Health Awaits: Baroness’ Gina Gleason on Running on the Road

Gina Gleason’s musical life has been intensely physical. From playing and singing James Hetfield’s parts in tribute band Misstallica, to performing hundreds of shows a year as a flame-throwing guitarist in Cirque du Soleil (take that, Mad Max!), to touring the world with Baroness, Gleason has stayed fit and grounded through consistency and “making things work.”

No gym near the venue? No problem, make like Nate Garrett and bust out weights in the parking lot. Put a towel down to do sit-ups, pull a Scott Hedrick and go running with bandmate John Dyer Baizley.

It’s a mindset and approach that’s enabled Gleason to not only survive, but also thrive during the worst parts of the pandemic.

How have you held up in this time?
All things considering, I’ve been holding up pretty well. I haven’t had any family or friends fall ill, which is the #1 most important thing. Everybody’s been able to maintain their health through the year, and I feel lucky for that. It’s a mental struggle, for sure.

Have you changed anything to deal with that?
I’ve been just trying to maintain similar routines as best as possible. We’re so used to touring that it wasn’t that weird to be without a gym or that kind of thing. I feel pretty used to just making things work wherever we are. If I’m home, I can just go running; I can maintain that aspect of things. We’ve had so much time, I’ve been able to achieve some personal bests in some categories of running, and that’s awesome. The biggest change in my routine is that I’ve started giving guitar lessons on Zoom, which is awesome because I really appreciate getting to interact with people and play music and chat about guitar.

What were the personal bests?
Before this, I would go running in shorter distances. John and I live really close by each other in Philly, so we’re able to meet up and go running together. It feels similar to being on tour. I did a 10-mile run, just under 11 miles at one point. For me, that was a really big deal. I’m excited to go back on tour, because we run almost every day on tour.

How did running on tour start?
I used to run track and field in middle school. I was more in the field side of things. I did shot put. That was my sport growing up, so I tolerated the running so I could participate in the shot put. So I was always kind of familiar with that world. When I was working at Cirque du Soleil, I kind of neglected running; I don’t really know why. I lived in Las Vegas at the time, so I don’t know if the heat made it unappealing to go on long runs.

I just remember early on meeting John. He was like, “I really like to go running.” He was telling me about a Nike marathon that he participated in a few years back that sounded fucking awesome. He was like, “I’m always looking for running partners on tour.” This really got me interested because I was familiar with this world, and loved to get back into it. So we started small. It just became this daily tour routine. It’s an awesome way to see other parts of the cities that we’re playing in.

When you’re touring, where in the day do you fit in the run?
It depends on the schedule for that day, whether it’s a festival show, where who knows what time we might be playing, versus a club show, where it’s going to be in the evening. My favorite time, if we can afford it within the schedule, is when we can fit in a run immediately before the show. Then you’re already sweaty and gross, and then you just go right on stage and continue the gross, sweaty, heart-is-already-pumping momentum.

What are the favorite places you’ve run in?
We played a show in Athens, Greece in 2019. One morning I just went out running. I didn’t really have a plan. That’s kind of the beautiful thing about running. You can just go and go and go. You can make turns as your body feels inclined to, or you can just see what looks interesting. I ended up running to the top of Filopappou Hill. It was this really beautiful part of town, and it had this awesome vantage point at the top where you could see the whole Acropolis and the Parthenon. It had all these ruins and this shrine of muses. It had what is believed to be Socrates’ prison. It’s so fucking awesome because I didn’t plan on seeing any of this stuff. I didn’t know any of this stuff was here. I just went out on a run, and this cost no money.

I remember running with John; we were in this really weird part of northern Italy. It was this sort of autonomous zone that bordered Austria and Switzerland, so the culture there did not feel Italian at all. It felt very Germanic; the majority of the people there spoke German. Me and John just left where we were at and had no idea where we were. We didn’t have a plan on going somewhere specific. We just started running. We were running through this small village, and there were apple orchards, and the architecture had all these stately farmhouses, almost Bavarian-looking, Swiss-looking chalet kind of things. Next thing we knew, we were in the middle of this thick alpine forest. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. I felt like I was in a different place in time and a different reality.

