Travis Meadows on Honesty and his New Album 'First Cigarette'
Travis Meadows has had a hard life. His biography opens with a concise version of his life: “An orphan who turned into a preacher/ A preacher who turned into a songwriter/ A songwriter that turned into a drunk/ A drunk that is learning to be a human being.”
After surviving several hardships – including cancer – Meadows moved from Mississippi to Gatlinburg at the age of 21 to pursue a career in music.
“I decided I was going to move to Gatlinburg and be a hillbilly, play bluegrass music and smoke weed,” Meadows said. “And then I picked up a guitar and realized how hard bluegrass was to play, and I opted out for just smoking weed.”
Meadows laughs, and while he didn’t take to bluegrass, he had a hunger inside of him that wouldn’t let him give up on his music career.
“Music was one of the first things that I latched on to that made me feel like this is something that I want to find out more about, and it’s taken me on a journey,” Meadows said.
This musical journey leads him to the Pour House on June 26.
Listen to just thirty seconds of a Travis Meadows song and it’s obvious that honesty is a big part of his songwriting.
While in Gatlinburg, Meadows found himself in a little deli café called Chuggies.
“There were these people there just singing. One guy, one guitar. That was the first time that I really connected to the lyrics. I had never really paid attention to the lyrics before,” Meadows said.
But, when tourist season dried up, Meadows moved back home for a little bit and found a new calling. He had a religious experience and became a preacher. After 17 years he started asking questions, and he didn’t like the answer.
“I had a very naïve faith. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went back to my old friend alcohol, and I just stayed drunk for 6 years,” Meadows said.
After Meadows’ fourth trip to rehab, a counselor suggested that he keep a journal to track his progress. Meadows didn’t journal, but he did begin to write songs about his life and what he was going through.
“By this time I had been a professional songwriter for 3 or 4 years and not really getting any cuts. I was writing from an honest place, but really the main paradigm shift happened when I started writing songs as a journal and I documented my getting sober,” Meadows said.
“I never intended for anybody to hear those songs. It was just a homework assignment. I was trying to save a life, and it just happened to be mine. But the big lesson there was that not only did that record get me sober, because by the time I finished writing those songs and making that record I was nine months sober, which was a world record for me, but people started responding to it in a way that nobody had paid attention to my songs before. Then, that record started growing legs and getting on famous people’s busses, and then Eric Church, and Dierks and Jake and all those guys were recording my songs and wanted to write with me. I just went ‘ding, ding, that’s it.’ It’s the honesty.”
Meadows’ newest album, First Cigarette, still comes from an honest place and reflects Meadows’ experiences, but it’s lighter.
“I’m happier now, and so I am writing songs that are not so dark and heavy. I still have a lot of those, but there is some tenderness, some light at the end of the tunnel. But, it’s still my story,” Meadows said.
Pray for Jungleland is one of those lighter songs. It’s a song about driving around on Friday nights with your girlfriend and waiting to hear that one song on the radio that you are just dying to hear. For Meadows, it was Bruce Springsteen.
“Springsteen was the magic bullet for us,” Meadows said. “That is kind of documenting when we were 18 and your whole world revolves around Friday night.”
Sideways, another song from First Cigarette, is significant. Meadows admits this is probably one of the most honest songs on the album. He was inspired after traveling to a treatment center to speak and play his music.
At a treatment center in Louisiana, Meadows asked, “If we were going to write a song about your life, what would we sing?”
He then recounts this story: “This young lady raised her hand and she began to tell this story that was shocking, and nobody needs to go through that. I remember thinking, ‘I’d want to get high too. I would check out anyway that I could, and if drugs did that, I would give that a try.’ I asked her how it made her feel and one tear ran down her cheek and she wiped it away and she said, ‘I don’t feel anything.’ And that led to a discussion. If the only thing you have in life is a hammer, than you’re going to treat everything in life like a nail. And it’s ok to give yourself permission to have more than one emotion or reaction to things. When you push it down it comes out sideways,” Meadows said.
In processing that experience, Meadows wrote Sideways. He wrote the song quickly, and in doing so, realized he had it in him to write another album.
At the Pour House
What can you expect from a Travis Meadows performance?
“A lot of storytelling, some laughter, some tears, you never really know what you’re going to get into because I’m never sure how I’m going to be feeling that day,” Meadows said.
For Meadows, a stage performance is like going to church without the judgment. He’s certainly not going to preach, but he does talk about his experiences. He will share things that he’s been through and the things he is still processing.
“I am kind of giving people permission to be ok with who they are where they are at, scars and all,” Meadows said. “When people listen to these flawed songs from a flawed human being they think it’s not as bad as it could be.”
Travis Meadows will be at the Pour House with American Aquarium on June 26.