They say that every person has a song in them and a story to tell. Travis Meadow’s has hundreds. Talking to Travis is one of the most engaging things you can do and listening to his music has that same effect. Having overcome illness, addiction and many other demons Meadow’s released his most critically acclaimed album to date in 2017’s ‘First Cigarette’. We couldn’t wait to speak to such an inspirational human being about his life, his music and his new found sense of peace.
Travis, thank you so much for spending some time chatting to us today. What a year it must have been for you?
It’s going great! Exciting times! I’ve had a nice slow down preparing for the holidays but doing some writing which I haven’t had time to do for a while. It’s been a really interesting year. The touring and scheduling stuff has been the same but the big difference has been the attention that the new record got. It’s been really really nice. I used to watch those Elvis movies when I was a kid where he’d be a hotel clerk or a race-car driver or whatever and then he’d pick up a guitar and it was like the whole world would stop and pay attention. I used to watch those as a young kid and be like “whatever that is, I wanna do that!” I spent my whole life trying to get people to pay attention to me and now that they are I’m not sure what to do with it!
The album ‘First Cigarette’ dropped a couple of months ago now. How pleased have you been with the reaction, not just from the press, but from your peers?
Yeah it’s been really nice, man. That is definitely the highest compliment to be recognised by peers, some of them you don’t even know know you exist, you’re like “I didn’t even know that this guy knew that I’m alive!” and he’s saying something nice about the record. It’s been really nice.
It seems that your album is a deeply personal piece of art. It must be extra gratifying to have people relate and connect with your songs and stories?
Yeah. This record in particular, I’ve actually made eight or nine records, but when I made the switch to, I don’t think it’s really country and people have a hard time placing music sometimes so they feel like they have to put it somewhere so that it makes sense in the computers in their brain! With that said the record that really changed everything for me was ‘Killing Uncle Buzzy’ which I made in 2010 just after getting out of rehab and a counsellor suggested that I keep a journal and I’ve never made a record where every word was exactly the truth. That was challenging for me and I never expected anyone to hear that record as it was just a homework assignment. That record started growing legs and climbing on peoples buses and next thing you know I’m writing with major artists and they’re becoming fans so I made another record, ‘Old Ghosts and Unfinished Business’ which a lot of people don’t even know exists! I’ve been out there touring now for three or four years and this record in particular is separated a little bit, even though it does have that dark inward looking Travis lyric, there are some songs with a little levity to give the listener a break! I had to put myself in the seats of the people coming to these shows and I had an epiphany that if I was in those seats listening to these songs for an hour, an hour and a half, I would want to slit my wrists! I intentionally put some songs with a little levity in just to give people a break and have some fun at shows.
I’ve been through a lot of my own personal struggles in the past and I guess the most gratifying thing for you must be that someone else can relate to the songs and say “wow, it’s not just me who feels that or does that!”…
Yeah! That’s the power of music man! When I was younger and much more hopeful and optimistic I used to think that love, I used to have a bit of a hippy mentality, and I thought that love was the thing that connects us all together. Now that I’m a little older I don’t think love connects us at all. I think it’s suffering. I think suffering because whether you live in the White House or the King’s palace or a shack on the other side of the railroad track suffering at some point is going to touch all of us. I think it’s that pain and that struggle that we all identify with and it’s kind of a rallying cry for the underdogs.
I personally think that there’s a part of you that doesn’t come to life until you’ve suffered and maybe you don’t appreciate some things until you’ve experienced the tough stuff.
That’s absolutely true!
You’ve released albums in the past but, with the greatest of respect, this one seems to have resonated more with people than any other. Can you put your finger on what it is that has made this album hit home more?
Looking at your musical influences I feel like I can hear sounds ranging from Springsteen to Tom Waits. Who has had the biggest effect on you as an artist?
Your backstory is tinged with the adventure and tragedy that is almost too varied to make up. You’ve struggled with addiction, you’ve beaten illness, you’ve worked as a preacher… is it cathartic to use those experiences in your songwriting?
It’s funny I recently came to the conclusion that sometimes I’m not sure how I feel about an issue until I write about it. It may sound strange but if I’m going to be honest with you, sometimes someone will say “how do you feel about this?” and I’m like “I don’t know! Let me write about it and sit down with it for a while then get back to you on that”. That’s kind of what happens when I’m making a record, it’s like here’s how I feel about it, at least today, I’m not sure how I’ll feel tomorrow but writing is definitely my way of processing things and it’s definitely a lot cheaper than therapy which I also believe strongly in! For me, writing is good medicine!
I was reading a quote from you about why you stopped preaching where you’d said you “asked some questions that you didn’t like the answers to”. I think that is such a relatable sentiment in any walk of life. Did something in particular give you that moment that maybe sent you into a tailspin?
