Brian Baker – ‘One of the Missions of Fake Names is to Have the Entire World Understand How Important Michael Hampton Is’

With their sophomore album freshly minted and shows on the way, Fake Names are officially crushing it. You can check out our review of their debut album here, their 2021 EP here, and their latest record, ‘Expendables’, right here. The band features the all-star lineup of Dennis Lyxzén, Johnny Temple, Brian Baker, Michael Hampton, and Brendan Canty who are all incredibly talented, but somewhat busy musicians.

Fresh off his tour Australian tour with Bad Religion we caught up with Brian Baker to discuss the new record, his influences, and share a bit of our love of guitars in general. 

So you just finished your Aussie and New Zealand tour and you’re back in the grind already.

Yeah, but I mean, the Aussie tour was, I mean, that’s just a luxury. It was just so awesome. And it was warm. And everyone was cool. And everybody showed up. And it was I mean the plane flights were long but so what? Who, cares? It’s a pleasure. It’s an absolute pleasure. It’s awesome. So I don’t think of it as work.

And yeah, you guys didn’t end up coming to Perth, which is a real bummer. But do you know what happened?

Yeah, we didn’t sell enough tickets. And by the time everyone realised that there was nowhere else that we could play, and getting all of the equipment, there was a logistical nightmare. So we have to go back next time. I mean, that was just the short story. And I was happy to say that right away, but you know how these businesses run?

Yeah. I mean, they look, they booked a pretty massive venue. Like it was kind of an odd choice for the show. It wasn’t like a typical choice in my mind.

And look what happened, you know? I mean, this is why I’m not part of the business of any of this. Like I just play guitar and try to have a nice time. I don’t know. 

Fair enough. But yeah, That’s, that’s why you’re here, right? So, the new album has just dropped, Fake Names, Expendables. And it’s great. I really enjoyed it, man. How does the songwriting come together? Like, with the first album, I know it came together kind of organically, and that you sort of roped Dennis into it. Did you approach the recording of the album and the writing of it in a different way?

I think so. I mean, the writing was still much like the first record. Michael and I come up with music. And then Dennis writes words to it. That’s just kind of what happens in our band. And it has to do also with the fact that Dennis lives in Sweden. So it’s not entirely convenient for him to come down every time we have an idea in New York. I mean, I get it. But the difference this time is we went to a real studio, a beautiful facility here, and here in Asbury Park called Lake House. And we had an actual professional producer named Adam Greenspan, who oversaw the production. And so it was definitely a complete 180 because we didn’t really have control of everything. But on the other hand, he did things we would never have thought of, like, he actually knows his craft and makes good-sounding records. And so I learned a lot. But it’s certainly not that the songs were not changed. There was no creative input on that level. But it was just a sonic thing that he brought to it. I thought it was really cool.

Yeah, that’s cool. I think it’s like, it’s a really great-sounding record. It’s not like some modern records which are really over-compressed and in your face. This has a lot of room to breathe, which I really appreciate.

I appreciate it. I mean, it’s cool. I’m glad it came out this way.

Awesome. And in terms of like, how you guys came up with the riffs, something I really liked about the music is, it just feels so fun. It’s really riff-based. Is it still like, sort of, you and Michael getting together, and it’s kind of rocking out and go, ‘this is cool. I like this’ or what?

Well, it’s funny that you say it’s riff-based because what I do, I’m not a songwriter. I’m a riff writer. And usually what happens is that I have some riff. And I give it to Michael, and he writes the rest of the song around it. So he does all the hard work. And I’ve come up with a like, I’m Joe Perry, check me out, you know, my sort of weird, punk-rock and roll style. And so Michael’s doing the actual work. And sometimes I’ll give him a complete song and sometimes he will give me a complete song.

But in general… Like, the first song, ‘Targets’ on the new album, that is just I gave him this riff. And, you know, we just kind of glued it together. I mean, it’s nice to have someone who’s skilled as Michael involved because this would never have gone anywhere. It would just be, you know, my iPhone with like, 100 voice memos of ideas, or riffs, which is still how we do it by the way. If I’m sitting with a guitar, I just send them a voice memo. And, and he somehow makes that go into his computer, and it turns into something.

I love it. That’s really cool. Does it differ in terms of like, how you’d write with Bad Religion? I’m guessing it’s a different process. But do you sort of often come up with an idea and go, Hey, guys, take this?

