Up-and-Coming Singer-Songwriter Travis Linville Talks About His Breakthrough Album, 'Up Ahead'

click to enlarge Up-and-Coming Singer-Songwriter Travis Linville Talks About His Breakthrough Album, 'Up Ahead'
Courtesy of the Syndicate
Singer-songwriter Travis Linville grew up in a highly musical family. His grandparents played in a band that performed on a weekly radio show in the 1950s.

“They had a room full of musical instruments with a full on stage where they hosted parties,” says Linville via phone from a recording studio in Norman, Oklahoma that’s near his Tulsa home. He opens for Bob Schneider on July 26 at the Music Box Supper Club. “I was too young to get in on most of that, but I did catch a little bit of it before my grandfather passed away. It felt okay to pursue that because our family was known for building horse trailers and playing music.”

Known for his work as a sideman with Texas songwriter Hayes Carll, who calls him “criminally underrated,” Linville has sold thousands of albums and played thousands of shows in his 20-plus year career. His recent album, Up Ahead, a record featuring his well-crafted songs and supple, Lyle Lovett-like voice.

While still in junior high, he began to take music classes and says he learned a few Nirvana songs while he and he his friends goofed around and tried to figure out how to play the instrument.

“I started playing and singing the music that influenced my grandparents,” he says. “I started getting into traditional country music. It was kind of uncommon for people of my age at that time. I dug into that throwback sound of Hank Williams and Ray Price and Lefty Frizzle."

When he became proficient, he started looking for a guitar teacher and found a guy named Joe Settlemires.

"I studied guitar with him for seven years," he says. "He’s a straight-ahead jazz and Western swing player. He strictly put me on the path of really learning my instrument in an in-depth kind of way. I didn’t know anything about John Coltrane at the time but because of him, I got way into that for several years until I came back to singing and songwriting.”

When he was still taking guitar lessons, Linville started playing with a country cover band. That led to a gig with the Burtschi Brothers, a country outfit that made a name for itself regionally.

“We wrote 100 songs and wanted to finish one after another whether they were good or not,” he says, adding that he kept the band going for a few years. “We were contemporaries of Oklahoma bands that were popular in Texas and surrounding states. We were based out of Norman. It was a lot more country leaning than what I do now. To me, there’s one song on my album that has much to do with country music. That’s sort of representative of where those beginnings were at.”

He wrote the songs for his latest effort, Up Ahead, in 2015 and 2016 and finished recording last year.

“I started the recording process before the songs were finished,” he says. “That helps me finish the songs. The attention the record has received has been a big surprise. I did a couple of EPs before putting this out. I feel like record was the best one to date. I feel like they’ve been getting better. Working as a sideman, I haven’t had as much push or drive to be myself for the past ten years. I always continued to do it but because it wasn’t the main focus, this is really last full-length I’ve done in a long time. It’s definitely the culmination of a lot of travel and experience and saved up momentum and back to being Travis Linville full-time as a singer and a songwriter.”

One of the album’s many standouts, “Two Times the Fool” features a mellow piano melody and includes a narrative like the ones Billy Joel wrote back in his heyday.

“I can’t remember what inspired that song, but I know I made the note of that line long before I wrote the song,” he says, adding that he wrote the song on piano but didn’t play the piano on the studio version. “I knew I had to write that song. It’s more of a jazz standard. It’s like a Cole Porter or George Gershwin-type song to me. It’s a theme that’s along the lines of the rest of the songs. It’s about somebody who’s sort of in a bind and not sure what’s happening going forward or hitting the bottom before they can come back.”

If Up Ahead serves as a proper introduction to Linville and announces his talent, where does he go next?

“I have some ideas,” he says. “I’m starting to get back into the groove here. I don’t have a lot of songs, but I feel them coming on. As an instrumentalist, I have a varied background. I don’t want to make the same record over and over. I feel like when no one was paying attention, I could play jazz guitar or bluegrass mandolin. Now, I have to really wonder what the next thing will be. I am starting to feel a distant itch about it, which means I’m probably about to start recording some songs.”

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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