NASHVILLE (CelebrityAccess) Travis Meadows is seeing his career skyrocket; it only took a couple decades.
Meadows is actually following a common Nashville narrative: Most of his early success came from writing songs for other artists like Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Jake Owen and Hank Williams Jr. while his own career matured. He had two of his own albums but the songs that were farmed out got a lot more attention. That’s nearly a Nashville tropism. There was also that “rock bottom” moment of playing to an empty room, that night that led to an examination – a moment that Jason Aldean and his band once saw, too, leading to them questioning if they should just pack their bags and leave Music City. Then the clouds parted.
Same story for Meadows but his is a wee bit more winding.
When he was two, he watched his brother drown. When his parents divorced, he lived with his grandparents. When he was 11, he began using drugs. At 14 he was diagnosed with cancer and, before conquering the disease, had his right leg amputated just below the knee. He became a drummer, then learned harmonica, then spent 17 years as a preacher, traveling the world to celebrate the Scriptures before a spiritual crisis led to him hitting the bottle again.
He’s now on his seventh year of sobriety.
More importantly, though, his music is getting recognized. He’s on his third album and, to hear him tell it, everything is changing. The critics appear to agree.
“Meadows sings like a man who’s felt the pull of the darkness but chose to find the light,” Rolling Stone said of his latest album, First Cigarette, naming it one of the best Country/Americana albums of 2017. “With a raspy imperfection to his delivery, he illustrates his stories through details that penetrate, from the kiss of some Coppertone on the skin to the deep, dangerous satisfaction of the morning’s first cigarette. It’s in the minutiae that Meadows finds the universal moments, coming out with an album that’s equal parts hurt and healing, and one that may linger long after the smoke has cleared.”
RS also ran a feature on Meadows at the same time.
“The closest stylistic comparison here might be Chris Stapleton,” the Associated Press said of the album, “and while Meadows has a dedicated following among musicians, he hasn’t reached that level of acclaim. If he keeps putting out music this earthy and evocative, it’ll happen soon enough.”
Meadows may be best recognized for “Riser,” co-written with Steve Moakler and a title track by Dierks Bentley. Others include Church’s “Knives of New Orleans” and “Dark Side,” and Owen’s “What We Ain’t Got.”
Meadows talked to CelebrityAccess about his newfound successes, his newfound team, his low times and everything in between.
Just trying to figure out where you been, where you’re going. Any take on that?
In a roundabout way, this (success) is a little accidental. We need to go back a little bit. I moved to town to be a writer. I had given up on being an artist and as soon as I got to town everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and I had every kind of crisis a man could have: spiritual crisis, marital crisis, career crisis. I kind of bottomed out and started spiraling.
I have a little boy and I decided I didn’t want to die.
I have a little boy and I decided I didn’t want to die. I asked for help and went to rehab a few times and the last time I went, one of the counselors suggested I keep a journal. I said, “You know, I just don’t do journals but I do write songs.”
She said, “Whatever it takes.”
One song turned into two, two songs turned into 10, turned into a record called Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, and that record started growing legs, and getting on famous people’s buses, and the next thing I know I’m getting all kinds of attention from people I didn’t think even knew I existed.
When Ross started reaching out to all the booking agents in town, it turned out every one of them had come and every one of them had turned me down. A lot of the them had not come to the shows; they had just turned me down
I started having to tour, which was surprising, because people loved the record. I’d perform, in bars, songs about me getting sober, which was hilarious to me.
Then I needed to move forward because I wasn’t “that guy” anymore, so I released Old Ghosts and Unfinished Business, and that led to more touring. A lot of people didn’t know I made that record but it still gave me a reason to go out.
That gives us about five years of history, then we get to today, where I had been out there playing these songs and, for the first time in several years, I put myself in the listener’s seat. Those first two records were kind of self-indulgent. They were about me digging myself out of a hole. They were really personal.
I thought to myself, man, if I had to sit and listen to these dark, depressing records I would want to slit my wrists, but I knew I needed new material. I had played everywhere, and people had bought the records, sometimes twice (just because they were kind and trying to help me). Apparently there are people out there who connect to the struggle.
I had played everywhere, and people had bought the records, sometimes twice (just because they were kind and trying to help me).
The two prior records, and this record, snowballed into what’s happening now. It kind of gained steam and put me into a place I didn’t realize I was about to go to. Of course, I also had a team pull in around this record, which I had never had. The past records I just kind of put out there myself. This time I had Blaster Records on board, and I have management and a booking agent, which I never had. Now I’m playing in front of many more people than I ever played in front of before. There used to be a lot of house parties and small venues.
