Val’s Chat with artist Rayland Baxter

Another uber-talent on the Grand Point North lineup in Burlington VT Sept 13/14… Everyone hitting this fest are in for a treat when singer/songwriter Rayland Baxter hits the stage. I had a blast interviewing this cool-humble guy about his music career (starting at the beginning when he was just a tyke) — knowing where he came from helps us guess where’s he’s going. His music is strong, sexy, raw, it draws you in with a retro vibe that’s reminiscent of a Clapton, Stills, or maybe Browne. Give a listen – to his story and his music – and let me know what you think. I think you’ll find it’s all good.

Q: Who’s Rayland Baxter the man? Tell me a little bit about where you grew up and who you were when you were little!

A: I grew up in Old Hickory TN. Which is just about 20 minutes north of downtown Nashville. I was a little redneck kid with bright blonde hair. I had a dog-named Norton. My mom was single. My sister is two years older than me. My mom was in the middle of working and raising us, all while going to nursing school at night. I was sneaking away from babysitters to play by the creek and catch crawfish. I played a lot of soccer when I was a kid. I didn’t do too much music playing until I was 20. That’s when all this began.

Q: It sounded like you hooked up with your dad who’s a musician at that point.

A: Yeah. I mean he was always touring when I was a kid. He played with a bunch of guys, Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow being a few of them. He was a popular pedal steel player, he still is actually.

Q: His name is Bucky Baxter, right? Nothing better than that name!

A: Yeah he used to have a big afro in the 70s so all of his buddies in Richmond called him “buckwheat” which has since turned into Bucky.

Q: Where do you think you got all your wisdom? Sounds like you got it from both of your parents.

A: My mom played a big role, just raising my sister and I – my sister and me – on her own for the most part. My dad was great growing up too, always sharing his wisdom. My mom always asked me, she’s like, Ray you always have such great insight; I don’t know where you get it though. When I was 14, I was like I need to get out of my house. I went to boarding school on my own terms. I got a great education, plus I learned how to sneak out of my dorm and get high in the woods. I played lacrosse there and that was my main focus there. I also played Division I lacrosse. I definitely got burnt out though. Who knows what would’ve happened if I started playing music at an early age. Who knows if we would even be here.

Q: Once you started to say maybe I really want to do this, what happened then?

A: It happened over a three-year period. After college, I moved out to Colorado where my dad was living at the time. He told me to check out the music scene. I rented a car and drove straight there. I worked at a small taco and margarita bar. I started doing open mic nights. Just covers of stuff. Creed was a beautiful town.

Q: I heard you lived in a camper with no heat out there. Is that true?

A: That was after Creed. My dad lent me his trailer and I went up to Breckenridge. That was when I thought I wanted to be a snowboard instructor. I made arrangements to park in this kid’s yard. Of course none of it worked out. I was freezing my ass off and so broke. I got a gig working as a guitar tech for a band my dad was playing in. We moved to Nashville and went to Europe for a month. The whole time I was writing down lyrics and playing guitar. I went to Israel with my dad after that. We were supposed to stay for two weeks, but I ended up staying for six months. That’s when the gears really started cranking. I was 24 at the time. I came back to Nashville with a handful of songs and I recorded my first EP.

Q: How involved are you in the Nashville scene? Do you like the music scene or is it becoming too slick? What would your take be on that?

A: No I love the Nashville music scene. I’m involved with a lot of bands that started here. There is something cool happening here. My friends and I are all happy to be a part of it. I can’t put my finger on it but there is some real-ass music being made that can hopefully be heard by everybody at some point. It’s cutthroat here. There are a lot of talented people. But I learn from them. And I make myself unique because of them.

Q: Your album feathers and fishhooks, I hear a little Jackson Brown and Paul Simon in some of your stuff. Would you take that as a complement?

A: Of course, yeah! I usually open up for bigger bands, so nobody knows who I am. Those people who hear me for the first time agree with you. My goal is to supersede that. Maybe after album number three I’ll be completely unique.

Q: How was it opening for Boz Skagg’s, The Civil Wars, Head in the Heart? How cool is that when those audiences come and go crazy over your music?

A: It’s been great. I’ve gotten to play for thousands and thousands of people over the last couple of years. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with. My managers and my agent. This year at Bonnaroo I wasn’t playing but I went and I met a bunch of people. I met a bunch of bands. Whether they were aware of my music or not. We were all just hanging and talking. I don’t want to jinx this, but two weeks ago, I was up in Michigan playing at Electric Forest. I finally found a group of guys that I don’t want to let go. We’ve been playing a bunch of shows since we all got together in late January. Lauryn Hill from the Fugees was also playing that show. She was walking around incognito and happened to walk by our show and watch the whole thing. She loved it and now I may be going on tour with her for a week.

Q: It looks like you love to wear hats. Do you have a hat on all the time?

A: Only because I’m losing my hair on top. I like to buy cool hats.

Q: Who’s the fun guy Spencer Column who filmed your funny video?

A: He’s just a character. A great personality and a lovable guy, a great friend of mine.

Q: The Mountain Song is one of my favorites. It’s a little more somber; can you tell me about the song?

A: It’s a song about karma. A little bit about the darker side of experiencing the finer things in life. For example, drinking too much one night and having a hangover the next day.

Q: I love the title “Driveway Melody.” It sounds hopeful, like maybe you’re going somewhere, right?

A: Yeah I mean the reason why that song is called driveway melody (laughs) is because I came up with the melody in my driveway.

“I’m a redneck, hippie jock who makes music.”

Read more of Val’s artist interviews

Val’s Chat with artist Anders Parker

Val’s Chat with artists Dwight and Nicole

Val’s Chat with artist Lowell Thompson

Val’s Chat with artist Caroline Rose