Talk It Out - Brian Travis Band - August 13, 2013Jodi Leib: This is your sixth studio album; what do you tell yourself to keep trying? The reason I am asking is because I struggle with maintaining my own motivation to write my screenplay and I would love some guidance. Some days I just want to give up, no matter how much success I’ve had or not had.
Brian Travis: It’s funny because if I took the advice of the voices in my head, I’d have given up being a professional musician years ago. I often hear those negative voices telling me to give it up..telling me that I am too old to still be doing this…telling me that if my music career has not taken off by now, then it’s probably never going to happen. What does keep me going isn’t anything I tell myself, it’s the encouraging voices of my fans…the handful of true believers that I’ve accumulated over the years, they are the ones that happen to message me something encouraging just as I am considering putting the guitar down for good. I get a lot of emails and texts and Facebook messages that tell me that I am on the right track. People telling me how much a specific song I wrote means to them, or people gushing about a recent live show. That kind of thing really goes a long way when you are feeling depressed about your music career. My fans keep me going. The other thing that keeps me in the game is that progressively good things have continued to happen for the band. New opportunities for playing better shows, and of course meeting George Landress in 2011 and cultivating a working relationship with him and feeling supported both financially and emotionally in the recording studio while I focus on making my art. My alliance with my producer George Landress and his enthusiasm for the project and his interest in me as a songwriter has really kept me going over the last few years.Jodi: What story are you trying to tell with this album, The Coyote and the Crow?
Brian Travis: It’s not a happy story unfortunately. It is a story about my recent past. A story about true love and the loss of it. It’s a concept record and all the songs inter-relate. I do not get too specific or detailed as most of my lyrics are more poetic and abstract…more like a painting than prose…but if you listen close, you’ll be able to follow the story arc. The repeated themes and imagery involved a coyote and a crow which are the totem symbols for the two characters involved in my real life story. Also the Coyote & Crow traditionally represent deception and trickery…falsehoods that are presented as truth. My song Make Believe touches upon these concepts which is why I tease that song at the top of the album and re-visit it near the end of the album. It’s definitely a break up album…I’ve never written one before. I’ve written break up songs…but never a whole album about one specific break up. The person who inspired this art meant a great deal to me and I often compare The Coyote & The Crow as my version of Bob Dylans, “Blood on the Tracks” album. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near the same stratosphere as Dylan is in the songwriting department, but this record is my version of that. It’s my big break up record. I was actually against writing some of the songs on this album, but my producer wanted me to have a deep emotional connection to each song on this album. He encouraged me to delve deeper than I usually do with my songwriting and this is the first album I’ve done where all of the songs were not written in advance of the recording project. I wrote these songs as we were recording them…they are all very raw and very immediate. These songs were not road tested with the band. A lot of the songs on The Coyote & The Crow were never performed live until our CD release show last Feb after the album dropped.Jodi: In what ways have you grown from this album?
Brian Travis: In every possible way. This album was a huge collection of “firsts” for me. It was the first time I’ve worked with a real producer. I’ve always co-produced my own work with engineers that I’ve hired to make my records in the past. The seeds of this record were sown when George Landress approached me after one of our live shows asking me if I had a CD or some place where he could hear more of my work. I gave him a card and a copy of my 2004 release “Past the Breakers”. He emailed me a few days later and told me that he was a producer who’s worked with No Doubt, Janes Addiction and many others. George is Snuffy Waldens right hand guy who does a great deal of engineering and mixing for the music Snuffy scores for film and TV. I knew this was someone I wanted to work with straight away. What I did not know was how deep of an understanding George would have for my music. After our first recording session he told us that we sounded like a mixture of early era REM, Oasis and Neil Young. Ever since he told us that I’ve been using it to describe my music because it is a spot on description and George could hear what I’ve been going for in my melodies and in my rootsy approach to music making. Working with George allowed me to sit back and just do my thing knowing that thru it all, he had my best intentions at heart. He took my sound and elevated it while at the same time never changing the essential elements of what makes the BTB tick. Because it was such a comfortable collaboration, it wasn’t long before I felt comfortable enough to collaborate with George on a few songs. Evaporate and Howl were co-writes with George. They are also the first ever co-writing I’ve ever done as a songwriter. The fact that George gave me permission to write 11 songs about my failed relationship was also a huge growth experience. Not only did I get to say everything I wanted to say…but I got to look at the relationship from a lot of different angles and process the end of that great love in a way I’ve never done before. By the time I was finished with writing the album, I had sort of purged all my anguish about the end of the relationship. I had exorcised some of my demons and the pain and heartbreak did not have quite the hold on me that it has had on me in the past. Basically writing and recording The Coyote & The Crow helped me get over the break up.Jodi: What thumbprint do you hope to make in the world and with your music?
