A conversation with Travis Tritt


Veteran country artist Travis Tritt has just released his first album in six years, The Calm After…, on his own new label Post Oak Recordings.
The album is a remastered re-release of Tritt’s ill-fated 2007 album The Storm, which received limited attention due to a tumultuous legal battle with his previous and now defunct label; the new title reflects the new situation, and is also appropriate in that the new album version contains two new songs including first single “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” a remake of the Patty Smyth and Don Henley hit performed by Tritt and his 15-year-old daughter Tyler Reese, which was released on Father’s Day.
Not included on the album but available at iTunes is the live acoustic version of Kris Kristofferson’s classic “Why Me, Lord?,” which Tritt sang at George Jones‘ Nashville memorial service in May. It was released as a digital single after a video of the performance went viral.
Tritt’s resurgent recording career brought him to New York earlier this week. This conversation took place at his hotel.
So what happened with The Storm?
I recorded and co-produced it in 2007 with Randy Jacksonfor indie label Category 5 Records, but the label ended up getting into legal and financial difficulties just as the album was about to drop. They never had a complete marketing plan together for the album to see the light of day. So we immediately went into litigation to get the masters back. I wanted the opportunity at some point for it to see the light of day, but litigation tends to take time, and it took us about five years to get everything squared away. But the good news is we got the masters back, and all that time I was talking about starting my own record label.
Why do it yourself?
It’s become very evident that things have changed so much in the music business just in the last five, six years, with all the social media–and all the problems there have been, not only inside record labels but also at commercial radio. It’s become very difficult for labels in general to make money–and one or two good-selling artists does not a label make. And with all the money spent on artists, we’ve seen a decline in the industry across the board: They’re not selling records like in the ‘90s when mine were first coming out.
It’s gotten to the point now where social media and the Internet have created an ability for us to take the music directly to the public, and being an established artist who already has got a name and following, to our audience–without having to go through the quote-unquote middleman of the label. In that respect, it’s created a situation where if you’ve established a name and audience, it’s the best of all worlds. It really is. I wouldn’t want to be a brand new artist in this day and age trying to get started—it’s probably more difficult now than for us when we trying in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
So you were able to get your masters back.
As a result of getting the masters back we were able to realize the dream of starting our own label—Post Oak Recordings. It was borne out of getting the masters back, and that’s allowed us to re-release The Storm. It’s been totally remastered and it’s a whole lot better-sounding—and we’ve added two more cuts that were originally cut for the album.
Why Post Oak?
It’s the name of my property, a 75-acre farm in Hiram, Georgia, right on the Cobb/Paulding County line. I’ve had it since 1992. It’s also the name of my publishing company. It’s named for Post Oak Tritt Road in Marietta—where I was born. Back in the ‘50s, my grandfather was on that road, Post Oak Tritt Road. He was the school superintendent and sharecropped land, and took the name of Post Oak Baptist Church and combined it with his name for Post Oak Tritt Road, and it always kind of stuck: I named my publishing company after it in the mid-‘90s and came back and bought the farm in ’92 and named it Post Oak Place because of the post oak trees growing there and going back to the other things.
How did The Storm come about, then?
Sam Moore and I were working together in the studio. He was doing an album [Overnight Sensational] for his 70th birthday and was asking all his favorite duet partners whom he’d worked with over the years to come back in and do another duet with him, and he called me and I was honored to be asked. Randy Jackson was producing it in Nashville, and we recorded a very bluesy tune recorded by Ray Charles and Seals & Crofts, “Riding Thumb.”
I did my part and got out of the vocal booth and Randy was standing there with a strange look on his face. I asked, “Did I do something wrong?” He said, “No. I’m just amazed! I’ve listened to your music and I’ve been familiar with your hits for years, but I had no idea you had that blue-eyed soul thing going on as much as you do. If you’d ever like to do an album that focused more on that side of you than perhaps some of the things you’ve done in the past, I’d love to be involved in a project like that.”
That’s how The Storm came about, and we went to Hollywood and recorded it over the course of four months.
What about the songs?
I had the tremendous opportunity to work with songwriters I’d never worked with. Diane Warren had written a couple [“(I Wanna) Feel Too Much,” “I Don’t Know How I Got By”] that we were able to tap into for this project. Richard Marx and I sat down and wrote some things together [“You Never Take Me Dancing,” “Doesn’t The Good Outweigh The Bad”]. I got the opportunity to write with Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 [“What If Love Hangs On”], and had a variety of covers on the album: “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway,” co-written by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who came in and played guitar on it. “Should’ve Listened” by Nickelback. I love those guys! They’re the most throwback rock band of anybody to the stuff I grew up listening to, like Bob Seger and those guys.
And we had the opportunity to recut Hank, Jr.’s “The Pressure Is On,” and several things including the titletrack, and it was just a very bluesy country album: We had guests like Charlie Daniels on fiddle, and it was a lot of fun to do. And Randy Jackson was absolutely a perfect person to work with. Absolutely fabulous.
And what about the new songs?
