Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Travis Tritt returns with his first new music in over a decade. As part of the prestigiously dubbed “Class of ’89,” Tritt along with Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Clint Black dominated the country music charts in the ‘90s. Impressively, Tritt amassed more than 30 million in career album sales with five number ones and 20 Top 10 hits including “Help Me Hold On,” “Anymore,” “Can I Trust You with My Heart,” “Foolish Pride,” “Best of Intentions,” “I’m Gonna Be Somebody,” “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde,” “Here’s A Quarter,” and “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive,” to name a few. Seven of Tritt’s albums have been certified platinum or higher.
Notably, the Marietta, GA native earned two Grammy Awards, four CMA Awards including the CMA Horizon Award (for best new artist), and a Billboard Music Award for Top New Artist. Tritt is also a member of the exclusive country music club, the Grand Ole Opry. His talents expand beyond music into film and television, where he has appeared in Rio Diablo (1993), The Cowboy Way (1994), Tales from the Crypt (1995), Sgt. Bilko (1996), Fire Down Below (1997), Outlaw Justice (1999), Touched By An Angel (1999), Blues Brothers (2000), Yes, Dear (2004), Brother’s Keeper (2013), Forever My Girl (2018), and more.
Tritt is back with his first original full-length studio album, Set In Stone (Big Noise Label Group). The new project showcases the classic outlaw country sound that made Tritt a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. His music personality on the album turns to his traditional country roots on the new single, “Smoke In a Bar,” the rowdy lead-off track, “Stand Your Ground,” powerful love songs like “Leave This World,” and the first single, a country rocker titled “Ghost Town Nation.”
We are pleased to present this new Q&A interview with Travis Tritt. He not only discusses his new music, but also two of his classic songs that continue to resonate with his fans. He also recalls the pivotal advice country music legend Waylon Jennings told him.
BC: It has been more than 10 years since you’ve released new music. Have you missed making the music?
Here’s the video of Travis Tritt’s new single, “Smoke in a Bar.”
Travis Tritt: Yeah, I have. I made a conscious decision about 12 years ago, that I really wanted to focus on doing as many live performances as we could, and also doing the best performances we possibly could. I always had a problem switching gears for album projects. The first step in doing a new album obviously is you go into writing mode. I have a tendency to block everything else out when I’m doing that. Then, when the writing is done you switch from writing to actual recording and that was difficult. It took some adjustment on my part. Then, you have to switch from that back to doing the touring again. I started looking at that whole situation about 12 years ago. I felt fortunate that I’ve had enough hits in my career that I can do a 90-minute or two-hour set or longer, and have it be filled with songs that are hits, or recognizable songs that my fans are going to know from beginning to end. Having that situation, I wanted to focus on doing the music live. Plus, that’s the part I enjoy the most.
I met my manager a little over two years ago. When I hired him, one of the first things he said to me was “You’ve had a lot of great success in your career and a lot of great music, but I still think that you’ve got a lot of things left to say. You’ve got a lot of great music still in you. I would like to see you write that music and record that music not only to feed your loyal fans that have been with you for a long time, but it will also give you the opportunity to introduce new people that might not be familiar with your catalog to your music. I think you should consider doing that.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. Then the idea of bringing (Grammy Award-winning producer) Dave Cobb in to produce the album came up, and I started talking with Dave. It just seemed like a great idea at the right time. I’m glad we did it. It was a great experience all the way around.
BC: With this album and your previous music, you always seem to dig deeper with your songwriting than a lot of the typical country music subjects.
Tritt: I always try to hold on to the roots of country music. One of the great things about country music in my opinion is—I think better than any other genre—country music tells some of the greatest stories and has all the way back to its roots with Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, and all that music that started what we now know as country music. It told great stories that are relatable to everybody regardless of where you were from, what your background was, what your social status was. It was just music for the common man, and that’s one of the things I always loved about country music and will always want to see brought back to the forefront as much as possible. One of the biggest comments that I hear these days. is we like a lot of the new music that’s out there, but man we miss those stories that country music has always told. I’m certainly one of those people.
