first concert. Javier and Miguel moved back to Spain in 2016, Christopher took over on guitar. After that it took us a while to find the right drummer in Fazo. We already recorded the songs for the album in 2018, but were not satisfied with them. But via the studio “LW Sonics” where Fazo is working, we got the chance to do things anew and work on the songs.
Fazo: It took as long as it took to be satisfied with it.
Christopher Herndler: Exactly, we didn’t take too much, but enough time. We weren’t idle in the meantime. We released EPs and singles and played some tours. Because of the line-up changes it was important for us to go into the studio as a band and not as musicians who just play something given to them.
Let’s take a brief look back: How did Baits start in 2014?
Sonja Maier: As a fun project with Javier and Miguel, that went pretty well. My other band Carousals broke up back then and I decided to invest more time in Baits – because I enjoy writing pop songs and stepping on the fuzz pedal. Musically we were a lo-fi garage rock band at first, but catchy melodies have always been the most important thing. This is still the case today, even if the sound has changed and become harder and “grungier” in parts. The desire to write good pop songs and to dress them differently is the basis of this band.
Christopher Herndler: I joined the band after Miguel moved back to Spain. Shortly before that I saw Baits live and thought to myself: “If I should ever play in a band again, then in this one.”
“I WENT TO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WITH RIPPED JEANS AND A NIRVANA T-SHIRT, VERY MUCH TO THE DISPLEASURE OF MY PARENTS”
What kinds of music did you grow up with? What is your musical background?
Sonja Maier: Nirvana’s live concert on MTV was one of the most important experiences for me. I was eight or nine years old and like struck by lightning – this raw energy, the noise, this rage, it was unbelievable. I decided I wanted to be like Kurt Cobain. So I went to elementary school with ripped jeans and a Nirvana T-shirt, very much to the displeasure of my parents. Later I got an electric guitar. In high school I started a band with which we mainly played covers, for example “Creep” by Radiohead for the school church service, of course heavily distorted.
Christopher Herndler: For me it was MTV and VIVA in the 90s. Also, the Tony Hawks Pro Skater Soundtrack and the music from skate videos had a big influence on me. I remember looking for bands on Napster and burning my own CDs. In my school days I came to play drums, but I soon switched to bass because drums were not possible in the apartment. Later I played bass in a band for a few years. After the breakup I switched to guitar and stayed with it.
Fazo: I come from the DIY punk, hardcore and metal scene. Nirvana was huge for me, later also garage rock. The idea behind the drum sound for Baits is a mixture of Dave Grohl, Ringo Starr and the drummer of Kiss.
The official debut on “Numavi Records” will be released in autumn. Your previous EPs such as “Stalker” and “Shades” were recorded in DIY-manner and released on cassette. How did the album‘s production go?
Sonja Maier: After Baits changed from a side project to a main project, we wanted to approach it differently. Move out from the basement, into a studio. It wasn’t any longer enough for me to record in the rehearsal room, even though I am satisfied with our early recordings. But we knew that a studio doesn’t automatically promise instant hits. Many tracks were not good enough for us after the recording. When Fazo joined the band, he not only brought a breath of fresh air, but also the opportunity to work on the songs in Lukas Wiltschko’s “LW Sonics” studio. We re-recorded tracks, sometimes even started from scratch to get where we wanted to. We understood that sometimes it makes sense to take your time, to play the songs often live and to change things in the studio that had developed by playing live. We are very happy with the record because we found our sound. It’s the variation – from riff-heavy to playful, kitschy high school prom slow dance moments.
Fazo: The approach was to produce a radio-suitable, poppy album with the highest possible dirt and snot content in the sound. Concerning the sound, Lukas and I make the difference to previous Baits songs – for better or worse. But of course, the whole band had a big influence, after all we played quite a few sessions.
“WE‘RE NOT GOING INTO THE STUDIO SAYING: ‘SO, NOW WE’RE GONNA DO A GRUNGE TUNE.”
You call your music “fuzz pop beach grunge”. That’s a lot of different stuff. What do you mean by that?
Sonja Maier: We use it to capture the well-tried, that is 90s sound, pop song structures and the 60s vibe. On top we’re adding the Californian Garage-Rock-Sound of bands like Together Pangea, Fidlar and Wavves. This blend – the sweaty, raw, angry, crazy energy – will always work for me.
Christopher Herndler: You could also call it “Stoner-Shoegaze-Pop Hits”. Things often happen automatically to us – during rehearsals, when we’re playing away, very casually. We’re not going into the studio and say: “Well, now we’re gonna do a grunge tune.”
Many associations are popping up in my head when I’m hearing Baits’ music. Hole and the 90s, Breeders and afternoons with MTV, sex jams and the supposed revival of grunge. Which ideas flow into your music, what influences you and why?
Christopher Herndler: For me these associations are not true at all, I haven’t heard Hole and Breeders – rather bands like Refused, At the Drive-in, Gallows, Queens of the Stone Age and Tool. I recognize in my guitar playing a tendency to beautiful, simple melodies and chords that float in space for a long time. As in “Coming After Me” where sometimes nintendo-like, chromatic lines à la Bubble Bobble are blended into the mix.
