A Q&A With: Caiti Baker
With her debut album under her belt, Caiti Baker talks Zinc, Darwin's music scene and her ongoing journey as an exciting prospect of Australian genre-blending.
Hailing from Darwin, Australia, Caiti Baker's story is nothing short of extraordinary. While few soul and R&B artists today maintain artistic integrity on their paths to becoming superstars, and many crumble under the weight of their past experiences, Baker, through battling chronic fatigue syndrome and losing contact with her father, emerged triumphant and released her formidable soulful debut, Zinc.
What is your musical background i.e. the artists and records that shaped your neo-soul, R&B vibe?
My upbringing was strictly blues, soul, big band and rock & roll – American music. When my blues musician/musicologist father wasn’t influencing what I could listen to, I found new jack swing, hip hop, R&B and neo-soul. Artists like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Big Mama Thornton, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill kinda define how I interpret and create music.
What kind of reception do you receive in Australia? Is there a solid soul or R&B scene in Darwin?
The music I make is “genre-blending", so it’s a little difficult to put it in a box and label it! I’m lucky to be supported by online radio and community radio stations around the country who get what I’m doing and want to share it! I’ve been touring for the last two years and my fan base is growing with each show. I guest feature with a couple of well-known rappers (A.B. Original, Briggs,) and perform with them live so I can cross pollinate scenes in the country. There’s a solid music scene in Darwin – we are a melting pot for all genres. 140,000 people live in Darwin; we’re a small capital city. We’re all supportive of each other and I believe we all have a uniqueness that can be attributed to existing in a place like Darwin.
Your debut record, Zinc, is no doubt an outstanding achievement. Was it a difficult or particularly taxing process to create it?
Thank you! I’m extremely proud of it! It definitely wasn’t taxing. I love every process of creating an album. I had some general life issues that hindered the timeline a little which was really the only “taxing” part of the process. I’m already working on my next body of work and that’s coming a long quite quickly.
I understand you have suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. Did this impact the music you listened to, or how you interpreted it and your own work?
Absolutely. I had CFS for six years and in that time I was writing, recording and touring with my previous band, Sietta. That period of my life is all somewhat a blur. I don’t remember much from it! I do remember discovering The Weeknd early on and becoming a little obsessed. We did a little cover of The Birds (Part 1) six years ago! I listen back to the albums we released as Sietta and I know it was me but I don’t remember writing or recording them. That doesn’t feel or sound like me. Obviously it was me, but I was really unwell. It’s quite surreal. I cured the fatigue about eight months after I began writing as a solo artist, so a lot of the lyrics on Zinc were therapeutic. I was working out who I was after being somewhat asleep for six years. A lot of what I wrote about was centred around identity, relationships, love and growth.
What was the relief like from zinc supplementation and nutrient therapy? Other than the title of 'Zinc', was that next step in your life a driving force behind your album?
The relief was exactly that – relief. I was so inflamed and completely out of balance in all aspects of my physical and mental health. The treatment worked because I was compliant and disciplined and science is science. If I hadn’t found the treatment, I wouldn’t have been able to create what I did. I owe my current situation to the fiercely loyal support network I have in my partner, my label and my community. As I mentioned before, the entire album was a result of the process going from unhealthy to healthy. I had a lot of motivation and energy to write!
I also understand you and your father lost contact around the same time you battled your condition. How did this happen?
I was unwell and so was he. We had a falling out and I don’t do drama so I stepped back and just removed myself from the situation. A year turned into four. I barely had energy to deal with what was in front of me and I think the relationship hiatus was spurred on by my condition. Around the time that I started to heal my health and transition into a solo artist, I decided to reconnect with him. We spoke on the phone first just to make sure it was OK and then I visited him at his place and everything went well. He gave me a USB drive that had hundreds of audio files he’d recorded off his phone. They were recordings of his original guitar licks and harmonica playing and he recorded how he worked out melodies and chords. This became the foundation to the sound of my debut album, Zinc.
Your father gave you a substantial amount of material to work with upon reuniting - what is his background in music?
He’s a blues musician. He’s been playing since he was a teenager. His father was a devout jazz and classical fan but it was his friends that got him into blues. It was natural for him so he picked up the guitar and the rest is history. He’s truly obsessed with the music and has become something of a musicologist.
You told The Brag last year that the change in your sound resulting from your father’s samples was a factor behind releasing music under your own name. Was this a difficult choice to make through your healing process?
Yes. It was definitely a challenging part of the healing process. When I was unwell, I didn’t want to be accountable so I was happier to hide behind a moniker. Once we had decided to retire Sietta, I had a name that I wanted to go out as to help me separate myself from the performer. But as I got better and came into my own, it seemed inauthentic to be called by anything but my name.
Do you plan to use more of his ideas in the future? And do you take a lot of inspiration from your previous work in Sietta?
I think the next collection of songs will be simplified in many aspects. I may use some of Dad’s ideas again in the future but not for the next round of songs I’m currently creating. I’ll always be evolving and drawing from the plethora of influences that excite me. Ultimately, I love to make music I wanna hear and whatever that may be, will be!
How did/do you and your friend, James Mangohig, approach production and songwriting?
It varies! James can create a basic instrumental that I vibe off and write to on my own which we then craft together – lyrics, production and arrangement etc. Or, we can sit with a guitar or piano and work something out. Sometimes I’ll be in the studio with James and he’ll start creating a beat and we’ll build everything together. Writing wise, I have a lot of lyrics spinning in my head or written down in my phone. I come up with ideas on the fly too, depending on the vibe!
Do you have any certain goals or ambitions you wish to achieve with the release of Zinc and beyond?
I’m feel like I'm already a successful musician – I tour, perform and sing. When I’m not doing that, I’m creating music and doing odd jobs around the place. My goal is to always be in a position to create, release and tour my music. Further to that, I hope that more people hear what I do and enjoy what I create! I’d also love to see as much of the world as possible and meet people from all over and listen to their stories.
To end on a light-hearted note, could you tell me your three favourite songs?
Oooh, that’s tough. Let’s go with my current favourite songs! Irma Thomas’ 'Ruler of My Heart', 'ES Tales' by Jay Rock and Aaliyah’s 'One In A Million'!