Here’s the lyric video of Travis Tritt’s single, “Ghost Town Nation.”
In doing a new album, in writing a new album, recording and putting it out, I wanted to stay as true to those roots as possible. That’s one of the things I’ve really had to take a stand on my entire career, and I’m glad I did. Could I have sold more records if I had chased whatever the trend of the day was? Probably so. But I have to look myself in the mirror every day and be honest with myself. One thing I can say with all honesty is I’ve never chased trends or fads or whatever. I’ve just tried to do music that honestly moved me, and hopefully by doing so I can move other people.
BC: That takes me to talking about the new album’s lead-off track, “Stand Your Ground.” The words of that song seem to describe you. You’ve always seemed to be the kind of artist that stood your ground. Tell me how that song developed.
Tritt: That song was about the fact that, like so many artists I’ve seen in the past and even today, a lot of times record labels and the establishment in Nashville will sign a new artist and tell you, ‘We love what you’re doing.” Then, the first thing they do is try to change you into something different. I never understood that concept. It was always frustrating to me that these label reps would come see me play in these bars and honky-tonks and places I was playing back in the ‘80s, and every time they would say, “We love what you’re doing. You’re blending the southern rock with the country and the blues and showing all your influences. We love that.” Then, as soon as they got me signed with the record label, they wanted to try to change me. I fought against that tooth and nail since the beginning. It’s one of the reasons why I got labeled early on as being a rebel, difficult, and even the one that probably stuck the most, “Well, he’s just an outlaw.” To be honest, that was starting to get to me a little bit. It was starting to make me feel very uncomfortable about being different. I wasn’t trying to be ornery or hard to get along with, and I don’t think I was…ever. I just stuck to my guns and said “No, I’m going to continue to show the influences. Nobody knows my audiences better than I do. I’m the one who has played all these thousands and thousands of shows the past few years in all these honky-tonks.” I had already figured out before I ever got signed who I was as an artist, what my audience would and would not accept from me. Nobody at a record label and nobody at a radio station was going to tell me any different.
Here’s a video of Travis Tritt performing his classic hit, “Anymore.”
I was starting to get a lot of negative comments, negative press, negative feedback from the powers that be in Nashville. Right about the time, all of that was about to reach its pinnacle is when I met Waylon Jennings. The first night I met Waylon, I was actually doing a show with him at the old Omni in Atlanta. I went backstage before the show and met him and had three or four people with me from the record label, management, and that sort of thing. I was the last person out of the room, and just as I was getting ready to leave, over my shoulder I hear, “Hey Hoss.” I turned around and Waylon’s looking right at me. “Come here. I want to talk to you a second.”
I sat down in a chair across from him. He said, “I’ve been hearing all the things that they’ve been saying about you…and I just want you to know that everything they’re saying about you is exactly the same things they said about me and Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe and Kris Kristofferson and all the rest.” He said, “I want to remind you of something. All those people who said all those things about you get their music sent to them for free. They don’t pay for it. The people you need to be worried about and concerned about their opinions are the people that go out and work 40, 50, 60 hours a week to put a roof over their families’ heads and put food on the table. Those people are the ones who are willing to spend some of that hard-earned money to go out and buy your music and even splurge for a concert ticket when you come play close to their hometown. He said, “Are you selling records?” Yeah, every record I’ve released so far has gone platinum or better. He said, “That’s great. What about concerts? Are you bringing in a lot of people to your concerts? I said, “Yes, sir. Nearly every one I’m doing is sold out, Waylon.” He said, “Well that’s all that matters. As long as you keep doing that, you’re going to have a career in this business for as long as you want one.” It was just like somebody had lifted a huge burden off of my shoulders. He was exactly right. That took all of that pressure off [and allowed me to say] just follow your heart, follow your gut, and follow what your audience is telling you, and you’ll be fine. And that’s exactly what I’ve continued to do throughout my entire career.