With Baroness frontman John Baizley on a tour run

Do your other bandmates also do anything like this?
Definitely. Working out is a huge part of Baroness. All four of us work out pretty religiously. John and I are the only runners. Nick [Jost, bassist] is extremely dynamically athletic. He’s really good at basketball. He does high-intensity jump rope routines and a lot of weight training. We bring weights on tour and a bench that can fold. Typically Seb [Thomson, drummer] does mostly weight training.

I have a pretty standard weightlifting routine that I’ve been doing for what feels like most of my life. When I was a kid getting into track and field, my Grandpops really took to the fact that I was interested in that. He somehow acquired three shots. One was six pounds, one was eight and a half or nine, and one was 12 pounds. He would take me to the park, and we would train. He would bring a tape measure. He was really supportive and into it. He showed me, from an early age, a weight routine that I could do. He gave me some dumbbells to take home, and he was like, “This is a bicep curl, this is a tricep extension, this is a shoulder press, this is how you do a sit-up.” And I would do that every night in my room, before I discovered music, even, as a little kid.

John, as well, lifts weights. Usually we’ll just set up wherever we can in a parking lot. If we’re parked somewhere in a city, we’ll set up between the bus and trailer. If it’s a festival, and it’s a dusty dirt lot, you get sweaty and you get covered in dust, and then you go on stage and play a show, and it’s like, “I feel awesome right now. I feel like a warrior.”

What’s your weight routine like?
I’m never trying to put on mass. I definitely take the route of lighter weight, more reps. So I’ll do three sets of 15 pounds, of each movement — bicep curl, shoulder press, tricep extension. Then I’ll use really light weights to do isometric arm exercises. I like the isometric stuff because it engages your core. I’ll do some resistance band stuff. I’ll do some squats, usually without any weight, just to get that movement going; some pretty chill glute workouts, no weight involved, just bodyweight exercises.

Core stuff: On tour we’re usually in a dirt lot or parking lot, so it’s a little trickier to get down on the ground to do sit-ups, so I kind of rely on the running and some of the isometric stuff to engage my core. I’m always just trying to maintain a level of strength and feeling good and the routine of it.

Running: If I’m in an average routine, it will be between 12 and 16 miles a week. If we’re on a really good streak, it will be closer to 20, maybe 23. I’m not, like, marathon training at this point. I would definitely like to at some point do something like that.

Was there a band decision or policy that said, “In Baroness, we’re going to be fit”?
[Laughs] No, it’s just an unspoken interest that we all share. But I’m really happy about it. It fills the day with some structure. I know that somewhere around this time, depending on what’s going on that day, I’m going to have a workout, I’m going to feel good, I’m going to sweat my ass off. On tour, we’re usually working out outside. If it’s a festival, probably 10 other bands are going to look at us like we’re weirdos, and that’s totally fine.

Mugging with Baroness drummer Sebastian Thomson

Do you talk about this stuff with other musicians?
I remember when we were on tour with Deafheaven, those guys were all really fit. We were touring the States, so it was a little easier to get to a gym. The gym membership I had at the time, I think George and Kerry had the same one, so there were a couple of times where they’d be leaving and me or me and John would be going in. But I can’t recall a specific time of bro’ing down about working out with anybody [laughs]. I always just feel like a huge nerd when we’re at a festival, and everybody looks so cool and doing their thing, and here’s me in sweat shorts. But I kind of like it.

Do you draw any parallels between physical fitness and musical ability?
Definitely. [Running] really demands your respect, in a way. When you get out of your routine, or when you stop running for a period of time, you’re really back at square one, or at least you’ll experience some kind of setback if you don’t maintain some level of training. That can be a real slap in the face if you’re on a really good streak, and you’re going distances further than you’ve gone before. And if I stop for a period of time, I really have to work hard to work back to where I was.

Guitar feels really similar to me. I, of course, will maintain some amount of muscle memory. But I have to work really hard every day to push myself and learn new things and keep improving and maintain where I’m at. I really don’t like going for periods of time in either running or practicing guitar where I can’t do that. If I can’t play guitar for two days straight, I feel really anxious.

