When you hear Caiti Baker’s bio, you’ll honestly wonder why this powerhouse isn’t a household name. Drawn obsessively to hip hop, R&B, new jack swing and neo-soul and inspired by the greats: Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Bib Mamma Thornton and Etta James, Caiti has worked with Dr G Yunupingu, A.B. Original, Dan Sulton and Son Little, Pete Murray, Guy Sebastian and even Booker T.
It’s a roll call that many artists could only dream about, yet it’s only been three years since Caiti decided to step out on her own from Sietta – the electro-soul act she fronted in her 20s.
When I talk to Caiti, she’s in Darwin, miles away from Northern NSW where she used to live and from Adelaide where she was born and grew up.
“Dad would travel to Darwin every year and we’d follow him,” Caiti said when pressed about her connection to the NT capital. “We’d spend up to a month in Darwin every year for five to seven years so it’s always been a part of my childhood.”
“I lived on and off between Darwin, northern NSW and Melbourne for six years and just in the last two years decided to finally place myself back home in Darwin,” she said.
When I heard Caiti’s name on the BIGSOUND lineup for 2017, I had to do some serious internet research. It was then that I realised her incredible music credentials. When she reels off a list of career highlights I ask her what the standout is and she’s quick to respond.
“Oh my goodness, probably performing at WOMAD this year,” she said.
“I think I just kind of fine-tuned my band. It was our first big show together and it was kind of the first time we all gelled super hard for an hour set at a festival where no-one really knew who I was and I wasn’t at a big stage.”
“I think I had a lot of people captivated, it’s embarrassing to talk about myself that way but I could look out and see a lot of people interested in what I was doing. I just had a really good time. That’s definitely a career highlight.”
Caiti has collaborated or toured with some of the biggest names in Australian music – Dr G Yunupingu, A.B. Original and Briggs, Dan Sultan. She says she and James Mangohig (who is her bass player as well as producer) have had connections with Indigenous people from an early age. She speaks fondly of Briggs and the time he hit her up to collaborate on a song.
“At the time I was signed to Elephant Tracks and was getting hit up by rappers all over the country to do hooks and I’m like “I’m not a hook bitch, I don’t do that shit.”
“Briggs hit me up and asked if I wanted to collaborate on a song on his upcoming album and I said no I don’t collaborate with people I don’t know. And he wrote back and said ‘it wouldn’t be me to not hit you up again, here’s the track, it’s about my daughter’. And James was like, ‘yeah I dig Briggs, let’s meet him.’”
Caiti wrote the lyrics and melody to ‘Bigger Picture’ – about Briggs’ daughter and he “rocked up and kind of lived with us for a little while.”
“It’s all about relationships really.”
“And the connection with Dr G (Yunupnigu) lies with James’ bass mentor – Michael Holnen – also the double bass player for Dr G.”
“When they reconnected, we walked into the world of Skinnyfish Records / Perambulator Records.”
In 2014 Caiti reunited with her father after a four-year falling out. Upon that reunion Caiti’s father gave her a USB sample of his original guitar licks, harmonica ideas, riffs recorded on his mobile phone and “him talking to the cat and being crazy.”
James – being the producer that he is was gobsmacked and completely in awe of a bunch of music samples he didn’t need to clear and he went to town making beats out of those guitar and harmonica samples. The result is ‘Zinc’, Caiti Baker’s yet-to-be-released album.
“We’ve been working on this album for a good part of three years and the songs have evolved as time has gone, we also brought Michael Holnen into the fold as double bass player / arranger / co-producer,” Caiti said.
The two singles off that album ‘Heavy on My Heart’ and ‘Make Your Own Mistakes’ feature Caiti’s dad’s guitar licks.
“When we started this project we just released the songs that were the most finished and the sound of the album still was developing. They’ve gone on to develop more of the influences I hold – blues and hip-hop – those two things together. Every other song on the album is different I’m a firm believer of dynamic and I believe the album has a lot of that,” Caiti said.
And, not unexpectedly, she’s super optimistic about BIGSOUND 2017, where she’ll showcase in September.
“Oh my goodness. I mean it’s the premiere showcasing conference event in the country,” she said.
“James and I (Sietta) played it a few years ago and benefited hugely out of it. I really in all honesty just love performing and whatever, I hope the music speaks for itself and the repercussions of that are positive.”
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Caiti plays BIGSOUND in September, her new album ‘Zinc’ is out in October on Perambulator Records and she has a new single out around BIGSOUND too. Gold Coast fans in waiting can also see Caiti do her thang at Miami Marketta on 20 October as part of a yet-to-be-announced tour.