Redwing Blackbird's Faith in Humanity Was Short-Lived

Paul Baker performs as Redwing Blackbird.
Paul Baker performs as Redwing Blackbird. Sarah Martinez
At the outset of the COVID pandemic, and amid the chaos that ensued, Paul Baker had a lot of empathy for his fellow humans, coupled with the hope that they would band together and make it through challenging and dark times. One day he gazed into the eyes of a fellow shopper panic-buying toilet paper at a suburban Denver Target and witnessed what he interpreted as a great deal of compassion and understanding peering back at him. The exchange bolstered his newfound confidence in humanity.

Eighteen months later, he believes he was completely wrong in his assessment.

“It’s such a disappointment, how we have gone to this position of science-deniers and have vilified the idea of trying to take care of each other,” he says. “It’s insane.”

“When people started saying it infringed on their rights, I got pissed off,” adds Baker, the sole member of Denver goth/death-rock/protest/post-punk project Redwing Blackbird.

“I knew I was wrong when you realize that people who have kidney transplants or are on dialysis don’t have the luxury of an effective vaccine,” he continues. “Just ignoring that fact alone, people who claim to be Christian and all that — everyone just showed that they're assholes at once to me.”

Not to mention that many of the science-deniers are getting their misinformation via the technology they allegedly don't believe in.

Baker recently turned fifty, and as part of a generation that survived two recessions and the September 11 terrorist attacks, he says it’s "mind-boggling" to see people act so self-absorbed and disregarding any sense of doing right by others.

But rather than fully commit to despair and bitterness, Baker spent his time during lockdown working on a followup to his previous full-length, Too Klaus for Comfort, and he's thankful he had music to take his mind off the madness transpiring all around him. The result is HumanZ & the Silver Vessel, which continues Baker’s brand of dark but cheeky songwriting — though he notes that it's less overtly political than its predecessor, a reflection on how America got so crazy that it elected a “madman” for president. The new record explores how we have collectively responded to the pandemic so far, but the narrative is framed in the same science-fiction terms as the earlier record.

“The human race never belonged on this planet,” Baker muses. “We are a weird, terraformed outside creation of something. We’re just too weird for our own good on this planet. I think we are at the end of our existence in the next millennium. ... That’s the concept going in [to this record]."

He used that initial concept as a jumping-off point to explore how humans are basically eating ourselves alive through greed and odd beliefs that we refuse to give up.

“It’s not so much political as it is a sci-fi approach to commentary on one half of our population’s condemning of science,” Baker explains. “At the same time, science could be the only way we can get through this thing.”

Baker retains some of Klaus's smartass tone on HumanZ & the Silver Vessel — song titles like “Fire Cleanses Everything” provide some evidence of this — but the tracks have taken on a definite Cure vibe. While no means mellow, the record is more pensive than its predecessor. Baker says that as he gets older, figuring out how to proceed stylistically can pose a challenge. Trying to play to one’s age group or switching to a more age-appropriate genre — think punk-rockers who start playing outlaw country music — can feel like a trap and get boring quickly. If he's not testing his limits, the whole process can start to feel like a waste of time.

“The last record was so nonstop,” he notes. “There really weren’t any slow points. I made it a point to kind of go and explore that side of things. I’ve always been a huge fan of classical and piano composers.”

Baker has been releasing the songs from HumanZ in pairs for the past several months. At his upcoming October 30 show at HQ, where he'll share the stage with Curse Mackey (Pigface, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Evil Mothers), he'll reveal what he says is the proper order of the album's ten tracks.

Working on a record while watching the events of the last year and a half unfold presented a unique challenge for Baker.

“I didn’t want to make a gothic Rage Against the Machine record where I pitted it after one group and hate-killed one group of fascists,” he concludes. “The album is kind of a celebration of science. It’s okay: [Your] faith and your belief in science can co-exist. You aren’t going to hell because you wanted to do the right thing.”

Redwing Blackbird shares the stage with Curse Mackey at HQ on Saturday, October 30; tickets are available at HumanZ & the Silver Vessel officially premieres on October 31; visit Redwing Blackbird’s Bandcamp page or for more info.
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