Well, it’s different in Bad Religion, because I don’t write in Bad Religion. So Fake Names is much different. Because I get to do things. Once Brett came back into the band (Bad Religion), and that was, god, 23 years ago. I mean, we had all the songwriting, we need it. And I totally understand that because Brett and Greg are the best writers of Bad Religion songs ever. What I bring when I’m on a song is because I have a riff. And that’s really it. It’s like, whatever, you know, there’s a record where there’s a couple of things where I’ve credited on and that’s just Brett going like, ‘oh, do that again’. And because he’s a generous man, he goes, ‘Well, you can have some songwriting credit’, because he’s a cool dude. But that’s really it. It’s just, you know, that’s [how it’s] handled and so Fake Names, I guess, is one of my writing outlets.

Yeah, that’s great. It definitely shows when I’m listening to the record and I’m writing notes for the review, and I’m like ‘yeah, that sounds like Brian right there. That sounds like him’, you know? Because, from your bands, and One Guitar in One Minute and a few interviews or whatever – I don’t know, you’ve got a certain style, which is, very you and really cool.

I really appreciate that Dave. Because that’s kind of the whole goal is to be someone that you can recognise – to be recognisable, for bad or for good. You know, it’s cool when you always know who’s playing. You knew when Chuck Biscuits played drums, you knew it was Chuck Biscuits. When Greg Ginn played guitar, for better or worse, you know. It’s great again. And that’s, I think, something that just comes with experience. And in luck. But I definitely have that. And I just don’t want to screw it up. You follow One Guitar in One Minute? Do you want to see the new Explorer that showed up?

Absolutely. This is the custom one, right?

It has arrived (Brian pulls out his new guitar)

Oh, dude.

Look at that fucking thing.

Oh, my God. 

Well, because it’s the company is named Banker. And so he said, ‘I’m gonna put Baker on it’ and I was like ‘well, you know, it’s kind of a fancy company, I think that might hurt resale like, maybe don’t do that’. But he did it anyway. And so now I have my own Baker, Les Paul, Jr, Explorer, which is amazing. And it sounds great. And I’ll use it live with Fake Names all the time.

But you’re pretty excited to get out there and get that one good thrash. A friend of mine, at the moment he’s learning guitar and I’ve got him onto some of your music. And one of our sort of running joking things is that I’m not a massive AC/DC fan. And he’s like, ‘well, Dave, Brian said he’s an AC/DC fan’. Did you get some influence from AC/DC? 

Everything. Everything about my right hand. My right hand is the Young brothers. You know, my sense of economy is Malcolm, my soloing is just bad Angus. I mean, it really is. I think that those two men were, and are my biggest influence. And I have just kind of worked it into everything, every platform I’ve been involved in, whether it’s appropriate or not. But it’s always there. I mean, if you really understand AC/DC, you can hear it in pretty much everything I do.

Yeah, awesome. I mean, their approach, you know, the riffs and emphasis on how they use the guitar is very particular.

Yeah, yeah. It’s great. And you know, they’re stingy. And I love that. They make you wait, they’re not just playing and playing and playing. There’s just, they’ve invented their own style, obviously. I mean, they’re unique and there’s so many imitators, but they invented what they are. And it just, I’m so attracted to it because it’s things that I like, like not overplaying. And sometimes it’s better to have the guitar not play. It’s better, makes the song stronger, you know, so that’s just all these lessons I’ve learned from them.

And when you’re putting together songs with Michael, you two seem very well locked into each other. When you’re in a band, sometimes I’ve found it can be hard to like, really lock into someone else’s playing sometimes. Is that because you too, have similar upbringings, or do you two just click?

Well, I think it’s because we started playing guitar around the same time. The Christmas we were both seven years old. I got a guitar and Michael had a guitar. And so we’ve been playing together for 51 years, which I think has a lot to do with – it on and off of course. But mainly it’s because Michael was better than I am, and I am a huge fan of Michael Hampton. A lot of the stuff I did in Dag Nasty, when I first got to have a real guitar band of my own, I was just stealing Michael Hampton stuff. I really was. I was just pulling because he’s just his own unique, amazing style.

And one of the missions of Fake Names is to have the entire world understand how important Michael Hampton is, because all the deep-cut fans obviously know who Michael is, but I want the man on the street to know who Michael is because he’s so influential. And that’s kind of why it works is that I can kind of predict where he’s gonna go because I know how he plays, having pilfered it myself.

I love it, man. That’s awesome. Something else that I really loved on the album is the bass. Johnny’s bass playing and his bass tone. It’s just so great. 

