Interview: RaeLynn Turns Home for ‘Baytown’ EP
Eight years after her turn on Season 2 of The Voice put her in the spotlight and led her to Nashville, RaeLynn still proudly calls Baytown, Texas, her hometown — funky smells from the local manufacturing plants and all.
"It kinda smells a little weird," the singer confesses of the city, which is situated just east of Houston and just across the water from Galveston, "but it's home to me."
The site of an ExxonMobile industrial complex, Home Depot's massive distribution hub and other factories, Baytown is a decidedly blue-collar spot. As of the 2010 census, the population was about 63 percent white, but also 43 percent Hispanic or Latino and 15.5 percent Black.
"It's like country with a little bit of bass — a lot of bass, actually," RaeLynn explains of the area. "Yes, there are a lot of rednecks there, but there's so many different cultures in that town, and that's what I think makes it so diverse and different ... I always say, there's all kinds of kinds in Baytown, but they're all so down to Earth."
To know Baytown is to understand RaeLynn. As she gears up for the release of a new EP, named for her hometown, the singer is speaking with The Boot from a Music City conference room, wearing a cozy, sparkly, bright-pink sweater and made up for a Zoom video chat, but she drove herself there in her race-red Ford F150, the same ride she's had for years and shouts out in her 2018 single "Tailgate."
"I'm very much a fun, girly girl," the 26-year-old reflects, "but I'm very much a country girl at the same time."
Indeed, RaeLynn's Baytown EP, out Friday (Aug. 14), can succinctly be described just as she describes its namesake city: country with a little bit of bass. The six-song project offers the same heart as her Top 30 2016 single "Love Triangle," but also the smart, but party-ready, vibe of "Tailgate." It's her first with Round Here Records, the recently-established label owned by Florida Georgia Line.
Round Here Records was established in 2019, but RaeLynn has been in FGL's orbit for years, since signing a publishing deal with the hitmaking duo's Tree Vibez Music. She's the only woman on the company's roster — the Gretchen Wilson of their modern-day MuzikMafia — and she credits that crew with helping her fully imbue her personality into her music.
"We were just writing for fun, figuring out what I loved to perform, [and] I realized that my more uptempo songs didn't really represent who I was in the room, who I was when I met you in person," RaeLynn says, adding that FGL's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, along with their team of writers, producers and creatives, championed that authentic presentation, both sonically and in her songwriting.
"There's just something to it about being part of a label that's run by artists, because they know what it's like; they know the hard work that's put into it, and they know all the aspects it takes," RaeLynn continues. "There's been a lot of things that I haven't had to argue for, because they're just like, 'We see your vision. Let's go for it,' and that's really beautiful to have."
That vision was to give fans "my full heart," RaeLynn says, with Baytown's six tracks. "Keep Up" is a country girl anthem; "Judgin' to Jesus" is an appropriately gospel-tinged reminder to mind your own beeswax; and "Bra Off" is a refreshingly hilarious look at how good breaking up with the wrong person can feel.
But it's not all fun and games with RaeLynn. "Me About Me" examines a selfish relationship, dropping personal details into the lyrics, while "Fake Girl Town" is an incredibly real reflection on cliquey women and those feelings of inadequacy they can inspire. RaeLynn wrote the latter with Cameron Montgomery, Daniel Ross and James McNair, and calls it "a cry for help" from during a particularly tough time in Nashville.
"I believe, at the end of the day, we're all supposed to build each other up as women. It's our job to be there for each other," RaeLynn muses. She hopes the song will remind others who feel out of place that there's a group out there for them: "It takes a second to find your friends and to find the people that you can trust," she adds, "but once you find them, it is the most beautiful thing."
"Ain't it funny how girls in their 20s still go to the bathroom just to talk some s--t / And come right back and snap a pic with me? / I'm over it," RaeLynn sings in the song's first verse. The second verse continues: "How can you be at the top of the mountain and still have jealous eyes / When there's room for us all up there?"
"When I listen back on it, I'm so thankful that I wrote this song," the singer-songwriter reflects. Though it's frank about the competitive undercurrent of Music City, "I never get nervous about releasing songs like that," she says, "because I believe if God gave me a song like that, it deserves to be out in the world."
Eight years after making her way to Nashville, it's because RaeLynn still proudly calls Baytown home that she's able to make honest music.
"It's funny: As you get older, you're trying to figure out who you are, and figuring out who you are is just going back to where you started, right?" RaeLynn adds. "I feel like a lot of me figuring out what I want in my music has always gone back to Baytown, and what that represents for me ... The only reason I am creating this music is because of where I grew up."
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