Baths finds joy in the little things

Interview with Will Wiesenfeld of Baths
Will Wiesenfeld of Baths Photo by Mario Luna

Will Wiesenfeld’s latest album as Baths is a breath of fresh air: a sweet slice of electropop that soars through the skies on rainbow wings. Following up his dark and often challenging 2013 album Obsidian, Romaplasm is a heel face turn, a joyous romp inspired by Wiesenfeld’s love for video games and comic books. Minutes before his Reddit AMA, we caught up with Wiesenfeld to chat about romanticism, his Twitter page, and the meaning behind the album’s unique title.

Northern Transmissions: Tell me about the album title Romaplasm. What does it mean for you?

Will Wiesenfeld: It’s a number of things actually. The working title for the record was Plasma but I always thought of that as being stupid. But the idea behind that is that it’s the fourth state of matter, the most intense, the fastest, all those sort of things, so I kind of held onto that as an idea when I started out on the record, wanting that sort of energy. And then later on diving into the Wiki on romanticism, I realised how attached I was to that word specifically for the record, so I just kind of sat on that.

I really wanted romanticism to be a part of the title, or something to do with the record somehow. And then shortening the word plasma to plasm, it sort of became this thing where plasm reminded me of cytoplasm, being the membrane that kind of encases all the things within the cell. So it kind of became this cool match-up in my head of Romaplasm being the membrane around the world of romanticism, or something like that. Something encompassing a pocket universe. So the longer I sat with it and as stupid and not real as the word was, it kind of just felt more and more applicable. I just couldn’t escape it at that point, it felt like the right thing, so I just stuck with it.

NT: How did romanticism inspire the record?

WW: I should bring up the wiki so I don’t sound like an idiot trying to quote it. But it’s basically the focus on the individual is the biggest part of it, the whole artistic movement was defined by that. I had a list somewhere, a word document of all my favourite quotes from it.

The main quote from it was from someone named Isaiah Berlin. It’s a little long, but there’s this main thing at the end of it. “Romanticism embodied a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective.”

All of that is very long winded, but the last little bit is something that I locked onto, which is the whole thing behind the record. “A search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals,” which to me is the entire reality of fantasy in my own life. That’s how it works for me, all I’m doing when I’m engaging with it is just feeding that need for that, that I’m very clear about this thing not being accessible to me but I’m trying my absolute hardest to emotionally relate to and access it however I can.

NT: What sort of headspace were you in when you were writing the record?

WW: It was looser, I would say. I feel like it was a little different because I allowed myself to take my time with it. I was in a very happy place, I was happy where I was living, I was relaxed, I was financially comfortable. So I was able to work on it the way I would want to work on records for the rest of my life, which is when I felt inspired, that’s the only time I would work. There were times when I would work longer, when I would work for days on end, take big long walks every day and just be really inspired and be really excited to finish up a song and get really into lyric writing. When I’m writing lyrics I really make an effort to go somewhere inspiring, so I’ll get up out of the house and try to find a nice place to focus and listen to music with noise-cancelling headphones. I just did my thing in the most comfortable way possible living in west LA.

NT: In a lot of the press material for the album it mentions how you were inspired by media in your life like anime and comic books. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

WW: It’s extremely pervasive in my own life. I’m standing in my bedroom right now and you would be laughing if you could see it because there’s just giant Japanese dudes. I’ve got a bunch of sweaters from the clothing company Massive all over my wall. A bunch of friends’ art, a bunch of anime stuff, I’m just in my world and thinking about it all the time. I have thousands of images saved on my phone. Animation, manga, anime, comic books, all that sort of stuff, it just permeates my entire life so I kind of can’t escape it. So honing in on the inspiration for this record, it was just about being cool with that. It wasn’t trying to reach way outside of my own life, the things that I’m passionate about, it was just about taking a step back and saying ‘oh, this is the stuff that I love that I’m thinking about all the time, so I’m just going to ride that out and be inspired by the media that pertains to the way I would like my head to feel all the time.’

NT: Romaplasm is different from your last record Obsidian for me, which was darker, and had some lyrics that were almost disturbing. Romaplasm is much more upbeat.

WW: It’s much more palatable. There are dark parts of it, but even those are much more digestible things. That was also the effort with it, was to be something that people could listen to and be affected by without being a brutal challenge like the last one. Not that it was, but like you were saying, there are disturbing parts of it that are really morbid and morose, and all that kind of shit. Whereas this one, even in the sad parts, it’s meant to be heard more.

NT: You’re trying to reach out to a wider audience.

WW: Yeah. Without expressly saying, like, ‘it’s time to go bigger.’ I’m just being easier on myself, I think. I definitely think it’s fundamentally more accessible in the style of stuff I wanted to make. Sonically, I knew I was going to start making for this record, it would probably be more accessible by the end of it, being that I wanted to make much more positive and percussive pop song type things. Even if they were a little more experimental, I thought, ‘that’ll be good, people will be down.’

NT: You’re pretty active on social media, especially Twitter. Do you find that’s a good way to engage with your fanbase?

WW: Yeah, I think so. You can immediately alert people to something really fast, which is helpful. It’s a thing, though, that you have to be aware that it’s a feedback loop. If I’m looking to Twitter to be an accurate representation of how people feel about my music, that’s not good, because it’s all people who follow me. And the people who follow me on Twitter tend to be in line with my own thinking about a lot of things, so it’s not somewhere I would go for constructive criticism or a genuine opinion about my stuff. But it’s also not what I’m looking for when I go on Twitter. It’s more that I’m there to hang out and make friends and share my stuff. But it’s definitely helpful for sharing and getting stuff out there. And I can chat about the music and stuff I’m into.

NT: Do you find yourself going to different places to find constructive feedback?

WW: I don’t know. I guess that made it sound like I seek constructive feedback all the time, and I definitely don’t. I’m not riding around the Internet for who hates my shit, or who has really intense shit to say about my music. It’s more that I’m well aware that the feedback on Twitter is not representative of the wider world. It is cool though, because people I didn’t expect will say that they really like the record, which is always amazing. But it tends to be within the followers that I have that are in my mentions, and of course they’re going to be down. Overall, it definitely has been a stronger response than the last record, I think because it’s easier for people to get into. So that’s been cool.

NT: And that’s kind of what you were looking for.

WW: What I was looking for, as a quote, is not the right thing, because I don’t make a record to see how people feel about it, I make a record to see how I feel about it. I just said in another interview recently that it’s like my whole thing about whether I accomplished what I set out to do, or however people are going to feel about it, none of that matters until I finish the record, which is usually four to five months before it even comes out. I have to be happy with it, I have to be in a place where I feel like this is right, this is what I set out to accomplish. If all of that lines up, my hands are in the air, and I go put it out into the world. We’ll see how people feel about it, but it’s not going to change how I feel about it. I feel exactly as strong about it as I did when I finished it, and that’s a very good thing.

NT: Where do you see your music going from here? Will we have to wait another four years for a new Baths album?

WW: I don’t think it’ll be that long, only because I’m healthy. The whole thing was that, after Obsidian I wasn’t healthy, so there was a lot of squaring away my own lifestyle and the way that I existed in the world. I had to start exercising again, I had to adjust my diet, I had to become happy again after about six months of really feeling down and out about things. I’m very good now, I feel great, so I feel like it’s not going to be anywhere near as long. If we’re pointing to specifics, I feel like there will be another Geotic record coming out before there will be another Baths record, because nothing exists for a new Baths record but there’s plenty of material for a new Geotic record. But I do not think it will be four years — I’m too excited about working on the next thing.

Words by Max James Hill