Australian artist Caiti Baker releases her new album ‘Zinc’ on 24th August, a really cool and classy mix of pop, hip-hop, blues, 90s R&B and neo soul.
She has an unusual backstory. Caiti spent years living in a “hazy state between sleep and consciousness” while battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
She eventually was largely cured by “biochemical nutrient therapy” and zinc supplementation (hence the album title).
During this period, she also became estranged from her blues musician father for four years. When they reunited, he gave her a USB sample bank library of more than 600 original guitar licks, harmonica ideas and riffs all created by him, which form the foundation of ‘Zinc’.
Caiti Baker has created a sultry world of hip-hop-laced soul as likely to be inhabited by Jay Z as it is by Fiona Apple or Etta James. Caiti Baker’s sound is something old and familiar, nostalgic but new, future and exciting…genre-bending; vintage but future.
Born into a musical household, with a blues-musician father, surrounded by vinyl, CDs and tapes of blues, soul, gospel, jazz, big band and rock & roll, the Australian singer, songwriter, dancer and performer went on to discover hip hop, new jack swing, R&B and neo soul/funk.
After her career as a driving force behind electro-soul/hip hop duo Sietta was cut short by her health and coping with CFS, Caiti battled with both health and self-identity.
Armed with the USB, and with the support of ARIA nominated producer J. Mangohig (Daniel Johns, Briggs), Caiti emerged from this somnolent period with ‘I Won’t Sleep’, the first new song written to signify her new life: a ‘take back the power’ anthem casting her health condition aside as she emerged as a newly inspired woman with something to say.
Enlisting the additional production skills of the ARIA award winning double bassist and producer Michael Hohnen (Gurrumul, Tom E Lewis) Caiti has created a melding of classic melody, urban-inspired lyrics and timeless vocal timbre.
Be it the old-school blues inspired ‘Believer’, the zip and swagger of ‘Different’, the awakening of ‘I Won’t Sleep’ or ‘Rough Old Town’ – a track as indebted to 30s boogie woogie as to neo-soul – ‘Zinc’ exudes the strength and a confidence of an artist who effortlessly links two eras and a plethora of genres to form a sound that is unique to Caiti Baker.
With the release of ‘Zinc’ and performance at The Aussie BBQ at The Great Escape earlier this year, the UK can now look forward to properly discovering a shining star in the making.
“One to watch”, say all of us at Music Republic Magazine, and we say it very loudly. Better still; “one to hear!”
Caiti gives us an insight into her life and career so far, in our “Undiscovered Zone” Q&A:
- Your name and your age?
Caiti Baker and I am 32.
- Where were you born and where you are based now?
I was born in Adelaide, South Australia. I’ve lived all over the country, but I call Darwin in the Northern Territory my home.
- Instruments you play?
My voice! I grew up in a household full of instruments and I think the over saturation deterred me from picking any up. I started using a digital 8-track recorder when I was 12, and I invested a lot of time in learning how to multi-track myself. Recording gear was like my complimentary instrument!
- Age when you started in music and what was your first public performance?
I started writing little poems and rhymes when I was 10 or something, but it was when the digital 8-track recorder came into my life that I started to record songs. I can’t remember my first public performance – being the daughter of a blues musician, I was probably jumping up on stage to perform blues songs with Dad in my early teens.
- What song or artist lit the flame inside you to want to be a musician/artist.
I don’t think there was one in particular. Music, in my family, was as much a given as food on the table was. It was part of the furniture. I’ve been exposed to so many musicians in recordings, footage and of course live.
Artists that inspired me early on were Big Mama Thornton, Aretha Franklin, Little Walter, Tina Turner, Ray Charles etc. Growing up and watching my father’s realistic experience in the industry was primarily enough to make me find a “Plan B” first haha!
Meeting my (now-long-term) producer James Mangohig helped give me confidence and grow a desire to pursue a career in music though. Forever grateful!
- First song you wrote, at what age and what was it called, and what inspired it?
Oh dear! Haha, it was probably a little rap called SODA. Which was the little rapper name I gave myself when I was 12. *Facepalm* It was probably a boast rap. It was catchy though. Every now and then it’ll float into my head and I’ll start rap/singing it.
- How many songs have you written (estimate) since you wrote your first one?
At least 1500. That’d be including a stack of “hooks” too.
- Do you write alone or with co-writers? If co-writers, who?
Initially, I like to write alone. Song writing is therapeutic for me. It’s a cathartic experience that I like to process on my own. I bounce all my lyrics off of my producer James Mangohig, who’s a great second set of ears. Sometimes we’ll sit and write together too! I do love writing with other people though, and I’ll be doing a bit more of that as I enter the next chapter!
- Do you write lyrics and music? Which comes first?
I generally write lyrics to a skeleton instrumental and build the production with the producer/s. When James and I write together, he’ll play guitar and we’ll build the song as we go. I have a pool of lyrics that I dip into for kickstarting my inspiration if nothing comes to me naturally. The music is generally what sets the tone for me.
- Bullet points of your music career/achievements to-date?
2008 – 2014: Sietta begins, writes, records and tours 2 EPs and 2 full length albums. Signs a record deal, publishing and builds a small fan base around the world.
2015: Caiti signed to Perambulator Records in Darwin • Caiti toured with the late Dr G Yunupingu as his backing singer and support act.
2016: Caiti releases debut single “Heavy On My Heart” and tours East Coast of Australia extensively • Caiti features on ARIA award winning rap group A.B. Original’s debut album ‘Reclaim Australia • Caiti joins A.B. Original as guest vocalist and continues to tour with throughout 2017 and 2018. (Midnight Oil Supports, Hilltop Hoods Restrung Tour, 50 Cent Support, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival).
- Caiti recorded backing vocals for 2 songs on Pete Murray’s long-awaited album ‘Camacho • Caiti supports Dan Sultan on his National Tour • Caiti supports Son Little (USA) on his debut Australian tour, where she was accompanied by celebrated guitarist Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall.
2017: Caiti releases “Make Your Own Mistakes”. Caiti attended and performed at the NT Song of The Year Awards where ‘Make Your Own Mistakes’ won best Pop song as well as ‘Song Of The Year’. Her first single ‘Heavy On My Heart’ won best Blues & Roots song.
- Caiti performs at WOMAD Festival to rave reviews.• Caiti supports Australian chart-topper Guy Sebastian and American legend Booker T. • Caiti can be heard and seen featuring on a track with Briggs which was written for the NRL Fox League called ‘Here’.
Together, Briggs and Caiti performed the song live at Brisbane’s SunCorp Stadium for the National Indigenous Round Game in May. They also performed at the 2017 APRA Screen Music Awards (where ‘Here’ won Best TV Show Theme) and at the NRL’s Dally M Awards.
- Caiti releases “WOLF” and “I Won’t Sleep”. Both songs are added to high rotation on Double J. • Caiti releases debut album ZINC in October in Australia to rave reviews. ZINC received 4 Star reviews from Rolling Stone, TheMusic.Com.Au and the Weekend Australian and was Album of The Week on Double J Radio and ABC Darwin.
ZINC also came in at number 44 in Double J’s Top 50 Albums of 2017. • Caiti signed a record deal with MVKA Records in the UK.
- Caiti was awarded Best Live Voice of the NT in the National Live Music Awards (NMLAs).
- Caiti was named the AU Review’s Soul Act of 2017.
2018 • Caiti performs 4 shows at the famed Byron Bay Blues Festival to rave reviews. • Caiti traveled to London to perform at a Sounds Australia showcase gig and attended the Great Escape as a delegate.• Caiti toured nationally with The Teskey Brothers. • Caiti has 4 songs nominated across 2 categories in the 2018 NT Song of The Year Awards where “I Won’t Sleep” won best Blues and Roots Song.• ZINC is nominated for best Blues and Roots album in the AIR Awards (Australian Independent Records).
- What music has been released so far? And what format and dates?
As a solo artist, ZINC (full length album) on October 6th 2017 in Australia.
New Single “Gimme” released 13th July 2018.
- Name your 3 main influences?
Such a tough question to answer!! There’s many facets of what I do, which have their own set of influences! I’ll break it up a little…Singing Influences: Big Mama Thornton, Ray Charles, Aaliyah. Writing Influences: Missy Elliott, Fiona Apple, Frank Ocean. Performance Influences: Tina Turner, Beyonce, Irma Thomas. There’s so many more, I’ve been a sponge for music since I was born!
- How do you describe your own music style to a stranger who asks: “what kind of music do you play/sing”?
It’s a tough one cos I make “genre-bending” music, which is hard to describe and place in a box. I generally say low fi Blues with warm Hip Hop mixed with New Jack, R&B and Pop.
- Who are you listening to right now; bands/artists?
I’m listening to a lot of Jay Rock at the moment, I love his new album Redemption! Also listening to Pusha T, A$AP Rocky, IamDDB, Jacob Banks, Aaliyah…
- What is the most personal song you have written and its background?
Most of the songs I write are really quite personal. The entire ZINC album was inspired by a very large change in my personal life. It was a documentation of a woman transitioning from being unwell and unstabl,e to healthy and sane!
Identity, love and self-worth are the main themes I wrote about on that album. A song that I have yet to release called “Gone”, was written a few years back and subliminally is probably the most personal track I’ve written.
- Who would be your dream collaboration as a songwriter and as an artist; naming one living and one deceased person to write with and to record or to perform on stage with?
