Florida-raised folk-rock act Cold Water Hotel has had a tumultuous personal journey, from chasing down criminals and shoplifters in Atlanta, to struggling with the perils of international immigration. A poet disguised in a thick beard and heavy patchwork of tattoos, Cold Water Hotel’s Matt Baker is stoked to have hit his creative stride here in Calgary.
Roughly three years ago, Baker was back in his homeland of South Florida and unhappy after a failed stint working a loss prevention position in Atlanta, Georgia. “I was coasting along, getting a paycheque and paying my rent, but not really doing what I wanted: making music and art,” Baker explains. “I’d been playing in bands since like 1998 and most of them were just me screaming my brains out with lyrics that had no meaning to me. I got sick of that because one, I was killing my voice physically, and two, I was not playing the kind of music I wanted to play.” It was at this point that the unexpected happened and Baker found himself being contacted online by the Canadian alt-model and tattoo artist who would bring him to Calgary and later become his wife. Now, after almost three years, Baker has been playing venues all over the city and is set to release his first album as Cold Water Hotel this December with help of Evius Studio’s Eric Svilpis. Of the album, entitled The Lush and the Architect, Baker says, “It’s got that Jekyll and Hyde kind of feel. It’s kind of a concept album in that there are two characters in one self — the drunk who destroys everything and the sober guy who reflects on all his fuck-ups. It’s uplifting at times, self-deprecating and dark at others.” Melding influences from across the genre spectrum, from folk to country to punk and back again, Baker’s songs are infused with a powerful appeal to emotion.
Cold Water Hotel’s live performances reflect the thematic elements of the album accordingly. Baker is an engaging performer, alternating seamlessly between charismatic comedian and soulful songwriter as required. “I just think if people are going to pay money or even show up, I’d personally rather see someone do something out of the ordinary rather than just stand up and sing. I need to do more and get people involved,” Baker notes, adding, “I’ve been to so many shows where people sit around and talk while someone is pouring their heart out on the stage — they’re playing this one song that they think is the best thing they’ve ever written and people are just rambling on like, ‘Oh man, I had to put out my cat’s litter today.’ ” With that said, he attributes a lot of his flourishing musical creativity to the receptive community in the city. “Honestly, the most I’ve ever done in my musical career has been here… I think because this city is so open to art and music.” Comparatively, Baker claims, “South Florida is a bit of a desert — getting people out to shows is like pulling teeth. But when I came here, I was surprised at the attendance and what is going on almost every night in this city.”
With only one show left to play in 2013, opening for Joel Cossette on December 12 at Broken City, Baker is optimistic going into the New Year. Having generated nearly 17,000 views on YouTube for his song, “Finest White,” Baker jokes, “I’m probably huge in Pakistan or something.” With his seemingly endless supply of inspiration and motivation to get things done, it may not be long before Cold Water Hotel achieves recognition as a Calgary folk treasure.
Catch Cold Water Hotel at Broken City on December 12.
By Brianna Turner
Photo: Maximilian Vandersnoot