Brian Travis: Well, assuming that the world will start listening to my music in greater numbers I suppose the impact I’d like to have is to re-introduce the idea that a successful song does not have to be irreverent, vapid pop music that somehow celebrates mediocre lyrics about partying on a Friday night set to a disco dance beat. I grew up listening to bands. Bands have an ethos and a group dynamic that I find more interesting than the current trend of American Idol solo artists as superstars. A lot of bands in the 70’s used to have 3 lead singers and 3 songwriters…a lot of those bands spawned solo artists that went on to have their own careers. The Eagles, Fleetwood mac and Styx all had three strong singers and songwriters in the band. All 4 members of Queen each wrote #1 hit songs..not just Freddie Mercury. These days you have solo artists as superstars with a ton of producers contributing to the sound of the artist. I saw that online meme about how it took 6 writers and 4 producers to craft Beyonces hit “Run The World (Girls)” which has a grand total of 7 words repeated over and over in the song vs “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is an epic song with a staggering amount of depth and meaning written by Freddie Mercury (1 writer) with one producer. That’s what I’m talking about. The Brian Travis Band is a “BAND” first and foremost. We write our own songs and we craft our music carefully and there is soul and depth to what we are doing as artists. We really just sort of do our own thing and occasionally look up at what the rest of the music business is doing long enough to say, “well, that sucks…let’s not do anything like that”…and then go back to making the music we want to make. I’m not saying there is not good music out there. Even now, there are artists making great stuff…but I think the music business in general has sort of lost it’s way and has lost focus on what music is really about, which is the power of a great song. I’ve always been a “three chords and the truth” kind of guy and I think I’d love to see the world embrace that aesthetic again.Jodi: Does your discography document your life’s journey? If so, what have emerged as your major life themes – and do these themes compose your life purpose?
Brian Travis: I would say that yes, my discography has been a document of my life’s journey. I think if people listen to my music they will get a feel for who I am as a person. Not all my songs are written about me or my life. I have songs about my great grandmother’s adventures as a bank robber and songs written from the perspective of other people, but I’d say 80% of it is culled from real life experiences or my own take on something about life that I am annoyed with or would like to change. Rock ‘n roll is based on such dissent at it’s core. I have found that I write about the ocean a lot for some reason. I have a few tunes laced with nautical imagery including the song “Siren” from The Coyote & The Crow”. I have songs about flash frying the past (Gasoline) and the dangers of collecting things instead of experiences (Shallow Grave) so a lot of my musical concepts have to do with how I view the human experience as more of a journey rather than a set of rules that you have to follow. I’m always talking about how you need to live smack dab in the present moment rather than waiting for tomorrow to give you what you want. I think the themes in my song “The Bigger Picture” sort of sums me up. “While you’re making all your plans / today is slipping through your hands / all these demands don’t make life any richer…So many people stay asleep / blind to the technicolour beat / with eyes unopened they can’t see the Bigger Picture.”Jodi: What do you think your life purpose is – is music it or a vehicle to accomplish it?
Brian Travis: Gosh. I have no idea. I really don’t. My life’s purpose…that’s pretty heavy actually. The only thing I know for sure is that the songs keep coming. I keep writing them…they show up. I sort of can’t stop them from coming at this point. I’m really very much like a delivery vessel. I’m at the mercy of the songs and when they decide to appear. It’s just a muscle that I’ve used so much that it is highly developed. I’m a creative person and I have my feelings about things in life which sort of help me craft the songs I write. I’m passionate about my music and my music career and I’m always trying to be better at writing and performing…so maybe that is my purpose? Do you think Tom Petty has a purpose? Like…he’s just a rocker. That’s sort of how I see myself…I don’t feel like Tom Petty has a big agenda or anything but so many people really like what he has to say. His stuff is simple and direct. He’s a rebel. He has a restless heart that can never be won. That sort of rock ‘n roll spirit is something that I feel the BTB have in spades. I’m not sure what it means for the world or even for my own life. My life is a grand adventure and a huge mystery to me. I’m okay with that for the most part. Before I got into music I was always drawing and painting and creating things…writing my own comic books, writing stories…I guess creativity in general is what I was put here for…it’s the gift I was given. Not everyone can do it. I suppose it is my mission to figure out what to do with that gift. So much of the time it seems to have control of me rather than the other way round. I sort of follow my muse wherever she leads me. I will say that I get a real rush out of writing a song that means something to someone else. When a person comes up to me and says, “That song you wrote…I feel like you were inside my own head when you wrote it…” or when people tell me that my music speaks to their souls. That is a pretty big thrill and It makes me feel good that what I do has that sort of effect on the people who “get it”.Jodi: How personal is it okay for you to go in your songwriting before you expose too much about someone else or yourself? Is there a limit or do you think honesty is the highest form of self-expression?
