ATX Interviews Music

Kurt Baker Chats Music, Life in Spain, and his On-Going Tour

Kurt Baker Combo is a rock and roll, power pop punk band currently residing in Madrid, Spain. If you’re not familiar with the band, you may assume that the whole band is from Spain or a surrounding European country. Their story proves their roots lie elsewhere.

Kurt Baker

After years of touring around the U.S., solo gigs, a couple different bands, and countless memories, American musician and songwriter Kurt Baker felt it was time for a change. A native of Portland, Maine, Baker packed his bags and hopped on a plane to begin a new music journey in life, this time in Madrid, Spain.

Immediately after his move, Baker began playing at venues around Madrid and met other artists who would soon join him as band members in what became Kurt Baker Combo. The band is currently comprised of Kurt Baker on lead vocals and guitar, Juancho Lopez on bass guitar, Jorge Colldan on guitar and backing vocals, and Sam Malakiam on drums.

We had the opportunity to chat with Kurt Baker himself (despite being all the way across the Atlantic Ocean) and had a blast hearing about life in Spain, his history in music, and his current tour.

How did you get into music and how did your band eventually form?

Kurt: So I’m originally from Portland, Maine, but I live in Spain now, so it’s kind of a long crazy story. I was playing in many punk rock bands in the state. I had one band called The Leftovers, and we were touring all around. It was the one band that I had at the time that really was able to get out of out of Maine and play in other states. We even ended up going to Europe. I eventually got a lot of connections there, so I ended up moving.

I originally started playing in punk bands in Portland, playing basement shows and halls when I was a teenager. From a very young age, I always knew that I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to play, be on stage and perform. My father is an actor, so when I was really young I used to go with him to see the plays that he would perform in. We were kind of like a family of performers. I always liked the idea of being a musician and playing music, but I also liked that idea that we’re performers. The aspect of performing and being on stage having a good time transmitting is a great energy.

I loved records from a young age. I got into The Beatles when I was five years old. When I first heard The Beatles, it was such an incredible moment. I don’t have a lot of childhood memories, mostly because I don’t really have a good memory in general, but I remember that moment when my uncle played their tape. I heard it and was like, “This is incredible!” I immediately wanted to have a guitar and play in a band and go from there. I had one goal in life, and that was to play music. I just jumped right in.

Tell me about your move to Spain.

Kurt: I live in Madrid, Spain, and moved here in 2013. The first time I played in Madrid was 2006. In the states, there were a few rock and roll bars around, and we’d go on tour and play a mix of basement shows or in rock and roll clubs. But when we went to Europe we’d play at really cool venues that would be open until four, five o’clock in the morning, and they’d always be playing our favorite music. Then we’d always come back to the states and think, “Oh man, I wish we could have those three weeks again,” every year from 2006 up until 2013.

I was going back to Europe, and finally, I said, “You know what, I’m just going to move there.” So I saved up $3,000 and I moved. I haven’t regretted it because it’s given me the opportunity to play a lot more than I would have been playing in the states. Another great thing is that we can always go back to the states. I love going back to see my friends and play gigs.

What’s been your favorite thing about living and performing in Spain?

Kurt: Well, playing shows is great anywhere. If you can make that connection with the audience, whether it’s five people or it’s 3,000 people. For me, it’s just like getting on stage and emitting a great positive energy, having a good time, and seeing other people having a good time enjoying music. I think music possesses this power that you can’t compare to anything else because it transmits this energy that connects people.

I was actually just thinking about this the other day. I saw a video of Paul McCartney doing that “Carpool Karaoke” thing, and it’s really cool because he’s driving around Liverpool and they showed the old park they used to hang out in, and then they’d sing songs together in the car. It’s just so genuine. Even if you’re not a Beatles fan, you can really feel like the power of music and the positivity of it. I love that aspect of music.

Living in Spain is a different kind of vibe. People are speaking different languages, there are different customs, there’s different cultures and all that, but it’s genuinely more low key. People enjoy life here. They’re able to kind of take a step back and breathe. I feel like when I was living in America, it’s was always “Go, go, go, go, go. I got to go here, I got to go do this.” Here it’s more laid back, but I also have a great opportunity to play music. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds.

Kurt Baker Combo
“Let’s Go Wild!” by Kurt Baker Combo

What’s your songwriting process like?

Kurt: For me, it’s always based in melody. I think melody is the most important thing in a song, a good a hook, something that’s catchy to get people to remember it. I usually am starting songs with a melody idea. Being a music fan, I’m always listening to music, and when I’m not listening to music, I’m constantly humming songs in my head. I am one of those people that needs to have music going all the time, and maybe it’s not rock and roll and maybe it’s not punk rock. A lot of times I listen to jazz music or classical music at home just to have something on, to listen to. So a lot of times when it comes to composing, I have a lot of ideas that I get when I’m actually out in the street, not even focusing on writing a song. I’ll be going into the post office or walking my dog, and I won’t be listening to music. I’ll just start thinking about a melody, so I’ll sing something into my voice memo on my phone and then I’ll later go back home and get my guitar and see if that melody sounds good, put some chords under it or a chorus. Then it kind of goes from there. For me, lyrics are usually the last thing that I put on the sauce.

