Baths' New Album Is a Warm Fantasy World
The Los Angeles producer/songwriter came out of a period of darkness to make one of the year's warmest, most inviting records.
Photo by Mario Luna
Will Wiesenfeld is feeling good again, but he wasn’t for a while. Deep in the grueling stretches of touring Obsidian—his last album as Baths, which he calls a “really negative record, on purpose”—he realized the process of singing those songs every night, tales of sickness, morbidity, and romantic dissolution was getting to him. Couple that with the day-to-day stress of managing himself on tour, and he realized he needed a change, so he took it. When he got off tour, he entered "a very conscious recovery" period at home in West Los Angeles, where he lived with his bandmate Morgan Greenwood and his brother. He’d go to the Jacuzzi and the gym a short distance away from his house, watch cartoons, and generally enter a headspace that he refers to as a “comfortable mess.”
Four years after the release of Obsidian, he’s back with a new Baths record called Romaplasm (out today on Anticon) that he says congealed during that period of comfort, which pretty much stretched through the entire recording of the record. But even if you didn’t know about the “really good state of being” that he’s been living in for the past few years, you can get a sense of it from the record—a bright, moving collection of shimmering electronic instrumentals and lyrics that are often playful, romantic, and yearning. Wiesenfeld notes it’s not 100% positive—mark the half-sung, half-yelped “queer in a way that works for you” refrain on one of the record’s standouts “Human Bog”—but even the dreariest moments hit your ears feeling like you’re waking up in someone’s cottage on a sunny hill in some fantasy world.
Wiesenfeld’s taste for simple, loving domesticity—which he also explored on a recent album as Geotic—really hits home in this project, which he calls an “unabashed expression of self.” Much of the advance press has made note of the anime and video games that inspired the record, but Wiesenfeld is quick to correct that impression. Those worlds draw him in, but only insomuch as they’re a part of the life he’s built for himself, Romaplasm’s an attempt to show all of himself, and his love of fantasy’s only a part of it. With this record, it feels like Wiesenfeld has perfected the art of perfect attaching his emotions to his music, his music to your emotions, and your emotions to the experiences, feelings, and things he writes about.
It’s one of the warmest and most inviting records of the year, and over Skype he explained to us how it became that way. Along the way we also chat about the way that queer media affects us in our current moment, and the best new gay anime.
Noisey: Romaplasm seems to be in a completely different emotional ballpark from Obsidian—which was really dark. So much of Romaplasm is uplifting and sounds really emotionally full. Will Wiesenfeld: I definitely went into it that way. I was very aware that Obsidian was the dark record and I tried to move away from that in a pointed way. My overbearing sense of self was good, so I wanted to make [music] that felt good even if it was negative subject matter in some moments. That fullness you're talking about just came naturally. I couldn't help but create lyrics that fit that unbridled positivity in some of the songs.
[But] even in the super positive songs it's not 100% positive all the time. The main refrain of the third track, “Abscond,” is, “You're the ire of your father but the other half of me,” which is encompassing the dark and light. I knew before I even started working on it that I wanted it to be faster, I wanted shorter song lengths, I wanted melodic percussion. I wanted a lot of the melody and chord structure to be percussive and punchy so it felt very physical, more than anything else. I was thinking about my own life and recovering from everything after Obsidian.
After getting E. coli, I was confined to my bed, bathroom, and living room, slowly moving around those for months. So every effort in making this next thing was proving to myself that I could exist as the opposite of whatever that was. It became this full sound that is constantly bouncing off of itself, and a lot of the tracks are just punchy and loud and poppy.
If people follow you on Twitter they know you're into anime, they know you're into games and comics—but those apparently explicitly inspired Romaplasm. Tell me about that.
I'm more emotionally responsive with fantasy than I am with real narratives or real world media and experiences. I tend to become more focused, inspired, and interested in things that are very outside of my normal day to day life. The feelings are real. If an anime makes me upset or makes me cry, those feelings aren't like fake. That worldview is something that I tapped into 100% in order to do this record.
It's just one of those things that goes back to me trying to make electronic music a valid thing in my own life. Just because the palette and instruments I’m working with might not be the ones people have used for centuries and have a personal relationship with doesn't mean that the emotion coming out of it is any less valid. Electronic music has been a mirror for me in terms of fantasy. It's so completely not about the journey, it's about the destination. If it feels real to you, it doesn't matter how you made it. I have this other thing with fake plants in my house. It makes the house feel comfortable. People have said they like them, but they're not real.
Do people know that they're not real?
No, they don't, and even when they find out, it doesn’t matter. That's the fucking point. Because I've always felt so connected to anime and video games and all that sort of stuff, I had to grow up and be very comfortable with the feelings I had for them. A pervasive inspiration for me throughout my entire life is newness— not hip, trendy things that are happening now—but things that feel alien, things that are completely different than your normal frame of mind.
The music that inspires me the most in my life is stuff that I hear it and have no understanding of what it is, therefore I need to know everything about it. I think, that feeling, and reading a fantasy or sci-fi novel or watching anime or reading a manga, I'm taken somewhere. I'm in a realm of feeling and experiences that's completely different to me, and that's the best feeling in the world. I tapped into that a long time ago and I don't think I've ever escaped.
You mentioned that you wanted to mirror the emotions your inspirations give you while making this album. Any time I hear that something is inspired by anime, I automatically think of lyrics about Rurouni Kenshin or Hajime no Ippo, or doing jutsus and shit. What were some challenges you faced mirroring these emotions without mentioning things like anime in your lyrics?
