Allyson Baker has been a guitarist for years, but she is now stepping up to the microphone as a vocalist with Dirty Ghosts. I had the pleasure of speaking with Allyson at Treasure Island Music Festival this past weekend.
How are you enjoying the festival thus far?
It’s fantastic — we’re having a really good time. It’s our first time here, and for whatever reason in the 12 years I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve never been to Treasure Island, so this is a nice way to see it for the first time.
How did you get your start in the hardcore scene?
I grew up in Toronto. I was born and raised there, and I got into punk rock when I was a teenager. I immediately started playing in bands when I was 17. I guess when I was in my early twenties I decided I wanted to relocate and try something new, so I moved to SF. There wasn’t any particular reason. I didn’t know anyone here, and I hadn’t really been here before — I’d come here with my family as a child, but other than that, I had no idea.
I just had this preconceived notion about the city and there being a lot of music and bands, and I just thought it would be a weird, interesting place to throw myself into and just see what would happen. When I moved here, I tried to start to get bands going, and it took a while. I played in one band in particular called Parchman Farm in 2003, and then Dirty Ghosts started when that band fell apart.
What prompted your transition from guitarist to vocalist?
It was completely out of necessity. When we first started working on this project, I was looking for a singer. I’ve never been into the idea of singing, and I’ve always just played guitars in bands –- that’s just sort of my comfort zone. Beyond that, just as a music fan, I know this might sound really horrible, but at the time I didn’t listen to a lot of female-fronted music, and it was never really a big inspiration for me. I was always more into male frontmen, so every band I’ve ever been in or started, I’ve wanted it to have a male vocalist.
For Dirty Ghosts, we looked for a singer for about a year, and we couldn’t find one. I felt like Carson — my bass player at the time who was working on this with me — was getting frustrated and wanting to move on because it was really discouraging not being able to find someone. I finally decided that, even though it might not sound how I want it to sound, or be how I wanted it to be, I was just going to do it for the sake of saving what the band was at the time. I just became comfortable becoming a singer and fronting it, and now I’m okay with it, but it was definitely hard for a while.
It’s a different world, isn’t it?
Yeah, I always liked being off to the side and just concentrating on playing guitar –- that’s always where I’ve been the happiest, but I’ve actually started enjoying singing now too. With all the bands I’ve been in, I’ve always had vocal melodies in my head, but I’ve never really been able to sing them and now I can.
How was it working with Derrick Beckles (creator of TV CARNAGE, Adult Swim’s Totally For Teens, and the upcoming series Hot Package) on the video for “Katana Rock”?
It was amazing. Derrick is a very good old friend of mine from Toronto, and he’s just a very close buddy, and we are very on the same page mentally. I completely trust him creatively with anything that he would do, so I wouldn’t really even need to know what he was doing — he could just go ahead and do it. I think he’s totally brilliant, and I feel very fortunate that he would take time to work with us and be a part of it. He’s just a very special fantastic human being, and I’m glad that he is a friend of mine.
Who are your major artistic influences?
They come from different places because in this band I feel like I’m covering a lot of territory. As a guitar player, Fast Eddie Clarke from Motörhead has always been a very big influence and has changed my guitar playing, as has Ace Frehley from Kiss. Just in terms of melodies, harmonies, and notes, those guys are able to evoke emotion with doing very, very little — that’s huge. Being able to do that is something I’ve always wanted to be able to do. Their playing affected me at a very young age, and those were the two guys that I was just copying what they were doing and trying to figure out where they were coming from as I was learning how to play guitar, so that was a big thing.
When I was learning how to sing and trying to figure out how to not sing like a girl, I’d listen to a lot of music that featured men singing. I was coming from that place, but I started listening to the Slits, and when I heard Ari Up sing for the first time, I thought she was very interesting. She does a lot of really neat things with her voice where she goes deep and then she goes high — it’s not purely feminine. There are moments where she’s feminine, and there are moments that are very masculine. She slips in and out of those very seamlessly. I figured I could try to do that. For me, that was a jumping-off point.
What’s next for Dirty Ghosts?
We’re starting work on our second record, but we want to keep playing shows while we’re doing that. We’re doing a little tour of the Midwest and playing Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin in November. Before, during, and after that, we’re going to power through writing the second record and work really hard on it with the goal of trying to get it out at the beginning of next year.
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