Features Interviews Talking Dirty: An Interview with Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts

Talking Dirty: An Interview with Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts

Allison Baker of Dirty Ghosts
Dirty Ghosts
Article by: Chad Hutchings

Allyson Baker reflects on music, moving, and marriage.

Somewhere a few thousand miles southwest of here, Sticky Magazine recently touched base with Allyson Baker, the lead singer and guitarist of San Francisco-based rock outfit Dirty Ghosts. Along with her live band Erin McDermott, Ben Tuttle, and Nick Andre (accompanying the group for half the trip), Baker was set to spend the better part of a month weaving a nice big loop around North America for the act's first major tour. Of course, she made sure not to neglect Toronto, the town where she was raised and called home until California dreams became too much to resist.

Baker knows just why she left. "I think I needed a change. I was born and raised in Toronto, and I was just ready to leave and go somewhere else. I think that's why I have the appreciation for Toronto that I do - because I'm not there, and haven't been there for so long. When I moved... I guess I felt like I'd done everything I could do in the city, and I needed to see what else was out there."

It's that appreciation that often makes her admittedly homesick for the city, and keeps her visiting up to four times a year. Now she was coming back for the first time to front Dirty Ghosts, alongside Tuttle (a first-time visitor) and McDermott, an Ottawa native who is no stranger to the city. But, sadly, a rigid tour schedule would leave little time for fun, with a short day split amongst Baker's family home, the venue, and a visit to a close friend's new Kensington Bar, Thirsty And Miserable.

Of course, the group has no trouble forgiving a tight time-frame in light of the bigger picture - that is, the effort of supporting the debut LP Metal Moon, recently recorded and released on Last Gang Records after more than five years of making music. Allyson explains the half-decade stretch:

"Dirty Ghosts wasn't really a band for five years. It was more like a project I was working on in my house with my friend Carson (no longer a member) after work. We started piecing it together in late 2006, but it wasn't really anything; we were sort of just jamming and making music, not really knowing what it was going to be. It wasn't until 2008 that we started taking it a little more seriously and recording some of the stuff, and maybe trying to turn it into a record, but again we still... we didn't have any set ideas that this was going to be a band. For me, it was just something I liked to do at the end of a day. Then, eventually, it became a band. That didn't start happening until 2010, and by 2011, that's when we put the live band together, and Last Gang became a part of it."

Not one to deny credit where it's due, Baker is quick to name a key motivator in her career, namely her ex-husband, Ian Bavitz, better known as Aesop Rock - a man who still has a hand in the making of Dirty Ghosts' work.

"Originally, when we first started working on [the project], he was there just to guide us a little bit with what we were doing, because we didn't form a band and it was more of a studio project, and that's how he makes music. And, being married to him - living with him and watching his process - it was something that I wanted to try, which is how this whole thing came about. So, it started with him kind of showing me what to do, and he helped me when it came to some of the jamming and the songwriting that we would do, because he would loop up drum breaks for us to write and jam on top of. Then that just sort of became his role, where he was just going to do all the drums. That wasn't the plan, but that's what happened. We were actually playing with a drummer and when the drummer quit, Aesop was like, 'Why don't you just let me do the drums? I'm doing them anyways.' Then, when we would get close to the end of the song, he would do a bit of his production; he would put in sound effects and add little samples and bits of music that weren't in there before, and he would sort of help tie the songs together.

The couple's status change is a pretty recent development - so recent, in fact, that much of the media has remained unaware, including this writer, up until the point when Baker politely made the correction. But, always gracious, she remains unfazed and gladly forthcoming about the situation.

"That's a major point of interest for people. Some people don't know who we are, but people know who he is. So, to elaborate on his involvement... I understand why people want to know about that and want to read about it."

And, luckily, the two have found themselves in a comfortable spot.

"We still have a nice relationship for a separated couple," Baker says with a laugh. "We still work together and talk and see each other all the time. You know, sometimes it doesn't work out and you're not meant to be married, but you can remain great friends if your friendship is the core of what your relationship was. And we depend on each other a lot musically for what  he does and what I do, so I don't see us not being involved in each other's music in the future."

Aesop Rock fans are likely able to pick up on his contributions on Metal Moon, an album that Baker et al has created across a variety of styles. Of course, those styles aren't necessarily what an earlier version of Allyson would have expected for herself, with her beginnings having been spent sharpening her teeth in Toronto's punk and hardcore music scenes.

"As you get older, you become more open-minded to different types of music, and then you want to integrate that into whatever you're doing. As a musician, you want to be challenging yourself and you don't wanna be doing the same thing over and over every year, you know? In this band, I wasn't hung up on anything having to sound a certain way or be a certain way. I thought, "Well, why don't I just try all this different stuff in this band?' because I could! There was nobody telling me I couldn't do it, and it wasn't a band that had a sound - it was just something we were doing at the end of the day when we got home from work. But everyone listens to different stuff. I mean, you don't listen exclusively just one style of music, so I just thought why not try it within a band. That's how people listen to music, ya know what I mean?"

Surprisingly, though, singing had never been an interest to Dirty Ghosts' fiery lead, who was always happiest holding her guitar. But, after a long and unsuccessful search for the right set of pipes for the act, Baker took up the reins out of necessity. 

"I'm definitely more accepting of the role than I was before, and I'm more comfortable with singing than I was before. But it definitely takes a lot of experience to sing and play guitar in a way where you can kind of let go and not be thinking of what you're doing while you're doing it on stage. As a guitar player, I guess the ultimate for me is to be able to not focus on what I'm doing and just be on stage and doing it - it's like your body is just doing what it's supposed to do and you're not thinking where every single note is and how you're gonna hit it. You become a machine. With singing and playing, that's a whole different dynamic to me. But, the more I do it, the more I'm getting closer to that."

Check out the work of the once-reluctant lead singer below in the video for "Ropes That Way" from Dirty Ghosts' Metal Moon.