Singer, songwriter, Yukon explorer
Low guitar notes cut through the sound of falling rain in the opening lines of "Song for the Flatirons," a pretty and wistful highlight of Kyle Rightley's latest EP. Titled The Bleak, Barbarian Pines, the album is the Madison artist's sophomore solo release, but it doesn't sound like the work of a green musician.
In addition to serving as guitarist, singer and songwriter with the nine-piece funk and soul band the Big Payback, Rightley's found time to drop two solo EPs this year. It looks like more are also on the horizon.
"The acoustic singer-songwriter thing is still new for me, and I'm just now realizing that there are people who want to hear my music," Rightley says. He's trying to book more solo shows to build momentum for this part of his music career. Meanwhile, he continues to perform with the Big Payback, who'll celebrate their fifth anniversary at the Frequency on Thursday, Oct. 30. Rightley also plays trombone and euphonium every Tuesday night at the Mason Lounge with the Five Points Jazz Collective.
Isthmus chatted with Rightley about his budding solo career and the ways visual art and poetry inspire his music.
What's made you so prolific this year?
If you'd told me a year ago that I'd be releasing music under my own name, I wouldn't have believed you. Everything just fell into place. It started with a few of the bands I play in going into writing and recording mode. The Big Payback recorded one of my songs, "Romeo Knows," which was validating.
I wrote and recorded an acoustic song, "Before Too Long," in January. I played it for friends and family, and the response was very positive. People started asking me if I was going to start a solo career, so I thought, "Why not?" With "Before Too Long" as a model, I assembled a small collection of songs that became Raven Steals the Moon.
The Bleak, Barbarian Pines
Where does the title The Bleak, Barbarian Pines come from?
It's a line from a Robert Service poem called "The Pines." I was lucky enough to go on a rafting trip in the Yukon Territory this summer, and "bleak" and "barbarian" are the perfect words to describe that landscape. So for me, the title describes personal memories from this year, almost like a diary entry.
Service is adored in that area [of Canada] and we kept running into his poetry. There's even a brewery that prints his verses on their beer cans. My first exposure to his work was... during the long van ride from our lodging to the put-in at the top of the Alsek River... The driver was a spirited outdoor enthusiast who told us stories of local life and history. Out of the blue, she started reciting a poem. It turned out to be an excerpt of "The Spell of the Yukon" by Service. I loved the imagery, and the flow and rhyme scheme sounded like a country song to me. When I got home, I researched the poem and was happy to discover it is in the public domain. The song the poem inspired is also titled "The Spell of the Yukon."
What other artists inspired you when you were creating Bleak?
Another song, "Audrianna," was sparked by a painting at this year's Art Fair on the Square. It showed a group of children on a magic carpet flying through the sky, with one girl standing at the helm and navigating. I liked it immediately, but it wasn't until a few days later that I thought to make up a story for the little girl, so I don't know the name of the artist. I'm hoping he or she will be back at the art fair next year.