"A great solo has that Beavis and Butt-Head thing where you can sing it": Baroness' Gina Gleason talks Cirque Du Soleil, Smashing Pumpkins and why watching her bandmates is like listening to Zeppelin

(Image credit: Ebru Yildiz)

By the time Gina Gleason became the lead guitarist for prog-sludge reformists Baroness in 2017, she had already proven herself. After all, she had cut her teeth fronting Metallica covers band Misstallica while also shredding in the King Diamond tribute act Queen Diamond, spent years with Cirque Du Soleil, and shared stages with the likes of Billy Corgan and Carlos Santana, taking an 80s guitar hero flair and combining it with a youthful wonder for experimentation. 

With Baroness’s sixth album, Stone, on the horizon, we asked Gina to share the tips that have got her where she is today. 

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“My brother was an influential character for me. He was definitely into more extreme music earlier, so when I started playing guitar he was like, ‘That’s a cool blues shuffle but check out Slayer.’ He’s awesome. He’s my biggest role model in life. He’s the best guy, he works really hard, and he’s always helping people. He’s just a really open-minded and understanding guy. He’s the least judgemental person I’ve ever known, so I really try to model everything off him, because I think he’s such a strong, great person.” 


“From a ‘mom’ point of view, seeing your child going down the path of being an artist or musician, my mom was like, ‘I don’t want you to have a hard life. And I just see this being really hard.’ But to me, that’s what makes it worth it. Also as a mom, she’d give advice like, ‘Nothing that’s ever worth it comes easy’ or whatever, so I’m like, ‘Yeah, exactly!’” 


“I’ve never really spoken about this, but coming out to my mom too was another really hard thing for her at first. It’s the same sentiment of, ‘I don’t want your life to be hard.’ But I want to be part of making it so it’s not hard for somebody younger than me or other people. It’s that same sentiment of a loving momma bear, a protective thing.” 


“I’m so grateful to have found myself with Baroness, because I think we all share this joy for trying things and seeing what works and that never went away. It’s really a childlike joy of, ‘What if we did this thing? I don’t know if it’s gonna work!’ Maybe it comes a specific thing you were trying to achieve and you’d bring that into your own playing. You’d go, ‘Oh, I can write a riff that does this sort of movement,’ and that was really cool.” 


“Cirque Du Soleil was a lesson in persistence. We did 484 shows a year, and it was this interesting way of looking at discipline, because it wasn’t really about artistic expression, it was more about creating the show and everybody knows what they’re meant to do. 

The early stages of it were more creatively fulfilling, because somebody has this crazy idea and we’re gonna work together on how to improve it, how to execute it and how to add to it. As cast members of this thing, that’s your role and it’s really exciting. But once it’s up and running, it’s unsafe to deviate in any way because there’s 60 other people onstage, there’s fire, there’s parts of the stage that are dropping out.” 


“It’s hard not to let that hour or so onstage define your whole existence, especially when we’re on long tours with long days away from family. Even the worst shows – and there are plenty of them – tend to turn into sort of humorous memories in one way or another. I try to let the stage mishaps roll off of me. I remember a night in Germany years back where we were the opening band in an arena setting. We had been met with quite a lot of middle fingers and howls from the folks waiting for their main event. 

I was having some audio issues and spent most of our short time in front of about 40,000 people trying to figure it out. While doing so with my back turned, one of us slipped and fell on a piece of metal grating… it was a whole fiasco! I left the stage wildly grumpy and then felt immediately embarrassed for getting so upset. It’s something that felt like such a huge deal in the moment, but is a memory we all laugh about now!” 


“My brother gave me the [2012 Baroness album] Yellow & Green CD and we drove around in his truck and listened to the Green Theme. I was like, ‘This is amazing. I don’t know what this band is, but it’s my favourite kind of music!’ It’s the coolest way that I’ve heard music be presented, and I thought that sonically it matched the visual aspect of it too. 

Shortly after he showed me that, I moved away to Montreal and Vegas with Cirque Du Soleil and that was really sad. I missed my brother and being home. So that was funny; it became the soundtrack for moving away, but [Baroness] was also the thing that brought me back home too.” 


“I got to play guitar with The Smashing Pumpkins [in 2015]. That was so wild. I’m a massive fan and admire Billy Corgan’s songwriting and guitar playing and his pursuit of tones really moved me from a young age. He was very kind and patient and showed me his pedalboard, and that really stuck with me, that he was so enthusiastic about the same things as I was, at this point in his career. 

I was really inspired, like, ‘We are equally enthusiastic about this fuzz pedal, that is awesome’, because I imagine if you’re at the level of someone like him you might be like, ‘Oh, that old thing, I don’t care about that.’ But he wasn’t. I thought that was the best thing ever.”


“The key to a great guitar solo, which I try to think about when I’m making a guitar solo - and this is going to sound really dumb - but I really want that Beavis And Butt-Head thing where you can sing a part of it. There has to be a part where you can sing it in a really dumb way that’s really blunt and barbaric. So I think it has to have something like that, a really catchy thing, a rhythmic thing where you can achieve that. And it’s got to have a weird sound to it, it’s got to sound weird or unique in some way.” 


“I always think of Dimebag Darrell’s solos where they’re composed so perfectly. Like the solo of Walk, it’s got the barbaric thing with the slide, and it’s got the unique tone and all the dazzling bits. I like the composition of a guitar solo where it’s not just a bunch of wanking or shredding or a lot of scales.” 


“I’m always really inspired by my bandmates. John [Baizley, vocals and guitar] is obviously an inspiring person to be around. He’s very enthusiastic and he has ideas like, ‘What if we do this?’ and you’re like, ‘Whoa, what is that?!’ Sebastian [Thomson, drums] and Nick [Jost, bass] are equally inspiring to be around – they just have an inspiring world view and take on their own craft. I think they’re masters of their instruments, and they have a really great thing together. 

It’s funny, I think John and I play guitar really well together, and we have a lot of similar influences and come from a similar background of how we started learning. Nick and Seb have this really special thing, and once I watched them play and work out parts together I was like, ‘That’s the special thing.’ When I listen to Zeppelin and I’m like, ‘Man, why is this so good?’ That’s what it’s like when I watch Nick and Sebastian work through things.”

Stone is out now via Abraxan Hymns