Rockin’ Out: Kurt Baker packs power pop punk rock punch

Pop music shouldn’t make your teeth hurt. But it should, at the very least, leave a sweet, sugary taste in your mouth, like you’ve just had a cherry slushie in audio form. Portland songwriter Kurt Baker has plenty of pop sparkle in his music, wrapped in a rock n’ roll blanket, dusted with a hint of punk rock sprinkles, with a few “sha-la-las” to boot. In other words: power-pop, not unlike early Elvis Costello, XTC, the Ramones, the Kinks and the British Invasion in general. It’s tasty stuff.

“I think it all stems from my very early love of the Beatles,” said Baker, who will play on Thursday, Jan. 26 with Mother Leopard, Frank and the Redhots and Geology at Kingman’s in Old Town. “I remember hearing a tape of ‘Rubber Soul’ when I was 5 or 6 years old, and thinking ‘Wow, that’s what a band is, that’s what an album is.’ I remember being really young and trying to talk to other kids at school about music, and they’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I think that’s pretty much what I’ve wanted to do ever since.”

Baker got his start young, as one of the members of the popular southern Maine band The Leftovers, who also plied a brand of power-pop, albeit a bit more indebted to the punk-pop side of things. Over the course of his eight years with that band, Baker toured Europe, recorded several albums and built up a core national fanbase. But by the middle of 2010, the fire had started to die down, and Baker ended up going his own way and striking out solo.

“It gave me a chance to work with some new musicians, and just have some creative freedom to work on my own songwriting,” said Baker. “I went to Europe and played with this Italian band, which was a really incredible experience. Now I’ve got a group of about eight guys scattered around who come in and out of my band. It’s a very different experience for me, but they’re all just top notch guys. It’s very fulfilling.”

While Baker’s first love will always be the Beatles, the British Invasion and 70s punk like Blondie and Elvis Costello, he’s just now getting into music from the 90s and even more recently. It’s having an influence on his songwriting, as can be heard on his EP “Rockin’ For a Living,” which came out last October.

“I realized that I ended up skipping over a lot of the 90s and stuff from today, because I was so focused on that classic stuff,” said Baker. “It’s almost been a classic pop thing for me, but now some new stuff has been getting into my songwriting. I’m figuring out how to channel all the things that influence me into my songs.”

Over the course of his ten years of writing and performing, Baker — who is still just 25 years old — has put in a lot of hours on the road, a lot of time into the studio, and a lot of work into his songs. In the end, though, it’s playing shows and being onstage and interacting with an audience that’s still his favorite part of the whole gig.

“I love it. I love touring and meeting new people and being in different towns and putting on the best show I possibly can,” said Baker. “I don’t care if it’s three people or 50 or 500. That’s always the best part for me.”

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a UMaine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.