For a fresh-faced 25-year old hailing from a small New York town, musician Kaleigh Baker has experienced a lot of heartbreak – or at least that’s what her debut, “Weight of it All,” would have listeners believe.
An Orlando transplant, Baker will soon be touring, with dates including a show Saturday at St. Petersburg’s The Local 662 with Gringo Star. Baker, along with bandmate Nate Anderson, visited The Oracle office to discuss her music and origins.
“I am originally from a tiny little valley town in western New York,” Baker said about her hometown Canisteo. “It’s very tiny, tiny, about six hours out of the city.”
“You’re putting it on the map, though,” Anderson said, to which Baker replied: “Yeah, it’s really a lovely little valley town.”
The pair met at Full Sail University in Orlando, where Baker graduated with a bachelor’s degree in entertainment business in 2008.
“We were both working in the studio and he had a nine-piece swing band that was looking for a vocalist for a record he was doing, and I was there and that was happening, so the rest is history,” Baker said.
Yet music didn’t initially spark her interests, she said.
“Well, I mean, my dad had a record player and a stack of records that we would listen to on Sundays, but music wasn’t initially a huge part of my life – sports were,” Baker said.
Baker said she continued playing sports while at Buffalo State College before the music bug finally bit her.
“I was playing college sports – I was playing soccer and basketball – then I started playing guitar as I was going to college,” she said. “I started playing open mics and people were digging it and I was writing some cute tunes. I got caught out at a bar the day before a basketball game. I sat on the bench and had to run five miles the next day, so I quit.”
Yet Baker said she didn’t leave Buffalo for Orlando because of the consequences, but rather her newfound passion in music. Many of her influences, she said, come from the people she met while at Full Sail and the music they exposed her to, rather than artists she gets compared to.
“I love Aretha Franklin,” she said. “I have a bunch of her vinyl records, so I love her vocally. Though something that might surprise you is that I’ve never really listened to Janis Joplin ever.”
Baker said she didn’t delve into Joplin’s discography until she played a recent Orlando tribute show, but appreciates comparisons.
“I love comparisons,” she said. “People compare me to Janis all the time, and I think it’s the growl you hear. I get compared to Adele a lot. I think it’s because she’s big right now and she had a big voice.”
However, Baker said she also appreciates the way artists such as Adele and Amy Winehouse have opened up the doors for original female artists like herself.
“Pop has moved to dance, and it’s opened up for these sort of artists – you got Adele, Amy, Lana Del Rey, and a handful of other artists,” said Baker. “Some good rock ‘n’ roll bands as well, like The Black Keys. Now they’re not pop music … but they fit in these new formulas and genres that is pop music.”
Baker said that the success of such artists make her optimistic in terms of her own career as a singer-songwriter with a sound unique to mainstream music.
“I think it has become a little easier,” Baker said. “I like that.”
Her most cherished moment in terms of playing her own music, she said, was opening for blues legend B.B. King at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando in January.
“It’s hard to get a call from Hard Rock to open for anybody,” Baker said. “I think it’s a sign that our hard work is really starting to pay off.”
Her EP “The Weight of it All,” which publications such as Creative Loafing have praised for its bluesy tunes, seems to carry some of the same social and economic themes. The track “Sheister” chronicles a rich man living of his wealth while other less fortunate individuals struggle with their day-to-day life.
However, Baker said these seemingly prevalent themes are all just characteristics of the “mold” of music.
“Music, you can mold it, you can mold a song into something you can identify with,” she said. “That’s why it’s so popular with people. It’s one line in a song that’ll make you sit down in the shower and cry for hours because your boyfriend just left you, even if it has nothing to do with your life.”
Anderson said he shares a similar outlook.
“Common experiences translate really well through music,” he said. “You can mold it into your own thing.”
“The Weight of It All” is now available on iTunes and can be streamed through Baker’s website at kaleighbaker.com.