Interview: Caiti Baker

Caiti Baker is one to keep your eye on — the young singer-songwriter who was previously one half of R&B duo Sietta is now pursuing a solo career and, quite frankly, she’s absolutely nailing it. Blending her influences of blues, soul and jazz into a timeless mind-melding sound that’ll make you want to get up and have a boogie, Baker’s work is a unique and refreshing addition to the Australian music scene. The singer is set to release her anticipated debut solo album at some point this year, but before then she’s making a stopover at WOMADelaide.

CLIQUE Mag caught up with Baker ahead of her upcoming appearance to chat creative processes, her relationship with her dad and how it shaped her music, and health and growth.

How long have to had your solo tracks in the works for?

I’ve been working on a bunch of these songs for the last three years. So some of them get rehashed and we develop them further as we get into the production side of things. I think my music is quite undated — I’d like to say timeless without tooting my own horn — but I don’t think I have much of a timestamp on what I do, so I think the songs I wrote three years ago will work as well now as they will in ten years time, I hope.

I think so. From what I’ve listened to, there seems to be a lot of inspiration from timeless classics like blues and R&B. So are you sticking with that bluesy multi-layered sound for the album?

Yeah, I guess so. It’s funny because the guitar sound that you hear in [Make Your Own Mistakes] is actually my dad playing it into a crappy Nokia phone. He and I had a classic father-daughter tumultuous relationship. We didn’t speak to each other for about four years, and upon our reunion, he bestowed upon myself and my producer James Mangohig a USB stick filled with 600 sound bites of his guitar-playing and harmonica-playing and ideas for drum patterns and him being crazy talking to the cat. James has this on USB, so he’ll go through and listen to them and pick out loops that he hears and fill production around them, Michael Hohnen will lay double bass around them, I’ll write to them so there’s a kind of theme and foundation for the songs I have been creating.

But on top of that James has produced some tracks that don’t have that at all. We’re pulling everything together as we go. It’s a nice creative mess to work with, and hopefully we’ll come out with some cool things that sound cohesive in and out of the album. It’s all about singles these days, so it’s nice to think I may put together a body of work that works well together.

And it would be so satisfying having a completed collection of songs.

It’s kind of funny, I get to make this thing and generally I don’t take terribly long writing songs. It kind of all builds up and I emotionally verbalise it — without using the word vomit — but it all comes out and then I might not write anything for three to six months. As I experience life and gather things to write about and have all those emotions. So it is really fun to go through that whole process and have it released generally roughly around a year to three years from inception to completion and fruition in the world. It’s pretty cool.

Was it getting those recordings from your dad that inspired you to go solo?

It was kind of a combination of events. James and I were a part of Sietta, we released albums and EPs for a label, we had different management and life happened and I had a few health issues. I had mental health [issues] and chronic fatigue during a lot of that and it came to a point where we reconnected with Michael Hohnen who is Gurrumul’s double bass player and producer and Tom E Lewis — he’s James’ old uni lecturer and mentor — so they got back in contact with each other and Michael worked with us. I met with someone who helped me get through my mental health and chronic fatigue, so I cleared all that up and got myself healthy and was just a completely different person. It made sense to go solo. I feel authentically myself, I feel healthy and alive. I have a good team with me. I guess it’s a combination of many life factors falling into place at once and allowing me to be myself and go out as myself, but it’s also quite daunting.

I can imagine. How are you feeling about your upcoming slot at WOMAD?

I’m actually really excited ‘cause WOMAD will be one of the first gigs I get to play with Adelaide musicians John and Paul Bartlett, who you may or may not have seen perform with A.B. Original and Paul Kelly for Like A Version.

I was actually born in Adelaide too, so I’m technically an Adelaidian and it’s always nice to go back and hang out with my primary school friends and visit the hometowns I grew up in.

And you’re coming at the best time of the year, which is pretty exciting.

I am, I missed Adelaide around festival time last year and I was so disappointed. Now I’m very happy that I get to be there for WOMAD and Fringe.

You can catch Caiti Baker at WOMADelaide on Friday, March 10 at 10pm.

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