The Orion

Q&A: Professor on folk rock, Rihanna

Jake Hutchison

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Photo by Andrew Boyack, courtesy of Geoff Baker

Chico State English professor Geoff Baker opened up to The Orion about balancing his acoustic and folk music career and planning tours alongside lesson plans.

Is it difficult to plan a tour when you are also teaching?

The job makes it very hard. I literally don’t have time to play gigs right now. It’s hard to keep both the day job and the music going, and the day job is what I love the most. I really love playing music, but it’s always been very easy to put it off to the side because I love teaching. If Rolling Stone doesn’t want to do a profile on me, I could care less. Now, if they want to do a profile on my teaching, that is a different story.

But when you aren’t in the classroom, I understand you do a lot of touring?

I may be done with that, actually. Well, I say that now. I always say that after a tour. I toured Europe four or five times. The shortest one was three weeks, the longest being six. I’m not sure I would go that long again. It started to feel like work. This last summer I did a four-week tour here. I started in the Bay Area and went down to San Diego, then across to New Orleans, up to Chicago and back. I spent all of spring semester planning it out. Sometimes it is to mixed results. I played a show in San Luis Obispo and there was only like two people. One of them was a former student, which was awesome. Then I did a gig at Lake Charles (in Louisiana) and people came in droves. The bartender held up one of my CDs and asked if we had any more because we were selling out.

You’ve compared yourself to the alternative rock group Wilco. Are there other genres that influence your music?

By and large the biggest influences are acoustic-folky singer-songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan (and) Nick Drake. To a much lesser extent, folk blues artists like Mississippi, John Hurt. If I go back and listen to my songs and forget I wrote them, just listen to them for what they are, there is a lot of pop stuff going on, especially in the recordings. When I was recording this (one) song … one (on the radio) was by Rihanna. I think it was called “Hey Mr. DJ.” It had that (imitates drum beat). So I put that in there as well.

When did you get into the acoustic and folk genre?

I think when I started playing, in junior high. I knew of Bob Dylan, but I didn’t really listen to him until college. I did it out of pressure. I felt like if you played guitar and wrote songs, this is a person that you need to have heard. Same thing with Leonard Cohen. I was blown away by the lyrics. What I knew of Bob Dylan was catchy tunes, but when I started listening to the words, I was like, “Holy crap, this is amazing,” and was blown away. Ever since then, any artist that I’ve been interested in has to have interesting lyrics. I cannot bear cliched lyrics.

How has living in Chico influenced your music career?

I think the music scene here is pretty supportive. What you have here that I don’t see in the Bay Area is people going to shows that aren’t connected to the music. I had some people come up to me at a gig here a few years back and say, “We were looking for something to do tonight, and we heard there was going to be some acoustic music. We loved your stuff.” Chico is one of those places where people can not know who you are and still want to come out to see music. I think that’s awesome. It’s what you need for a healthy music scene.

What can we expect next from you as a songwriter?

The end goal with the music is to keep writing songs and keep recording them so they are available to people. I’d like to keep playing gigs, but the touring I’m not sure. I get restless with these kind of things. At the end of the winter break, when I’m not teaching, I will probably be sitting there going, “Time to start planning a summer tour.”


Jake Hutchison can be reached at [email protected] or @poserpunk on Twitter.

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Q&A: Professor on folk rock, Rihanna