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Interview: Travis Denning talks debut EP, songwriting and UK fans

The rising country star will release the six-song Beer’s Better Cold EP next week.

Travis Denning
Credit: Snakefarm Records

Originally from Georgia, Travis Denning has become one of the rising stars of country music in recent years.

As well as finding success with tracks like David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs and his current top 5 hit After A Few, he’s also written songs for artists including Jason Aldean, Justin Moore and Michael Ray. Meanwhile, his blend of 90s country and hard rock has won him scores of fans in both the US and UK, with appearances at C2C: Country to Country and Country Music Week (as part of Introducing Nashville) already under his belt. Now he’s preparing to release his debut EP, Beer’s Better Cold, which is due out next week.

Ahead of the release I spoke to Travis about the EP, how he approaches his songwriting, his experience of performing for UK audiences and the song he wishes he’d written.

The last time you spoke to us was when you were in London for the Introducing Nashville tour – what have you been up to since then?

So we came off that tour and then we picked back up. We were out with Riley Green all fall, and then we spent the spring and the winter being out with Dustin Lynch which was an amazing tour. Dustin has become such a good friend. And he was just an amazing tourmate. We loved being on the road. And then of course we hit a pretty big speed bump with the whole COVID-19 so we’ve been off the road. But right now I’ve been spending time in Kentucky at my girlfriend’s parents’ place. We’re just trying to get through it just like everybody else.

Your debut EP Beer’s Better Cold comes out on 15th May. Can you tell us more about it?

Yeah, I’m fired up for this music to be out. I mean it truly is kind of the first full look at the story I wanna tell and the songs I wanna sing. I’m pumped for people to hear. There’s three songs on there that have been out for a while, but I think that when they hear all six together they’ll kind of gain a whole new perspective on it. And I’m excited about that. Just for people to really get a big chunk of my music for the first time.

One thing which stood out to me about the EP was the variety of songs on there and the mixture of styles. Was showing those different sides of your music important to you?

Oh, 100 per cent. And it’s hard to do with just six songs. When you have a record of 12, 13, 14 songs, you have so much more opportunities to kind of piece together that kind of puzzle that makes the picture of what you wanna do. But I just really wanted to grab all the elements of what I love to write about and sing about, and I wanted to give that to people. Of course we’ve got our beer drinking wild anthems which is what I really love to do, as far as getting on stage and doing that. But I love Sittin’ By A Fire. I love being able to sit on the back of a truck with an acoustic guitar and just sing a song. And to me that’s that side of me that I really love to show. And it’s really the first time I’ve showed that side, at this point in my career. I want people to walk away from it with a better understanding of what to expect from me throughout my career.

Did you find it difficult narrowing it down to just six tracks? Or was it relatively easy to decide?

Well it’s only taken three years to get six songs right. But you know, it’s weird. I really had never thought about it as a hard process. I can’t even tell you the day that it was like, “OK, we gotta pick six songs”. It was really just fortunate that after we recorded the last group of songs we recorded which was in the later part of last year, once we got those mixes everything just made sense. We were like, “OK, these are going on here and these are going on here.” And as soon as we put ’em all side by side and kind of read ’em down, we were like, “Yeah. That’s a no brainer. It makes perfect sense.” So that part was relatively easy. But you know, After A Few,  we recorded that song almost three years ago. And it’s so wild to think about that these six songs have such a long span of time in all of them.

Speaking of After A Few – congratulations on how well the song is doing at radio! Did you know it was something special when you were writing and recording it?

So when we wrote the song, I knew I really liked it and I kind of left the room going, “Yeah, we know today we wrote a good song.” But until we had demoed the song with a full band and gotten a really good recording of it, when I heard the track for that song, that’s when I was like, “oh damn, we nailed it. This is something special.” I’ve said this prior in an interview but it really is true, when I wrote that song I didn’t have my record deal yet. I kind of felt like it might be around the corner but I didn’t know. So I was still thinking in songwriter mode.

So I wrote that song and I was like, “man, I wanna pitch this to Luke Bryan or Dustin Lynch or Jason Aldean.” Like I wanted to pick the song to other artists. And my buddy Blain Rhodes who was working at Universal Music Group at the time who later signed me my record deal, he texted me and said, “I’ll send this to Luke but I think you need to start thinking about keeping some of these songs.” Which was really cool to hear because that was kind of the ‘hint, hint’ that we really wanna work with you. And that was the first song I held for myself as an artist before I had a record deal and obviously I’m extremely thankful I did [laughs]. I love Luke Bryan and Dustin Lynch but I’m glad they didn’t record that song [laughs].

The other song I wanted to ask you about was ABBY. What drew you to that one in particular?

I just loved the humour in it. It made me laugh. But it just felt like a song that singing it on stage on stage would be massive. It just felt like it would be a fun moment with the crowd, and those are the moments that I dreamed about ever since I started playing music, is being able to sing something on stage that people love and you feel like there’s a total connection. I mean that song, I was drawn to it. It felt like something that I would have written. I just loved the way it was written. It felt like it was me. And I was very fortunate that Ashley, Chase and Matt let me record that song, ’cause they’re some amazing songwriters and I was very happy they let me have it.