Let’s talk about diet. What do you eat or don’t eat?
I don’t have a really strict thing. I’ll do a protein shake in the morning, just some plant-based protein powder, like pea protein, half a banana, some almond milk or coconut milk, blend it up, throw some flaxseed in there. Then I’m sustained until lunchtime. I try to eat balanced and healthy, stick with leaner meats and fruits and vegetables. Alcohol is a big one; lately, I’ve been trying to avoid it altogether. Maybe because we’re home so much this year, I can really feel like it’s bogging me down.

How do you work your diet when you’re on the road, because you can’t arrange your food so much?
I just try to be really flexible. Maybe that’s why I never got into a really strict dietary thing. When I worked at Cirque du Soleil, that was a pretty cardio intensive job. We did 484 shows a year. It’s a theater show, so it’s a different world from being an artist or touring musician. I had to wear a costume, and I felt really aware of my body in that period of time in an unhealthy way. Because I had a costume, and I knew that it was super elaborate and expensive and the only one that exists, I had to fit into it every day. Whatever I weighed at the time I got fitted and measured for it, I had to maintain that. So for years I was counting calories. I would weigh myself every morning. I could feel my body and I could guess what I was going to weigh, to the ounce.

Gleason live at Decibel’s 2019 Metal & Beer Fest: Philly. Pic: Ed Newton

It’s like every day you’re getting married.
[Laughs] Totally! It was a weird feeling. Unfortunately many people have this struggle with body image. I definitely battled with it for a long time. You feel gross, it impacts you mentally, and then you’re depriving yourself of food. That can affect your thinking and decision making. You need food for brainpower. So I really try to get hard out of that mentality.

I just try to be really flexible with food, try to eat three meals a day, keep them healthy. I just try to stay aware of what I’m putting in my body. I try to avoid an excessive amount of bread, but sometimes I want a sandwich, and I let myself have the fucking bread, you know? [Laughs] I have a huge sweet tooth, so I’ll allow myself to have ice cream because I really like it. On tour, you can make any meal work. You can go to a gas station, and it’s not going to be the optimal thing, but you can make healthy choices. You can grab some almonds, you can get an apple, you can kind of make it work.

For someone starting from ground zero, who’s been sitting on the couch and eating badly, what advice would you have for starting on fitness?
The cool thing about working out is you can start right away. You can start anytime. You can start small. Your body will start to really like the feeling of working out and that sense of accomplishment, and you’ll start doing more. If you’re a person that has never worked out, and you have an interest in getting healthier, just go for a walk. Make it part of your everyday routine, like, “I’m going to go for a walk for 20 minutes, or 10 minutes, even.”

You don’t need to spend money buying stuff. You can use your body to work out. Running to me is the best. It’s free. It’s a full body workout. You can feel your core, your upper body, your legs working.

Start super small. It can be really daunting, like, “How do I start?” Same with guitar playing — “I wanna do this, where do I start, there’s a million things I could watch online, I have no idea which one’s right for me.” Just don’t feel intimidated by the idea of it. Go for a walk, do some pushups, do some sit-ups, do some leg raises, and just start with that.

Catch Baroness on their Your Baroness – An Intimate Evening with Baroness tour starting in November. Tickets are available here and dates are below.

November 6  Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
November 7  Richmond, VA – Richmond Music Hall
November 9  Columbus, OH – Ace of Cups
November 10  Indianapolis, IN – The Black Circle
November 12  Minneapolis, MN – Barfly @ Skyway Theatre
November 14  Fargo, ND – The Hall @ Fargo Brewing
November 17  Spokane, WA – Lucky You
November 19  Seattle, WA – Funhouse
November 21  Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
November 23  Boise, ID – Olympic
November 24  Salt Lake City, UT – State Room
November 26  Denver, CO – Globe Hall
November 29  Lawrence, KS – The Bottleneck
November 30  St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway
December 1  Chicago, IL – Cobra Lounge
December 3  Detroit, MI – El Club
December 4  Cleveland, OH – Mahalls
December 5  Buffalo, NY – Mohawk Place
December 7  Brooklyn, NY – Saint Vitus
December 10  Boston, MA – Middle East Upstairs
December 11  Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
December 12  Philadelphia, PA-  Kung Fu Necktie