Interview: Travis List

Posted by

Travis List will be a familiar name to many Australian country music fans. Although he now spends a lot of time in Nashville, he and Kristy Cox recently toured Australia together and now Travis is back for an extensive run of dates at the 2015 Tamworth Country Music Festival. I spoke to Travis a couple of weeks ago about Tamworth, Taylor Swift and an impending big change to his life.

I’ll kick off by asking what does it mean to be a new traditionalist?
I think in some ways I look at it as a bit of an honorary role.  It obviously means ties to the traditional country but it sounds like it’s brand new material …  I’m quite happy to be called that and it is a bit of an honour to have that branding.  [I] take it pretty seriously but I’ve always got somewhere to know where my roots are and where I come from and I can always tell exactly where I’m at with my music because I have that base that I’ve come from.  So it’s good.
And lineage is pretty important in country music.  A lot of artists are really aware of what’s come before and honouring traditions and honouring lineages.  You’ve been playing since you were about seven – what was the music within country that first appealed to you? Or what performers, rather?
I think it all started when I was about seven my dad first brought home our first beta video and it was Smokey and the Bandit and I saw Sally Fields and, of course, black Trans AM as a pick-up truck and [laughs] Jerry Reid playing guitar and singing and for me, it was just a very memorising thing.  It was just like America was this land of loud V8 cars and pretty girls and this endless supply of fun and sort of capitalism, I guess.  And I don’t know, my dad always drove imported American vehicles and my mum was a big fan of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, Slim Whitman and that kind of thing, ’cause my dad was a bush balladeer singer and sang Australian country bush music, and I guess I just went in on that American route and I don’t think it was any too big a surprise to anyone when I ended up moving there about eight years ago.  Americans seem to gravitate to what I do because I have that Australian background and it’s something different.  And Australians – I’m doing something different when I’m doing my American thing, but country music has this wonderful attachment to all the different other music and a lot of country acts are either working against the grain or you’re off the music or you’re working with the grain of the music, and to me either way you’re doing it is fine.  The new styles of country are just as fine with me as the old styles as well, but of course what I do is more along the lines of the traditionalist because that’s just who I am, but I appreciate it all.
I’m still stuck on your line of you saw America as an endless supply of fun and capitalism [laughs].
Well endless supply of fun … and capitalism. As a child I guess if someone tells you you can have an ice cream and then they tell you there’s this land where you can eat ice cream all you want, as a child you have this different perception of things, but of course as an adult going there and choosing to live, it’s different than what I thought it was as a child.  It’s still very good and it’s changed a lot, of course, but it’s kind of like I have two homes now and when I’m here I talk about going home there and when I’m there, I definitely talk about actually going back home to Australia.  So it gets confusing [laughs].
And it’s often a fraught decision for Australian country music performers to make that move to Nashville and spend any amount of time there in terms of living there, because sometimes people back here don’t react so well.  I remember seeing Kristy Cox on Peel Street in 2014 on the Fanzone stage and the person who was introducing her talked about her recording her album in Nashville and used a fairly accusatory tone as he did it. But of course you have access to so much in Nashville that you don’t have access to here in terms of session musicians and a range of studios.  So it seems to be a logical thing to go to Nashville.
I think all great music that’s ever come out of anywhere has always been because of the artist working a little bit against the norm, and it’s not really the fact that it’s America so much, it’s just that it’s one of the places on the planet that at a particular time in history had the ability and the right people in the right place to make some great music.  I mean, you’ve got Nashville but then two and a half, three hours up the road you’ve got Memphis, which is responsible for so much music in our rock ’n’ roll and rock music today. And then of course there’s Louisiana, zydeco music and that slippery sound that comes down Louisiana way.  So it’s just that America had the population and it had the ability at the right time to be able to create new things.  Australia has that also, we have things here that are so unique and when you take those unique things that are different and special to somewhere like Nashville – and I’ve seen a lot of my brethren from Australia go to Nashville and they really, really appreciate that something different.  They say you can’t take coal to Newcastle – it’s no good taking something that’s already been done to Nashville or to Tamworth here in Australia and just doing an exact carbon copy of one of the greats that we’ve had in the past.  You’ve got to have your own thing going on, but I like to look at myself as a citizen of the world because I’ve done so much travelling and I’ve played in so many different countries and the one thing that is always common is that I find that Americans say everything’s bigger and better in America.  It is bigger in America but not necessarily always better; it’s just different.  We have musicians and songwriters and performers here in Australia that are just fantastic, and there’s good performers and songwriters and singers everywhere you go.  There’s always a good musician and a good songwriter is always needed and always wanted and always appreciated no matter where they are.  Kristy and I were touring through the Netherlands just before we came back to Australia and we met some acts there, just blew my mind how fantastic they were.  And you just think to yourself, wow, music is a worldwide thing, it’s not just in one place at one moment; it’s everywhere all the time.
It’s really interesting how country music is interpreted in different places, because there’s an emerging British country music scene. Americana has had a presence there for a while but the country music that’s coming through from the UK now is quite American in nature in the Taylor Swift sort of vein of country music – not that she’s country anymore apparently, but it’s interesting how that’s been interpreted.  There’s two strands there: Americana or country pop, country rock and not a lot in between.  Whereas I think in Australia there’s such a variety amongst the performers here and the songwriters that it’s one of the thing that makes Tamworth such an extraordinary festival.  There’s just so much on offer really. 