Things started spinning so fast I don’t think any of us had time to come up for air
The booking agent turned it into something else. I’m doing a lot of opening slots, which is unusual. I’ve never been in that spot. But the people are responding. Their response is unreal.
I don’t know how to say it without sounding like I’m bragging, but I’m just so shocked and humbled by the whole deal. We’ve gotten a couple standing ovations as an opening act. It’s so bizarre. That feeds the energy.
And that’s where I’m at, I think.
What songs bring people to their feet? I heard it was “Better Boat.”
I think it is somewhere between general enthusiasm and the excitement that we’re giving to play and have access to these many new ears. There’s a little bit of fire in that regard. And I also think there is something about authenticity and sincerity behind these songs that’s catching people off guard. We’ve gotten desensitized to music. Everything is auto-tuned vocals. It’s easy on the ears and light lyrics. Nothing wrong with that. In this day and age, if anyone can make a career in music, hat’s off to you.
But we come along and singing these heavy songs, with meaty lyrics, and I think people go, “What the hell just happened here?” It shocks them into paying attention.
We were on the road to trouble
I think those two things sum it up. I believe we were playing in Richmond, Va., opening up. Song number one went by and somebody yelled out the name of the headliner. You know, of course! We just kept rolling. You’re stuck with us for 45 minutes, buddy.
About song number three, the same guy, who was obviously a little inebriated, goes, “Well, this is a shocker! The opening act usually sucks! This is fantastic!”
It was a nice pat on the back. People are responding well.
Who came first: manager Ross DuPre or booking agent Tyler Robertson?
Ross came first. I have a songwriter friend of mine who is also a producer, and we had never worked together. He was just a fan from a distance. Every once in a while we’d have coffee together. He said, “Man, you really ought to talk to so-and-so.” He was the guy who called the label. He’d check in from time to time and, when it was time for management, when it was time to juggle the apples and I didn’t want the label to get mad at me, and I can’t say no to anybody so I needed somebody to be a buffer, he said I should call Ross DuPre.
When it came time for a booking agent, the same guy made that happen. I really owe him a lot of favors. And we never have worked together.
Was there a plan with management? Did you map anything out?
I think a lot of it revolved around the agent because, if we didn’t get that, the whole thing was going to crumble. We had to have the live dates. After that, things started spinning so fast I don’t think any of us had time to come up for air and talk about Plan No. 2. It just took running. I’ve been in the truck ever since.
We were kind of on the road to trouble. The reality was I had a manager prior and I probably owe him an apology because I didn’t realize how much he had been doing behind the scenes. I think I might have had a nervous breakdown. Everything was going really wrong a couple years ago. I did a show for the sole purpose of having agents see me and I looked out and saw one guy sitting there by himself and I kind of had a meltdown. We started having conversations about giving up. We’re not kids anymore and driving all these miles is tough. I told my manager, “I don’t think I’m built for this kind of rejection.”
I threw up my hands and said, “If this is the best plan you’ve got, God, I’m out, because your plan sucks.”
I had basically thrown in the towel when the label reached out to me.
When Ross started reaching out to all the booking agents in town, it turned out every one of them had come and every one of them had turned me down. A lot of the them had not come to the shows; they had just turned me down because I’m a 52-year-old man and they needed young, good-looking studs beating the pavement because only the younger bunch is buying CDs.
We were down to one booking agent. They were the only one that had not heard of or seen me. They showed up to my CD release show, and that was it.
Ross and I had a meeting with Red 11 Music (Jack Ingram, Old 97’s) and that launch was pretty short and sweet. Jon Folk said, “Usually when I hear people talk onstage, I zone out. Dude, I’ve never in my life been where I wanted to hear what you were going to say next. It was every bit as engaging as the songs.”
I said, “Well, it’s kind of a large part of what we do. There’s a lot of dirt-road, sittin’ on a stump, lemme tell ya a few things,” ya know?
He got it, he saw what we did, and fell in love with it.
So how long before you were in the truck, driving all the time?
It was light speed, man. We went from no dates to a full calendar in weeks. I barely had time to pack. I’m very grateful for that. In some cases I’m making a lot less money because I have to pay a lot more people, but I am my retirement. I was banking on this thing. People don’t lie, and we were getting magical responses. People were saying things, like, “Your music saved my life” and “Your music got me through the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”
People were saying things, like, “Your music saved my life” and “Your music got me through the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”
That’s just way too much responsibility for me to shoulder. It’s humbling but I kind of have to leave that where it lays. I just want to talk about what’s happening in my life, but thank you.
So those responses every single place we go, and on social media where people sending private messages, who have lyrics tattooed on their bodies. Talk about commitment! I thought, man, something is out there, happening, and I just need somebody to just see it and go, “Oh! I know what to do with this!”
