Photo by Eryn Brooke
Every time Rob Baird makes a record, he throws his self-penned rule book out the window. Baird’s recording career began in Nashville, where he released two albums, and then took him to Austin, where he still resides. “[When] I left Nashville I didn’t have a publishing deal, didn’t really have any money, so I went and made [Wrong Side of the River] in this garage in Austin and that went great,” he recalls, as we sit down at a booth in a Nashville coffee shop. He’s wearing a metal horseshoe ring that reads “hard luck,” which matches the name of his record company. “I mean, I got everything I could out of [that experience], and that allowed us to be able to do whatever we wanted to.”
After All, his fourth release and the project that brought him back to Music City, is out today via Hard Luck Recording Company. This time, each step in the album-making process was more deliberate, and 100% on his terms. He recorded the 10 songs straight-to-tape at Battle Tapes on the east side of town, with Jeremy Ferguson (Cage the Elephant) helming the mixing and longtime friend and co-writer Rick Brantley overseeing the production. “There’s just those things that I hear that being a fan of music, I’m like, this is what we always wanted,” he says. “The best people in the world are here.”
“It was pretty full circle to come back to Nashville and be able to record with all the people that I love,” Baird adds.
After All took a different shape not only in the studio, but also when it came to the writing. Baird isn’t a fan of the scheduled co-write: “I just don’t really believe that creativity happens at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday,” he says. Instead, he allowed inspiration, whenever it arose, to naturally spark the song ideas.
“My house is a writing room, with a stove and a record player,” he laughs. “All of these songs were written at my kitchen table.”
“I wrote seven of the songs with my really good friend Burleson Smith, who’s not even in the music industry,” Baird continues. “He was living in my back house for a while and we’ve been really good buddies for a long time, he went to Vanderbilt, studied some songwriting stuff.” Smith isn’t a songwriter by trade—he’s currently in grad school studying political science and business—which made him the perfect creative collaborator for Baird. “That was interesting, ’cause he was really just trying to help me get those thoughts down and get everything ironed out,” he recalls. “He’s really good at organizing … I could write songs all day but I’ll be like, ‘What did I say?'”
“It’s funny,” Baird muses, “Because all of my records are so serious and I’m not really that serious. I think those are the things that well up when I’m writing ’cause I’m not writing about dirt roads and cold beers, you know?”
So as Baird went through a breakup, the gamut of post-relationship emotions found their way into the ten songs of After All. At times, it’s harsh, as in the surmising tone of “Green Eyes”: “part of me understands why you’re always without a man.” There’s bitterness, in the supplication of “Give Me Back My Love,” and the scorched-earth burnout of “Ain’t Going Back To You.” There’s the sexy sorrow of “Devil Woman Blues,” and at album’s end, there’s moving on and learning to love again, not in spite of past loves, but because of them.
Through it all, Baird delivers the simple poetic poignancy listeners have traced through the likes of 2012’s “Redemption” and 2016’s “Run of Good Luck” (“I’ve been on a gambling streak / Making bets way out of my league / Promises no man could keep / Damn, you made a mess out of me”). His smooth vocals make pleasant even the most heart-wrenching of been-there-too commiserations, while wailing electrics, contemplative chords, and punchy percussion highlight each emotional hue.
“All these long nights, all these street lights, bleed into the fog / Is it madness, turning sadness, into what don’t belong / I never had a chance, after all.”
‘After All’ Tracklist:
1) “After All” (Rob Baird/ Burleson Smith/ John Baumann)
2) “Losing Hands” (Rob Baird/ Burleson Smith)
3) “Devil Woman Blues” (Rob Baird/ Burleson Smith)
4) “Give Me Back My Love” (Rob Baird/ Burleson Smith/ Z Lynch)
5) “Greedy Eyes” (Rob Baird/ David Whitbeck)
6) “Ain’t Going Back to You” (Rob Baird/ Brian Douglas Phillips)
7) “I Tried” (Rob Baird/ Burleson Smith)
8) “Burning Blue” featuring Lucie Silvas (Rob Baird/ Burleson Smith)
9) “Green Grass” (Rob Baird/ David Whitbeck)
10) “Best That I Was” (Rob Baird/ Burleson Smith)
Purchase After All on iTunes and stream below: