In a land of singer-songwriters, Nashville roots artist Rayland Baxter stands a head above the rest. The son of pedal steel legend Bucky Baxter, Rayland made a big impression in 2012 with his classic debut album feathers & fishHooks, which was produced by Kings Of Leon svengali Jacquire King. We asked the mustache-rocking East Nashvillian about his new EP ashkeLon, freestyling at the Newport Folk Festival, his vote for the perfect song and more.
What was it like performing at this year’s Newport Folk Festival?
Newport was one of the most amazing weekends of my life…that’s a legendary festival on a magical piece of land…in a very very old town…lots of ghosts there…lots of amazing people put that festival together. It was a dream. I’m sure of it.
During your set, you improvised a song. Is that something you do a lot?
I improvise often…freestyle folk…in college I lived next to a rapper (Baltimore) and he and I would freestyle all the time…it’s carried over into what I do these days…Having a unique experience with the audience night after night to keep me entertained is my goal…if I’m entertained…most times it makes for a good show. Ya dig?
Why put out an EP out as opposed to saving the songs for an album?
I recorded the EP because I wanted to make public the songs and their growth as a live song rather than a studio cut. Plus, I have tons of songs and I can’t fit them all on the next full length. An appetizer for the ears. I can’t wait to start recording the next album. It’s gonna be an incredible experience, I know that. Songs are amazing creatures. I have no idea where all these songs come from.
Tell us a bit about ashkeLon.
It’s a five song diddy that myself and a few friends (Aaron Mortenson, Nick Bennett, Michael Rinne, Odessa Jorgensen, and Kristen Weber) recorded in a days time. Eric Masse recorded it at his studio ‘The Casino’ here in east Nashville. It was a breezy, beautiful day and I think that came across in the recordings. You should give it a listen.
How would you compare it to your last release?
Compared to my last release, it’s just another stepping stone. I hope to make music forever…this EP is just the next bit for everyone to hear. It’s a pleasant listen…one that’s better in the company of a sunrise and doobie in hand.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
I have always been a story writer…mostly from forced creative assignments at school…but then school ended for good. Since then, there has always been some unconscious persuasion going on in my mind to keep writing…I get a guitar in my hand somewhere along the way, and naturally, songs follow. This all came to fruition around 2008…I moved to Israel for 6 months and began my journey as a songwriter. They were not good right away not at all…but they are still worth something in my mind…just the other day I found a few notebooks full of lyrics written while I was in Israel. I’m gonna revisit those and try to burn the castle down again. Wish me luck.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
The first song I wrote was about an imaginary person who vanished in the desert… entered the ground and then returned to the world as a bird.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
The last song I wrote is about losing my mind. It’s happening.
How do you go about writing songs?
I have no form to songwriting, no habits, no rituals, no rules…most of the time I just start mumbling things that sound good next to each other then where it goes from there who knows. Sometimes a song is written in a matter of minutes, sometimes it takes two years, and anywhere in between that. The feel of the song has to be there first and foremost. When it feels good, as good as it can be…voila. A song is born.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Everything imaginable and unimaginable inspires me to write. Everything.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
It has become a more dynamic process…not easier or harder…but over time, I have learned how to visualize and feel out what I think is a worthy song. In terms of the songwriting process, there has been a landscape of words and chord progressions and stories and characters and vocal nuances that have been in the memory bank…and when I return to that stock pile, it’s bit more convenient to find something I like. This will go on forever.
Are there any words you love or hate?
Can’t say I hate any specific word. Love…I love them all. They all help me get my point across in all avenues.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is….
The most annoying thing about songwriting…is…nothing…it’s a dandelion of a hobby. I enjoy this artwork very much so.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
I believe this question is not for me to answer. A public poll might be best here.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I write songs, emails, and text messages…and the occasional tag in a green room or bathroom stall.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
I’d like to drink whiskey and write with Townes. Or actually, just sit there in my invisible cloak and watch him write. Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter would be great as well. And JJ Cale. And Mariah fuckin’ Carey.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
Underrated songwriter…hmm…Blake Mills. He’s a fantastic singer, songwriter, and musician. Absolutely amazing to me.
What do you consider to be the perfect song and why?
The perfect song is “The Man In Me” by Dylan. It’s just perfect. All around. It makes me feel like I’m flying…partly because I can’t get Jeff Bridges flying around L.A. out of my mind when I hear it…but also because it’s just a sweet soundin’ tune.