It’s great, isn’t it? That was all you know. I mean, Johnny is Johnny’s fucking sleeper. He is a great bass player. And we’ve known that the whole time. He’s great in every band he’s in. But that bass tone was just like Adam going, like, ‘let’s fuck up the bass’ and Johnny’s like, ‘okay’. And I think they did it and they were like, ‘this is great, let’s just keep it’. I mean, I wasn’t paying attention to the bass world. You know, I was too busy eating a burrito or tuning a guitar, but that was what happened. It’s like, ‘let’s throw a pedal on it’. Adam is a big pedal guy and the sound is just massive. It’s great. It’s like, refined Lemmy. It’s Lemmy with a little more subtlety. It’s great.

Yeah, it’s beautiful. So I noticed in One Guitar One Minute, speaking of bass, on your P bass, you use a brass nut, which is not that common, as far as I’m aware, especially in punk. Any particular reason for that?

It came with it on it. That’s why it’s there. In my era, in the in the ‘70s. and ‘80s a brass nut was a very popular upgrade for guitars and basses. It was just something that people did I think that they thought that there was some tonality provided by it, or that they were heavy. And so it helped the resonance of the bass. Perhaps the brass doesn’t wear as quickly as a conventional nylon nut or bone nut, I don’t really know the real deep dive on it. But that was a very common ‘70s and early ‘80s mod. So that’s why that ’77 bass or ’78? you’d remember I don’t think it’s ’78. I don’t know what I said it was I have to look at that’s why it has it on it.

Yeah, no, fair enough. But, no, I don’t actually recall if it was ’77 or ’78.

Definitely ’77, ah fuck, I’ll have to go look. I don’t care. How about that? It’s a bass. It’s right over there.

It’s beautiful. But yeah, all I know is that it quickly made me run over to my bass and be like ‘oh my god, do I need to change this now?’

No, I don’t think, I don’t really think it does anything. I mean, I wouldn’t if happy with what you have never change anything. It’s also minute differences. It’s all in the hands, pretty much.

Well, I do like to tinker because I like to think that if I make some changes to my bass then it’ll help with all the practice I’m not doing. 

Excellent point. Get some new pickups, get the DiMarzio P bass pickups, they do great.

You know, I just put in some, some Custom Shop ‘62s, and man they are great. 

It must be great. The DiMarzio output is a lot higher. But I don’t think it’s got the sweetness of the Custom Shop fender pickups.

Yeah, I’m kind of like a harsh player. So going too bright or powerful will be bad for me. Because, you know, I tend to sort of just play hard, like I’m a massive Dee Dee Ramone fan. I’m just eighth notes all the way. Very little finesse. So, you know, sometimes dialling the output back a bit can be beneficial to me, you know?

Yeah, no, that makes total sense. And what a great influence. 

Yeah. So, sorry, I kind of like segued off there into my own little bass world. So, you just announced a Fake Names tour in the US, when are we likely to see in Australia?

You know what, I would totally go to Australia. And my role, our role of Fake Names is that we want to go everywhere we can go and have a really good time. And to me, as long as we can make it home without losing lots of money… Like I don’t mind eating the plane tickets, because this is our lives, ‘that life’, you should experience stuff. You know, if you want to go on holiday that costs you money, I’m fine with that. And I would totally love to go it just can’t be so chaotic that the people in the band who still like have day jobs are like, you know, affected and can’t feed their children. It has to be within some reason, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t go and I know the perfect time of year to go. And I’ve made a lot of friends in Australia over the years. So yeah, it’s totally on the table.

That’d be awesome. I think we’d love to see it, it would be really, really cool. I think it would put a few more musicians on people’s radars that they might have missed if they weren’t, you know, sort of following Washington hardcore.

Yeah, exactly. And it’s also that I really love playing that sort of 200, 250 size rooms where they’re big enough, but they’re not so big that you’re not connecting with everybody. It’s really, it’s a perfect little thing. And, you know, I mean, Bad Religion can do that occasionally, if we don’t tell anybody that we’re playing – which we sometimes have done in the past. But, you know, other than that, I can’t really get into those things unless it’s with Beach Rats, or, or with Fake Names. So, you know, I look forward to it, and that’s definitely what we try to play. We got to go play where the locals play.

Yeah, I’m, they tend to the best sound as well. 

The locals always know what they’re doing.

Interview by: Dave Mullins

Fake Names – Expendables is out now through Epitaph Records

Fake Names  Expendables album review

Fake Names – Expendables tracklisting

1. Target
2. Expendables
3. Delete Myself
4. Go
5. Don’t Blame Yourself
6. Can’t Take It
7. Damage Done
8. Madtown
9. Caught In Between
10. Too Little Too Late

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