We all have those moments when we hear our favourite song on the radio, turn it up loud and sing along. But what happens to the unreleased album tracks, the fan-favourites that always miss the set-list in a live performance, not quite getting the recognition they should.
Golden Guitar winner Travis Collins seeks to give these songs their place in the sun with his current run of gigs known as “The Hits & Other Bits Tour”, as discussed in this interview with Jackie Smith.
You’re performing at Rooty Hill RSL in June. What was the inspiration behind the “fan-favourites” format of the shows?
The inspiration sort of came by mistake. In the lead up to CMC Awards, I was doing online concerts for my fans on Facebook, and I started to learn that a lot of their favourite songs, aside from the singles and the stuff that we put out on radio and CMC, [were] also these hidden tracks in my album[s] that I just didn’t know made such an impact.
You know, I was taking requests on these live concerts and some of the requests … were hidden tracks that I didn’t really expect them to [request]. I had no way of knowing that they really loved those songs.
It became a bit of an idea. I thought, “Well, I’ve got to find a way to get these songs into the show.” And, of course, the challenge becomes: how do you get more songs into a show without keeping them there until three in the morning [laughs].
I thought, “Well maybe I could do my own support act”, go out and sing what we’re calling the other bits, go out and do all those fan-favourites that I’ve recently learned have struck a chord.
Then after that we’ll bring the band out, and do the full electric show, with all the singles and releases that we put on radio. You know, the hits.
So, it’s quite a concept I’m really looking forward to. We’ve done our very first show in this format already and it was a real thrill. It feels really re-energising for me to be playing songs that have never made it into the set-list before.
You said you’ve done one show like this already, but will it just be a limited time thing, or do you intend to make a full-blown tour out of it?
We played in Tamworth. But I think it’s just going to be a limited run of shows, focus on particular areas that have been really special to the early days of my career. And Rooty Hill was definitely one of those.
I was invited to play Rooty Hill when I was 10 years old. One of the very first gigs I did. I was invited to play with a country band out there, and I got up as a 10-year-old kid. Rooty Hill was one of the very first places I got to play music.
Going back over the years and trying to do bigger shows and better shows, and trying to grow a fan base, they’ve been a real big part of that relationship. They’re such a cornerstone of country music in Sydney. To be honest, I couldn’t imagine doing this run of shows without including Rooty Hill.
Generally speaking, what can people expect from one of your live performances?
In this one, they’re gunna get something they’ve never had before. It’s kind of a double-dose show. I’ll come out with my acoustic guitar that I wrote a lot of the songs on. It’s more conversational, that support set. I tell the stories about the songs.
We put them on a bit of a timeline, from the first album [Start the Car] all the way up to this latest album, Hard Light. I play everything but the hit songs in that first set, and I tell the stories of the songs, and hopefully hit a few buttons on the ones they recognise and respond to and love.
Then we take a short break and the full show comes out. The band comes out, and the lights and the sound. We play all the stuff that we’ve been lucky enough to have good success on radio with.
There [were] songs like, 1000 Memories, I Was Wrong [and] … My In-Laws are Outlaws. I’ve learnt recently that [these songs] have struck a chord with my followers.
Off that record, we put out different singles, like Start the Car and things like that, so when I think of those albums, I immediately think we need to play the songs that we released to radio, because they’re the ones that people will have heard, but … there is so much more to it than that and they actually do want to hear track seven, and track nine, and track 13 – the ones that you didn’t really think would strike such a chord. That’s what this run of shows is about, playing those shows that people come up to you and request.
You’re headed over to the US fairly soon after your “Hits & Other Bits” gigs for CMA Fest. How, in your opinion, will international fans compare to Australian ones?
I’ll be real honest and say that this is probably the first chance I’ve had to properly play CMA Fest in Nashville. I’ve been a bunch of times and just done little spots here and there, but this is the first time officially that the Country Music Association have actually reached out to me and booked me to play the festival.
It’s a real thrill. I can’t be so cocky to even say that I have fans over there – I don’t know. I do know that they’re a very open-minded and fun-loving country crowd and I can’t wait to get over there in front of thousands of people and see how they go.
What do you enjoy most about touring and performing live?
I think it’s the connection. It’s having a song that once just started as an idea, made its way to paper and recording. Somehow, you go from that original idea – just this spark in your brain one morning – and then twelve months later, you’re on stage and the room’s full of people singing that idea along with you.
The real thrill for me as a performer is realising the journey of a song, and an idea. Hearing people sing it back, as if it’s been written for their life as well. That’s the real goal.
Your latest album Hard Light won you a score of awards including Male Artist of the Year at the Golden Guitars earlier this year. What does such recognition mean to you, and does it put much pressure on you for future releases?
The recognition for the Golden Guitars is really humbling. It’s something I get a huge kick out of because, the Golden Guitars are different from the CMC Awards. The Golden Guitars are voted by peers and fellow workers in the industry: songwriters, musicians, singers or publishers …
To be called out at Tamworth in those Golden Guitar Awards means that the people that I admire so much, and respect so much within this business, they’re the ones that have put my name up on a pedestal to be awarded. That alone, the trophy aside, is such a thrill and an honour for me, to know that the people I looked up to, and have admired for so long, are giving me a pat on the back and saying, “Hey, great job!”.
