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How Kurt Baker keeps coming up with ‘the coolest songs in the world’

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I’ve always believed it’s important to lead with your mistakes so I’d like to clarify something up front: Maine’s Kurt Baker is a music-maker par excellence and I should have begun covering his releases for The Maine Edge years ago. As I told Baker during an interview, I may be late to the party but I’m loving the soundtrack.

Baker should be a very recognizable name to anyone that listens to Little Steven’s Underground Garage Ch. 21 on SiriusXM or Steven Van Zandt’s new streaming station, Little Steven’s Coolest Songs in the World (available as Ch. 721 on the SXM app as of last week). His songs are often inspired by a deep awareness of vintage pop, rock and soul where (in Baker’s words) “everything is firmly rooted in melody and hooks are super-important.”

Baker has been one of the marquee artists on Van Zandt’s record label Wicked Cool Records since 2016, and was singled out (along with fellow Mainer and label mate Kris Rodgers) by Van Zandt during a recent interview in these pages when he said “Maine is like the new Seattle.”

Van Zandt’s stations play songs from Baker’s excellent recent full length solo LP, “After Party,” his new singles, which have been dropping monthly, and tunes from his earlier Wicked Cool releases with the Kurt Baker Combo.

“If it wasn’t for Steven and his support, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now,” Baker tells The Maine Edge. “He’s given me the opportunity to keep on recording albums and pushes me to keep making them better every time. He cares about the music and the history behind it and uses all of his resources to keep the music alive, current and important.”

A Portland native, Baker is back in Maine at the moment after living in Spain for nearly 8 years. “I accomplished a lot and I miss it but I needed to return to Maine to see the ocean and work again with some old friends I hadn’t seen in years,” he said.

Baker’s “After Party” LP was largely recorded in Maine just before the pandemic hit. By that time, Baker was back in Madrid where he was shocked to discover that residents were forbidden to leave their homes.

“Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world at the time,” Baker said. “We weren’t even allowed to go for a walk. To be honest, it was a bit traumatic. I actually got stopped by the police a couple of times asking me where I was going, it was crazy.”

Baker believes it was his focus on completing the “After Party” album that got him through the ordeal. He said he was inspired to write the songs with longtime collaborator and producer, Wyatt Funderburk, while the duo listened to some of their favorite earworms from the 1960s to the 1990s.

“When I write a song, I want people to remember it and recognize it when they hear it,” Baker says, adding “Maybe it ends up annoyingly catchy, but it will be stuck in their head and that’s what I love, a great, catchy song that you want to hear again.”

“After Party” contains 12 of those great, catchy tunes, partially inspired by some of Baker’s heroes. The album is a cranked-up-to-11 blast of goodtime melodic crunch, from the opening cut “New Direction,” and its shades of early Elvis Costello, to the Cheap Trick-esque “I Like Her a Lot” and “Waiting For You” which sounds like it could have been an outtake from “Beatles For Sale.”

Baker says he never knows where or when inspiration for a new song will strike. Even medieval French castles can’t keep him from hearing a new song in his mind.

“That happened to me this summer when I was in France walking around this almost fully intact medieval castle that’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen,” Baker explained. When a melody appeared to him out of the blue, Baker says he ducked into a corner of the castle to sing it into his phone so he wouldn’t forget it.

Inspiration for Baker’s thrashing new single “Yeah? Yeah!” arrived in a similar way after he’d immersed himself in the early music of The Hollies. “I’d been listening to a lot of ‘60s beat records from England when I was standing in line waiting for Chinese takeout and that song just popped into my head,” he said with a laugh.

Another recent single power-pop twofer (and another of Little Steven’s “coolest songs in the world”), “Keep it Tight” backed with “Get Away,” were outtakes from the “After Party” album sessions, Baker explained. The former is an obscure song by the Virginia band Silver Bullet Theory that Baker says he found on vinyl for 75 cents at Strange Maine on Congress St. in Portland.

“I bought it because it had a wicked cool new wave cover and was very surprised at what’s on the record itself,” Baker said. “Somehow the guys from the band heard the song and got in touch with me to tell me how much they enjoyed my version.”

Baker says he’s kind of cleaning house this fall by issuing a new single each month, adding “By the time the year is over, I think it will be time to start working on a new record.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 08:03

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