Although he has three albums under his belt, Rayland Baxter is still finding ways to keep things fresh. As I watched his soundcheck before a recent show at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, the Nashville-based artist meticulously played and listened to his band run through a deeper cut from his new record, “Wide Awake,” called “Sandra Monica.”
The attention to detail was impressive, and he was clearly intent on making sure that the sound came across with just enough spaceyness in order to catch the right vibe in the room. As I later witnessed, the band nailed it.
When I asked him about the soundcheck later, Baxter claimed to NOT be a control freak and confessed that it was the first time the band had played the song on tour. But I still walked away with the impression that each show is a new adventure for him, with individual performances and arrangements tailored to each audience and venue.
Baxter came to music relatively late in life. Despite never picking up a guitar until he was in college, he quickly realized he had a knack for songwriting. But when you dig a little deeper into his background, his natural ability makes a lot more sense. He’s the son of the prolific and well-traveled musician, Bucky Baxter.
I sat down for a conversation with Rayland Baxter in the back of his tour van before that recent show at Doug Fir, and we talked about his dad, working with producer Butch Walker, his songwriting style and more.
On his unlikely partnership with producer Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne, Pink):
I met Butch at a Dylanfest. I had just played a [Bob] Dylan song and then I walk off [stage] and Butch [says to me] “Rayland! I love your music, man” and he says I’d love to work together. So, three days later I sent him 30 demos. He was the only producer that was interested, the only guy that was like “I want to do this.” He also nailed it when he wrote back. He listened to three songs.
He listened to “79 Shiny Revolvers,” “Hey Larocco,” and “Amelia Baker” and he [wrote] “Dude, this is like Gram Parson, Elliott Smith, and Leonard Cohen go to party at Jerry Garcia’s house and Brian Eno is the bouncer… And we made it work. I put a band together. Butch played bass. Erik Slick from Dr. Dog played drums. Aaron Embry played piano. And we went to Santa Monica and recorded at Butch’s studio Ruby Red.
On growing up in a musical family (Rayland’s dad is multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter who has toured and played with Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, R.E.M., and many others):
[Music] was around but it was distant. My parents divorced when I was two and my dad was always on the road pretty much nonstop until I was halfway through college. And it was just at halfway through college that I started playing guitar — Christmas break of my sophomore year in college.
I went down to Nashville to visit my dad for he Christmas break and he gave me an acoustic guitar as a late birthday, Christmas present. So, I did not play much music as a kid. I was around it, and I was in my dad’s studios, he had different studios, when I was a little kid or going backstage with Steve Earle and the Dylan days. So I was around it, but [later] it came pretty fast.