We have a lot of music here that there’s no different and not dissimilar in its styling to America.  America just tends to brand more things country based.  We’re in an age where depending on where you are on the planet, things are constantly rebranded all the time.  You’ve got the same product but it’s rebranded or branded or promoted differently in different countries and in different regions.  So what Americans might perceive as Taylor Swift coming from the country scene – and now I think she said herself that she’s no longer considers herself to be country, but that’s just her growing as an act and odds are that one day she’ll return to her roots, but I think it’s all good.  I think that the only way an artist can grow is to not pigeonhole themselves into one area; you have to take everything in so that you can grow as an artist.  And that’s what makes things special and different.  That’s how you get the uniqueness out of things, and I think Australia doesn’t have a fear of losing itself or its originality because with the geographical separation, it’s always coming up with new, exciting totally individual sounds all the time and it’s been responsible over the years so much for new sounds.  We’ve got so many famous Australian acts that have done so well worldwide because of that, I feel.
And I also think that Tamworth as an event seems to be a catalyst for a lot of creative connections as well as just creativity full stop.  I’ve talked to so many performers who have met producers or who have met co-songwriters or all sorts of people in Tamworth, and not that we can quantify that effect but it does seem – and, obviously, a segue into talking about you being in Tamworth – but it does seem like it’s this extraordinary thing that happens, that everyone’s in the one place and you have opportunities to connect with each other and amazing things come out of it.
Totally.  I go to Tamworth and I do what they call the new traditionalist or some people call it honkytonk music or some people would even brand it maybe Americana, because in America Americana means a bit more traditional American way of doing things and elsewhere in the world Americana’s going into this soup which is a little bit different interpretation.  But at Tamworth I do my thing and I think it’s about variety.  I think people want to see different things, they want to see a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and you can get that at Tamworth.  I think that’s a good thing and I know there are people who like to see Tamworth going in one particular direction but that’s uncontrollable.  You can’t control the trends and the talents and the people – it’s going to grow into what it’s going to grow into and I appreciate that.  You’ve just got to let it do its thing and that’s beautiful in itself.
I know you have quite a few shows to play in Tamworth and this has to be one of the heaviest rosters of anyone coming into the next Tamworth, and quite a few different venues as well.  So you should see a few varied audiences, I would imagine, but are you going to wear yourself out?
Well, it’s not so much the workload with the singing.  I’ve got nine, ten full shows, one show on every day, and then I’ve got a whole series of small appearances and small guest spots and of course promo stuff to do, but I am a little concerned because any day now I’m going to be a father for the first time, and me and Kristy are – her schedule’s very, very busy as well. And we do have a couple of full-time babysitters organised for the festival but both of us have a very, very, very heavy roster.  So fitting the new family thing into that is going to be interesting but we are used to living out of suitcases and we’ve been in for the tour before we came to Australia, we were in eight different countries under 30 days.  So we’ll continue to do that except next time we’ll probably be dragging a pram as well.
You may need to talk to Brooke McClymont about how to do this because I think she had a very small baby or after she had her daughter, she played Tamworth not long after.  So she might be able to give some tips on how you juggle all of that.  It helps that she has sisters in her band, I think.
Yeah, it does.  The support team no doubt is going to be really important.  Like I said, we’ve got a couple of full-time babysitters coming to help and Kristy will be on the red carpet 20 days after her giving birth and a new mother.  And I’m sure she’ll be looking fantastically beautiful too. bBt it’s going to be a lot of fun and Tamworth always is a lot of fun, but you can wear yourself out. I guess you just pace yourself. 
And make sure you’ve booked a holiday not long afterwards.
Yeah.  Actually we were talking about that the other day, but I am looking forward to this new album and seeing how that goes over with my shows and with the people in Tamworth and the tour in August, September that me and Kristy had, the new material, it was very well accepted I think and I’m hoping to continue that in Tamworth and just display some of the new work that I’ve been doing and getting out and having some fun and playing.
So the new album is out, right, because that news passed me by completely that you had an album out in October.
Yes.  October the 17th and I released a single, “In This Corner”, to radio and I’ve got a new video clip just about to go to CMC, and [the album is] in stores:  Sanity, JB Hi-Fi and it’s on iTunes, and you can of course purchase it from my website travislist.com. It’s the first actual release to radio that I’ve done in this country.  I haven’t actually ever done one in Australia before and I was really honoured.  It went to number 12 and that was probably higher than I expected for a first release, but it was really encouraging and there’ll be three or four more releases off that too including maybe a duet of me and Kristy.

This Corner is out now. Travis’s website is travislist.com.


TCMF 2015 dates:

Thursday, 15th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth West Leagues Club – 8:00pm
Phillip St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 7588

Friday, 16th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth South Bowling Club – 7:00pm
11 Margaret St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 5766

Saturday, 17th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival – Pure Country Spectacular
Tamworth Capitol Theatre – 10:00am
Peel St, Tamworth, New South Wales

Sunday, 18th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth South Bowling Club – 3:30pm
11 Margaret St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 5766

Tuesday, 20th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth South Bowling Club – 3:30pm
11 Margaret St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 5766

Thursday, 22nd January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth South Bowling Club – 12:00pm
11 Margaret St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 5766

Thursday, 22nd January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth Wests Diggers – 7:30pm
Kable Ave, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6766 4661

Friday, 23rd January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth West Leagues Club – 2:00pm
Phillip St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 7588

Saturday, 24th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth South Bowling Club – 12:00pm
11 Margaret St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 5766

Sunday, 25th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth West Leagues Club – 8:00pm
Phillip St, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6765 7588

Monday, 26th January 2015
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth Wests Diggers – 7:30pm
Kable Ave, Tamworth, New South Wales
BOOKINGS: (02) 6766 4661

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s