Louis Baker’s newest music video The People was filmed on location in Newtown. It’s fitting for this Wellingtonian. Though he might be one of New Zealand’s most sought after musicians, flying all over the world to perform, colourful and diverse Newtown is his local neighborhood, and home.
With Louis, however, you get the feeling that he takes nothing for granted – least of all his professional success. “I have a higher responsibility now than I used to with what I write and the stories I tell through my music” he explains over coffee and soup at EAT.
I certainly get the feeling Louis is a lover of life at heart, observing things from a slight distance everywhere he goes. As a kid, he was part of a tight knit, hard-working family. His mum worked cleaning jobs and started a business teaching art. His father worked as a firefighter for 43 years. Before that, they’d made artisan rugs together.
“I have distinct memories at being at Coromandel Street, Newtown where I grew up” Louis says. “I remember a honeysuckle tree and sucking the ends of the flowers, dancing in the living room to Michael Jackson. I remember listening to Rubber Soul, by the Beatles, on vinyl. It was me, my sister and my Mum and my Dad. We had a huge oak tree where in Autumn the leaves would form a huge pile on the ground and as kids, we’d run and dive into them.”
Louis got into music when he was ten or eleven years old. He remembers having old school tapes, records and CD’s littered around the house, something which seems inconceivable even 15 years on in a world of YouTube and MP3’s.
“I started playing acoustic guitar and I found it hard to start, as you do. It was also a huge full-sized thing, with steel strings. I learnt a few chords and then began to dig in Mum and Dad’s LP collection. Eventually Dad helped me buy an electric guitar from Cash Converters. I learnt by ear, and would ask my sister questions because she plays too. But it was always sitting down with a record, and teaching myself how to play” he says.
Louis participated both in the arts, cricket and rugby at Raroa and Wellington College in Wellington. “I felt encouraged. I’m fortunate because I had some really good teachers. They genuinely had my back and supported me to get into competitions and generally have a go” he says. He got his first break with a band Under the Influence Of, getting to the Smokefree Rockquest Finals. He progressed to solo playing in Play it Strange.
A turning point came when Louis began to slip in the ranks of his cricket team because he was playing music all the time. “Before that, I wanted to be a Black Cap” he laughs. “I just got worse and worse because music took over.” As school finished, Louis started studying music at the Jazz Foundation course at University and never looked back. “The band members I have today all come from there so it was fantastic for meeting people who share my passion.”
Over the years, there have been some serious highlights: playing at a Hungarian music festival (Sziget Festival); “The best show I’ve played. An amazing international festival with an incredible crowd” Louis says. He also rates “Splendor in the Grass, in Australia – Field Days, in London. Nothing compares to an amazing audience who have come to see you.”
Being on the road has its challenges however. “As an independent artist, 95 per cent of the workload falls on my manager and me” Louis says. “We book the trips, organise the accommodation. It doesn’t stop. You work really hard, especially to remain relevant and make good art. Because of the time difference in different countries, sometimes it just is relentless.”
To handle the grind, Louis tends to flick between being in a creative space, making music and penning songs, running the business side of his vocation and performing. “Like the moon” he laughs. “I go in phases. It’s a balancing act. One moment it's reconciling accounts on Xero, the next you’re in a session. But when you’re writing songs it’s incredible.”
Despite the workload, Louis tries to follow in the words of David Bowie “Never Play to the Gallery” and perseveres in making work for himself first and foremost. “That Bowie quote: he’s saying you need to make art for yourself” Louis says. “Perhaps at the very core of it, you are singing to someone else but YOU have to be happy with it. People feel taken away in the moment by your work, but you need to have your truth.” He certainly isn’t immune from the pressures of social media and the part it plays in music: “Today, metrics and analytics and all of the numbers are a huge part of the modern landscape of music, because of reach. The numbers are seen as ‘credible’ but I think that the music needs to come first. In reality, all these things, these numbers, can be bought” he observes.
Music is a tool of connection for Louis, which leads us to his latest song. The People is about being connected and inclusive, something he feels strongly about as a Wellingtonian. “That’s why we shot in Newtown where I grew up” he says. “We got my friends involved, people I grew up with. My Dad is in it, and the fire station. We got a wide range of multicultural people to be in the video – because that embodies Newtown.”
The People was written a year and a half ago, long before the Christchurch Attacks of 15 March 2019, just a week before we meet, but it has been released into a slightly different New Zealand, one less innocent. “We’re living in uncertain times” says Louis. “I hope people choose love over fear more and more.
Wellington is a place that Louis always comes back to. “I love Wellington. It’s a special place. It holds a lot of history to me. I am not one to feel locked into one place for the rest of my life, but I can certainly say Wellington will always be home.”