Caiti Baker used to live a double life: on stage she was an electro-soul diva in complete command, away from the spotlight she pinballed between exhaustion and mania.
After six years of poor health, the Australian was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and a serious nutritional deficiency that caused symptoms similar to bipolar. The Australian spoke to iSing about how improving her health – and healing a longstanding rift with her father – gave her the confidence to branch out as a solo artist with new album ZINC.
Describe your childhood growing up in Australia?
I grew up in the country and developed a deep respect for the natural environment. Until the age of 12, I lived in the Adelaide hills in South Australia. Each year, my father, a blues musician, would travel by car up the centre of the country to Darwin in the Northern Territory, playing gigs along the way. The rest of the family would travel a few weeks behind and holiday in Darwin for a chunk of time. I now reside in Darwin, as I love the energy here. The nature, community, weather, the small population… it’s my paradise. And there’s a solid music scene here – we are a melting pot for all genres.
Can you tell us more about your father and the influence he had on your music?
He’s a blues musician who plays guitar and harmonica. He’s truly obsessed with music and has become something of a musicologist. He loves artists such as Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Chuck Berry, Lil Richard… the list goes on and on!
You toured the world with electro-soul duo Sietta for several years. What did you learn during this period?
I had CFS and mental health issues pretty much throughout my time with Sietta. I don’t remember much of it to be honest. The support system I had in place was my saving grace. The main thing I learnt was that I needed to be a musician – that it’s the most natural thing for me to be.
Did CFS have a specific impact on your voice?
It never impacted my vocal ability – adrenaline is a beautiful thing. No matter how fatigued or out of whack I was, when it came to show time, I turned up. It was before and particularly after a show that I struggled.
What prompted your decision to go solo in 2014?
James Mangohig, my Sietta bandmate, encouraged me from day one to go out as a solo artist. Being mentally and physically unwell, I didn’t feel comfortable with the accountability that came along with being a self-titled artist. I needed a moniker to hide behind. Then I met someone who was able to treat my mental and physical health conditions (bipolar and CFS) and I was, in a sense, reborn. Learning who I was after being “asleep” or “manic” for so many years was a challenging but cathartic experience that ultimately led to me writing my new album ZINC and claiming my name and being accountable.
How do you manage your health now?
Well I no longer have CFS. The imbalances in my immune, brain, hormonal and gut chemistry have been corrected. I maintain a strict highly nutritious diet and exercise daily. The cause of my “bipolar” symptoms stem from a blood disorder (found in 10% of the world’s population) called Pyroluria which is essentially a nutrient deficiency (of Zinc, B6, GLA, biotin). I supplement every day and since treating myself according to my individual bio make up, I no longer experience depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage or mania. I also lost 20kg! Music is also a massive factor in maintaining my health. It’s my therapy. I also monitor how certain activities affect my moods. Being outdoors and being active versus sitting on my phone scrolling… I know which one makes me feel better!
How do you look after your voice?
By looking after my health. If I’m healthy, I don’t get sick and thus don’t compromise my instrument. I drink a lot of water. I talk, sing, hum and laugh a lot. I’m not precious about it.
Tell us about the making of ZINC?
A lot of things came together; I healed my health around the same time as reconnecting with my father after a four-year hiatus. He bestowed upon me a USB key that was filled with his original guitar and harmonica soundbites. Those riffs became the foundation for the sound that would become ZINC. Along with the riffs from the USB, I combined my blues-inspired past with my love of R’n’B, hip hop, soul and New Jack Swing.
Tell us more about touring with Dr G Yunupingu? How has indigenous music influenced you?
He was cheeky, funny and an exceptional musician. Indigenous music covers such a broad range of genres. I’m inspired by indigenous musicians making everything from hip hop to folk, country to rock. Traditionally, the yidaki (didgeridoo) is the world’s oldest musical instrument. Being a part of a community that understands, respects and celebrates that is humbling and inspiring. Traditionally and ceremonially, the beat patterns are not what western society would deem “conventional” and for that, they teach me to challenge normality on multiple levels.
What’s next for Caiti Baker?
More music! I’m in the studio over the next six weeks writing, producing and recording my next collection of songs! I have an Australian national tour coming up in September/October and a few festivals. But other than that, laying low, creating and being inspired!