Not A Lot Like Before: The Story of Kurt Travis and A Lot Like Birds
“I’ve been sitting on music for a long time, and I’ve shown it to plenty of influential people – nobody wanted to back me but David Conway. He gave me a shot, and because of all of this, everything kind of snowballed.”
Kurt Travis‘ travels in the past year or so, post-touring and writing with Dance Gavin Dance, have been a bit of a mountain climb to say the least. It just so happened that one decision by Travis would alter what might have been a totally different course into where he has ended up – a vocalist in a buzzing post-hardcore group – and much to his enjoyment, a solo artist with an EP to his name.
“It just so happened one night, David Conway, our label exec[utive at Doghouse Records], saw me play solo and pretty much is the reason why we’re doing all of this shit right now,” says Travis with a hint of confidence. Travis’s alignment with fellow Sacramento-based group A Lot Like Birds, who he joined as a second vocalist in early 2011, yielded the band’s second full-length, Conversation Piece, last October.
“All of this shit happened because I took a Jonny Craig tour doing backup vocals, guitar and piano, and it just puts things in perspective for me. Like if I hadn’t done that, who knows what I’d be doing right now?”
Travis and A Lot Like Birds got onto the Doghouse roster quite quickly, with Conway bringing them on board without hesitation… or seemingly anything else for that matter. “He signed A Lot Like Birds without any music!” exclaims Travis. “He sent us a contract without a demo. And then when we gave him a demo, it was an eight-minute fucking song. Extremely unmarketable (laughs). [He] still said, ‘I love it, let’s do it.’”
The now-sextet stepped into Kris Crummett’s territory at Interlace Audio Recording Studios for the recording of Conversation Piece. The record was surrounded by a number of uncertainties both internally and externally: “It was like three weeks to write the record that was going to be there forever,” Travis says of the recent time spent with Crummett. Of course, this was not the first time Travis and Crummett have worked together on an album, making the pressure of a time crunch a little more reasonable. “I’m very comfortable with Kris Crummett now. This is like the third record I’ve recorded with Kris. We work very well together and efficiently with the amount of time that we have.”
It was also a recording experience that challenged Travis to push himself vocally – another benchmark of Conversation Piece he credits to Crummett. Whether it was creating a triple-layered vocal attack or channeling favorite vocalists such as Cedric Bixler-Zalava from The Mars Volta or Chris de Cinque from Closure in Moscow, Travis certainly didn’t try to relax in the recording of Conversation Piece. “I would try a lot of projected falsetto stuff that I couldn’t pull off on any Dance Gavin Dance records and I was able to do it beautifully on this record,” exclaims Travis.
On top of pushing himself, Conversation Piece is Travis’ first experience with fellow ‘Birds vocalist, Cory Lockwood – the spastic, jagged complement to Travis’ smooth croon. “We’re both coaches. We give and take and give and take the whole time. I couldn’t be happier with another singer right there with me, because he’s confident in what he does. He’s not insecure. He has no, ‘Oh shit, it’s Kurt’ or whatever. It’s the same thing with both of us. We’re one person. We scream and we sing and it’s like we’re one entity. And I’ve never felt that in another band, and I’ve been in bands with two singers and what not and it’s almost like you’re battling against the other guy and it shouldn’t feel like that.” The respect for Lockwood as a vocalist goes even further, as the two worked in the studio not only in creating vocal melodies but bouncing lyrical content off of each other.
“It’s cool to see how much inspiration they receive from each other,” says A Lot Like Birds guitarist Ben Wiacek. “Cory’s always wanted to sing and seeing him branch out and sing and do backup vocals live is cool to me because I’ve watched this guy grow a lot. It’s all been a lot of help because of Kurt.”
Following the completion of Conversation Piece as the record was starting to gain buzz, the original reason Travis is where he is right now came back full circle. Travis’ day-to-day manager, a man by the name of Aaron Poletti from Artery, passed the word along that Conway was putting together a slightly unconventional project that he wanted Travis’ work to be a part of – a cassette series.
“David Conway is doing this cassette series, putting out 200 copies of cassettes. ‘It’s not just going to be you, it’s gonna be La Dispute, Young Statues,’” Travis says he was told by Poletti, who then asked the anxious Travis to jump on board if he had music to put towards his contribution to the series. After recording a couple of tracks that he only had rough cuts of, “Wha Happen?” and “How Are Things?”, the EP – which would end up being named after the former track – was sent off to Doghouse for mastering.
Having sat on some of this music for as long as five years, the signing with Doghouse gave Travis the opportunity to show a different side than the loud and, as he refers to it, ‘balls to the wall’ sound of his work with A Lot Like Birds. “I knew this music was cohesive enough that if my fans from Dance Gavin Dance were wondering what I’m doing, I don’t want them to come listen to my shit and it’s like Yoko Ono way out in left field, being hella weird [...] but for me my solo stuff is just self-therapy. I throw everything down, and I have no walls up at all. It’s just me pouring myself out through music.” That work has allowed Travis to finally show that side of music even though he says he never really had any thoughts as to how he might get this music out when he was writing it.
Whether it is the forward-thinking tunes of A Lot Like Birds or the chill vibes of his solo jams, Travis’s main intention of staying in a creative state regardless of the output is certainly in high gear these days – whoever is sharing the stage with him. “Everybody works so hard to do this, and I have a lot of faith in this: the product that we’re selling and the creativity we’re bringing to people.”