Mind and Humanity: A Conversation with Rayland Baxter

By Brent Thompson

Rayland Baxter has only released three full-length albums, but it seems his career has extended for much longer (that statement is meant as a compliment). The son of renowned multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter [Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, R.E.M.], Rayland writes songs that declare him wise beyond his years. His latest album, Wide Awake [ATO Records], finds the singer/songwriter addressing the universal theme of decision-making over its 10 tracks. On Friday, July 20, Baxter will perform at Saturn. Okey Dokey and Brett Bigelow will open the 8 p.m. show. Recently, Baxter spoke with us by phone about Wide Awake, isolation and pop songs.

Birmingham Stages: Rayland, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to your show at Saturn.

Rayland Baxter: It’s going to be awesome – the best green room in the United States. The bands can stay there when they play there.

Birmingham Stages: We are really enjoying Wide Awake. If you will, talk about the creation of it.

Baxter: The oldest song is “Casanova” and that song I wrote on the way up to Lollapalooza four years ago to see Cage The Elephant. I wrote it in the back seat of my buddy’s car and it sat around because it was out of my style. Other than that song, most of these songs came to life up in Franklin, Ky. – where I lived the winter before last – at my friend’s studio called Thunder Sound. At the time, it was just becoming a studio and it was in an old rubber band factory. I was in the clerk’s office living with a Wurlitzer and an acoustic guitar by myself. I stayed there for three months straight and wrote about five albums’ worth of songs.

Birmingham Stages: Did you enjoy the isolation surrounding that process?

Baxter: I loved it – I’ve spent a lot of time up there since then. I love being by myself and I love writing and diving into my mind and following the greats and trying to make my footsteps a little different than theirs.

Birmingham Stages: Would you like to write in that same environment again?

Baxter: I’ll do that again and I’m preparing by taking voice notes on my phone and dating and labeling them. When I get time to write, I’ll go back to that room and test it out again. Kentucky’s maybe my favorite state. I love cornfields from being a Field of Dreams fan as a kid – the mystery of the cornfield. Thunder Sound is surrounded by cornfields and orchards and the stars.

Birmingham Stages: The press release for Wide Awake mentions the album’s recurring theme of decision-making. If you will, talk about the material’s lyrical content.

Baxter: We’re all faced with decisions – thousands upon thousands of them a day from how tight to tie my shoe, should I open my mouth, should I have an opinion. All of these decisions. Humans make decisions and it’s our legacy we leave behind. I’m just exploring my mind and humanity.

Birmingham Stages: Your lyrics somehow manage to sound personal and universal at the same time.

Baxter: We’re all feeling the same things on some level. That’s why pop songs are fun to listen to – they talk about middle of the road issues like love, loss, right and wrong. It takes a special pairing of words and melody to cut through the crust of the same old shit that’s being poured out. I love the pop form of a song on a Beatles level. I want people to hear my point because it’s there point as well.

Rayland Baxter will perform at Saturn on Friday, July 20. Okey Dokey and Brett Bigelow will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $13 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Photo Credit: Shevin Lainez