I do something in life all the time where I listen to music that’s important to me but with this anime visual running in my head all the time—like an AMV running through my mind at all times, but it's one that has a good fucking soundtrack, no bad dialogue, and everybody's hot. I feel like I'm always writing in that realm. I'm making music that feels good when it meets with that vision in my head.
When I heard the line in "Coitus" about mining ore, I immediately thought about Minecraft.
That's the thing. That's inspiring to people! Minecraft is like a state of being. If you're playing it, the music and the vibe of it, it's a total thing. My passion for the game Skyrim is born of that. It's a nice place to be, to just go into it and exist there. I'm not like obsessed with the thousands of other dudes that you have to kill in Skyrim to get anything done, it's about the existence in there and the feel of it. I want all those pieces of media that I'm obsessed with, all these games and all these fucking comics and everything, I want them to be be some lazy Sunday shit, where you're just in domestic bliss. Friends hanging out for an entire afternoon, something that doesn't make for a good story but it's a really nice state of being, that's the stuff I'm like always seeking out.
In making music, it's my window into a vignette of those things. “Coitus” especially is one of those things. It's this heralding of sex—a super positive, inspiring, and beautiful force in life—especially with gay sex. I've written about gay sex in a lot of negative ways, even on Romaplasm there's a couple negative experiences about it, but it can also be this thing that's so overwhelmingly positive that the experience completely takes over your brain. It's hard to find a balance between how fantastical those experiences and emotions are and trying to get other people to understand them in a way that's real. I think the lyrics are where you can pin down the fantasy, where you can make it tangible to somebody.
If it’s so tied to fantasy, do you feel like Romaplasm is close to being autobiographical for where your life is at right now?
I think so. Emotionally, all the things I write about are drawn from real-world experiences because I don't know how to write about emotion that I haven't felt before. So all the realms, the fantasies that are included in what I'm talking about are rooted in things that I feel. Especially awe. I'm in love with trying to write about awe because it makes so little sense.
How do you write about it?
I had this religious upbringing that I've completely abandoned, being a gay person. The thing that people have for religion, this avenue to experience awe in some mindset other than real life, is a thing that I identify with even if I'm not a religious person. I don't think I've ever been explicitly autobiographical, at least not with subjects, but certainly with the experiences, I think those are pretty autobiographical.
There's some dark sexual things going on in some of the tracks on Romaplasm and I've certainly had those feelings. Without getting too deep into it, yes, I think there's a bit of both. Anything that sounds like it's not a complete fantasy, that's probably something that's happened to me. There was a song on Obsidian that referenced a domestic relationship and the dissolve of said relationship, called “Incompatible,” and I wrote it through experiencing that vicariously through a lot of other friends. A lot of friends lived together and had these negative relationships, but I've never had that experience before, so it's kind of one of those things where it's autobiographical only to a certain extent and then very indulgent in the fantasy of negativity surrounding it.
2017 has been a pretty big year for you. You were just featured in Out Magazine's OUT100, which is their annual celebration of the most influential LGBTQ+ people of the year...
It's fucking wild.
...And you did the theme song for the gay dad dating sim, Dream Daddy , and while the album tackles a lot of the dark sex stuff, it’s very unabashedly queer, which a lot of your music has been. I wanted to ask about your feelings about where queer media and music is now in 2017.
I feel like so much of it is under attack right now. Basically anybody that is marginalized, in this administration, it feels like there is a constant assault on just being ourselves. There's this urgency in almost all queer media that exists, that any time it even appears there's an immediate focus and excitement about it. It's perceived as politically driven even when the intent is not that, just by existing.
It's confusing more than anything else. I’ve been writing the same way for a very long time. I haven't changed the way that I make music or the stuff that I write about to fit how the world is. I've had a couple of references to things but it hasn't changed the way I do things. There's so much more inspired material in the world right now, intentionally political material, which is great because people are inspired to put their music out there. There's just more of it which will never be a negative thing.
I feel like the more queer representation in media that exists, the healthier the world is. I think it's an extremely exciting time because there's so much new good shit. There's more comfortably queer animation, anime, and comics than I've ever experienced in my life which is a fucking godsend, because all I've ever wanted my whole life was to experience that. That's the thing that's maybe most affected me, there's anime that’s gay all the way through, and I can just experience it and live it. It’s fucking great.
What’s one of your recent favorites?
Yuri on Ice, that's the big one, the one that I'm always screaming at everybody, “It's great, you have to watch it.”
If there was one thing that you wanted to get across in Romaplasm that you feel like people might not pick up on, what would that be?
It's a very unabashed expression of self. It's declaring everything about who I am and what I'm passionate about as a record but without being explicit about it in a juvenile way. It's not like, "I'm gay! I love tunes!" It's showing you vs. telling. I'm not showing you who I am, I'm just telling you everything.
I don't want it to be the anime record or anything like that, that's not what it is. It's just me being myself as hard as I possibly can. I've always been myself in the way that I make music, but I just feel like this is the most unadulterated version of that. It's just so direct to how I feel about the world and what inspires me. And if anything, I hope it inspires other people to make things the same way, where they stop thinking about what may or may not be cool to just make the shit that they fucking love. I always try to think, what is the music that I want in the world that doesn't exist already? Whether or not I succeed in that is completely up to other people and is usually not the case. I'm usually not successful with that but the effort of that is the thing I would like other people to try.
Danika Harrod is Waypoint's Social Editor. She knows a lot about anime and is on Twitter.