Between the label, Ross and the agency, it went to light speed. It’s been really great. We made a deal, “No complaining in the truck” because be careful what you wish for. I knew it would be hard, I’d be gone a lot more. I do have commitments when I get back; I’m a new husband, so I’m trying to stay home and find that balance. And they’ve been really great about a week off so I can go home. It’s been really good.
Can you go full circle on those compliments you mentioned? Are you talking to more fans online, at meet & greets, at the merch table?
All of the above. The idea of this thing growing to another level is still new to me.
Social media – people were genuinely shocked when I was answering every single private message. “Is this really you?” Yeah, it’s really me. If anybody takes the time to write, I feel you deserve the time for me to write back. Well, now that’s getting to the point where it’s really hard to do. I also get a lot of people talking about their hard backgrounds, looking for some advice, and I’m humbled by that.
I’m A Riser is tattooed on a lot of bodies.
Meet & greets – I’m standing for about an hour and a half and I have a bad back so I have to go sit down. I’ll sit down for five minutes, then run out to the merch table, and I sign and talk and hug until they’re gone. I’m just as excited about this as they are, and I don’t think they realize that.
I’ll run out to the merch table, and I sign and talk and hug until everybody’s gone. I’m just as excited about this as they are
I used to watch those Elvis movies, where Elvis would be a race car driver, a hotel clerk, and somebody would throw him a guitar, and the whole world would turn around and start paying attention. I remember from a very early age going, “I don’t know what that is, but I want that.”
So I spent the rest of my life trying to get people to pay attention to me and they finally are, so I’m giving attention back!
What are some of the lyrics that have been turned into tattoos?
“Riser,” for sure. I’m A Riser is tattooed on a lot of bodies.
“Better Boat” was one recently sent to me. I’m Learning How To Build A Better Boat has been on several tattoos. A good buddy of mine just did “Ride the waves I can’t control” (from “Better Boat”).
We actually had a kid named after “Riser.” We had this couple come in, they had twins, and one of the babies only lasted 10 days. They were a good, solid, young Christian family. I don’t think they’re in their 30s yet. They started reaching out to me and Dierks Bentley and (“Riser” co-writer) Steve Moakler. They got pictures with all of us. They got me a little Bic lighter with “Riser” on it.
But the first time they came, they told me about that, and we took some pictures. They came later, about a year later, in North Carolina again, and they brought a sonogram saying they’re pregnant again, and it was a boy, and they’re naming him Riser.
I got to hold baby Riser. They brought him to a show and I got to hold him and meet him.
I have a little photo album with the baby, through the pregnancy and being born, and I got to hold baby Riser. They brought him to a show and I got to hold him and meet him.
TravisMeadows.com .. everything is there from social media connections to purchasing the merch to the show schedule. One quick stop.
Come to a show, see what all the talk’s about.
I had a show in my hometown. Hadn’t been there in 20 years and I was terrified of that show. One of my old friends, he’s a writer, and he wrote a letter saying, “I watched every video but nothing compared to when I saw you live. It was the magical thing.”
I think it has something to do with the energy in the room. The people are just waiting on the note. I hate to use the word church because that could scare some people, but it’s a spiritual experience, man.
You had talked about those who are in tough times and looking for guidance. That may be one of the good things about being in your 50s – those times happen by the dozens and they actually don’t last.
And when you’re younger and going through that, it can be impossible to see. I see myself these days being grateful for some of the hard times. There came a point in my life where I was so low, the beginning of the spiral, when I threw up my hands and said, “If this is the best plan you’ve got, God, I’m out, because your plan sucks.”
You know what I mean? “I’m not grateful for any of this stuff. There a lot of people in this world that these pants would look a lot better on.”
But these days I catch myself looking back and being grateful. All of those experiences made me who I am.
I’ve said it a few times in conversations: when I was younger and kind of a hippie, free-living sort, I used to think love was what connected us all. That’s bullshit. It’s not love that connects us all. Suffering is the line that runs through all of us, whether it’s the White House or the poor house or the dirt hut. Suffering is going to touch you at some point.
I used to think love was what connected us all. That’s bullshit. It’s not love that connects us all. Suffering is the line that runs through all of us
Somehow this music has connected those dots. Out of 300, 400 people in those audiences, I guarantee you there’s four or five of them that are having a really bad day.
I think I speak for everybody. The ones going into the suffering and those coming out. Life is very challenging, man. It’s hard on all of us.
I handled it with drugs and alcohol and now it’s looking at it for what it is through sober eyes: it’s really hard but we have to keep getting up and trying again.