As a child growing up in Williston, South Carolina, KaiL Baxley would bump into hometown hero James Brown, who’d joke around and challenge the young Baxley to a dance-off. Years later, Baxley is making some soul music of his own, combining gospel, Southern blues, hip-hop, and cinematic indie-folk into the songs that make up his debut release.
Released today, the album Heatstroke/The Wind and the War — technically a double-EP — showcases the two sides of Baxley’s songwriting. One disc focuses on haunting folk songs, while the other is steeped in grooves and guitars, shining a light on his rowdier tendencies. “Legend of the Western Hills,” a swirling ballad filled with strings, vibrato and waltzing percussion, is one of the highlights from the folk disc.
“It was a dream song,” says Baxley. “At the time, I was homeless, sleeping in my R.V on Selma Blvd — “Hollywood” — right across the street from a church. It was probably 3 in the morning. I was woken up by someone shouting down the street, as people do at 3 a.m. in Hollywood. I had this haunting melody in my head from the dream I was having, which turned out to be the chorus of the song. I decided to get up and go for a walk and see if I could catch any more of the melody. I walked a couple blocks, came back, grabbed my acoustic, sat there on the church steps and whispered out the song. Took me ‘til sunrise. I think that’s why I remember it so well; even Hollywood’s peaceful at sun rise.”