Interview: Rayland Baxter

Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
Nashville troubadour Rayland Baxter recently released his sophomore LP Imaginary Man, the follow-up to his highly acclaimed debut, 2012’s feathers & fishHooks.  Of his new album Baxter has said, “To me, Imaginary Man is an audible record of my journey down the bright blue river of imagination. It is a multicolored dream of song, a sonic birdbath if you may. The sounds and songs are as visual as they are tactile and it shows a bit more of who I have become as an artist, as continual and never-ending as that process is.”

The album is an 11-song beauty that sets a new standard for songwriting.  Baxter’s wonderfully whimsical lifestyle comes through in his lyrics; it even came through in the answers he graciously provided to my questions for this interview–as I read through them, I couldn’t help but smile, and I couldn’t bring myself to edit one thing about the unique way they were written:

Mother Church Pew:  I’ve read that you always loved music but never dreamed of being a rock star as a kid; can you talk about the role music has played in your life, and when and why you decided that you were going to pursue music as a career?

Rayland Baxter:  music was aLways around growing up…whether it was my mother pLayin piano and singin or crankin INXS and the cranberries, i grew up in her house for the most part and was affected unknowingLy by her sweet and heavy voice and Later on in Life when i started singin, i can Look back into the memory scape and associate some of the vocaL habits i have to her…and my oL man of course was deep into the music. i grew up seeing him when he was home from touring with steve earLe and bob dyLan and ryan adams and gang of others during my youthful years…his steeL guitar meLodies have been engrained in my souL forever. hes one of the most taLented and unique musicians i have ever met…and he just happens to be my pops. he was aLso very heLpfuL when i first moved back to nashviLLe seven years ago. his advice to me as i was getting my feet wet in the music game was monumentaL. “hey son…do this…i wouldnt do that” kinda stuff.

MCP:  Your new album was released on August 14th; if someone could only listen to one song on the album to get the quintessential Rayland Baxter music experience, which song would it be, and why?

 RB:  if you had to just Listen to one…hmmmm…i wouLd say track one “mr rodriguez”…you have the story…the Lyrics…the groove…and a soLid bridge…but i suggest Listening to the aLbum from front to back if you can find the time in your heLLaciousLy busy day.

MCP:  How do you feel you and your music have changed or progressed since your debut LP feathers & fishHooks?

RB:  i think when you find that river youre meant to be fLoatin down…and then start fLoatin down it…the evoLution of your craft happens rapidLy because there is nothing eLse you want to do with your time. aLL days and aLL nights reLating every motion of your day with a song…with feathers and fishHooks, i was fresh faced as a writer and a musician. i didnt start pLayin guitar untiL i was 20 years oLd and i didnt start writing the songs untiL a few years after that…now that i have had a few years under my beLt knowin the direction i wanna go with it aLL (kinda), things were a bit different going into recording ‘imaginary man” and we as a group of musicians and producers knew more about our own individuaL craft…i think that resulted in a stout aLbum with a Lot of content to grab a hoLd of…happening on a musicaL map that is hard to pinpoint other than what we wanted and that is to sound a Lot Like us and nothing eLse…my name is on the cover of this aLbum of course but the group of dudes and dudettes invoLved in the creation are what reaLLy makes this aLbum speciaL to me.

MCP:  There is a fantastic cast of characters featured on the album with you, including your dad [Bucky Baxter] on pedal steel; can you talk about what everyone brought to the table, musically and personally?

RB:  eric masse, one of my best friends in nashviLLe, recorded and co produced the new aLbum (he aLso recorded and co produced my first aLbum feathers and fishHooks). he made us aLL Laugh aLot…he aLso kept us higher than a fLyin squireLL most of the time. he mixed the aLbum as weLL…i think it sounds reaLLy cooL…hes a mega talented dude who has aLot of good things coming for him i think.

       adam Landry is the other co producer…he aLso pLayed a bit of eLectric guitar…i think that adam is one of the cooLest producers in the worLd. he has baLLs. he and eric took these songs from outside the waLLs of my bedroom and put some tangibLe touch to em aLL…forcing me out of any comfort zone i had coming into the session.

     matt vasquez of deLta spirit joined us the Last few days of tracking to sing beautifuL harmonies with me. he is an incredibLe front man for his band and has a gritty unique voice. he is singing on tracks 1, 2, 4 and 6. hear for yourseLf!

     mikky ekko is my homie here in nashviLLe and is maybe the most amazing vocaList i have ever met. he melts me with his voice and it was no question who we wanted to sing on a coupLe of these songs. you can hear him doing ethereaL moaning on track 5 and beLting beautifuLLy on track 9. he has an amazing future as weLL.

     jessie bayLin is another vocaList on the aLbum…she is so cooL and has a unique sultry voice. she fit in juuuuust fine and has become a dear friend of mine.

     isaaca byrd, the vocaList on track 10, was 8 months pregnant when she came into sing. she aLso sang on a coupLe songs on my first aLbum…we sing great together.

     chip kiLpatrick pLayed the drums and he and i were born on the same exact day. enough said i think.

    eLi beard is a young Legendary bass pLayer in nashviLLe and we were Lucky to Lock him in for the session. he is an absoLuteLy incredibLe bass pLayer and human being.

     nick bennett, son of Legendary sideman richard bennett…he and i have been pLayin music for the Last seven years on and off. hes a soLid stud muffin of a dude.

