The Ties That Bind: An Interview with Travis Linville
Oklahoma-based instrumentalist Travis Linville has been eager to put out a new record and his most recent, Up Ahead, is the first in over a decade. With this being his first major release, the musician and university professor has stepped up his game while continuing to make music like he’s has for awhile: the way he wants to. Self-produced, recorded in his home state, this record is stacked with eight tracks that take you through a whirlwind of emotion. To preview his show at the Muck Duck on Thursday, Free Press Houston got the chance to speak with Linville about the record, his process of doing things, and whether we should worry about modern day country.
Free Press Houston: Congratulations on Up Ahead, your record that came out a few days ago. Can you explain the meaning of the album title?
Travis Linville: The meaning of the album title title is actually a name of a song on the record. Sometimes, when you’re working on new songs, they’re all coming from different fragments and different periods of time, and it’s not until they’re all recorded when I can listen to them and see the ties that bind them together. After recording the record — all of the songs for the record — I sort of felt like some of the themes had to do with what, in my mind, might be a variety of different characters and different scenarios who are all facing difficult situations and are trying to move forward. Or possibly reflect different situations and figuring where to go from there.
So, because one of the songs was titled “Up Ahead,” and that it resonated what I wanted all of the songs to.
FPH: I’ve heard this if your first full length in a decade? Why so late?
Linville: Yes, that is basically true, but the details get a little murky. I made three or four albums with a band in the early 2000s called the Burtschi Brothers. When that band started to finish, one of those records ended up becoming a Travis Linville album. I did an album with, like, 20 tracks. I’ve done a couple of EP’s and live records, though. But yeah, looking back on all of that, this is the first full-length, studio produced record that I’ve done in a long time.
FPH: What was behind the decision to record this record in your home state of Oklahoma?
Linville: Well, I’m a record producer, so I produce for other people. My process is sort of fragmented; I’ll record in different places. I always end up bringing work back home — to Norman, Oklahoma — to various recording studios. Some of this record was recorded in Austin, Texas, in my friend Mike Meadows’ living room. Some of it was recorded at a rent house back home. But yeah, I have a long history recording at Bell Labs, so that’s always where things usually end up, even if some of the recording is done some other places.
FPH: Do you have any release date traditions?
Linville: No, not really. My release date traditions in the past have been that several big boxes of my CD arrive at my house and I take them out to the nearest bar. I would start playing music and try to sell them. With this release we had a bit more time to plan, and I thought this album deserved a bit more attention, so this is probably the first time I’ve had a big reaction from a release.
FPH: Can you talk about Burtschi Brothers and how it’s shaped your sound as a musician?
Linville: You know, it probably didn’t. The Burtschi Brothers was a band that was around for five years, from 2000 to 2005. I’m pretty well removed from that. But that’s where I started writing songs, and that’s when I started doing original music. I was performing long before that band existed, though. I’ve been in cover bands and side bands as a guitarist and instrumentalist. That was the beginning of my songwriting career, so I guess everything influences and leads to the next thing. But that was quite a few years ago, so that was just the seed of everything.
FPH: You’re regarded as a prolific songwriter and instrumentalist and you even teach at a university. What do you try to do with country, and is it something that others aren’t doing?
Linville: I teach some songwriting classes, guitar classes, and live performance workshops at a place called ACM at the University of Central Oklahoma. It’s a great school. You know, I’ve always tried to keep some element of education going. I started teaching guitar lessons when I was 16 years old, actually. In some form or another, I’ve always tried to keep that going. It’s rewarding and keeps me in tune with things I’m not usually in tune with while I’m on the road performing.
You know, I think the part about it being considered country or folk or americana — I’m not typically active in participating in that. Obviously, I wouldn’t deny that it’s country or that it’s folk or anything that anybody perceives it to be. Part of the creative process, for me, what makes it important, is to not live within that. What I hope is that people can connect to these songs. I hope people think of these songs as a depth of a motion or soundscape, and that they’re joyful for people. Maybe country music has evolved a lot from the origins of the Appalachians or delta blues to the original Grand Ole Opry to what it is today. It’s all quite a different thing. That happens in all genres. I think, for me, and what I try to do, is write good songs and hopefully get closer to that each time I make a record.
FPH: What have artists and labels like Chris Stapleton and Third Man Records done for their mediums, being almost the hipsters?
Linville: Maybe in the band-world it does. I’m not sure if it does in the artist-world as much. I love what Jack White has done with his record label. I think that when I listen to Third Man Records artists who are country, I can tell that Jack White is a big fan of country music, particularly of his era. He probably listened to Loretta Lynn records as a child, or whoever it may be. So I think it’s great. I’m 38 years old, so I have a lot of those same interests. I grew up in a musical family, my grandparents were always singing Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell — those kind of songs. Especially Kris Kistofferson. Those things seep through and I can tell that some of the other artists you mentioned, outside of the main country scene and more into the “hip” world, they are probably like me and more into those records that they grew up listening to. Maybe it’s just a matter of the influence.
FPH: Why should people purchase “Up Ahead” and tickets to your show?
Linville: With the album, I think it’s a landmark, for me, as far as reaching new audiences and achieving a higher quality of songwriting and production. You can expect, with the show, that we’ve got a great band who’s on tour. They are based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. We’re excited to come back to Houston.
Travis Linville will perform at the Mucky Duck (2425 Norfolk) on Thursday, February 9 at 9:30 pm. Admission is $20.