Guts Club is not your granddad’s folk singer. Lindsey Baker has only been writing and playing music seriously for a few years, but she’s already dropped three albums’ worth of sinister, violent folk country. She began her career in earnest during a brief stint in Brooklyn, putting out Guts Club’s first LP, The Arm Wrestling Tournament, a fully solo endeavor, in 2015. Lindsey moved to New Orleans the following year and released her sophomore project, Shit Bug, which added instrumentalists and got considerable buzz on an international scale. Still, she’s remained a recluse, in keeping with her misanthropic aesthetic. Her third full-length, Trench Foot, comes out July 6. Like her past work, it’s self-released and DIY as hell; but for the first time, she recorded with electric instruments and a live backing band, finally opening Guts Club to new members and updated technology. I met Lindsey at Paloma Cafe in the Bywater to discuss the state of country music, going electric, and insomnia remedies.
Have you ever had trench foot?
I’ve never had trench foot. I think just growing up you would read about it in history stuff because it would happen in World War I with trench warfare. But then I was reading about the Transcontinental Railroad. When they started building the railroad out west, people would get trench foot because they would build these tent communities as they were laying these tracks. It was muddy and shitty and rainy and disgusting and they’d have to put boards down. So I was like, “I’m fascinated by this!” I think I just like goofy metaphors.
Does it symbolize anything for you other than just a gross thing that can happen to your feet?
No. I mean, it does. It’s not a physical state. It’s more like being weighed down by regret and things that fester, nasty things that grow in you. Shitty stuff.
Festering and grossness in general seem to be ongoing themes for you.
Yeah, this record’s a little less gross. But I keep shooting myself in the trench foot—don’t print that—because I keep naming [my albums] really wack shit. I was like, “Oh, Shit Bug! That’s a great name for a record.” And now I’m like, “Ooh, Trench Foot!” [“Trench Foot”] was my favorite song on the record and I feel like it sort of told the story of the record, so I went with it… I think next time I’ll just be like, Record About Love.
Your first record doesn’t have that gross of a name.
Yeah, that one’s fine. [Laughs.]
If you just looked at your album artwork on Shit Bug, you’d assume it was a punk record.
Yeah. Musically, it’s a little more low-key. This record is louder. It’s electric. I have a drummer.
Right, but it’s still definitely not a punk record. There’s a pedal steel on there.
Well, we got a slide. I didn’t have a lap steel on this one. Travis Bird plays guitar for me and he was playing this beautiful old [Gibson] Firebird with a bottleneck. But yeah, it definitely looks punk. And musically, it doesn’t sound that way. But lyrically, it’s very violent and it’s kind of rough. I think that’s how that aesthetic can exist within that music. There’s always a violence in my stuff.
My favorite song on the record was “Bad Aim.” I liked the lyric, “I used to cry all night, but now I just sleep / Time moves faster that way.”
Yeah, that’s another thing with this record. While “trench foot” is a metaphor, I was a lot more literal in a lot of ways with what I was talking about. I mean, not being tied to the side of a mountain. That’s not something that actually happened to me. But realizing that if you can put yourself to bed, the next day’s gonna happen a lot faster than if you’re laying there thinking about it and weeping. Put your ass to bed.
It’s hard sometimes, though!
I know. I recently started taking a ton of CBD oil and it really helps me put my ass to bed better. So if you’re like, “Oh, I have anxiety,” I’d really recommend it.
It’s tough when you’re buying weed and it’s just weed, and you have no idea what it’s going to do to you.
I do really look forward to when we have dispensaries. I don’t smoke anymore because it seems like what I was smoking always made me have anxiety. THC can do that. So I look forward to when we have dispensaries and I can be like, “OK, I wanna be creative, I don’t wanna be crazy, I don’t wanna be lethargic.”
And it’ll all be written out right there!
Yeah, I really look forward to that. But we’re not there yet.
You came here by way of Brooklyn, but you’re originally from somewhere in Appalachia, right?
Yeah, I grew up in western Pennsylvania and then I lived in Philly for about ten years, and then I moved to Brooklyn and did not like it.
Where in western Pennsylvania?
I lived in a town called Altoona ‘til I was 18 and then I went to school in Philly and stayed there.
What didn’t you like about Brooklyn?
I just had to work too much. I was always working, working, working… It’s a place with a lot of amenities, and you have everything you ever wanted, but you can’t enjoy any of it unless you’re a baller and that’s not something I was.
What were you doing when you lived there?
I worked at a Whole Foods. I had finished grad school—I got an MFA in sculpture—and I should have moved to New York before I did that. I did it kind of stupidly backwards. I should’ve gone when I was younger and still willing to intern and had some Grad PLUS loans I was sitting on. But it didn’t work that way, so I was like, “This is too much.”
Going back to Appalachia—Apple-H-a or Apple-Latch-a—how do you say it?
They say “Latch.” But I think it’s kind of like “New Or-Lins” and “New Or-leens.”
The local way is always better, though.
Yeah, I always said “Latch.”
What were you listening to as a young’un out in Appalachia?
