Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
The longer you know Bill Baird, the more you want to know about him and the less you actually think you do know. He's a quagmire in more ways than one, an impossible crossword puzzle of a guy at the onset, who quickly finds ways to lose you, who stumps you with his mystifying gazes and laser-hot stares. He sometimes can come off as humorless, unable to take a ribbing or a joke, unable to play along with a silly little trifle that doesn't have to go anywhere, just into the vanish, the gone. He sometimes seems to take everything so seriously and nothing seriously enough. He seems to be a workaholic and still the most dedicated slacker that's ever roamed the earth, willing to shove off on any old afternoon, on a whim, for a dip in the watering hole.
He is a person, who at the drop of a dime would be ready to pack a cooler full of supplies (bread, drinks, deli meats or whatever could be for dinner) and be gone in minutes, off to the woods, to the deep recesses, for a spiritual journey, for not a single reason at all, on a lark. The funny part about Baird, the former bassist and one of the founding fathers of the incredible and maligned Austin band Sound Team (much love and may they rest in peace), is that he's got a one-track mind - most of the time - and it shouldn't be all that hard to follow, especially in broad daylight. He freaks out about the things that get worked over in his head, the things that get to gnawing at the putty that's inside, the syrup and the glue that's inside. He immerses himself in the things he's doing at the time, diving into the fracas with a huge, committed belly-flop. He plans to feel the sting of whatever he tackles. He plans to feel the exhilaration of tackling it and he plans to want to climb that pool ladder one or a dozen more times to slap against the water's surface again - his welting chest just getting redder and redder, as if it were shocked and blushing.
Baird's newest group, Sunset, is the illogical extension of what Sound Team formerly did. They are two entirely different beasts, with Sunset being weirdly folk driven, driven by the beat poets and novelists of the 60s and 70s, the guys with ants in their britches and an inability to linger. The way that Baird now - or has always thought - is truer to its natural color and shape on the new Sunset album, The Glowing City, a striking piece of music that is short on lackadaisical words and music being grouped together to form a unit and long on songs that set out to bring a couple of very poignant concepts to the forefront. He has always been intrigued beyond reason by technology and its ferociousness, its way of turning us all machine whether we saw it coming or happening at all. We become the instruments that we use. Again and again, the references to the evil things that the easiness of phones creates are innumerable.
On The Glowing City, people are becoming the zombies that he's been singing about for years. The simplicity that technology and all of the "must-have" gadgets create is dangerous to a soul. It makes for a society that would rather send a text message of glowing computer numbers to a lover or a mother or a friend then actually call he or she up and hear their one-of-a-kind voice expressing themselves the way that we've always loved. When our phones do these things, we hear no voices and we see no one in front of us. What others see is a person looking into a folding piece of plastic that has a mind of its own and is robbing us from ours.
Baird looks at those glowing cities as if those were funeral lights, soon to deliver those people into graves where they could gladly come back to life singing - like they should have been doing the first time around. He tells us who we are, when we really haven't asked him to describe us. Whether we like it or not, fuck if he didn't nail us mostly, right on the head. Baird - as Sunset — is the patron said of awareness even if we're fantastically unaware.
DT: What's the worst thing someone on the other end of a telephone's ever told you?
BB: Well, hard to narrow down, so here's a few:
1) "I'm not sure how I feel anymore."
2) "You don't seem the same anymore."
3) "We're out of green olives."
4) "You were supposed to turn that in yesterday."
5) "Are you insured?"
DT: How has technology let you down?
BB: Technology has enabled me, actually, in so many ways. The fact that we even carry on this conversation without opening our mouths… technology has been good to me, and all of us, certainly. I do think humanity has not evolved at the same pace as its technology, and some folks still have a pre-industrial, stone-age, me-carry-a-big-club mindset that doesn't couple well with jacked-up trucks, nuclear weapons, legislative powers, or anything else capable of making a huge mess. Ultimately, technology can be just be another distraction, another layer between a man and his own true reflection, and if technology has ever let me down, that'd be the way.
DT: If you don't mind telling people about your current job, can you tell what you've learned about sound and music working that job, with the people you're working with?
BB: I've been working at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, often with lower-functioning students. My first day on the job, for example, I changed a 19-year-old's diapers, wiped some asses, and bathed them as well (the students and the asses). Many of the students are non-verbal, or practically so. This big dude, let's call him Norton, he is massive and really sweet, but not capable of what we'd call "higher thought." He grunts most of his desires, crawls on the floor, and chews on stuff. He will gnaw on something to indicate his feelings towards it; the more intense the gnaw, the more intense the enjoyment. When I first met him, he seemed inconsolable, upset about silly small things. I guess he had a certain right to be; as much as anybody else, I guess. But I put on Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" and he just soothed out and started singing along… turns out that's his favorite album and he knew every melody and every word (he grunted along, in a melodic fashion). Then I put on Simon and Garfunkel and he went nuts over the perfect vocal harmony. Maybe music resonates on a deeper level than we could ever understand. Norton could barely function, yet responded immediately and emphatically to certain types of music (mostly stuff with impeccable harmony). Perhaps music appeals directly to the core of what makes us human, and we all have an innate sense of harmony, even those largely incapable of rational thought. It sure seemed that way when I watched Norton move deeply with the music. He chewed the speaker with serious vigor, and I felt happy for him.
DT: If you were given a free trip to the moon, would you take it?
BB: Hell yes. Imagine the music such a setting would inspire… I want to start the first recording studio on the moon. I don't know that moon music would sound much like Pink Floyd, though (the first thing most folks imagine, maybe)… I imagine moon music more as the loneliest stuff that could ever be written, combined with the deepest reverence and simple beauty, loneliness without melancholy, beauty without excess, every part perfect and necessary, like the celestial bodies in orbit. "Music of the spheres," as Pythagorus referred to the movement of planets… the movement of sun, moon, and planets relating to each other as ratios of pure musical intervals, creating perfect musical harmony.
DT: Have you had any good swimming sessions this summer?
BB: Absolutely. The best = swimming in San Pedro spring, one of the last spread throughout San Antonio, TX. Snuck in late at night, swam in the cold clear water, and dreamed of an ancient past when San Antonio was called "the land of 1,000 springs." Other swimming highlights include cliff-jumping at "the sinks" in the
Great Smokey Mountains, freezing my pants off in Truro, Cape Cod, and the cold-water submersion at the Russian and Turkish baths in the lower east side of
Manhattan…10th between 1st and A, to be exact (I recommend the borscht from their snack bar). A daily habit: running down to Barton Creek near my house. I
take my dog down there and we swim together if the water's high enough. It keeps me happy and healthy and helps expel all the baloney the world piles on my plate every day. But I definitely make sure to rinse off in my shower afterwards, because even after a dip in the creek, the baloney residue still sometimes lingers.
Sunset Official Site