For the making of his fourth album If I Were a Butterfly, Rayland Baxter holed up for over a year at a former rubber-band factory turned studio in the Kentucky countryside—a seemingly humble environment that proved to be something of a wonderland. “I spent that year living in a barn with the squirrels and the birds, on my own most of the time, and I discovered so much about music and how to create it,” says the Tennessee-bred singer/songwriter. “Instead of going into a studio with a producer for two weeks, I just waited for the record to build itself. I’d get up and go outside, see a butterfly and connect that with some impulsive thought I’d had three months ago, and suddenly a song I’d been working on would make sense. That’s how the whole album came to be.”
The follow-up to 2018’s critically acclaimed Wide Awake, If I Were a Butterfly finds Baxter co-producing alongside Tim O’Sullivan (Grace Potter, The Head and the Heart) and Kai Welch (Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull), slowly piecing together the album’s patchwork of lush psychedelia and Beatlesesque pop. In addition to working at Thunder Sound (the Kentucky studio he called home for months on end), Baxter recorded in California, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington, enlisting a remarkable lineup of musicians: Shakey Graves, Lennon Stella, several members of Cage the Elephant, Zac Cockrell of Alabama Shakes, Morning Teleportation’s Travis Goodwin, and legendary Motown drummer Miss Bobbye Hall, among many others. In an especially meaningful turn, two of the album’s tracks feature the elegant pedal steel work of his father, Bucky Baxter (a musician who performed with Bob Dylan and who passed away in May 2020). Thanks to the extraordinary care and ingenuity behind its creation, If I Were a Butterfly arrives as a work of rarefied magic, capable of stirring up immense feeling while leaving the listener happily wonderstruck.
Baxter’s debut release as a producer, If I Were a Butterfly bears a dazzling unpredictability that has much to do with his limitless imagination as a collector and collagist of sound. “Sometimes the bullfrogs in the pond outside would pulse in a certain tempo and I’d apply that to a song, or I’d hear a bird chirping and it would inspire me to add harmonica in a particular place,” he says. “I could be walking around this massive building in the middle of the night and the air-conditioning would turn on, and it’d give me the idea to include a synth part that holds a similar note. I’d wait for those moments to happen and whenever I tried to force anything, the music usually rejected it.”
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