Rayland Baxter has followed a winding path all his life, and now it’s led him to record a remarkably intricate country album, Feathers & Fishhooks.
“I’m a very firm believer that things happen for a reason,” says the young singer-songwriter. “So just float with the wind and do your thing and control the things you have control over, and don’t worry about the rest.”
Music didn’t take hold of his imagination until about five years ago, but as the son of Bucky Baxter — a respected pedal steel guitarist who’s recorded with Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams and Steve Earle, among others — his talent for song craft was apparently not far from reach. The elder Baxter lends his skill to Feathers & Fishhooks, helping to create a lonely but lush soundscape that captures the essence of youth on the move.
Recently, Baxter dropped by the CMT offices with videos for “The Mountain Song” and “Driveway Melody.” While he was here, he took time to talk about the album, as well as his love of fly fishing and the time he spent in Israel.
CMT Edge: The album title reminds me of fly fishing, which I know you enjoy quite a bit. What do you like about it?
Baxter: The analogy of the river, I love it. To the end of my time, I’ll use it. The river’s flowing, and there are smooth parts and there are really rough parts, and you can compare it to love, you can compare it to living and then being able to survive off of a river. And with fly fishing, I love the art of casting a fly rod and trying to trick a fish. It’s a little different than throwing a hook in the water. It’s hard. I’ve fly fished now for 10 years, and you’d think after 10 years you’d have somewhat of a perfect cast but, no, I still get tangled up and get frustrated. You forget about only having $50 in your bank account because you have to think about what you’re doing.
I love how “The Woman for Me” is an anthem for those losing hope in ever finding love. Is that what you were feeling at the time?
Yeah, I’m a loner. Not so much when I was a kid but these days. I mean, I love being around people, but I like the feeling of being alone. Now lonely, that’s a whole other game. But that was like, my whole life, I thought I would meet this woman, and you wonder, “Is it this one? Or maybe it was the one before that?” I don’t fall in love often, but I have a few times. You always think for a second that could be the one, and then it ends, and you’re down and out for a while. But I wrote that song at like 5 in the morning in Israel. I was far away from anything.
You lived in Israel for quite a while. What drew you there? Some people would see that as a dangerous thing to do.
My dad and I went out for two weeks to see his friend, and we stayed, like, 15 minutes away from Gaza. It’s the closest you can get. So every day you’d be hearing the bomb siren go off, and you’d feel it when they landed even if it was 20 miles away. After two weeks, my dad had to go back to Nashville, and our host was like, “Just stay here. You can watch all my movies, eat all my food.” He has a little recording studio, and he and his sons and his nephew play music, so I’d play with them and write notebooks full of songs and poems and lyrics. I did that for six months.
What was so inspiring about Israel? Did some of it have to do with living so close to death?
That definitely crossed my mind every day, but they don’t deal with it like we do. They’re just like “Oh, there’s a bomb. I’m going to go grocery shopping.” There are lots of young men with guns around there, and it’s been like a crusade battle going on for thousands of years, but it’s just part of their life.
You made two music videos during a road trip. What was it like?
Well, I bought a ’69 Plymouth Valiant — she’s not happy with me right now, too much driving — but I bought the car and went out on the road with the Civil Wars, and we went all over the Northwest. I was like, “Man, I gotta come back here and do another trip.” So we did, and “Driveway Melody” is from Texas to Arizona, and “Mountain Song” is from Arizona to California to Salt Lake. We played a bunch of shows on the way there and a couple on the way back, and it was incredible.
Why did you dedicate “Driveway Melody” to your grandmother?
In the album, there are a few little things of me showing my respect for some of my favorite artists. That was for my grandmother because I love her and she’s helped me a lot in my life. But, at the same time, that was me paying respects to Gram Parsons. In the beginning of a Flying Burrito Brothers song, he goes “Here’s to you, Grandma.” I also do that for the Shins, one of my favorite bands, a little bit in “Mountain Song.” There are little things if you listen carefully. I do love my grandmother, too.