“First of all, I’m sorry for being late,” I utter guiltily into my black tea. “I feel like that’s one of your pet peeves…”
“You know, it kind of is. If I’m on time, I’m late. Everyone I know is always late but I don’t get mad. I’m perfectly fine sitting somewhere by myself for hours.”
Travis Adams sits across from me sipping hot green tea (no sugar, no cream), backlit by the daylight through the windows of Stardust coffee shop in the Audubon Park neighborhood of Orlando.
I’ve asked him to pick his favorite spot to chat over and I end up choosing mine because the local musician says he doesn’t have one, which, I find odd for someone who’s lived in the city for 16 years.
I came alive and then I died and then, I came back. And now, I’m leaving.”
Eerie words to hear the artist The City Beautiful has adopted as their own to speak after his stellar career here in Orlando.
We took him for granted. Never thought he would leave. And now, we are on the heels of his last show ever in town at Will’s Pub.
“I’m just about all packed up, all my things in boxes. It’s weird,” his leg is visibly shaking underneath the table.
“Are you excited?” I prod, thinking his rapid leg motion is stemming from the commotion of moving half a country away.
“So ready.” And with that, it’s as if he’s breathed for the first time since we sat down.
Relief. Ease. A tiny weight lifted with two simple words.
His leg returns to shaking almost immediately.
“I’m sorry, I’m just really uncomfortable with this, not you, but, all of … this attention on me,” Adams says sweetly stirring his stabbed tea bag around the rim.
And it is sweet to see the singer’s face pink up around his cheeks, a genuine display of emotion not too many others in his position have been able to muster up sincerely. Other artists would gloat to have the accomplishments the quiet man in front of me has. They would have their name in lights, have record companies eating out of the palm of their hand (he has). They would lean back in their chair and let spill tales of their greatness.
Not Travis Adams.
We laugh about the first time I saw him perform at Will’s Pub a couple months back.
“It surprises people. Sorry, I should’ve warned you.” he chuckles, embarrassed.
I reassure him it was the most pleasant of surprises. Otherwise, humble and reserved on any other occasion, this, was out of the ordinary. It was a whole other persona that night.
“I definitely have two sides to me … I think it came out of necessity. I think it’s a defense mechanism,” he pauses, “we’re going down a weird path … I like it.”
Weird is good, I encourage him.
I think it comes from confidence or lack thereof, just really bad self-esteem. I mean, I was never the frontman in bands but the job never got done so, I just had to be like, ‘get out of the way, I’ll fucking do it.’ I was this shy, introverted person like in my first band, I would just hunch over and stare at the ground. So out of necessity was born this other side, this oddly confident, strong, doesn’t give a fuck person.”
There’s going to be a lot that comes out of this show, he states, but it’s not a warning. It is his truth.
“These old songs hurt, which is why I don’t play them a lot. Especially the old, old stuff. My hope for this show is that I can leave these songs here, for this town and not take them with me.”
The “old, old stuff” he is referring to is his first project, My Hotel Year, which launched him into a whirlwind of unwanted stardom.
An auspicious name for his band, given what I know now. A name which would suggest a life lived on the road, a life lived out of suitcases and trailers, a life which could easily tear a band apart.
“My first band in Florida was My Hotel Year and that gained a lot of steam. About middle to half way through that tour I had a complete nervous breakdown, just went insane.”
With booking, writing, performing, and a whole town watching, the artist felt the pressure more than ever to not let anyone down. The pain from the past still reads on his face as he animates how it all fell apart.
“I have these three guys depending on me and the weight of that was just too much and now I feel like I’ve made this thing a joke because we’re that band that got signed and got screwed. My brain broke and I had to retreat. It wasn’t the same, My Hotel Year. So, I gave up and it wasn’t easy because a lot of people loved those songs.”
Anything which is meant is meant to serve others must first, be self-serving in nature, we agree. Music is no different. The words which so resonated with fans from MHY were the very words which etched deeper and deeper into Adams’ psyche making him go crazy. It was time to put those words to rest. Enter Inkwell, the project which almost didn’t even happen.
I was like, I’m done with music. I quit.”
“Did you think you meant that at the time?”
So, the native Georgian returned to the neighbor state to his parent’s house in Savannah to seek solace. However, he took a little pit stop in Tallahassee to see a friend first.
“My best friend’s in a band we toured with and he was just like, stop through on your way to Georgia and let’s play. That weekend we wrote and recorded the first Inkwell record, the entire thing and it was so magical.”
