Mainer-turned-Spaniard Kurt Baker is swinging back through Portland with his combo for a Halloween night show in support of his latest record, “Let’s Go Wild!” Baker has been living in Madrid since 2013, and this current string of dates takes him all over the Northeast before he heads back to Europe. Baker’s music is sensational rock ‘n’ roll-infused power pop that crosses over into pop punk.
It’s been years since I’ve crossed paths with Baker, so I fired off an email that opened, “Hola, amigo!” The first order of business was finding out what sparked the move overseas. Baker said that he’d been touring in Europe since 2006 and has always felt audiences across the pond respect and appreciate musicians on a different level, and as a result, he’s been able to accomplish more there than here. He added that the cost of living is a bit cheaper, and the quality of life is a cut above. “I prefer living in Spain. It’s such a great place with wonderful food, always lots of cultural events and history up the wazoo. We also don’t have a fascist or racist person leading the country politically, which you can’t take for granted these days.”
Baker, 31, was born and raised in Portland and grew up listening to bands like Abba, The Cardigans, Weezer, Green Day and The Ramones. He first started playing in bands when he was 13, and his first instrument was the bass. “I found it easier to write songs on guitar, so I’ve always played both instruments,” he said.
Baker said that as soon as he started playing, he started writing songs. “I always wanted to write, and I guess I’ve always been creative, so learning to play an instrument and learning how to write went hand in hand,” he said.
This has served Baker well. So much so that he told me that he doesn’t cringe when listening to recordings from his freshman and sophomore years of high school. “I always tried my best to make fun and catchy tunes that are reminiscent of the bands that I love,” he said. “It’s a process, and you are always growing as an artist, so I’m still working on it.”
Baker bounced around on both sides of the Casco Bay Bridge for several years. His first band was The Leftovers, formed at Deering High School in 2002 and active until 2010. “We had a pretty good run for a group that formed in high school, but after 2010 we were having the customary end-of-the-band ‘musical differences,’ and also we were drifting apart as friends, so I left the band and started doing more solo stuff,” said Baker. This led to the formation of the Kurt Baker Band, which morphed into the Kurt Baker Combo when he moved to Spain in 2013.
As a musician, Baker understands the appeal of working overseas. “I can see why a lot of these bands prefer to play Spain than in the States,” he said. “The venues and promoters here take care of you, you’ve always got a place to sleep, a good dinner and, in general, you are just treated with a bit more respect.” Baker acknowledged that successful touring musicians in the U.S. often get that kind of treatment, but independent artists are sometimes barely scraping by. “It becomes a labor of love instead of a reality. In Spain and in Europe, it really feels like you can accomplish much more.”
Baker also spoke about what it’s like living in Spain as a music fan. “I’ve seen more bands that I love that are from the U.S. that I’d never get a chance to see live in Portland, Maine,” he said. “There seems to be an audience for rock ‘n’ roll, garage rock and power pop here in Spain, and so there are constantly great bands on tour.”
Baker’s discography as a solo artist is extensive, with singles, EPs and albums dating back to 2010. The Kurt Baker Combo has released four albums since 2014. “In Orbit” from 2016, as well as “Let’s Go Wild!” are both on Wicked Cool Records. The label was launched in 2006 by musician Steven Van Zandt, who is better known as Little Steven, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Van Zandt also rose to significant fame for his role as Silvio Dante on HBO’s hit show “The Sopranos.”
Baker explained that several of his tunes wound up on Little Steven’s Underground Garage station on Sirius XM. It was around this time that Baker was looking for a home for “In Orbit” and was in touch with a few smaller labels. Luckily, this was when Van Zandt reached out to Baker, wondering if he had any new music in the works.
“It was perfect timing that we had a record complete,” said Baker. But what’s Little Steven really like? Baker said he’s a truly great guy. “He doesn’t really have to do it, but he uses his position as a celebrity to continue to support rock ‘n’ roll and other great causes, and he is very supportive of teachers and educators around the world. I can totally get behind that, and I’m very thankful for all his support over these last few years.”
As for the Halloween night show at Portland House of Music, Baker said he’ll bring the Kit Kats and the candy corn. “It’s gonna be a great party, and we’ve got Euphemia and The Connection on the bill, both Class A rock and roll bands, as well as Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems, who will be touring with us on the East Coast for a couple weeks,” he said.
Baker filled me in on his band’s current lineup. Juancho Lopez is on bass, and Manolo Cahuchola is on guitar and backing vocals, and they’re both based in Spain. The band is rounded out by drummer Craig Sale and keys player and backup vocalist Kris Rodgers, who are both longtime fixtures on the local music scene.
Baker said he’s quite content with life in Spain and loves the fact that he’s able to come home a few times a year. “It’s really perfect, I can’t complain,” he said.
He doesn’t, however, forget his roots, as evidenced by a line from “Beg to Borrow” from “Let’s Go Wild!” “She called him up and said meet me around 8, the corner of Exchange and Middle Street.”
The Halloween show is just around the corner from that spot on the corner of Temple and Federal. Bienvenido a casa (welcome home), Kurt!
9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31. Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, $5 in advance, $7 day of show, 21-plus. portlandhouseofmusic.com