Rayland Baxter isn’t a household name in music… at least not yet. But those who have heard of the Nashville-native know him to be a world-class singer-songwriter. Baxter stopped in Columbia just two weeks ago to perform at Rose Music Hall during a Midwest tour of his second studio album titled “Imaginary man”.
As a fan of Rayland Baxter since the release of his debut studio album in 2013, I was pretty star-struck as we spoke on the phone the next day while he was on the road headed to play a show that night in Indianapolis. I was surprised to learn that music wasn’t always the plan for him.
“I thought that I was going to write copy for an advertising agency, that’s what I was studying to do, at least,” Baxter said. “I didn’t really think about becoming a musician until I was about 22 years old.”
I was surprised because Baxter’s father, Bucky Baxter, is a pedal-steel guitar player who both recorded and toured with artists including Bob Dylan, R.E.M and Steve Earle among others. Baxter’s father gave him his first acoustic guitar during winter break of his sophomore year of college, but he says his father’s career didn’t really influence his decision to pursue music.
“He just wanted me to have a guitar, he didn’t know anything that was going to come of it,” Baxter said. “I started a cover band about a year and a half after owning a guitar and we played a bunch of classic songs.”
It wasn’t until a trip to Ashkelon, Israel with his father that Baxter had what he described to me as “come to” about his future.
“My life took a major turn when I was in Israel and I was like, ‘I’m a songwriter,’” Baxter said.
That trip would later inspire Baxter’s first EP in 2013 titled “Ashkelon”. After catching the attention of ATO Records with his song ‘The Woman For Me’, Baxter would soon record and release his debut studio album, “Feathers and Fishhooks.” Now, four years later, Baxter’s second album, “Imaginary Man”, has garnered serious international attention. He says writing and recording Imaginary Man was entirely different from his experience with “Feathers and Fishhooks.”
“When you compare where we are now in our lives to where we were then which was almost five years ago when we started recording that album, it’s crazy what we’ve all been through and how many tours we’ve gone on and how much we’ve learned about writing and singing and playing guitar and bass and keyboard and all of this stuff,” Baxter said. “I have grown up since then and the music therefore shows.”
Baxter’s music is beautiful and pure. I told him that when I listen to his songs, his lyrics paint pictures that have a profound emotional effect on me, and I asked what it feels like to be told that as a songwriter.
“It’s amazing that I’ve succeeded in that because when they're being written, they’re affecting me that way,” Baxter said. “When I’m singing them, that’s a huge part of my life, this one song or this collection of songs is going to represent me in some form or fashion and I think that allows the listener to enter that gateway as well.”
Baxter has gone on more than 20 tours, both as an opener and a headliner, with artists like Grace Potter, Shakey Graves and Kacey Musgraves among others. He’s performed all throughout the United States and toured twice in Europe. But he says despite his full schedule, it isn’t hard to keep the music and performing from becoming stale.
“I am blessed with some amazing musicians in this band, and they keep it exciting,” Baxter said. “On every song we can jam.”
In fact, he says the tour that brought him to Columbia is more fresh and exciting than most other tours he’s been on.
“I’m just now getting to a point where people are coming out to see our show,” Baxter said. “We’re getting people that come out and know the songs, we sold out in Philadelphia, Boston, in D.C. and in New York City and it’s really cool – and I feel like we’re now really just gearing up to do our thing.
Following this tour, Baxter says he and the band will have some time to relax and reflect before performing at music festivals around the country this summer.
“We’re going to keep on growing as a band, and that’s it,” Baxter said. “Just keep on adding to this nice touring act of good musicians, and really just keep playing good music every night because that’s just what it’s all about… the love of the music.”