Sherman Baker runs on cat power
Sacramento singer-songwriter Sherman Baker talks felines and feelings
There is one major common feature in Sherman Baker’s latest music videos. Cats. Three of them.
In “Ducks in a Row,” his own young felines Tiny Boots and Tony Bologna make an appearance. And at the end of a soothing lullaby called “Oregon to Washington,” local celebrity fatty Norm Lopez purrs softly in dreamland.
“They’re lazy and vain, and I think that’s why we like them so much as a society,” Baker says.
“They’re very focused on their appearance, sleeping and eating. We can all relate to those three things.”
Indeed, Baker almost plastered his cat’s face on his new album cover. But then he realized Blink-182’s second album also wore a cat’s face, and Baker could not stand for such unfortunate, accidental parallels.
Instead, the musician’s self-titled third album displays two shadowy figures—perhaps more appropriate, considering the singer-songwriter’s penchant for somber themes. There are songs about death, songs about his ex, songs devoid of sentimentality.
“It’s dark, but it’s real life,” Baker says. “Most pop music is escapist. They don’t want to talk about how people are really living today.”
The new album, released on February 11, comprises nine songs that form a lovely, flowing collection of melodious indie rock with elements of folk and orchestral pop. His lyrics are emotional, yet accessible. Think Elliott Smith or Nick Drake.
Baker went up to Seattle to record with Robert Cheek—the same producer he worked with on his previous two albums—for a couple of weeks this past summer. He performed most of the instrumentation himself—guitar, piano, bass—and is joined by multi-instrumentalist Joseph Davancens and drummer Sam Coe.
Though the record’s sound isn’t dramatically different from his 2012 album Seventeenth Street, Baker’s style has evolved quite a bit from when he first moved to Sacramento and took on a music career 12 years ago.
“I was like a different person,” he says. “I went through a really Bob Dylan-roots-Americana thing for a few years, and then I thought, ’I don’t want to play three-chord songs anymore, and I want to sing the way that I speak. I don’t want to be a country boy.’”
So he slowly moved more and more toward the music he loves—the Smiths, Joy Division, Radiohead, Leonard Cohen and, yes, still Bob Dylan.
As such, a new track about his beloved cats didn’t make it on the record. Baker said it was too folky, but curious listeners can find it on YouTube by searching his name and “Tony and Boots.”
Baker met Tiny Boots and Tony Bologna three years ago, right after he got out of rehab for a heroin addiction.
“They just showed up,” he says. “I started feeding them, and they never left. They slept with me every night and changed my life. They became so good to me in a way that people have never been.”
He relished caring for them, and he became so ideologically attached that he turned to vegetarianism. Seven years ago, Baker said he felt completely indifferent to cats, and now he can go on and on about their habits, diets and souls. He’ll bring them up in a tangent about the meaning of a song, and again in a tangent about the meaning of life.
“I look at my cats, and they do three things: They eat, lie around and clean themselves,” he says. “I think we humans are different, but essentially, we are trying to mate, make money, maybe express ourselves and try to be happy. There are various ways of going about that, but that’s what people do all day. I feel programmed—it’s like the story has been written for us.”