His friend gave him the gift of freedom to create whatever he wanted. No shackles. No idea was a bad idea. It was liberating for the previously suffocated musician. The relief when he speaks of this memory wears on his face like a favorite old sweater.
“My Hotel Year was just me pushing as hard as I could but I really came out of my shell singing-wise with this. I just went bizerk. I wanted to do soaring background vocals like The Beach Boys.”
No one was supposed to hear these songs, though.
What’s the old adage? The best laid plans …
“I gave it to my friend Jordan and he gave it to the record label they were on, (111 Records) and I get this phone call and I’m just like, ‘oh, hell no.’”
Once again, the industry was tugging at Adams’ pantleg, begging for more.
This label just kept calling and basically said, tell us what it’s going to take. I went to my partner Dave and said, let’s give them this ridiculous thing they’ll have to say no to … and they called my bluff and I was like fuck, so i signed a record deal.”
It was different this time, though. The new two-piece had control. It was a dream scenario. The label was not to hear one second of music until they were done. They had no veto power; it was to come out as it stood and they were to get the full budget — no questions asked.
The playing field had changed. Adams had full reign and was full steam ahead, giddy at the prospect to create without restraint.
“Then came the second record and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I wish I could live in the month when we made that record. All we did was record and write.”
The process was much more organic this time around. The studio in Tallahassee was built from the ground up by his bandmate Dave and became a safe haven for the pair making music together, except when they realized their producer friend was coming in two days and they didn’t have a record written.
“We made it up as we went along and it was awesome. It was so fun. Not a single word was written until the whole thing was recorded.”
He speaks of what he calls, a “flow state.” Adams would tuck himself away while the others were watching The Office in another room and come back two hours later with a song.
“I didn’t know what any of the songs were about until after I was done.”
“After you were done recording or looking back now?” I spar.
“Ok, switching gears, I hope that’s okay,” he asks for permission politely.
If only he could see, maybe he can, the way my legs, too, are shaking under the table. Excited just to sit down and talk with him about anything. 1st gear, 5th gear, I’m just grateful to drink it all up. He dives in.
“There’s this Springsteen song, and I’m not even a huge Springsteen fan but there’s this song that’s dark and it’s just like two chords and when I heard that, I thought, ‘I want to make a record like that.’”
Inkwell was musically very basic, he explains. He wanted to do very simple, basic music but have complex vocals. Field Kit on the other hand was the singer finding himself technically as a musician all around.
My Hotel Year, Inkwell, Field Kit, Atlanta, Savannah, Orlando. My head is dizzying around the projects and cities this person I’ve come to admire has covered. We dug into his past, scars abundant. We relished in his accomplishments, smiles shared. However, the truth remains. His time here is up. Eight records later in Orlando and he’s run out the clock.
“Where were we … ah yes, being selfish. I’m about to be very selfish.”
And it’s about goddamn time.
There has been light and laughter and love in this place for him, although, he does say he won’t miss the sun.
I’m going to miss the people the most. I’ve gotten to know the most amazing, supportive people in this town and they’ve given me nothing but unending love,” he pauses, peeks, then sinks back, “there were just so many waves fighting me this past year and I just thought, you know, waves only break you if you fight them. So I stopped fighting them.”
I felt the weight of my own waves I’ve been punching crest over me gently as I heard him say these words.
Waves only break you if you fight them.
When touring was been tough, when record labels told him he didn’t fit the mold, when his own mind was muddied trench warfare, he fought it valiantly. But now, a new chapter, a new saga, a new city for the man so adored by Orlando.
And with that, the interview comes to a close. Our tea is gone but we are not done talking just yet. We exchange more laughter, share our worries, and talk about the future like he won’t be a thousand miles away in just a few short days. We talk until the sky turns pink and I have to leave.
“It’s calming, this color,” I tell him as we stand in the parking lot, “It feels right.”
Yea, this is nice. Orlando has been so good to me,”
I turn around and watch him disappear into the blush hues, his newly destined horizon just upon him.
He’s nervous as the days draw out since our talk.
Afraid of the spotlight or perhaps, how I’ll paint him. I can only smile to myself as I think of how much a better person I would be if I were able to find better words to describe him. Here they lay, all the syllables I can string together to describe 1/32 of just how humble, giving, and wildly talented Travis Adams is. Thank you for time in this city as friend and musician.
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INTERVIEW: Travis Adams “Waves only break you if you fight them” | Farewell Show Will’s Pub, Orlando FL | TONIGHT by Sarah Schumaker
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