Brian Travis: Again, I hardly ever intend to write about anything specific when I sit down to write. Sometimes I do…but it’s like, “Okay I’m gonna write a song about robots today…” or on occasion I’ll give myself a fun challenge like, “I’m gonna think of every possible scenario for the end of the world and put it into one song.” and then I’ll start piecing it together like a puzzle. But that is rare when I do that. A more common approach is to sit down with the guitar with a blank mind and just play. Eventually a riff or a musical idea will emerge and then I start singing nonsense. Once I have all the melodies I like I start to see if there are any words or any phrases that stick. If I have something to say, that helps. Occasionally I have a LOT to say. Sometimes I have a LOT to say about a particular person or experience. At this stage I try to figure out a way to say things without them being point blank specific. I’m a poet by nature…so I tend to mask a lot of things with images that say the same thing so as not to point any animosity in any particular direction. Like, I’ve never written anything as specific as “You Outta Know” by Alanis Morressette. However I did like that song very much and thought it was a fantastic and entertaining expression of her dissent. So much of rock music comes from being pissed off about something or having a chip on your shoulder the size of Montana. There are songs on “The Coyote & The Crow” that are pretty specific. I think “Bridges” and “Make Believe”, “Evaporate” and “Lovely Things” are very much directed at a specific person. There are moments of that dissent and that anger that are direct, but they are just moments in a song that also has a great deal of universal feelings and abstractness that sort of obscures what is being talked about. I think I point to it without pointing to it. I think people make the song about them and their own lives in the end. Where the inspiration for a song comes from is sort of inconsequential. Ultimately truth is what I am after. Truth for myself as a writer and to find the words that evoke a true feeling in a listener…something that move them to say, “I’ve felt this way before, but I did not know how to express it…the sentiment in this song expresses something I’ve felt before.”Jodi: What does enlightenment mean to you and do you think you’ve attained it in any way?
Brian Travis: I think I have attained some enlightenment over the years. I feel I was born with some of it and that what I was given as a child has helped me to gain more enlightenment. I also feel like I’ve forgotten a lot of enlightenment I used to have. Then there is some enlightenment that I feel I may never attain as a human in this life. Enlightenment, for me, is the kind of thing you know in your guts. The truth that you just KNOW. It’s like when you meet the person you are going to marry. You just know they are the person somehow. I think enlightenment can also be attained through practice like Yoga and meditation…or playing an instrument. I’ve certainly learned things about life by being in a band and being a songwriter. There are a massive amount of lessons in being a musician. For one it’s supper difficult. The hardest thing I’ve ever done…and possibly the most rewarding on a spiritual level. Achieving something that you think you cannot do is the greatest feeling. Excelling at it over the years and creating physical output (art) and accumulating musical experience is also amazingly satisfying at it’s base level. The energy suck is when you try to make it a business. Promoting it and trying to make a viable career from being an artist has been a hugely draining experience for me personally. It feels like the world just tries to thwart your every artistic endeavor. It’s a lot like swimming upstream to spawn. At least it has been for me in the past. I’d like to figure out what the seemingly missing x factor is that would help me manifest crazy amounts of fiscal success with my music. Perhaps I just have to never stop and when the time is right my music will strike a resounding resonance with the collective consciousness of the world and then at that point nothing can stop the music from connecting with people. I do not have the answer. All I do is make the best music I can, and make the kind of music that my spirit compels me to make. I listen to my heart and I go with my gut and I let go of the things I do not need in life. Letting go is key for me. Letting go of how disappointed I get in my live performances or my dissatisfaction with my singing abilities. When I let go and I am really in the moment I get into this zone when I perform live. I am always trying to get there. It’s like being in the womb only better. When you get to that place of “I don’t give a fuck” on stage you can let go of so much and really let it all out. When I am feeling every word I am singing and I can tell that the crowd is hanging on every word and every strum of your guitar…that is when I personally become self actualized and I feel that I am in the right place in the right moment doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. When I have shows like that I feel enlightened…and I stay enlightened for weeks after sometimes. It’s a great feeling and I do feel that it is attuning me to a higher frequency sometimes. Like I am vibrating on another level. I’m not sure if that is enlightenment or just the afterglow of a great set of rock ‘n roll…but somehow I think they are sort of the same thing.Jodi: Well said, Brian. You have been a light for me since I started hosting Talk It Out! and I am so glad our timing has come to fruition to have a session, regardless of where we both are at present. I love how we transcend time and space reality – just love that throughout the years we have interwoven our lives to join together today. I truly consider you one of my best friends on this artists’ path to enlightenment. Whatever journeys you’ve had, they’ve certainly prepared you for a mystical experience – one that I totally appreciate. You have gained so much wisdom over the years, and I am glad our vibrations have aligned so we can share your message with your fans. You are a true guide and I wish you all the success in the universe. My fortune to you is “never give up, your hopes and dreams are around the corner waiting for you to find them…keep going and you will always achieve.” Thank you so much for talking it out. XOXO forever!
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