Sonja Maier: Of the mentioned bands only the Breeders have a big influence on me because Kim Deal is simply the coolest. Grunge influences us of course – Nirvana have written loud pop songs. You add a few Beatles phases in which you deepen your affinity to pop structure and you pick a few things from the North American lo-fi indie rock scene. Rock music here in Austria often seems to me to be overproduced – the guitars all sound equally fat, the drums super-fat and the vocals “beautifully recorded”. That doesn’t attract me, it is bland, smooth mush. 4-track tape songs like from Guided by Voices are more exciting. It shows: … if a hook-line is fine, it’s fine too in a different quality. And yes, if there are people in Austria who appreciate that, these are the people behind “Numavi Records”.
How do you work on songs? What is your approach to songwriting?
Sonja Maier: I write many demos on my own at home. Live or during rehearsals we see what happens in the band context and which kind of vibe develops. If something strikes us, it becomes a concrete song. In the future we want to try to shape songs relatively soon in the studio – also because we are privileged by the studio possibilities. That influences the way we work. You can work more freely, try things out and go through the process, which often happens under time pressure in the studio, in a more detached way. For example, if I don’t like the vocals after three weeks, I can always re-record them anytime. That is a luxury for which we are grateful.
Fazo: The older the band gets, the more things are created in the rehearsal room – by jamming together or clearly working out riffs. Homework is still homework, i.e. the banger riffs. The inspiration for them comes to Sonja and Christopher at home, on the couch.
“[…] FOUR CHORDS, A HOOK-LINE, A CHEESY BRIDGE AND A FAST GUITAR SOLO – THAT’S IT”
The current single is called “Coming After Me” – a song you already released on Bandcamp in 2017. What makes the song still relevant for you three years later?
Fazo: It sounds much better today than it did in 2017, and besides, not enough people heard it back then. We’re not lacking in material, but every song deserves a chance to be heard.
Sonja Maier: For me it was an important song that works great played live. But the old recordings were not satisfying. They did not catch the vibe of the song. Only with the new recording did we succeed in catching it. Now everything is there: four chords, a hook-line, a cheesy bridge and a fast guitar solo, that’s it.
The song brings your “knack for hooks“, as you call your talent for creating hook-lines yourself, to the point. The chorus is still in my head since this morning. No flourishes, no frills – it pops after the first second. Isn’t there a danger for the song to wear out too fast?
Sonja Maier: I find a good catchy tune wonderful. Actually, not all of our songs are built that way – “Enough” for example has a similar structure, i.e. verse-chorus-verse and a hook-line, but a much more complex feeling. It’s the mixture of authentic straightforward punk and dynamically diverse moments that makes it so special. That’s why there’s a wide range of songs on the album.
Fazo: I only listen to hymns. Songs that I want to hear again as soon as they are over. No matter what musical genre. Maybe some of them wear out faster, but you fancy them again faster. You won’t find the big concept-album-epic in our music.
“SOMETIMES LIFE FEELS AS IF MURPHY’S LAW WERE THE ONLY PREVAILING LAW – EVERYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG WILL GO WRONG”
Sonja, you appear in the music video in different roles. As an ice hockey player, blood dripping from the mouth; as a motorcyclist with a leather jacket; in the living room with tinsel and light show. What is the song about?
Sonja Maier: It’s about fears and expectations that accompany us in all our life situations and that we can’t get rid of that easily. Sometimes life feels as if “Murphy’s Law” were the only prevailing law – everything that can go wrong will go wrong. That’s why: “It’s always coming after me“. Nothing in life is certain, nothing is constant. Everything changes all the time. It hurts to accept this, because you have to let go and surrender to this pain of change. You can go crazy, run away or spit blood on the ice hockey pitch out of anger.
Spontaneity and self-irony are Baits’ focus, states your Facebook page. How important is spontaneous irony in the Austrian music scene?
Sonja Maier: Many artists take themselves too seriously. They don’t like to admit that they can’t do something, don’t want to do something or that some things just happen. But only some of them are doing their thing in an authentic way and without consideration of trends, fads or imposed attitudes. Wanting to please is human behavior from which one cannot exclude oneself. In Austria there’s a little bit of a “we’re so great” mood around, a mutual adulation, which is deceptive though, because in the small domestic scene we are swimming in a very small swamp. That what I find missing is an open, collaborative attitude.
It’s always the same people who are working together again and again. This is probably so because few of them are willing to leave their swamp, their genre and their ideas. But perhaps I’m too narrow-minded myself. Most of the time what bothers you about others is exactly what you don’t like about yourself. Nevertheless: Acts that make it outside of Austria usually have a more ironic self-image. They don’t take themselves and the scene quite so seriously and do their thing. And provocation is always essential – even if it’s not so easy to provoke anyone with anything in 2020.
Christopher Herndler: Besides, despite all the spontaneity, you shouldn’t forget that behind all the silliness and self-irony there’s a machine that has started to run. We know what we can do on stage and feel comfortable there. We are well attuned to each other and know who takes over which part. Therefore we have time for fun. And generally speaking: too professional an approach – towards whatever in life – is usually killing all the fun.
Fazo: It’s terrible when musicians are expected to give answers about politics, world affairs or other serious topics. We do not have them. I have friends who have been learning and working in political groups for decades – ask those who dedicate their lives to business, politics or social injustice. I’m only making art and music.
Many thanks for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld