Baba Ali was already one of our favorite emerging artists when we asked for an interview. He obliged, and then proceeded to fuck with us the entire time with a procession of smart ass answers. Now we really love him.
The NYC-raised, London-based artist just dropped his This House EP on Danger Mouse’s 30th Century Records, and the new songs epitomize a creative mind that wants to see how far he can push his music without losing the audience. Baba and his guitarist demoed the original tracks in his London flat before developing them further in Los Angeles with the Kills’ Jamie Hince. These genre-bending songs, which we’d describe as art-punk soul, showcase an emerging talent with a unique artistic voice that deserves the brightest of spotlights. (Of course, he might’ve helped his online searchability if he didn’t choose an artist name already taken by a popular comedian.)
Baba, who moved to London to complete a master’s degree in fine art, puts the same unique perspective into his low-budget, high-art music videos. Consider the elegant and edgy simplicity of his most recent video, “Shame Blues,” largely shot in what appears to be the bathroom of an old home. Or consider the EP opener, “House,” that uses scratchy video and a limited color palette to showcase Baba and his guitarist performing in a stairwell. This brilliant visual style is equally evident in videos from earlier releases, including the 2017 singles “I’ve Been Voodooed” and “Cog in the Wheel.”
PRØHBTD spoke with Baba to learn more about his music. He might not have given us a straight answer to anything, but it was certainly entertaining.
How would you describe the culture you’ve created around your songwriting process?
I like to go six days without food and water before I write anything. Not a word. If I cheat, then I punish myself by eating a Domino’s pizza or something else equally horrific. Other than that, it is pretty straight forward.
What type of mindset do you seek in the recording booth to make your vocals grittier and more emotional?
I drink a shot of Original Louisiana hot sauce, spew it out moments later, and then get on with it. The rest is plug-ins and a harmonica microphone I found at a pawn shop in Washington Heights.
Tell me about the stylistic range in This House. What are the extremes?
I like to think I borrow elements from every end of the spectrum, that way you please everyone. However, if I were to set up two goalposts, This House sits between Nina Simone giving David Byrne a hard slap across the face and John Lydon reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Name one element of your personality that comes through clearly on the EP.
My snazzy dress sense! My socks always match, and my trousers are always neatly pressed.
What are examples of steps you took to make sure the new songs would be different and stand out against the current mainstream trends?
I absolutely love current mainstream trends so I don’t know where you got this idea from. I am so confused and worried. I’m really looking forward to the new Strokes album.
You earned a master’s degree in fine art at Goldsmiths University in London. Which types of visual art did you feel most inspired to make?
To be honest, the tutors would discourage us from actually making any ‘visual’ art, as they believe there is something inherently violent about it. Instead we’d sit in a white room discussing Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and performing communal breathing exercises.
In what ways have the visual arts made you a better music artist, and in what ways has making music made you a better visual artist?
That’s two hard questions. If there’s a chicken and there’s an egg…which one do you fry first?
You’ve signed with 30th Century Records, with This House as your first release on the label. Is there a timeline for a full-length debut?
You bet there is! I’ve been a hermit in New Jersey since January, participating in lucid dreaming webinars and watching Fox News. This was necessary, as I was able to clear any bad ju-ju from ex-lovers, and I’m now crafting the songs to be out as a full-length in the fall. I’m also planning to put a mixtape of songs out soon, hopefully before summer greets us.
Where have you focused your time during the city lockdown?
I watch a lot of Top Chef. Other than that, I’ve been furiously working on this mixtape! If only you could see the bags under these eyes… but I’m too vain to show myself in this weary state.
If you could only have whiskey, weed or Wu-Tang during the lockdown, what would be your pick?
Well, as a born-again Lutheran, it would have to be THE Wu-Tang Clan.