Fresh Off the back of his European Tour supporting Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Travis Gilbert talks to Turf and Grain about taking time in Paris, his love of performing and the toughness of the music business.
How did the European tour go? It was by far the most professional thing I’ve ever done. It was thirty one days that kicked the crap out of me!
We were so warmly accepted in every city we visited. Even when I lost my voice in Barcelona, the audience really got behind me and were rooting for me through my set, in an underdog kind of way.
You begin to develop your set and little ways of interacting with the crowd as you go each night. Like I would tell the same jokes for a few nights in a row and the reaction is always different depending on where you are.
We played some killer venues too, like Paradiso in Amsterdam and Privatclub in Berlin, and most of our shows were sold out.
It was the best thing, musically, that I’ve ever done.
Do you enjoy performing? What do you want people at your shows to get out of them?Man, I absolutely love it.
I love being cocky as shit and getting away with it. I think you have to really put on a show- I’ve done a lot of solo shows but I like being the frontman of a band, that’s really what Travis is a Tourist is for me.
Like the best frontmen you need to perform, and I feel really comfortable up in front of people. Ask anybody who knows me, I get so nervous before shows, like I always feel like I'm going to be sick! But as soon as I get out there I just love it. When you win the crowd over it’s like you're the king of the world.
I think I’m a people person generally, I could really get on with most people and converse and I think performing is an extension of that.
I want to give people a real impression of me when they come to my shows. I want people to meet Trav and to have a good time and dance.
The word is you're working on a new record. How do you approach songwriting, what’s the process? Yeah, that's right, we are sitting on about 15 new songs.
Before we were writing for an EP (Weakdays, released in 2015) and it was very much like all the songs needed to sound the same, but now I’m writing song by song and that has given me the freedom to really do what I want. I think it gives a more fair representation of myself.
In terms of my approach to songwriting I’m one of those people who is always writing things down. I’ll hear something or think of something and scribble it down on some paper or in my phone.
Sometimes after a few beers I’ll write quite a lot, not that it is always good when I read it back, but sometimes it is. I’ll look at it if I’m in the studio when I need some lyrics. But I would describe myself as a songwriter.
If I’m as real as I can be, I think people might buy into it. For example we have been working a bit on our promotion, using film for all our promo shoots. So we had the idea that when people buy merch at our shows they all get original photos from our shoots. I’d like that if I was at someone else’s show.
The word is you're working on a new record. How do you approach songwriting, what’s the process? You're back in Belfast now after some time living in Paris. How did moving to a new city help you musically and creatively?
What do you find hard about being a musician? Originally I went on holiday to visit some friends from More than Conquerors, who were out there at the time. At that time (in early 2015) I had just come out of a long term relationship, and a solo European tour which was pretty self destructive. Also my uncle, who I was very close with, passed away.
I really felt that I needed a clean break, and that Paris was a place where I could get that. Spending time with friends there made me feel that it was where I needed to be. You can be down and out as a struggling artist in Paris, no problem!
As soon as I moved over I felt like I had a family. I got a a job in Shakespeare & Company and met a lot of amazing people.
Creatively I picked up so much but I wasn’t really productive, I mean I didn't perform for almost a year. It was holiday vibes for a year. I really wanted to write about my uncle, my life in Paris and the ending of my last relationship but when I sat with a guitar I kept being frustrated- what I wanted to come out just wasn’t coming.
But I formed a friendship with Benjamin Francis Leftwich who asked me to open for him at a show in Paris, and then he asked me tour with him.
The European tour went well, and we are off again in March for a tour of the UK & Ireland together, which I'm really stoked for.
I could play for people all day, but I find the business side of music really hard. Label guys can tell you that the music you're making is something that people are waiting for, and you're making music you think is great then there is no reaction when it comes out.
There have been times where I’ve questioned what I'm doing, or whether I'm good enough.
I think as I'm getting older, I’m getting a little more cynical about the music business and the sort of music out there at the moment.
Sometimes it’s just very hard to get people to care. So many new trends are passing through social media all the time, and while there is such a wealth of material coming out, people aren’t listening to it.
What do you find hard about being a musician?What are your inspirations? When I was younger it was hip-hop. Just vocally it was so upbeat and exciting, like I’d know all the words to songs but not know what they meant. I’d listen to everything really.
My dad and my uncle played in bands forever, and my dad is responsible for getting me started on the guitar, but it isn't just music that inspires me, it could be anything, conversations I have with people. Films too have had a big impact. I really want to make great music videos, and have some some exciting collaborations coming up on that front.
But really anything can give me ideas, like I could walk past someone in a coffee shop and I'd hear them say something, and I could write that down. Everyday life.
I’m very aware that I can only write about my only experiences, about youth. About being 24 and 25 and all that goes with that-Paris, sex, love and that sort of stuff. I really don’t want to write about things I don’t know about.
How do you feel about the music scene in Northern Ireland? Belfast has a great scene, there are so many talented musicians here. Though I don’t think its going to keep getting better if we have to keep leaving to play shows. It’s just the way it is, we have to go to London and the UK to play shows, people wouldn’t come to Belfast to see us. There are great musicians here, but there aren’t many labels here, and few managers or promoters.
Being in Belfast has put me in a pretty good head space. I was apprehensive about moving back but working with the guys in my band, Eoin McGarry and Matty Weir, at home, has got me really focused. All the things I wanted to write about, I feel like Eoin and Matty help me get out and write about.
I’m in a really nice position now, where I feel like I can just keep writing songs and playing shows. If someone had told me a year ago I’d have done two tours and be writing an album I wouldn’t have believed them. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m excited for what’s ahead.
Derek Wilson is a ceramicist from Belfast. A hybrid of studio potter and conceptual artist, his practice centres on the creation of a diverse range of contemporary objects, both functional and sculptural
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