Rayland Baxter’s second album, Imaginary Man, drops Friday, and EW is excited to premiere the music video for its lead single, “Yellow Eyes,” a standout song on an album full of excellent writing and careful melodies. The track balances warm acoustics, and side-eyed, self-deprecating lyrics.
Baxter, the son of legendary slide guitarist Bucky Baxter, called in to EW to discuss the song and album from a back porch in Los Angeles where he was smoking hash oil with his bandmates. “That’s me copping out and saying that it’s not me,” says the 31-year-old singer-songwriter when asked how he relates to the track’s main character, a country troubadour with a knack for leaving his lovers heartbroken.
“My girlfriend and I—well, we’re not dating anymore but at the time we were dating and we were breaking up at my kitchen counter,” he says, discussing writing the song. “She had a paper clip in her hand and she was unfolding it as we were talking and she unfolded the paper clip halfway and set it up like a teepee on my counter. And it stayed there for days after. I would put groceries up on the table, I’d be writing up there—I was tossing silverware and plates and eating and it never moved. I was impressed and I picked up the guitar and honestly it was as easy as, ‘There’s a paper clip, resting on my countertop…’ and it was Sunday so, ‘Sunday morning, I forgot, what its like to lose a friend…’ Fifteen or twenty minutes later it was done.”
“Juxtaposition, when done right, is so powerful,” Baxter says of mixing the heavy topic with its happy backing. “I always love hearing a sad song with a happy melody or a happy song in a minor chord.” Which is something he does frequently on Imaginary Man.
“My goal as an artist is to make my own sound,” Baxter says. (Critics and fans often lump him into the alt-country format.) “I couldn’t do that with my first album because I wasn’t really sure what I was going for—so it came out kind of Americana, strummy acoustic, pedal steel all over the place. And I was a new musician at that point. I hadn’t been playing my whole life. With Imaginary Man, we all sat around and discussed, ‘What do we want this to sound like?’ And it was basically just, ‘Lets not put any Nashville on it.’ You know, I like what Feist has done with her career, and A.A. Bondy and Beck. All those people—James Mercer—they do their own thing and its in a lot of genres.”
Imaginary Man is due out Aug. 14.