Baroness founding member John Baizley and guitarist Gina Gleason chase clarity and creativity, running while on tour.
Words and Photography by Brett Rothmeyer
In the backlot of a Days Inn, in the small town of Chillicothe, a black bus blazoned in silver flames reflects the morning sun. The air carries an autumnal chill, but the sun warms everything it touches; it is arguably a perfect day for November in Ohio. The bus – the tour bus – belongs to Baroness, one of a select group of prolific rock and heavy metal bands touring the US today. After nearly 20 prolific years, today the band finds themselves with a rare day off. While some bands might be sleeping off hangovers, or keeping the party going, Baroness founding member John Baizley and most recent addition to the band, guitarist Gina Gleason are anxious to get a run in before heading back on the road.
John Baizley's career as a touring musician and visual artist has spanned the better part of two decades. In that time, Baroness has toured the globe, playing some of the biggest stages in the world of hard rock and metal. Beginning in the clubs of Savannah, Georgia, the band soon found themselves touring with juggernauts of the metal genre, but their success has not come without pitfalls: the band's heavy touring schedule has taken its toll, leaving Baizley as the only remaining original member.
In August 2012, while touring through England, Baroness were traveling in a bus that crashed off the side of a viaduct, falling thirty feet. No one was killed, but Baizely suffered severe injuries. His leg and arm were broken and he needed numerous surgeries. Baizley was stranded in a foreign hospital in a foreign land for weeks. The injuries he sustained still cause him pain today.
Throughout the lineup changes, the injuries and recoveries, and the endless miles on the road, one thing has remained constant for John Baizley: running.
"Good morning, it's a beautiful day for a run," says Baizley, as he and band mate Gina Gleason greet each other in the parking lot. The two tie the laces on their running shoes while they try to decide the best direction to run. Gleason, who joined Baroness after Peter Adams left in 2017, fits the band so perfectly that it's hard to imagine her not being on stage. Before her role in Baroness, Gleason was the star of a Cirque du Soleil rock-n-roll-themed show in Las Vegas. In a year, Gleason racked up some 400+ shows without missing a single one - and she did them all in a costume that added an extra 80lbs to her body. "I was the only one in the show without a replacement." Gleason laughs. "So I didn't have a choice."
Physical fitness has been a lifelong pursuit for both band members, not just reserved for rocking out on stage. "When I was in middle school, my grandpop got me into track and field; he would take us to the field and show us how to throw a shot-put," Gleason remembers. "When John told me he ran on tour, I thought, that sounds awesome!"
"Both of my parents were extremely athletic," says Baizley. "They played tennis, were into running and triathlons, so that's just the vibe I grew up with." While creativity was always at the forefront of Baizley's interest in school, he was also involved in athletics, but it wasn't until the first couple of years of touring that running clicked for him. "The lifestyle of a touring musician is one of sitting down a lot," Baizley explains. "So I started running just as a way to stay active during the day; it had initially had more mental than physical benefits because it is awful to sit around in dirty, dank venues all day."
Together, Baizley and Gleason have been putting down mile after mile in city after city, and today is no different. Hopping a guard rail, they navigate the shoulder of a busy highway, searching for a biking and walking path marked on Google Maps. They cross the Scioto River and head for the Paint Creek Recreational Trail away from the morning traffic.
"Running has allowed us to see places in a really intimate way," Baizley says. "It's faster than walking, so we cover some real territory in any given city, but you're not moving so fast that you miss the details."
As they jog along the river, the conversation bounces around from guitar talk to Gina and John's most memorable runs. "That time in Italy where it borders the Austrian Alps!" Gleason says. "That was an amazing day." The band found themselves at the 2018 Alpen Flair festival in Natz, Italy. "The crowd was very hostile, not one that we would normally play in front of," remarks Baizley. "We really needed to get away from it, so we just took off on a run." As they escaped the venue, running through the small alpine town, they discovered hiking trails that led into the mountains and headed vertical. "We were able to escape that tension for a couple of hours," says Gleason. After hours on a tour bus and cramped spaces, both Gleason and Baizley revel in the escapism running provides. It doesn't matter if the run is a mountain jaunt into the Italian Alps or navigating city streets. "Our runs together almost never fail to surprise and delight me as we go out and choose a direction," Baizley adds.
Both musicians have found running to enhance their creative minds as well. While working on their 2015 release, "Purple," Baizley would take daily runs along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia's East Falls neighborhood, listening to the recordings and composing lyrics. "Running is the most complete way I have ever found to be able to sort through my thoughts," he admits. It was, however, his accident in 2012 that solidified Baizley's bond with running. After the surgeries and months in a wheelchair, he was finally cleared to run. He started running every day, as much as he could handle. "Running was the thing that got me through a very difficult physical and even more difficult mental and emotional recovery, from a very traumatic event," Baizley explains. "Running has always meant something substantive to me because it's how I got through that period in my life."
Together, Gleason and Baizley have formed a friendship both creatively and through running. They have recently completed their first organized half marathon race in the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania and have begun working on new material for the next Baroness album. The band is currently touring North America, navigating the unique and unchartered landscape of being a live rock-n-roll act amid a pandemic. Their live show is a worthwhile experience, a cathartic and triumphant rollercoaster ride of human emotions, not unlike a good long run, whether that’s in the European Alps, or hopping road barriers in Ohio.