I had cut “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” and had a short list of three female vocalists for a duet: Wynonna, Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles. But the timing was just off because all three had just recently recorded duets with other male partners, so we shelved it. Then last year we were on our way back from a wedding in Florida, driving back with my iPod plugged in. My daughter Tyler Reese, who’s now 15, was sitting in the back seat. When I recorded it originally, the female part had background singers, but my daughter had never heard the song before, and when it came up, she started singing the female parts halfway through, and when it ended, she made me play it over and over again a half-dozen times.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want her to know what I was thinking. But I was thinking, she was nailing this, and I would sing along with her on the choruses. There’s something about family harmony: You can’t replace it. I ended up going to my wife and saying, “I really think she can do a great job on the song,” and she agreed. So we came back in and recorded it with her voice on it, and I know I sound like a proud father, but she really nailed it!

Did she have any previous singing experience?
Actually she came out to a competition for kids that they have every year, iPop!, in L.A. She was nine years old and competed in spoken word, drama, solo vocal, vocal collaboration and dance, and came home a week later with a whole armful of first-place trophies. We immediately started getting calls from all these TV networks wanting to sign her up, but being an old-fashioned father and seeing what this business can do to somebody–chew you up and spit you out–I wanted her to have a normal childhood and basically tried to keep a lid on this volcano which is my daughter! But every year it’s become increasingly harder to keep that lid on her because she’s an amazing talent.
She looks like her mom.
Thank God! Her mother can’t sing a lick but if it was the other way around and she was looking like me and sang like her mom, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about! She really is spectacular.
The other new song is a cover of The Faces’ classic “Stay With Me.”
I always admired that band, and especially admired [its then lead singer] Rod Stewart. I’ve always been a Rod Stewart fan, and that cut’s one of my favorites from that era, and to get the opportunity to go out with the caliber of musicians we worked with on that album and recreate that song was just a thrill for me. I really enjoyed it, and it helped round out that funky blues-country element on that album. It just never had the opportunity to see the light of day, and now maybe it will.
But how will you get it out there this time?
We did a deal with Sony Red to distribute it to all the mass market people like Anderson Merchandisers, who put CDs in Walmarts and Targets and that sort of thing, and we got it on iTunes as well as Amazon, and we’re working with several other Web-based outlets like TuneCore to help promote the album as well. And we’re doing the songs live in concert and having the actual CD for sale at those shows: We’ve found that’s a tremendous source of sales for CDs.
I think people forget when we do our concerts how many hits we’ve had over the years. They start hearing them back-to-back and say, “I forgot about that tune,” or “He did that song!” And hearing it drives them to want to purchase the music, and if we’re doing stuff off the new album as well, it’s a great catalyst for people who want to go and purchase that music.
And you’ve also released a “Why Me, Lord?,” which you sang at George Jones’ memorial, on iTunes.
George was such a huge influence to everybody who tried to sing music of any kind, but he was also a dear friend: He was one of the first people I met when I came to Nashville in the late ‘80s, and each time I’d get around George he was always upbeat and had a joke to tell. He and I laughed and shared so many good times.
When Nancy Jones called and asked me to participate, I was honored. When they told me he had passed away I remembered that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach in 1998 when I got word that Tammy Wynette had passed away. I was in Spain at a movie set with Willie and Kris–the old Sergio Leone sets where Fistful Of Dollars was made—when we got word over there. I was in the makeup trailer early that morning. Kris was sitting next to me and we got word and I remember looking at Kris and saying, “With all the years of hard living, drinking, drugging and stuff that George did, who in their right mind would think he’d outlive Tammy Wynette?” And Kris looked at me and said, “If it hadn’t been for Nancy he would not have!” Man, that’s absolutely the truth! George would say that to anybody.
So when Nancy called and asked me to sing at George’s funeral, she said, “I’d like for you to do something inspirational,” and that conversation popped back in my head. “What if I did the old Kris Kristofferson song, ‘Why Me…’?,” I said. She cut me off and said, “‘Why Me, Lord?’ was one of George’s favorite songs! That’s the one I want you to do!” It’s one of those opportunities that will stand out in my life if I live to be 100. That day will stand out. I’m so honored to have known George and have a friendship with him and be part of his send-off, and I thought everybody that day was extraordinary.
And there were great, great speeches. My good friend Charlie Daniels’ still resonates in my mind, and I occasionally repeat it on stage to this day: George never wanted to sound like the next biggest thing on Music Row or change his style. He just wanted to be George Jones, and in this world of cookie-cutter, follow-the-leader, whatever-radio-will-play sameness, George Jones stood head and shoulders over everybody because of his originality. That’s a wonderful lesson for everybody in this business, old and new.
I’m honored that I got to know Waylon Jennings ,Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs–all those people who are legends that will go down in history like George Jones will. Some of the greatest of all time, and not only did I get the chance to meet them but they became friends and I had the opportunity to learn at their knees and those lessons I carry with me every single day.
So who’s managing you now?
I’m doing it myself now! It makes for a longer day, but at the end of the day, I decide what I want to do and I’m happy–really happy.
– By Jim Bessman (examiner.com) 
INTERVIEW LINK: http://www.examiner.com/article/a-conversation-with-travis-tritt