Alive – Songwriter and Artist: Missy Elliott. Deceased – Songwriter and Artist: Ray Charles. Alive – Record and Perform on stage with: Tina Turner/Big Mama Thornton. Dead – Record and Perform on stage with: Aaliyah
- What do you want your music to say about you?
I just want it to be an honest reflection of who I am as a human on this epic life journey. I’m always evolving and exploring new themes and sounds. I care deeply about the music I make, and I hope that reflects.
- Best compliment you have read or heard about you and your music so far?
That’s a tough one. I think when anyone (excitedly) tells me that they’ve never heard anything like me before, and then go on to say what they enjoy about my music, I’m always stupidly humbled and I get the warm and fuzzies.
I love surprising people haha! I get compared to a few artists of course and that’s always super flattering, because they’re incredible vocalists and musicians.
- What is the dream for your music?
That it makes its way into as many people’s ears as it possibly can! The world is a big place and I want my songs to travel! Haha!
- Who is your biggest fan?
James Mangohig, my producer. Without a doubt.
- Do you want to be famous?
Maybe? Haha, No. Yes. Maybe. Whatever! Happiness is my priority. Happy to say I got that on lock right now!
- How many gigs have you done and where (countries or towns and cities if only UK).
Well over 400. Australia – all states and territories. I’ve also performed in Singapore, London, Liverpool and Istanbul.
- Strangest gig you have done?
Wollombi Music Festival. We drove into the festival grounds at night, it’s in the country, and we accidentally missed the turn off and drove into a private property. An old man came out and leant into the car and made a number of inappropriate comments, and put an unnecessary fear into us before we reversed out.
We found out that he was the owner of the actual property that the festival was on and he wasn’t much of a savoury fella. We played the show, I remember lots of gumboots in the air, then we got back in the car and drove two hours back to our accommodation.
- Funniest or most dramatic thing that has ever happened to you?
The most dramatic would be switching my life around from being mentally and physically unwell into a highly functioning and sane human! I came off all my meds (after 7 years on them), lost 20kg, cured my six-year battle with chronic fatigue, all in the span of six months.
I’m sure there were/are lots of funny moments too! I’m privileged to tour with some incredibly funny humans, so I’m never short of a laugh!
- Best moment in music so far?
Too many… I’m lucky to do it for a living, so it’s always the best moment to wake up and create or perform! I did absolutely love playing four shows at the Byron Bay Blues Festival this year. That was wild!
Having bad sound at a gig is always a challenge. I’ve had a couple of shows where I haven’t been able to play with my core band members, and while none of the performances otherwise have ever bombed, I did have a DJ whose gear was a little uncontrollable at one gig and I just remember getting off stage thinking “never again”.
It’s unlikely for it to be a bad show for anyone in the audience, but if I’ve had a rough time, I work out how to always make it better, then never ruminate on it. Just move on.
- A: X Factor?, B: The Voice? C: Britain’s Got Talent? D: Gouge your own eyes out with a rusty pen knife?
Hahaha, I don’t have much of an opinion on these shows – it’s a completely different universe in the world’s music industry that has its own positives and negatives. I love singers so if a show is on, I’ll listen, but I don’t get caught up in the competition/drama aspect.
- Day jobs you have done…………………?
Hospitality, Graphic Designer, Child Care, Youth/Community Worker, Mentor, Admin. I do all of my own design (CDs/Vinyl/Posters/SM etc) and I’m pretty involved in community programs when I’m not writing or on tour.
- Your favourite musician joke (or any joke if not)?
I don’t have any “appropriate” musician jokes so I’ll go with the cheesiest one that comes to mind – “What’s brown and sticky?” “A Brown Stick”. Haha lame, I’ll see myself out.
- Pet hate?
- Guilty secret?
I love the Spice Girls. Whether that’s a secret or not, I’m not sure.
- What two recordings could you not live without if you were stuck on a desert island?
Irma Thomas: Ruler of my Heart. Aaliyah: One in a Million
- If you believed in reincarnation; who or what would you want to come back as?
Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo. Stunning creatures and they fly.
- Plans for rest of this year and next year?
I’ve been touring almost non-stop for the last 2 years, so I’m going to take a little break, have some down time and get back into the studio to record new songs!
I’m performing at the AIR Awards (Australian Independent Records) as Zinc is nominated for best Blues and Roots album.
I have a national tour happening in late September – October and then a few festival shows, but I’ll be concentrating on creating new music mostly!
In Australia, yes, a national tour hitting every state and territory (except my own haha) and a few festivals.
- Please provide a personal message to our readers, as to why they should listen to your music and go see you live – in one or two paragraphs (60 words or less).
I love singing, writing and creating music. It comes from somewhere I don’t completely understand, but it brings me so much peace and happiness.
I get to relive that joy every time I perform live and I love sharing it with people. I’ve been told that it looks like I put everything into it when I’m on stage! They’re not wrong! Caiti xxx
Diner photographs x 3 by Rush