We’re heading up to New Jersey this weekend for the very first Power Pop-A-Licious Music Festival and we’re chatting up a few of the bands whose songs’ll be stuck in our heads for the next month or so! Next up – Portland, Maine’s Kurt Baker!
When it comes to listening to music (and I do it very often), it’s always been vinyl for me. Even as a young child, in the hay day of the compact disc, I was listening to records on my parents beat up record player and my school friends just couldn’t understand how I would spend every afternoon cooped up in my house with my headphones on, plugged into the receiver. I’ve always been a bit behind the times with technology, but with vinyl, it was no problem!
Growing up in Portland, Maine, I was fortunate enough to live down the street from a record shop that is still in business to this day. In the early 90’s I would go in to the shop with my father and buy up all the Beatles records that I could. I’ll never forget the smell of old record shops—it’s the greatest smell in the entire world. In those dusty stacks that take up the entire space of each store there is so much to discover. To think that spending 2 dollars on a 12 inch piece of wax could literally change your entire life as soon as it comes in contact with a needle was an intoxicating idea to me as a young kid. Tapes, Mp3’s, compact discs. . . nothing compares. To this day I feel that listening to music on vinyl is the most organic and real way to take in the vibrations, rhythms and melodies that are all encompassed into your favorite bands sonic catalog.
Kurt Baker | Why You Gotta Lie
The Beatles were always a huge super influence on me, and since they were the first records I ever owned, they were the basis of everything I liked about a good song, a catchy hook, a great beat, and soaring melodies coupled with cleaver lyrics.. and from the Beatles I branched out to Beach Boys, The Turtles, the Monkees and more. When I was growing up, I really couldn’t give a shit was on the radio… I never got into Nirvana, or any of that grunge crap that was popular at the time. (I still hate it today). All I wanted to listen to was old stuff from the 60’s. It all sounded kinda like the Beatles and that’s all that mattered to me, PLUS the vinyl records were about half the price of a compact disc back then too, and I couldn’t complain about that! If I was in the car, I would immediately put on the oldies station. I just couldn’t and still can’t get enough of old pop music from the 60’s and 70’s.
As I grew older and started to get more and more into music, I started going to punk rock shows and playing in bands at grange halls and basements, I was grateful that I never threw out that old record player. Many punk bands I’d see would have so much energy and their minimalistic approach and fun attitude reminded me of the old 60’s groups I loved. And they’d always have 45’s out on their merch table! I’d always grab em’ all up.
I remember once seeing this group out of Boston called the Misson 120. They had one 45 that on the b-side was a live recording of a tune called “I’ve Done Everything For You,” at the time I had no idea that it was written by Sammy Hagar and would become a staple rocker on Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog album, but I immediately fell in love with the tune. I would later go on to cover a version myself on my EP Got It Covered.
It was that love for a catchy melody that I picked up from non-stop listening of the Beatles that eventually drew me to power pop, especially the power pop of the late 70’s. I pride myself on having a pretty gnarly collection of power pop records. I think what really got me back into record collecting was picking up the Vapors record “New Clear Days” for 25 cents. To this day, you can find great records by the Knack, Cheap Trick, The Romantics—all for under a dollar at some record shops!
It’s almost a steal but that accessibility is what made power pop a fundamental genre for me and an inspiration in my writing. Getting into groups like Cheap Trick, I found myself grabbing records by other smaller Chicago groups like Off Broadway and Pezband. Getting into early Elvis Costello gave me an appreciation for Stiff Records, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Rockpile.
Punk Rock was a great scene to be apart of when I was just starting out—the sense of community and D.I.Y. approach really helped shape the way I go about making music, setting up touring and most every other positive aspect that one could think of in the grand scheme of playing in a band. It was just a given if you were a punk rock band, you had to put out a cool 45 record and when I started my old group pop/punk group The Leftovers in 2002, it was always our dream to release a 45.
It took the Leftovers a few years but by 2006 we were lucky enough to release our first 45 record for the song “Steppin’ On My Heart” and that record caught the attention of Ben Weasel, of Screeching Weasel. We couldn’t believe that one of our biggest influences was a fan of our record. Ben Weasel really helped springboard the Leftovers career, and we would go on tour tour Europe twice and all over the United States and we made sure that both our full length records, On the Move and Eager to Please were released on vinyl.
After 8 years in the Leftovers, it was time for me to try something new and play with different and talented musicians.. I started my solo career with a release of 2 power pop covers, the Nerves “Hanging on the Telephone” and Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, which was released as a 7 inch 45 single—the first vinyl my label Oglio Records had ever put out!
Recording and releasing the covers record (which was produced by Linus of Hollywood) was not only a fun project, but I really helped me get into the songs and understand the genre better so I could apply them to my original material. After a successful tour of Europe with Italy’s Radio Days, I went back to the studio to record a slew of singles. This year I’m super excited to be playing the Paul Collins’ Power Pop-A-Licious Fest, as well as the 25th anniversary Screeching Weasel festival in Chicago, and I’m planning another tour of Europe in fall.
I’m just a non-stop party animal who spends all his money on beer and vinyl. Ciao!