BC: You co-wrote 8 of the 11 songs on the new album, Set In Stone. What do you see as your strength as a songwriter, and how have you seen your songwriting change over the last 30+ years?
Here’s the video of Travis Tritt’s classic hit, “Here’s A Quarter
(Call Someone Who Cares).”
Tritt: My strength has always been in the lyric. I love telling stories whether they’re stories about actual experiences that I have gone through myself or whether they’re stories about experiences that I’ve watched close friends or family go through or in some cases songs that are just stories that I dreamed up out of thin air about fictional characters, but they’re stories that are relatable to people. It’s stuff that people go through on a regular basis. I think the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten as a songwriter have been when people come up to me and say, “Man, when you wrote that song, so and so, you must have been reading my mail, because everything you said in that song is something I’ve been trying to say for years but never could just put it in the right words. You put all of those sentiments, all of those emotions, and all those things I was feeling and wanted to say, you put all of that into a song that lasted less than four minutes long.” That lets you know as a songwriter that you’re doing more than just writing music that people can tap a toe to and dance to. It’s something that really hits home with them and the message, the story, is something they relate to personally. That, I think, is the greatest compliment that I could ever be paid.
BC: What appealed to you about your new single, “Smoke in a Bar” (written by Jeremy Bussey, Derek George and Tim Montana)?
Tritt: One of the biggest things that I’ve heard in the last 15 years regarding music is the nostalgia. Thousands and thousands of people have told me whether it be in person or via social media or whatever, ‘90s country was the music that got me listening to country music in the first place. They keep going back to the stories and the way that that music touched so many people and much more so in a lot of cases than apparently a lot of the new music that has been out for the last 10 or 15 years has touched them. I’ve heard numerous people that had said, “We like some of the new stuff, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back to that music of the ‘90s. That music was so special to us.” Then, in the past year with all of the turmoil that we’ve experienced with the pandemic and the election, the riots, and all these different things that have gone on—just a general upheaval and turmoil that we’ve seen in the last year—I’ve had a lot of people come up to me nostalgic for a time prior to that that was more peaceful and when people seemed to trust each other a little bit more, and there wasn’t so much upheaval and division, arguing and hatred toward one another. I’ve had people that have told me…Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back to a time when you could lay down at night in your house and not have to worry about whether all the doors were locked or be able to gather together with friends and do the things we have all grown up doing and enjoyed doing our entire lives. So, as soon as I heard that song, “Smoke In A Bar,” which talks about the nostalgia for those times and the music, it just checked all the boxes for me, and I said I’ve got to record that.
BC: As you said earlier in the interview, you’ve written enough hit songs to fill up two hours or more of a concert. Can you tell me the story behind one or two of those songs?
Tritt: One of the songs that I’ve written that still resonates—there’s been a lot of them—is probably “Anymore.” Between “Anymore” and “Here’s a Quarter.” I think those two songs—no matter how many years I’ve been touring—I can’t take those songs out of the set list. I don’t think people would let me leave without doing those two songs every night. There’s a bunch of others too, but those two seem to resonate with people. I don’t know if it’s because they maybe were going through some of those things at the time, maybe going through problems with a husband, a wife, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, falling in love or falling out of it. Those are obviously common emotions that a lot of people share, and therefore, they can relate to those songs. A lot of people can tell you exactly where they were the first time they heard them. Anytime you connect with people at that level as a songwriter and as a performer, it’s really special, and it’s something never to be taken for granted. I look back on those songs as like my children that I created, and I watched them grow. I watched them have an effect on people, and I watched them mature into something bigger than I ever anticipated when I first wrote them. I consider those to be a gift for heaven.
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, ParentLife, Homecoming, and Singing News and is currently writing a biography on The Osborne Brothers with Bobby Osborne. He can be reached at [email protected].