Bibles, Cigarettes and a Cheetah Dress: RaeLynn Talks New Record, ‘Baytown’

RaeLynn by Ford Fairchild

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

When it comes to country music star RaeLynn, there’s one foundational fact you oughta know upfront: she was born and raised in Baytown, Texas.

Situated on the outskirts of Houston and boasting a population of just under 80,000, Baytown proved to be the perfect setting for RaeLynn’s upbringing—between its mix of rural and urban cultures and its rich musical atmosphere, she was exposed to all sorts of styles, vibes, and perspectives. Ultimately, it was this influence that led the now-27-year-old artist to develop her unique blend of country, R&B, and pop. 

Last year, RaeLynn began to officially pay homage to her hometown with the Baytown EP—now, she’s continuing that artistic journey with a full-length expansion. Her LP Baytown dropped on September 24.

Hopping on the phone with American Songwriter a few weeks ago, RaeLynn explained just how important Baytown is to her and why she felt compelled to document that through these songs. She also opened up about the experiences that she tapped into to write some of her more anthemic tunes, like “Judgin’ To Jesus.” At the time, she was just about to give birth—in the interim, she and her husband, Josh Davis, welcomed their daughter Daisy into the world. As a result, the conversation captures a really cool moment in her career and life, with as many blessings under her belt as on the horizon. Read the conversation below:

American Songwriter: Obviously, this new record deals with your hometown: Baytown, Texas. How did growing up there help shape the artist you are today?

RaeLynn: Baytown is outside of Houston, Texas, and a lot of different types of people are from there—it’s not just a one-trick pony type of town. I always actually use it as a describing word for anything in my life or songwriting, where I’ll be like, “Well, if it doesn’t feel like ‘Baytown,’ I’m not doing it” or “I’m going to channel ‘Baytown’ on it.” It’s sassy, it’s fun, it has heart and all those things. One thing I loved about growing up there is that you had a lot of hard-working, blue-collar people there, but there was so much family-ness and heart to it too. Especially on the culture side of things, that meant a lot to me. Plus, the music I grew up on wasn’t just country music, it was a little bit of everything. Baytown is right by Houston, which is where Beyonce and so many other incredible hip-hop artists are from. So, that energy trickled into the places around us.

Then, as I was writing this record, the first song that really made me be like “Wow, this sounds like where I’m from” was “Keep Up.”

Writing “Keep Up” was like opening this gate where I was like “Okay, whatever this is—this honesty, this fun, this vibe—we’ve gotta chase it because it’s where my heart is.” It really made making this record so much fun. I knew that if a song wasn’t being honest, or didn’t have that element, then it wasn’t meant for this record. So, it’s been really fun—I got to stay in that nostalgic place.

It even made me reflect on how a lot of the things that make me different come from the town I was raised in. I think that’s important—the lessons you learn as a kid and teenager are things you take into adulthood. Then, once you’re an adult, you’re like a big calico cat of all these different experiences. So, the reason why I’m different is because of where I was raised—I’m not from Nashville. That’s why I love songs like “Only In A Small Town”—you can look around the whole wide world for a girl like me, but I’m only gonna come from a town like Baytown. 

AS: Baytown’s first half dropped as an EP last year—what was it like working on that project?

R: Releasing that EP was a blast because you can never exactly guess how folks are going to react. Then, to see it get 20 million streams in just the first few weeks… I was like, “Okay well, obviously I’m doing the right thing. This is where I’m supposed to be.” At the time even, we didn’t know whether it was just going to be the EP or if we wanted to make a continuation of it… I kinda just went in chasing that one thing. After that, I just saw where my heart wanted to go. So, I’m so thankful that these songs did what they did because that’s what kept me inspired through this back half of Baytown. Diving in, I realized really quickly that there was more to the story.

AS: What ultimately led to the decision to expand it into a full album? What was it like working on the back half? 