    Luke reynoLds pLayed most of the eLectric guitar on the aLbum…we borrowed Luke from a great band, Guster. i have known Luke for 10 years and there was no question on who to caLL to take the Lead.

    Last but not Least we have mr jimmy…matt rowLand…he and i have been touring together for the Last two years and he handLed aLL of the piano organ and keyboard duties. if you come to one of our shows, you wiLL see what i mean. he is an amazing human being and wizard from nebadon.

MCP:  You’re now on tour with Grace Potter; is there anywhere that you are particularly excited to perform?

RB:  touring with grace potter is awesome. she is a powerfuL person and an incredible vocaList…i have known her for many years and she has given me many many many chances to open up her show and i wiLL be forever gratefuL for her Letting us pLay for her fans…they seem to accept us every night and i am grateful for that. 

 MCP:  I’m intrigued by your living situation, on a covered porch in Nashville….how did that come about and how did you settle there?

RB:  i have since moved aLL my beLongings into a storage unit because i tour so much…the covered porch is no Longer my home…i have no home…but when i was in the covered porch, i Lived next to 6 chickens and 54 sunfLowers…its hard to beat for $100/month. sweating it out during the summers was a nice chaLLenge and i do miss Living in my LiL greenhouse bedroom.

MCP:  You’ve lived in places like Colorado and Israel…family excluded, what was it about Nashville that made you want to return and work from here?  How has it shaped and influenced you and your music?

RB:  nashviLLe is a very speciaL pLace…the history aLone speaks voLumes of the town…i have a strong group of friends and it seems that everyone is feeding off the energy here. i didnt have to go outside of my circLe of friends to make this aLbum…everyone invoLved is a buddy…it was so easy. there is something amazing happening musicaLLy in nashviLLe right now…so many incredibLe bands forming…songs created…and LifeLong friendships formed since ive moved back here. my dad aLways toLd me if youre the smartest man in the room, youre hangin out with the wrong peopLe.

 MCP:  Describe your perfect day.

 RB:  i wouLd wake up in a tent underneath a grove of aspen trees during the month of september when the Leaves turn from green to yeLLow…the sun shines through and creates a goLden god bubble that i dont ever want to Leave…start the fire back up…grind some coffee beans…cook some bacon and eggs…toast some bread…give my Love a Long kiss…and then faLL back asLeep and sLip into weird dreamLand for a while…wake back up…go fLyfishing on the rio grande…catch a few trout…throw some Lemon and garLic in the fish…wrap em in foiL…cook em on the fire and then scarf. open a nice bottLe of orin swift prisoner red wine…poor a coupLe gLasses…give my Love another Long kiss…finish the bottLe…faLL asLeep under the stars…wake up and do it again.


*supporting Grace Potter 

August 14 /// Hollywood, CA /// The Fonda Theatre*
August 15 /// Oakland, CA /// Fox Theater*
August 28 /// Florence, AL /// Billy Reid’s Shindig
August 30 /// Nashville, TN /// 3rd and Lindsley
August 31 /// Nashville, TN /// Grimey’s (in-store)
September 27 /// New Orleans, LA /// The Landing Festival
October 3 /// Austin, TX /// Austin City Limits Music Festival
October 6 /// Pittsburgh, PA /// Stage AE*
October 7 /// Cleveland, OH /// House of Blues*
October 8 /// Royal Oak, MI /// Royal Oak Music Theatre*
October 9 /// Columbus, OH /// LC Pavillion*
October 13 & 14 /// Asheville, NC /// Orange Peel*
October 15 /// Knoxville, TN /// Tennessee Theatre*
October 16 /// Indianapolis, IN /// Egyptian Room*
October 17 /// St. Louis, MO /// The Pageant*
October 21 /// Kansas City, MO /// Uptown Theatre*
October 22 /// Minneapolis, MN /// State Theatre*
October 23 /// Chicago, IL /// Chicago Theatre*
October 24 /// Madison, WI /// Barrymore Theatre*
October 25 /// Kalamazoo, MI /// State Theatre*
October 29 /// Albany, NY /// Palace Theater*
January 6-11 /// Miami, Belize City, Cozumel /// Jam Cruise

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