Allyson Baker may have black hair, play guitar and wear leather jackets and black clothes, but she doesn’t own any Joan Jett albums. Instead, she looks for inspiration to albums like Captain Beefheart’s Mirror Man, Chrome’s Red Exposure and Duran Duran’s self-titled debut.
The San Francisco resident wants to make an album that people will listen to over and over – like those albums that inspire her. Yet her band, Dirty Ghosts, is often compared to Jett.
“I think that it’s easy for people to look at me, and say, ‘She’s short, she has dark hair and plays guitar, and sings a certain way,’” Baker said recently.
At the Treasure Island Music Festival on Oct. 13, Dirty Ghosts will get a chance to make a statement regarding Baker’s muddy-guitar and ‘70s rock-influenced stylings.
It took Baker more than five years to release Dirty Ghosts’ debut album, Metal Moon, largely because the ground kept shifting beneath her feet.
Baker moved to San Francisco from Toronto in 2000 at age 22, after her previous hardcore and punk bands disintegrated.
“I wanted to tour and put out records and do all that kind of stuff,” she said. “It got to a point where I was the only one in the band who really felt that way, and had the crazy drive to do all that stuff.”
She moved to San Francisco even though she knew no one there or anything about the musical climate at the time. All she believed was that she had outgrown Toronto.
“In my mind, I had this idea of San Francisco being this city where there was a lot of music and a lot of musicians,” she said, “It seemed like a major city for the arts and whatnot.”
Baker had high hopes for a career in America, but initially, those also fizzled. After she moved to the City, she spent two years trying to get sludge-blues band Parchman Farm off the ground, along with fellow Toronto native Carson Binks.
“I kind of was done; I think I was really burnt out, and I was sort of tired from trying to make Parchman Farm happen,” she said. “I actually got to a point where I didn’t enjoy it.”
Feeling exhausted, Baker took three years off from making music. In 2006, she and Binks began writing music again, and those early Dirty Ghosts songs ended up on Metal Moon.
“I wasn’t trying to make a band (and) I wasn’t trying to make a record,” she said. “I was trying to find a way to make music for myself again.”
Despite numerous line-up changes, she and Binks wrote and recorded an album’s worth of material.
“We had a lot of different drummers, and that’s been the hardest part because everyone’s got their own style, and then having to readjust all the time,” she said.
When the drummer of the moment quit, Baker called in her now-ex-husband, Ian Bavitz, better known in indie music as Aesop Rock. But even this project was thrown in to jeopardy. With the album was nearly finished, Binks quit. His departure created a new set of challenges. With the help of musician friends, Baker was able to complete Metal Moon.
Shortly after the album was released last February, Baker teamed up with fellow Toronto native and longtime friend Erin McDermott, a bassist, and drummer Ben Tuttle. Since then, she’s had the satisfaction of stability for the first time in years.
The trio has begun work on a follow-up album, and Baker said she is looking forward to a more collaborative recording process. She also hasn’t ruled out working with Aesop Rock on the follow-up.
“We’ve talked about working on stuff together in the future,” she said. “I think when it comes time, and we both get to those points with the things that he’s working on and the things that I’m working on, we’ll know.”
And as of right now, Baker doesn’t regret any of the frustrating delays of putting out a record and touring.
“I think I had to sort of go through this progression, which took years,” she said. “It wouldn’t have put me where I am right now as a musician, in terms of the things that I want to do and the kind of music that inspires me.”