A conversation can turn your heart's head as quick as a soul melody that sneaks in your ear. Especially when you're a hardened road warrior living out of a Honda Fit on a constant tour cycle that finds you more often on a stranger's couch than in the company of friends. These borrowed stories become your life's narrative. For singer Kaleigh Baker, the people who confide in her play an integral part in generating new songs, so while she often meets these characters only fleetingly, their impact beats the same weathered path as the singer who takes these loaned tales of adventures and sorrows and channels them into impressive vocal runs on her new album, Weary Hours.
"When you're a vocalist and you write words that people identify with, they feel like they know you, and they trust you a lot," Baker says. "So I'll meet people and have an hour or two-hour conversation or I'll stay in someone's home that's offered me a couch, and they'll tell me all their deepest, darkest secrets just because they feel like I get them. And I usually tell people, 'Don't tell me anything that you don't want to end up in a song.'"
Although Baker is now technically based out of Estes Park, Colorado (her cherished pit bull mixes were not welcome in her original desired location of Denver, thanks to a neurotic breed ban), her mad-woman touring lifestyle delivers her to Orlando every three months. Here you can find her performing in intimate spaces like Lil Indies or the Smiling Bison, but rarely do we get the full-band experience that will take over Will's Pub all weekend to properly debut her latest record, which she released in October 2015, four years after her last release. The time in between was spent doggedly refining her vocal chops in venues across America, but it also took her to one Orlando couch in particular where – although she may have left an indentation bumming around while sidelined from performing by an injury – the experience made a more lasting mark on her music's evolution as heard on the new album.
"I spent a little bit of time with Terri Binion during a difficult time in my career," Baker says. "A lot of stuff was going on personally. And I was here in Florida and I had an injury that sat me out of some gigs I was here for, and I was really struggling. She kind of brought me in.
"Waking up in the morning, I'm sulking around the house and she's picking up a guitar and playing it. I couldn't play at the time, so she put a banjo in my hand like pretty much, 'Quit bitchin'. I'll teach you how to play clawhammer. You only need one finger on the other hand.' And the music she was playing, I would wake up in the morning just exhausted and super bummed out and she's singing in the kitchen. There was a lot of music that she turned me on to."
You'll likely sense that alt-country influence on the lovely bounce of "Sweater," as well as laced into lead single and album opener "What Would Tom Waits Do." The whole listen is steeped with Orlando love, as it was recorded in various studios and homes here and as Baker came up on the local scene, grinding out her absurdly exciting range in open mics by Full Sail University and gigging long cover sets until she'd worked the right muscles to finally emulate her hero, Chaka Khan.
"I started picking up like five nights a week," Baker says. "I was playing 3- or 4-hour gigs. That's the training. It's just singing 3 or 4 hours every day. And Chaka Khan. If you sing, specifically, Rufusized is my Catcher in the Rye. Every time I see it, I buy it and I give it to people. I like to give it to female vocalists. They're like, 'How do you do what you do?' and I'm like, 'Sing to Chaka Khan.'"
Baker will perform songs from Weary Hours both nights, as well as a few additional surprises for longtime fans, then it's back to her Fit life, touring up the East Coast and rounding back out west to take a much-deserved break. That is, if she can make it past Orlando city limits.
"It's hard to get out of Orlando because so much great stuff happens here that you kind of get sucked back in," Baker says. "I have a hard time spending as much time in other places, because I'm spoiled here. Very spoiled. People are really good to me here."