Rob Baird has returned to his adopted state of Texas with a renewed vision for his career. The singer-songwriter and Tennessee native had lived in Texas once before the inevitable relocation to Nashville lured him away. But these days, not only is the ZIP Code different (Austin instead of Fort Worth), but so is the sound.
Baird’s acclaimed 2016 release Wrong Side Of The River has been described as “honky tonk-fueled” and sounds less radio-friendly (that’s a good thing) than his previous outings. And while he was skilled at the polished end of the country music spectrum — SPIN magazine included his release I Swear It’s The Truth in it’s best-of 2012 list — Baird has decided to follow his heart both stylistically and geographically. On Friday, October 21, Baird will perform at WorkPlay in a triple-bill show with Ron Pope and Truett. Recently, we caught up with Baird by phone from his Austin home.
Weld: Wrong Side Of The River has a different feel than your previous releases. What went into that shift?
Rob Baird: I was writing in Nashville — I moved there because I had a writing contract with [music publisher] Carnival and I’d been with them for five years. I was writing more commercial stuff and I didn’t feel like I was striking a chord with myself. It took me awhile to get around to figuring out what I wanted to write for this record, but once I moved back to Texas it all fell into place. My producer took his garage and put drywall up and has a small home studio, and that’s where we recorded it. My previous records were recorded in actual studios and think this sounds way better.
Weld: Though you could describe Wrong Side Of The River as a country album, it’s not country in the commercial radio sense. There are even some soul sounds present on the album.
RB: I definitely got labeled in that Texas country thing — I’m from Memphis — by just being here and playing a lot of shows. As I grew older, I wanted to be able to see more of the country and hopefully some of the world playing music in the Americana genre. It was a conscious effort to push beyond what I’d done in the past.
Weld: Are you still writing at this time?
RB: I’m literally about to eat lunch and work on songs for a couple of hours. I’m about three or four songs into the next record. It never stops. Any time I have a week at home, I pick up the guitar and start doing something.
Weld: With the release of Wrong Side Of The River, do you have the mindset that this is “phase two” of your career?
RB: Definitely, man. It’s a whole new beast and it’s really cool because it’s where I wanted to end up. It was kind of a zigzag path to get there and I don’t think we’re there yet. I think this record is hopefully the start of the rebirth and we’ll be able to keep the momentum going.
Weld: How would you describe the Austin music scene and your place in it?
RB: I have mentors down here that have been in bands. We have a Texas music commissioner — it’s a government-appointed office. Only in Texas [laughs]. He was in Pat Green’s band forever and he’s helped me a whole lot. A lot of the guys here, we try to get together and write when we can. I just produced a record with my producer for a guy named Troy Cartwright. We try to keep it going — it keeps things fresh.
Rob Baird will perform at WorkPlay on Friday, October 21. For more information, please visit workplay.com.