Over coffee in a hipster cafe, singer/songwriter KaiL Baxley explains how his prominent black eye resulted from a sparring session in a nearby Los Angeles gym. “I have been incredibly destructive in certain periods of my life,” says the former Golden Gloves Champion. “Boxing is something that I can go back to. I’ve always done the rock & roll lifestyle thing. I never had an addictive personality, but everyone in my family does and I’ve seen their suffering. My thing has always been the future.”
With the release of his full-length A Light That Never Dies, the future is auspicious. Masterfully co-produced by Eric Corne, the new song series reveals a rich oeuvre both archaic and modern. Against urban inflected grooves, scratchy guitars, wailing harmonicas, Southern-fried horn sections, soulful choruses––and on “Better Days” what sounds like an electric bullfrog––Baxley’s songs illuminate a vivid tapestry entwined with deeply affecting narratives.
Baxley hails from the tiny town of Williston, SC. Abandoned by his parents and raised by his grandfather until age 12, upon his grandfather’s death he was shuttled between a series of foster homes with scant exposure to show business other than a chance meeting another Williston native, James Brown. The Godfather of Soul was housed in the same correctional facility as Baxley’s mother. “Where I grew up looks like a war went off from crystal meth and OxyContin,” he says of his hometown, “but there are good people and a beautiful culture.”
The capitol “L” at the end of his first name is a tradition from the English side of his family, and a truncation of his original first name “Michael.” He explains, “I was named after my father but I never knew him. In the south people call you what they want to call you, and I hated being called ‘Mike.’ When I was old enough, I changed it.”
After high school, Baxley bounced between Miami Beach and New York City. “I had to leave the country and was gone for almost four years,” he recalls. “I had already been in trouble, and trouble was looking for me again.” He headed for Europe, Africa and points beyond. Broke in London, he began singing in the subways for change. “Some guy would feel sorry for me and throw down a pound or two and I would get drunk for the night.”
Returning to the U.S. and expanding his songwriting, he put together a band in Charleston, SC. He envisioned penning songs for other artists, creating music for films or possibly signing a publishing deal until co-producer Eric Corne convinced him to initiate a career as a singer/songwriter. His double EP, Heatstroke/The Wind and the War, was nominated for NPR’s Album of the Year, and Baxley performed in Austin at SXSW.
As a songwriter, Baxley envisions his creations as full-blown entities. An interest in science and history of dyslexia both influence this process. “I love being spoon fed information––I have always since I was young. With dyslexia you arrive at a full picture while other people take steps to get to there. I have this weird internal radio. When I hear the song I hear it the way it is and I want to capture it as honestly as I can.”
Preparing for a five-week national tour this summer, Baxley notes, “I love making records, and I’m beginning to love performing. When I first started I was so terrified I could barely get a sound out. To go in front of a thousand people boxing there’s a really good chance you could be scarred for life. In a performance, the worst thing that could happen is you hit a bad note.”
A Light That Never Dies originates with the title song and concludes with “Mirrors of Paradise.” In between lie mysteries and revelations; Baxley claims that anything anyone might want to know about him can be gleaned from this music. He notes that on the next day replete with his colorful shiner, he is scheduled for a photo shoot. “I’m pretty good at hiding my scars,” he concludes. “Most of them are not from boxing in the ring.”
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