5 Questions with Zaq Baker on recent release Solarbaby

Zaq Baker’s latest album (Solarbaby) is a like a blast from the 80s past for me. It’s like a mixed tape you weren’t expecting. Definitely a vibe but each song has its own mood. Fun to learn more about the music.

Please tell us about you and your musical history – you have so many musical faces.

I started taking piano lessons around age four or five. A teacher “quit me” once I figured out I could play assignments back by ear instead of spending any time with notation. She literally dumped me around the time American Idiot came out. I was twelve. I think that age is where most of our identities and interests tend to rear their heads.

I started playing in bands as a ninth-grader. I played in bands throughout most of college, too. A year after we graduated, Maria and the Coins reconvened in early 2016 to music seriously together, as a career. (Maria and I had started working together in 2013 on something of a whim, for gigs here and there, then pretty swiftly discovered how much our theatre/pop crossroads intersected.)

At twenty-three, I started writing music and lyrics at a weirdly obsessive level. I quickly stockpiled so many story-songs I knew I had to put a band together and start preparing for shows and albums without wasting a minute. By then (2017) I was playing in four or five Twin Cities bands. It was a tumultuous period – nightly rehearsals, constant gigs, summer and fall tours, regular work on albums and videos, throwing myself at the wall writing, running up various hills trying to prove myself. There was a lot of growth and a lot of self-doubt on my part. But when I look back, I’m so thankful each of those outfits was
original music with my friends at the helm.

I like Trying to Be Better. I find it inspirational, especially given the upbeat the nature but
there’s also a hint of dissatisfaction causing the efforts to be better. What is the vibe for

I’m so glad, and so grateful, you find the song inspirational. My only real goal is to make things that people find relatable. If I can uplift someone, I’ve done my job.

I agree – in a song that grapples with happiness and self-improvement, there’s dissatisfaction lurking right there under the surface. That’s kind of my whole thing. (Certainly the intention of “Trying to Be Better.”) I wrote during a particularly manic depressive period three or four years ago. Since then, I’d kept it squirreled in the vault, knowing it belonged somewhere. So when Tommy reached out with the idea of Solarbaby, “Trying to Be Better” was the first memo I sent him. We decided midway through to feature Natalie Fideler on that third verse, and I’m ecstatic with her output there. Natalie is an amazing vocalist and artist, and I’m thrilled to call her a great friend.

Your voice in “Get the Message” is amazing. The video is very fun; I love a video that shows off the Twin Cities. How do you decide what to show off?

That is so kind of you! In a session, Tommy and I decided I’d try that voice on the spot, so I’m really glad it worked. (It’s my bad Tears for Fears / Joy Division impression.) Once we heard it, we couldn’t go back.
Much of the video was similarly extemporaneous. We used a suburban warehouse space for the indoor footage (with the microphone) and the concrete walls (outdoors) where you see me singing and letting winter steam out everywhere. We knew we had to incorporate record-shopping, and we had to drive through uptown to get to the store. Tommy filmed the whole thing on his iPhone. We felt we did the exact right amount of prep work for the “lofi goth” aesthetic.

Tell us about the album. There’s an 80s feel to the music but mixed genre (in a nuanced way) and the ethos of each song is different. What made you put these three songs together?

Definitely! The intention was 80’s pastiche from the beginning. Tommy called me at the
end of 2021 to suggest his producing a Zaq Baker album with no piano. He always
enjoyed that I make posts all the time about Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper, Phil Collins,
and tons of that CBGB suite. That was always a huge dovetail in our tastes. Tommy
wanted to make an album like that.

I wrote “Split in Two” and “Get the Message” specifically for Solarbaby – both in pretty
short bursts. I wanted “Split in Two” to feel a little more psychological, and we both
opted for the longer intros and outros the Cure tend to employ – not my usual speed, but
darkly enjoyable with the synths and drum samples we chose.

We put the three songs together imagining two upbeat, poppier tracks would balance well
with one synth ballad.

Please tell us where people can see you playing?

I turn 30 at the end of July. There’ll be a huge blowout show.

I play with a ton of other acts right now and try to keep my public “upcoming shows
calendar up to date.

I also have two huge projects up my sleeve..

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