You covered Katy Perry’s Firework on this album, which I’m sure came as a bit of a surprise to fans. What was your inspiration behind that decision?
This album is about overcoming hardship. Hard Light’s about looking back on things in life that were difficult circumstances and were hard times. And the light part of it is about taking ownership of those. Every hard experience makes you that little bit tougher and stronger, and more strong-minded.
It’s about celebrating and overcoming hardship. When I heard Firework as an acoustic version one time, it was the first time I’d actually really heard the lyrics. It said everything that I wanted this record to say, songs on this record like Minefield and The Bottom of It.
It was everything that I was trying to encapsulate and, to be honest, we already had all the songs we wanted. I wasn’t looking for any more songs. It was very late in the recording process that I heard Firework and I could not go past the lyrics like, “After a hurricane comes a rainbow.” That line on its own was what pretty much made me go, “OK, we’re gunna record this.” Everything I’ve wanted to say in this album is all wrapped up in this three-and-a half-minute song called, Firework.
I thought, “My fans are probably going to think it’s going to make no sense for a male country singer to be singing a Katy Perry song.”, but I think that when we got to the studio and just put more of a live band feel into it, rather than a big pop production, the song took a new track.
I always say a great song is a great song. It doesn’t matter if it’s done in pop rock or cha-cha or whatever. If they’ve done a great song and people connect to it, it’s always going to stand up. It’s a credit to the people who wrote that song. It’s a beautiful song and I’m really proud that we had permission to record it.
Can audiences expect it to feature in your “Hits & Other Bits” gigs?
Yeah, it’s on my shortlist for the Rooty Hill show. It’s one of those ones – again this is what the whole concept of “Hits & Other Bits” is about. When I think of the album, Hard Light, I think about the songs we put out to radio. Firework wasn’t one of those, so in the past I would have assumed that it’s not something people would be familiar with.
But it’s a great example of what this shows all about, having the opportunity to sing these songs and having people really respond to the songs that weren’t big releases.
You were a part of The Outlaws with Adam Brand last year. How did that experience compare to your solo work?
It’s all very different, The Outlaws thing. It was all compressed into a couple of months. With Adam at the helm, no one really had to think about anything. It was a lot of fun just being able to show up for work and catch a plane, and not have to think about the business side of it.
[But] with your own stuff, you’re accountable for a lot of the whole bigger picture. I love either one. Any chance to go and play music for a living is such a thrill and I’m really blessed to be able to do it.
I wanted to talk to you briefly about your role as an RU OK? Ambassador. How did you become involved with the organisation, and what do you find most fulfilling about your role?
The key message for RU OK? is educating people to look out for the signs of depression and anxiety, and all those mental health strains.
At the time, I wasn’t equipped, I wasn’t looking out for any of those things. The education is a vital part of being able to save people’s lives, and if I had have known, if I had that skillset back then, maybe we wouldn’t have lost someone. Now I put on that shirt as an RU OK? Ambassador and travel around – particularly in regional Australia – and try and educate people. We’ve got to start talking about the bigger issue and start educating people. We can, if we get serious about this. Blow away the stigma … that you can’t talk about it.
We can and we will turn those numbers around. I don’t know that we’ll get all the way to zero, sadly – at the moment the statistics are unacceptable. We’ve got to start working towards lower numbers and less incidents of suicide.
How has the music industry changed, particularly in regard to country music?
Wow, I’m not really sure of all the ins and outs of it. But I’ve noticed, from my take on it, that the acceptance of country music is getting stronger and stronger. With the help of a lot of mainstream artists, like Keith Urban, Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw, it’s becoming more socially accepted.
Again, it’s that cliché of country music being about Willie Nelson and hay bales. Hitch up your horse to the saloon bar. We’re slowly getting rid of that. Country music hasn’t been that for a long time.
With absolutely no disrespect to Willie Nelson – I’m a big fan, of course – but there’s so much more to it now. The country music banner and the flag of country music is so much bigger than ever before.
I think that no matter what walk of life you come from, or what your music preference is, if you look hard enough, you will find something inside the country music house that you like.
What are some of the highlights of your career thus far?
There’s awards and there’s events where I’ve been able to play to tens of thousands of people. That’s probably what most people would say are the highlights, but for me, it’s when I get to walk on stage and see people who have parted with something as simple as $25.
For me, that’s validation, and it really makes me proud that I make a living off my voice and my guitar. I’m humbled, and I try to keep it at the front of my mind that there’s a lot of people [who] would love to be doing this, and sadly never get to that level.
There was a lot of hard years to get to this point and when I walk on stage now and see people in the crowd that have turned up to hear me, and shown me that support, that’s a highlight for me pretty much every time I get to play.
Don’t miss Travis Collins when he performs at Rooty Hill RSL on June 2nd 2017.