R: I knew it had to become a full project when I kept hearing new songs and felt like they were meant to be on the record. We were coming up with songs like “Only In A Small Town” and all these things that felt “Baytown” to me, so I was like, “Let’s just continue it—why mess up something that’s already good?” I’m also writing and creating all the time—I’ve got songs for days—so with the feeling that there was more to the story, we found the courage to make a full album out of it. 

AS: One of the break-out songs on this record is “Judgin’ To Jesus”—what was the inspiration for this song? 

R: That song is one of my favorites because it really embodies my heart—I believe that if we all left the judging to Jesus a little bit more, life would be a lot easier. I grew up in church… I wouldn’t say I was the “black sheep,” but I was that girl who, when it came to Easter Sunday, would wear the craziest dress to church. I was always gonna say the craziest thing during our little prayer circles—I always went to the beat of my own drum. I love Jesus and I love to have a good time. I was like, “There needs to be a song for us girls who love to pray but also love to get a little low”—I see those girls on Broadway every weekend here in Nashville! So, this song showcases that bit of my personality, but I know it’s so many other girls’ personalities as well.

AS: Another fun moment is “Get That All The Time” with Mitchell Tenpenny (written with Kane Brown, among others)—what’s the story on this one? 

R: First of all, Mitchell is a hoot! He’s such a good dude—I’ve known him since I was, like, 18, when I moved to town. I met him before I even got a record deal or anything like that. That’s one of the cool things about Nashville—me and Dan + Shay have been friends for a while, so have me and Mitchell. There are so many artists who I’ve gotten to see completely spread their wings and fly. It’s been so cool.

As for this song—I love this song. It is such a feel-good song. It basically is talking about one of the universal things: pickup lines. I was writing it with Kane Brown, Cory Crowder, and Tyler Hubbard. I just wanted it to be a feel-good song, something that would fit on a boat, or rolling around in your car. Kane had so many things coming out, so we were trying to find the right voice for it—Mitchell seemed like the perfect fit. He’s such a good time and he’s so goofy and funny. He also has such a cool, raspy voice. So, to be able to work together on this song was a blast.

AS: You also got to finally cut a duet with Blake Shelton on “Why I Got A Truck”—what was that like?

R: It seems like we’ve been trying to find a song to do together forever, but we just couldn’t figure out the right thing. Honestly, a lot of the songs felt too serious… but we’re just two people who love to have fun. We didn’t want to do some love song or some serious thing—it had to be something with personality and grit.

Eventually, I was writing one day and decided to just write something for myself—even if we didn’t choose to cut it, I’d figure out something to do with it. We wrote this song and it ended up just being perfect. Then, Blake’s voice immediately came to mind—he has one of the most authentic voices in country. When you hear it, you know exactly what it is. So it all came together and we had so much fun making it.

AS: You’re about to have your first child. How do you feel about the upcoming arrival of your daughter? 

R: So far as my perspective goes, I’ve been in this place the past year where I’m just being grateful. 2020 was such an unknown year, I think we all realized that we could all slow down a little bit and enjoy life—be thankful for where you’re at, trust God in every situation. Then, getting pregnant on top of it all this past January was a beautiful thing. I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I think moms are superheroes. I’m even seeing that now, carrying her through all these experiences. I can feel her kick when I’m singing in the studio, I can feel her move when I’m on stage with a guitar on my stomach. It’s the little moments like that where I’m like, “Wow, what an experience for my daughter.” She’ll know that she can do anything by watching me and her dad accomplish these huge things. That’s what life is all about: passing on the legacy. I’m so excited to see her and meet her and see her grow up to be a cool kid. 

AS: With Baytown out and a kid on the way, how do you feel? What’s the future look like for you?

R: I’ve been writing even more in this vibe of having fun and being authentic—I pray that continues. I’m excited to see what happens with Baytown because I know that it’s going to trickle. For now, though, I’ll be chilling back a little bit with my baby girl. She’s due in two weeks, which is crazy. She’ll be here before we know it. Then, hopefully, I’ll be able to get back out on the road by January. I’m so excited to be in this new phase of life.

RaeLynn’s new album Baytown is out now—watch a music video for the song “Only In A Small Town” below:

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