You know, life is a patient teacher and religion served its purpose for a long time but I kind of reached a place where I was 38 years old and I’d had every kind of crisis that you could have at the same time. I had a crisis of faith, a marital crisis, a mid-life crisis, a career crisis, you know, all at the same time. I was just kind of looking at my life and thinking “what have I done?” I can’t speak for everybody but all of a sudden I wasn’t immortal any more and I wasn’t going to live forever and it scared me. I started re-evaluating everything and deciding what I wanted the second half of my life to look like as opposed to the first half which, for the most part, I felt like I had squandered. I look back now and realise that none of it was wasted and it made me who I am but at the time I felt like I had absolutely wasted every minute of that. Oddly enough I think the thing that kind of pushed me over the edge, ironically, was music again. When I was fourteen and I had cancer the chemotherapy that they used back then was much different to what they are using now and it killed everything including the cancer. It killed my hearing which gave me 40% hearing loss so I’ve struggled with not being able to hear for a long time so when I listen to music it’s really more an emotional feeling, I either enjoy hearing it or I don’t, but I haven’t actually heard the lyrics to songs since I was fourteen years old. When I really want to know the words to a song I have to pull the lyrics up and read them. I heard Buddy Miller’s version of the Dylan song ‘With God on our Side’ and I love Buddy Miller’s version, I’d heard Dylan’s version and everybody loves Dylan, who cant?! But Buddy Miller’s version, just the emotion in that thing, it just slaughtered me! I pulled up the lyrics and started reading them and that really challenged everything that I thought I believed and that was kind of the final nail in my religious coffin. I kind of thought “I think I’ll just take things into my own hands and see what I can do instead of handing over my whole life to some good kind of thing that I don’t have any control over” – that didn’t pan out too well for me! I lasted about six years handling things on my own then I kind of had to re-evaluate that decision as well. I don’t consider myself a religious person at all but I do consider myself as mildly spiritual because of the chaos that I can bring into my own life. I need something bigger than me I’m just not sure what it is. I’m much more confident in what I don’t know today than I was when I thought that everything was black and white and I had all of the answers.
‘Riser’ is one of my favourite songs of all time that has helped me a lot, it helped give me hope through depression and some real low points, in fact I have the lyrics on my wall, when I interviewed Steve Moakler he was talking about how you forced him to help you out with his optimism. Do you feel that you learn a lot personally and professionally from working with someone like Steve?
Oh absolutely! I’m finally in a place in my life where I realised that I’m not the smartest guy in the room… ever! I used to think that I was and that was a real struggle for me. Having the courage to let go of the reigns and trust somebody else’s instincts because I can go dark really quick! I needed Steve’s optimism, for that matter everybody could learn from Steve Moakler because his optimism is a shining example of how bright life can be if you just look for the positive instead of the negative. It was a great experience and we’ve become close over the years. He’s a wonderful artist and friend. I’m proud to call him a friend these days.
If listening to ‘First Cigarette’ is anything to go by you seem to be in a good place now. What’s next for Travis Meadows?
I actually do have plans and that’s never happened before! The last few records I would make and throw out to the world pretty quickly to just kind of see what happened. This time around I wanted, just one time in my life, to see the difference between me throwing something on iTunes and having a little bit of a team effort so I held my cards close to my chest until I had a label, management, a booking agent and a publicists on board. Now I have a bigger team so I’m making less money but boy the difference in not having to spin all of those plates myself is huge! Usually I’d put out records really quickly but this time it actually took two years for this record to come out. I probably have half or two thirds of another record already written which is really awesome! I’ve never had that happen before and I’m a bit ahead of the curve so when it becomes time to put out another record it wont be another year or two year long process of trying to hunt them down. It’s kind of awesome! I’m not sure when I’ll try and wrestle that bear as this record is still new and we probably have all of next year to get as much out of this record as I can. Right now my efforts are mostly in riding this horse as far as I can ride it!
Over here in the UK we are huge fans of country music and in particular songwriters. Do you have any intention to get over here and share some of your stories with us?
I would absolutely love to do that! We are slowly starting to make plans to come over there and I’d love to come over for a week or two and just spend some quality time with all of my friends and make some new friends and fans over that way. We’re in the process, it’s hard enough trying to schedule a US tour so it’ll take some doing, but it’s definitely in the pipeline. I have high hopes that it would be successful because I think the fans over there are maybe a little more engaged because there’s less static and noise over there. There’s just so many songs and artists that nobody can concentrate over here, you can’t even process everything going on! I feel like you guys are a little more focused and I’d love to get over there and experience that focus and love and energy towards the music that I make!
Like I say the record is one of my favourites this year. I think you are a real inspiration to those of us who have been through things and suffered and struggled and are coming out of the other side. Like I say ‘Riser’ is a song that has helped me massively and I can only thank you for your part in writing that song.
Thank you so much for that. That really means the world!