Adam Baker, frenetic frontman for the six-piece North Carolina rock combo Annuals, is almost as textured as his songwriting. With a likeable yet scatterbrained way about him, his buoyant personality naturally bubbles over into his tunes. The band's primary composer, Baker's impassioned spirit is aflutter when asked about the dictionary-thick arrangements permeating the band's songs.
“I'm looping—I'm constantly looping,” he says as his timbre shifts skyward. “I basically start with the song, something simple, and then from there, I'm mentally thinking about what I can add to make it better. I think Mozart did that, The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's—there are just so many options, and I feel like I have to explore all of them.”
From that explanation it's easy to understand why the young songwriter fancies himself a slave to the studio. With the help of copious amounts of weed—a theme he brings up regularly—he admits to often spending hours, sometimes weeks at a time, holed up behind the soundboard trying to squeeze out every last drop of creativity. Whether it's a few added licks from the electric guitar or a flurry on the keyboard, no stone remains flat on the ground in front of Baker's feet. Sometimes he'll come up empty, and, naturally, that's when the weed is cranked up a notch.
“I'll do whatever it takes to get a song where it needs to be,” he says. “Sometimes that's jamming it out with the rest of the guys, sometimes it's more weed and sometimes it's just taking a step back to kind of conceptualize where the whole thing is headed.”
With that kind of obsessive attention to minutia, Baker often winds up with fantastic results, but when does he reach critical mass?
“It's real simple. A song is done when I get goose bumps listening to it and playing it,” he explains. “If that doesn't happen, then the song isn't finished and I have to keep plugging away.”
It seems that someone with Baker's singular vision would have a difficult time sharing it with anyone else. Yet, on the band's most recent effort, 2008's Such Fun, he shares production credits with noted knob twister Jacquire King (Modest Mouse, Kings of Leon). Admittedly, Baker originally saw no need to bring an outside ear into the studio, but at his record label's insistence, King was brought on board. Though tepid at first, Baker says he eventually learned to appreciate the situation.
“You know, it wasn't easy for me at the start because I am a producer, so why would I need another producer in there with me? I definitely had to put my ego in check. When we started, I really felt like Jacquire was just slowing things down, but after a while, I started listening to him, and I really think that he helped me a lot.”
Refreshingly, even with Baker's unrelenting fire for studio wizardry, Annuals put on one hell of a live show. From caustic stage movements to perfectly succinct playing on the African rhythms of “Eyes in the Darkness” and the orchestral pop of “Confessor,” they hardly seem like a collection of studio musicians unable to duplicate what they put down on record. And that's helped them land gigs all over the world, opening for such bands as The Flaming Lips, Bloc Party and Calexico.
“Playing live is everything, really. That's the best part of all,” says Baker, who, perhaps suffering from short-term memory loss, makes another shivery reference. “Nothing gives me goose bumps more than getting out there on stage and looking down into the audience and seeing people there that know the songs and are singing along. It's like, ‘Holy shit, someone actually gives a fuck about what we are doing!'”
Well, if that weren't the case, it sure would seem that all that time locked up in the studio with the weed went to waste.
Annuals play with Jessica Lea Mayfield and What Laura Says Thinks and Feels on Wednesday, Feb. 18,at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/annuals.