There’s something inexplicably authentic about Oklahoma’s Travis Linville, and it’s carried him from dive bars and classrooms to “The Tonight Show” and esteemed theaters and festivals across the globe. A gifted instrumentalist, Linville is known for his work as a sideman with Hayes Carll but moves to the front of the stage to release his new full length, Up Ahead, out February 3, 2017.
Travis Linville produced Up Ahead in a small studio in Norman, OK, essentially in reverse. “I had a bunch of half-written songs, and in some cases just musical road maps, so I brought some musicians into the studio for a marathon live tracking to songs they didn’t know—and I didn’t either at that point. The idea was to create a musical track for me to write over to finish out the songs.” The result is a gorgeously melodic roots album that gives priority to the song.
To record Up Ahead, Travis recruited four session players who’ve also performed with him live: David Leach (John Fullbright) on upright bass, Ryan Jones (Oklahoma Opry) on keys, as well as two diverse percussionists: Matt Duckworth (Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus) and Mike Meadows (Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson). Linville himself performed all vocals, guitars, lap and pedal steel, mandolin and dobro.
Glide Magazine is premiering the vibratious video for Linville’s “Bar Room” (below) filmed at Sam’s Town Point in Austin. Up Ahead is poised to become one of the 2017’s top Americana releases with its potent musicianship, resounding vocals and just mighty fine all around quality songs. But most importantly, Linville delivers the “twang” with conviction and his songs reflect music of a simpler time while remaining relevant. Glide also had the chance to talk to Linville about his work with Hayes Carl, Up Ahead and his favorite types of rooms to play…
The video for “Bar Room” seems to reveal the “never let me down” relationship with a cozy dive bar. Where did you film this video and why did you choose that particular bar?
We filmed the Bar Room video at Sam’s Town Point in south Austin. It’s one of those that feels like a time warp. Harder and harder to find places like this one. A real old honky tonk run by real people without one ounce of irony. Seems like nothing has changed in there since 1975. We had a day off on tour in Austin so I invited some friends over to Sam’s Town for beers and a video shoot. We basically couldn’t have created a better setting for that song.
You can say the twang of “Bar Room” sounds like something from a “bygone” era – but is it fair to say that tone and twang is becoming increasingly poignant as well?
Yeah for sure. It’s a tip of the hat to that laid back country vibe that I grew up hearing on Merle Haggard records…and the sounds he grew up loving on Lefty Frizzell records. Songs with melody and chord changes. No place for that in the country hit world and the outlaw stuff today is more of that hard stomping soul singing thing so yeah, for me, this kind of song is increasingly poignant because you just don’t hear it much anymore.
You’ve played a lot of musical rooms in your time. For you what makes a room memorable and defining of a great performance? What are some of your favorite venues?
It’s funny what makes a room memorable or inspiring for a great performance. Sometimes it’s great sound, or because it’s a historic venue. Sometimes because the power goes out right before you quit and you sing the encore out in the crowd with your acoustic guitar. I have played every type of room and weird scenario out there. Usually the best places have taken the time to make sure that the focus of the room is about the show. Sometimes the best place is the sound stage with bleacher seating built out in someone’s barn. I love the Blue Door in OKC. Playing the Troubadour in LA this year was a special experience.
Your new album Up Ahead is flat out legit- one of the strongest Americana albums of late. How long did these songs take to come together and did you pen them with any different mindset or perspective?
I wrote these songs over a fairly long period mostly in 2015. I am not the kind of guy to sit down and work on writing songs every day. I didn’t set out to write them from a certain perspective but they ended up speaking to a feeling of being lost and looking for a way forward. To me they are several different people or characters all looking at tough times and how to keep going. Something I did do in the early stages of this record was to take my early song outlines and fragments and cut tracks for them with a band in studio. Listening to the tracks while I wrote provided me a different way to let my mind wander and sort of finish the songs to the track.
How would you describe yourself as a guitarist and do you see yourself as a lifelong student of the instrument?
I am basically a recovering guitar shredding super-nerd. Someday I would love to do a guitar record. I dig the hot country and jazz guitar, surf, delta slide and dobro. The lifelong student keeps searching out new instruments. I’ve been playing pedal steel for about six years now and I think that is the thing that gives this album production its identity. It’s all about the vibe for me. There are no instrumental heroics or technical guitar playing. Bottom line is that as a sideman or up front, it’s always about the song. No more or less than exactly what it needs.
Most people know you as a “sideman” to Hayes Carll but clearly you are a defining singer-songwriter and frontman of your own. How have you been able to be a support musician (ala Mike Campbell) with dignity and balance the two?
Living in both worlds has been mostly a great thing for me, but ometimes the name of the music game is to diversify. Play as a sideman, play some shows of my own, produce some records, do some teaching… all this adds up to a music career of sorts. I love doing instrumentalist work and I never see it as a compromise. I do think that it’s kind of hard to fully do your own thing when you are saying yes to playing as a sideman for half the year. So for now I am back on the road doing my own thing and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
What are your thoughts on performers like Jason Isbell and Sturgil Simpson selling out large venues and bringing a sense of song-manship back to country leaning singer-songwriter music?
I think those guys are great and I am happy about the way they have helped shape the landscape. Especially with regards to depth of songs. I think there is room for everyone to do their thing the way they want to do it and those guys obviously do their thing well. The key is mostly just tapping into your own thing. It’s really easy to see when someone starts with a heartfelt idea, feeling, story or emotion that is truly theirs and it comes out as a song. It’s also easy for everyone to see when four people meet up with a demographic or a truck brand in mind and move backward from there toward the art of making money. If that is your deal then do that! From what I know of the country music world they could use a little genuine song-manship.
What else can we look forward to you in 2017?
I expect to be back out next year traveling around the country making music with my friends. It’s all about keeping the journey going with no destination in mind.
Up Ahead is currently available for pre-order in all formats (including vinyl ) at PledgeMusic, paired with exclusive items such as a disposible camera, a mixtape, lyric sheets and even a Yacht performance!
Dec 16 – Oklahoma City, OK – Blue Door
Dec 17 – Norman, OK – The Chouse
Dec 23 – Tulsa, OK – Vanguard (w/ John Moreland)
Jan 11 – Beaumont TX – Courville’s (w/ Hayes Carll)
Jan 12 – Beaumont TX – Courville’s (w/ Hayes Carll)
Jan 14 – Tulsa, OK – Fassler Hall
Feb 03 – Oklahoma City, OK – Blue Door
Feb 04 – Little Rock, AR – Whitewater Tavern
Feb 09 – Houston, TX – Mucky Duck
Feb 11 – Fort Worth, TX – Live Oak
Photos by Blake Studdard