Southern Narratives

Musical Therapy

A Q&A with singer/songwriter Kail Baxley.

Tell us about growing up and how it has shaped your music?
Well, that’s a doozy. [Laughs] I suppose there is a certain amount of a songwriter’s life in his or her music by default­—if it’s honest. I grew up fast. I had to face real problems at a very early age because I had no mother or father to raise me. So, it was find your own food or go hungry. Figure out some way to make money before you’re of legal age to work so that you can have a roof over your head—the things that most never have to consider. I was an angry kid living in poverty, surrounded by all the things that poverty brings: drugs, crime, violence, prostitution, ignorance. Music has always been a filter for ‘the emotions.’ It’s kinda hard to explain to the kid that grew up on a golf course what life is like on the other side of the tracks, and it can be very alienating, especially for a young person. I began writing little compositions for myself, and when I finally got an instrument, they progressed. Now, I have a career in it, and I never saw that coming. [Laughing] All the music doesn’t come from some sad place, though. Every coin has a flip side. I find extreme happiness in the simplest things in life, and I think that has to do with dealing with a lot early on. I try to reflect all these things.

You are from Williston-Elko, SC. How does small-town-life echo throughout your music?
Where you come from is at the core of you no matter where you end up. I love where I grew up. As I’ve gotten older and lived in a few really big cities, I realize how lucky I was to come from a small town. It’s a unique experience. At times, it felt like growing up in the ’70s except we had all the good hip-hop. I spent a lot of time down on the river, jumping off bridges, listening to Zeppelin and CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival], while dancing on car tops—probably my first taste of real freedom. I know a place where we can go; to ease our minds and our troubled souls. That tune’s all about a place called Buster Boyd Bridge we used to go as kids. So yeah, I suppose there’s a bit of an echo.

You befriended James Brown as a child. What was that like?
Dynamite! [Laughs] I mean, as a kid I didn’t think it was that big a deal. Most people from my hometown had met James, and it was like…my grandfather’s music. But the more I saw of him as I got older, I thought it was pretty cool that James Brown knew my name and that we had become pals. I see now that we had a lot in common, and I’m guessing maybe he saw that too. The last time I saw him I was about eighteen. He scolded me because I had just gotten a nose ring, and he said I was “messing up something God had already perfected.” James was a funny cat. He gave me a stern handshake, looked me dead in the eyes, and said, “Do right.” Then he smiled, gave me a hug and walked back to his limo. That was the last time I ever saw him.

Who and what have been your biggest musical influences?
Man, that’s a tough one. I’d say it’s more life situations. Like people dancing in their cars at traffic lights or the first time you catch eyes with someone. Travel always seems to get the juices flowing for me as well.
What new artists/bands are you a fan of?

I’ve been listening to the Budos Band a lot lately. Also, Phantogram, Tame Impala and Lil Wayne.

You just released your second album, A Light That Never Dies, with producer Eric Corne. Tell us about the record?
Well, Eric co-produced it. I did all the heavy lifting. [Laughs] We recorded this one using all vintage gear to get a really nice old-school vibe. Recorded most of it here in Los Angeles with Eric, and I did a bit of recording in Brooklyn when I was there. And one track, called ‘Chasing James Dean,’ was recorded in Charleston with my friends at Hybrid Auto Solutions. The record speaks for itself. It’s solid.

What are your touring plans for the record?
Well, I just got back from a five-week tour of the east coast. Most likely hit the road again soon for a west coast run. Then I don’t know. Maybe skip across the pond for some European dates? For some reason, we sell a lot of records in Japan. Tokyo would be fun.

Where’s the first place you go to eat when you come home to the South?
Five Loaves in Charleston in usually my first stop. Chicken salad sandwich and broccoli potato soup. I also always make it a point to go to FIG in Charleston. It’s been my favorite for years.

Other things you miss about home?
I miss Southern manners. I miss people speaking as you pass them in the street. Eye contact. Please and thank you. Common courtesy. People actually doing what they say there going to do. There is a real honesty in the South and I miss that the most. I also miss the rivers and the trees and the beaches. And of course them good ol’ Carolina girls.