I’ve been working more on the lyric side though. I got to be honest, lyrics have always been the hardest part when it comes to composing songs. But in the last couple of years, I’ve been really trying to write some songs that are important. On the last record that just came out, “Let’s Go Wild!” there are a few songs that are more about social commentaries which I feel really proud of. In the past I was writing a lot of love songs that really didn’t mean anything, you know? A great love song is a great love song. For my influences that are based in like ’60s pop music, that’s kind of the basis of it. But nowadays, I feel it’s really important to grow and to write about more important things. I’m putting more focus on lyrics, but it’s always been about the melody for me. That’s the first step.

It’s such a cool thing that everyone has their own way of writing songs. Once you write your own song, there’s no other song like that in the world. Sure, you can do a cover song, but it’s going to be different than the original recording. But an original song, maybe it sounds a little like another song that somebody else wrote, but there’s something different. Every time someone writes a song, it’s completely unique and I love that part of songwriting because you’re doing something that no one has ever done before. Even if it’s just a little thing, you know? And that’s really gratifying.

How would you describe your sound to somebody who is not familiar with your music?

Kurt: Well, it’s definitely rooted in classic rock and roll. I’ve been influenced by the groups from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s very vintage sounding in its influence, but it’s played with more of a punk rock energy. I wouldn’t say that we’re a punk rock band, but I come from a punk rock background, so I play with this kind of urgency. I think having an urgency and pushing it to the limit is very important. Even playing a slow song, it has this energy to it. It has this feeling that we’re giving it our all. So it’s kind of influenced by power pop like Elvis Costello and Cheap Trick, but at the end of the day it’s rock and roll music, and I think rock and roll has so many different aspects to it. There are so many different colors to the genre that many people can connect to.

You spoke a little bit about your musical influences, but what would you say influences your songwriting outside of other music?

Kurt  I think a lot of my other influences might be based on the movies that I grew up watching. Some of my favorite movies were “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Mary Poppins,” and all these other old Disney movies. I just love the energy out of them, and it stuck with me a lot. I mean, going back to the Beatles, even watching their movies “Hard Day’s Night,” and “Help!” When I was growing up I watched a lot of old movies because my family is really crazy about the old black and white movies. Black and white movies told so much about a story, but it was very simple. There’s some beauty in simplicity, not going overboard with special effects, not being completely pretentious about it. I think that really has a connection to rock and roll because you’re not creating some new kind of music genre, we’re not doing math rock. We’re just playing basic chords, basic melodies, and basic rhythms to connect with people. I see a lot of connection with those old movies because we’re not going to overdo it.

How has your tour been going? 

Kurt: It’s been really great. I feel like right now it’s better than ever, and we’ve been making really great friends. I’m playing wonderful shows here in Spain and we’re going to the states in November. It kind of sucks, because I’d like to play the states more often, but it’s hard. I feel like in Europe, the venues and promoters are much more supportive. The way it is here in general, the clubs pay well and they always accommodate the bands very well. So to go to the states, it kind of reminds me of how it used to be, being an independent artist and not all fun and games. I mean, it’s obviously not all fun and games here either, but in Europe, the culture really respect the arts and you can feel it. When you go to a show, the people and the club owners, they realize that you’re here to play music. When I go to the states, I play great venues sometimes, but as an independent artist that’s not super famous, you sometimes feel like you’re just the background music to the bar or that people don’t care.

Musicians are working their asses off and they’re trying to promote their art, and somehow in the states, it doesn’t go over so well like that. Here, the environment is better for that. So we play a lot in Spain, but it’s also easy to get to France or Italy. Flights are very inexpensive here, and in the states, if you want to fly from Boston or Chicago, you have to pay a lot for a plane ticket and you can’t take a train. So it’s hard to tour in the states right now, especially for rock and roll bands. I have so much respect for all of my friends and great groups that are playing in the states still and continue to do it.

But overall, we’ve really enjoyed touring with this new record because we’re really happy with how it came out. I think that the songs go over pretty well live, so we’ve had a blast playing so far and are happy to keep on playing throughout the year.

What would you say is your favorite song to perform live?

Kurt: That’s a tough question. It always changes, but for me, it’s a song on the new record called “A Girl Like You.” It was written by a dear friend of mine from Portland, Maine, named Kip Brown. He was kind of like my mentor, getting into rock and roll and getting into live music. He introduced me to a lot of stuff. His daughter and I were childhood friends and went to the same school, and he had always been a rock and roll guy around town in my small town. We started writing together played in a few bands when I was living back in the states. He had this song that had never been actually recorded, so we recorded the song for the new album. Playing it live now, I always really love it because it’s got this great groove to it, it’s very Rolling Stones and it’s just a fun song to play. It reminds me of back home, but it’s also a very rock and roll tune that connects with people around here. People seem to dig it, so I’ve been having a lot of fun playing that one.

If you could choose to collaborate with any other musician or band in the world, who would you choose?

Oh wow, I have a huge list, but I would really love to collaborate with this guy Blag Dahlia from his band Dwarves. It’s completely different than anything that I do, but I’ve always been a big Dwarves fan and I love his songwriting. It’s very punk rock and crazy, but he also has a lot of great, well-written, pop-influenced songs that he kind of mixes in with his crazy hardcore punk stuff. That’s kind of out of the box for me, and I want to work with people that come from different backgrounds because I feel that’s the best way to grow and to become a better songwriter. I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Blag and I’ve been close to doing it but we haven’t figured it out yet. But maybe someday that will happen!

Thank you for your time, Kurt! We’re crossing our fingers that you’ll eventually make it over here to Austin so we can see you perform live!

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Kurt Baker Combo’s newest album “Let’s Go Wild!” that was released on May 18, and if you ever find yourself in Spain be sure to catch one of their shows!

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