I remember when you played that at the Introducing Nashville show in London and the crowd reaction was just incredible…

And that’s such a cool moment with a song, and when I heard the song that’s what I was seeing in my head. I was like, “I can’t wait to play this live” [laughs]. You know, and see what people say.

You’ve been over to the UK a couple of times now. Has there been anything that’s surprised you about the audiences here?

You know, I think the biggest thing is it’s very interesting to go play somewhere where… Like, country music’s [been around] since the early part of the 1900s, for crying out loud. Back to the late 1920s when they recorded the Blue Yodel by Jimmie Rodgers in Bristol, Tennessee. Country music has been a huge part of American music and American culture for 100 years. It’s really cool to go to a place and play a genre of music that’s somewhat relatively new, you know what I mean? It’s very interesting. It’s cool to kind of go over there.

And I feel like in a way, with this Introducing Nashville tour we did, there’s a lot of people there that probably that was in their first country concert ever. And you know, they were in their 20s or they were in their 30s or maybe even older. Where my first country concert I was probably five years old, you know? There’s something cool about that. And what’s kind of been the awesome receptiveness is just people really wanting to hear that music. I’ve been very fortunate that I got put in a position where I got to be one of those artists, to play for those crowds. That’s been the difference, and it’s awesome. I mean it’s so awesome. The crowds overseas in the UK… I don’t know. They just wanna hear the music, they wanna soak it up, and they wanna hear my crazy Georgia redneck drinking stories because it’s something different and it’s cool to be the different in that scenario.

I remember hearing David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs and thinking how different it was, even compared to other country songs at the time. Have you found that’s been something UK audiences responded to in particular?

Yeah, yeah, no doubt. That was such a fun song to play. When I went to C2C for the first time, and hearing people sing that back, that was literally the wildest thing I’d experienced up to that point.

You’ve mentioned touring with Dustin and Riley and have done your own headline tours as well. What have you learned from being on the road over the years?

Well as an opener, at this point in my life, probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from Dustin Lynch, Chase Rice, Cole Swindell, those guys I’ve toured with, I’ve learned how to treat the people on the road with you. Because they have always treated us like family, and they’ve treated us like equals. That’s just such a passed down kind of thing. They learned it from somebody they went on tour with, and they kind of passed it on to people like us. I’m so thankful that I’ve toured with people that I really consider friends. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve also learned how, watching someone like Dustin Lynch, I mean he just gets up on stage and just absolutely turns it on. Like he gets up there, he does his thing. It’s almost like muscle memory, second nature and he crushes it. So I just learned to trust my gut, and go with what I feel like got me there, and try not to abandon it, in any sense.

I also wanted to ask about your songwriting. You’ve mentioned the songs on the EP have spanned the last three years – has your approach to writing changed at all over that time? Or has it stayed the same?

I think it’s somewhere in the middle of both. I mean I’ve definitely evolved and I’m writing about different things that I was three years ago. I think the biggest thing that’s helped me is I feel like I just have a little bit of a better understanding of what I wanna do on stage. My whole life I’ve wanted to be in a bus with my buddies touring the country, touring the world and playing songs. So for me, us being on the road for the better part of the past two years, it’s just given me an understanding of, “right OK, what do I wanna sing about that’s me, and it’s authentic to where I come from, and what I’m about, but just rocks on stage?” You know, translates in that moment of a hot summer festival or a dirty club in the middle of the winter. I’ve gained a lot of perspective on that side of my music. And I think it’s apparent to see in a song like ABBY and then a song like Where That Beer’s Been, the first track on the EP. I think it’s pretty easy to see in those two songs.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Oh God! There’s gotta be hundreds of ’em. But I think… my go-to answer on this all the time is a song called Sunday In The South by Shenandoah. Shenandoah’s one of my biggest 90s country influences. They’re just an amazing band and Marty’s voice to me just is solid country gold. But when I hear Sunday In The South, I mean I don’t even have to close my eyes. I go back home when I hear that song. I see Georgia, I see Warner Robins, Georgia, I see the people I grew up with, I see my family, the church I went to. That’s my favourite thing about country music, is that it can take you home and it can take you somewhere you love without hardly any effort. And that song is a perfect example of that.

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown and shelter-in-place?

You know, I’ve been writing a lot of songs on Zoom and just trying to stay creative. And fishing, golfing a little bit, definitely drinking beer during all of those things. And ultimately trying to enjoy this time. I mean, I don’t like it, trust me. I wanna be on the road and I wanna go do what I do, but we don’t have that option right now. So I’m trying to find the positive side to all this and just try and take it for what it is and at least come out of it feeling like I took advantage of this time.

Are there any plans for an album at some point?

Yes. There will be an album at some point down the road. I wouldn’t expect it to be too far. And this EP will be a part of that record. Whether it’s all six songs or a few of ’em, I think once we put out a full record it’ll be apparent that they’re all tied together.

And lastly… when all this is over and we’re allowed to travel again, will you be coming back to the UK?

We’ve been working on plans to get back to the UK for a while now, and yes. We wanna get back there as soon as possible. I miss it so much. So yeah, we’re gonna get back there as soon as possible.

Travis Denning’s debut EP, Beer’s Better Cold, is out on Mercury Nashville on Friday 15th May.

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