I was really into Grateful Dead and, like, Coldplay. [Laughs] And it’s really funny because [the Dead] would cover Bob Dylan songs and I wouldn’t know they were Bob Dylan songs. That would happen with jam bands when I was younger and kind of into that. You’d hear these songs and go, “That’s a really good song,” and then you’d further investigate what the hell was going on and it’s like, “Oh, that’s a fucking Bob Dylan song.” But yeah, I liked old music and used to collect old Smithsonian Folkways records and Alan Lomax stuff. Super folky stuff.
“This record’s a little less gross.”
That’s funny that you got into Dylan that way. Do you see going electric for Trench Foot as a sort of Highway 61 Revisited move? Do you anticipate backlash from the purists?
Well there was one blog, Austin Town Hall, that was like, “I wasn’t sure about Trench Foot and then I gave it a listen and I dig it.” I guess they liked Shit Bug and The Arm Wrestling Tournament and they’ve always been real sweet about reposting premiers and singles and stuff. And we premiered “Metal Arms” on a UK site last week and they reposted it and they were like, “We weren’t sure what to expect with electric Guts Club, but this is cool!” Because [the record] is still pretty soft, especially that song. It kind of turns into a Gram Parsons song or something. So that was cool. I’m glad my one fan wasn’t bummed.
I’ve only seen you play solo in the past, but I know you brought in a band this time around. Do you prefer playing solo or with a group?
With a group, definitely. I don’t do it without the band anymore. In the fall, I did a couple house shows by myself, but I still would just rather have the band. So even when a cool band comes to me and says, “Do this show with us,” I’m like, “No, my drummer’s out of town.”
There’s still an inherent loneliness to your sound, even with the band onboard. Do you always write by yourself?
Yeah, I write by myself with an acoustic guitar and then I take it to them and I’m like, “OK, let’s thrash!” But yeah, it’s by myself. The band will help sometimes with minor arrangement things, but I try to come rehearsed. I don’t wanna be that annoying band leader that’s like, “Actually, wait. Stop, stop. OK. No wait, wait,” because I’ve been in bands like that and it sucks. Like you’re not being paid (you might get a slice of pizza), so I’m not gonna waste your time, man. The people I play music with are fucking sweethearts, but I don’t want to make them feel like they’re wasting their time.
How about recording? How has your process changed over the years, moving from solo work to collaboration?
With The Arm Wrestling Tournament, I was totally by myself. I went to this man’s house [Tyler Wood] in the Catskills. It was a really dreamy recording experience. I was legit in this man’s living room. And then on Shit Bug, the people who played on that record only heard the weird GarageBand demos I sent to them and we didn’t even rehearse. And with this band [on Trench Foot], we’d played some of the songs together because we’d been playing them live, so they’re more involved. They had a hand in the sound, which I really like. There’s only so much you can do yourself and it’s just gorgeous to have other people go, “Actually, wouldn’t it be cool if I did this?” And I’m like “Yes, yes. Do it.”
It still sounds pretty DIY. There’s been a little more press coming at you now, though, it feels like. Have you been approached by any labels?
Not really any that I would want to work with. I have dream labels that I sent stuff to and they were like, “Eh…” [Laughs] But yeah, it would be cool to not have to do it myself. I don’t want to do it myself. It’s cool to have complete fucking control, but with that control comes all your fucking finances and all your time. I’m not good at selling myself and my social media presence is kinda wack. So I have a publicist, but I couldn’t do much else. It’s a lot of work and it would be rad to find a good fit somewhere, but I haven’t yet.
I didn’t grow up a country fan, but I’ve been getting into it a bit more because I’ve noticed some positive trends lately. I see it moving away from the “bro country” that’s been so dominant for so long. As someone much more knowledgeable and involved, do you see that happening?
Yeah, but it sucks because a lot of those guys—your Margo Prices and your Sturgill [Simpson]s or your H.C. McEntires—they’re Nashville sweethearts, but the country music establishment sort of shits on them or ignores them, which is a bummer because they’re wonderful, amazing songwriters. They write gorgeous songs, but you’re not gonna hear them on country radio. So I don’t even know what’s happening [with mainstream modern country]. I don’t want to listen to it either. But then there’s like your Jonny Fritzes and that stuff’s really cool. But those guys will play a Newport Folk Festival before they play a CMT Awards.
Do you think of your music as country?
In my mind, I’m like, “I wanna write country songs! These are country songs!” But they’re fucking not. [Laughs] I don’t know how I would make them sound more country without compromising Guts Club. And I don’t think my singing voice would allow for things to get super much more country because I can’t do those highs and I’m not there with the tropes. I would like to write country songs. Sometimes people do weird two-steps at shows and I’m like, “Cool,” but I realize it’s not actually country music… I feel like “Pansy From the Hills” is country-ish and maybe “Skin Dryer” would be. But it’s my country. No country for old Guts!
Trench Foot feels a lot more hopeful to me than your past work. Have you been feeling more hopeful lately?
Really? Cool. No, I’m never very hopeful. But I think this one is sort of about learning to live with regret and live with past traumas, learning to live with yourself and the shitstorm around you. So it’s not hope but it’s not resignation either. It’s just learning to deal.
Guts Club will release Trench Foot on July 6 at Banks Street Bar, with Blind Texas Marlin, Justin Ready, and The Echo Prairies opening. For more info, check out gutsclub.bandcamp.com.
top photo by RAPHAEL HELFAND