Photo by Shervin Lainez

Waking Up with Rayland Baxter

From Nashville to Israel to Eugene

Nashville songwriter Rayland Baxter has been feeling unwell, so I ask him if he has any go-to remedies.

“Eat lots of greens,” he tells me over the phone, and drink lots of juice. “Stay hydrated,” he adds. “Get lots of rest.” 

This is all sensible advice from a guy who’s lived a pretty extraordinary life — a life that’s led him from Nashville to Israel, and now to Eugene supporting his third album Wide Awake. 

Awake’s guitar- and keyboard-oriented pop songwriting feels a little timeless, the way good melody and harmony will always be. There’s some ’70s AM gold mixed with the darkness of Townes Van Zandt. Like on album-track “79 Shiny Revolvers,” which touches on gun violence in America. 

Baxter sees the challenges of our time, but he remains hopeful.

“Being a human is an amazing gift,” he explains. “Not a dog in a cage, or a talking bird, or a swarm of bees or a blade of grass. We can talk. We can think freely. We can express ourselves.” 

Baxter didn’t start playing music until he was 21. “Sophomore year in college,” he says. He went down to Nashville to visit his dad, country musician Bucky Baxter, known for working with Dylan and Steve Earle.

“He gave me an acoustic guitar for Christmas,” Baxter says, and it wasn’t until after college, while living in Colorado, that Baxter started writing his own songs. 

“I started doing open mics,” he recalls — playing covers. Strangers gave Baxter unsolicited accolades, so he thought, “Maybe I’ll start writing my own songs.”

Soon, Baxter traveled to live with his father in Israel. That’s when the calling to write music really spoke to him, a vocation Baxter describes as a “beautiful opportunity.” 

“I started paying attention to the lyrics of Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt,” he says. “I started eating it up.”

“It’s quite the responsibility. When you start expressing your voice, you better make sure you’ve got something to say that’s unlike it’s ever been said before,” Baxter says of life as a songwriter.

“I’m more awake than I have been,” he continues. “I think the world is more awake than we have been. We stand on top of a mountain of made decisions and we have to live with it.”

Rayland Baxter plays with Skyway Man 8 pm Saturday, Sept. 8, at Hi-Fi Music Hall; $13 advance, $15 door.