by Wade Buckley
Travis Matthews is an Edmonton based folk musician whose musical style in centered around his story-telling ability, bringing passionate and relatable performance that he draws from the strangest of situations in life. He has performed solo at the Edmonton Folk Festival as well as frequenting the open stage at The Dirtbag Café.
I had known Travis through mutual friends, and attended one of his performances at The Dirtbag Café, but that was almost a year ago. Travis has made long strides since then. Along with a new “album-beard” (a beard he won’t shave until he has finished his next album) Travis had recently performed at Polar Park Brewery, selling out the 200-person venue as a headliner for the first time. I asked him what it was like to perform a sold-out show.
“It was the first show where I didn’t have to win a crowd over. Typically, when you play a show you have to crack a joke and play a few songs to get them warmed up to the idea of listening to you and then they kind of make up their mind as to whether they like you or not. But getting on stage and already having everyone ready, it’s something else. They’re already there for you. They’ve already like surrendered themselves.
“So, first song we just hit them with a fricken dance tune and people just went wild. Like, the whole time they were all dancing. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
For Travis selling out a venue is a step in the right direction, both in terms of his career as well as his overall enjoyment. We discussed the different kinds of venues an independent musician can perform in.
“There’s two types of shows you can play. There’s bar shows where you’re just the background music and there’s shows where people go to see the performance. It’s a lot more fun when you have people’s attention and kind of mess with it. When people aren’t paying attention, you can crack a joke or make fun of someone and they don’t even realize it.”
While the latter types of shows sound a lot more fun and fulfilling, gigs where one plays as background music are a necessary evil, especially when one is trying to expand one’s presence into other cities.
By this time next year Travis would like to achieve is to sell out shows in cities throughout Western Canada, which is a daunting task considering what it entails.
“I definitely want to have more presence in other cities. I can sell out a solo show in Edmonton but that’s largely thanks to me knowing a lot of people and them knowing me. Its easy to get people talking about you.
“I have played some sold-out folk clubs in Calgary, but it wasn’t under my own name. I’d love to be able to just go there and rock the house by myself.
“It’s kind of scary because you just have to go out, play for nobody, lose money, still meet people so that the next time you play you do a lot better.”
Fortunately, the modern musician has a few tools to help to manage their own exposure. I asked Travis how important it was to have an online presence as an artist nowadays, and from his response I could tell it was a bit of a bitter-sweet situation.
“Oh! [Having an online presence] sucks though. If I wasn’t a musician, I wouldn’t have Instagram or Facebook, it just takes up so much time but it’s so important. It’s so important to have advertising for shows, like you just have to create an image for yourself. It feels like you can’t just make music anymore, but also and entire world around yourself. It’s actually kind of funny when you dig into it. It’s like, you get to be more creative in ways that you didn’t think you’d have to be.
“But Instagram, you have to be on top of that shit otherwise nobody knows what you’re doing. You can’t rely on word of mouth anymore. I guess you could, but when you can post a story and have 400 people on Instagram see it instantly why would you?”
Promotion aside, the crux of Travis’ work is his music. When I saw Travis perform, what resonated with me were the lyrics of his songs. Each one tells a story that feels unique to Travis but simultaneously relatable to anyone. I asked him how he managed to achieve this with his song writing.
“Typically, how writing a song works for me is I mess something up. And I feel really bad about it. And then I write a song about it. And then I feel proud about it.
“This one song I wrote after I was working at Boston Pizza as a delivery guy. I messed up this guy’s order at the restaurant and he ended up taking this other guy’s order. Because I gave him the wrong one, I needed him to give it back but then he slammed the door on me. Then like three other people ended up not getting their food on time because this guy was a dick about it. So, I felt bad, then I wrote a song about it called ‘I’ll Deliver.’
“When you feel really anxious, or feel like you did something wrong, and the only way you can really process it is to put it into a song. The whole process is very therapeutic.”
“I don’t really write songs unless I feel that way. I can’t just sit down and come up with an idea. It has to be about something close to me. So typically, what ends up happening is I write a lot of songs about family or songs about things that have happened to me. Like its all light hearted, but it has meaning to it you know. It’s like, ‘Don’t take anything too seriously.’”
Travis first got into music because of his father, a veteran musician, and he told how he had given him some of the best advice any musician can get.
“My dad has been a musician my whole life, and though he hasn’t been doing much lately I’ve always looked up to him since I was a kid.
“And not just that, but every night when I went to bed, I would hear him playing guitar on his own and be writing songs. By the time that I started writing songs he had made it seem like the process made so much sense. Like, I think a lot of people have trouble writing songs and putting them together, but I feel like that was probably the easiest thing he’s ever taught me.
“I wrote one song and brought it to him. And I tired being like very poetic. I brought in all these metaphors. He checks it out and he’s like ‘Hey man, the melodies good but what the hell are you talking about?’
“I told him what I meant and he goes ‘Why didn’t you just say that? Stop trying to be self-aware and just say what you want to say. And then from then on I’ve always written my music like that.”
I concluded my time with Travis by asking him if he could change anything about the local music scene, what would it be? I knew that as an independent artist almost every step you take is uphill, but his answer was less about hardship and more about coming together.
“I just want people to know what’s out there, but I think that they are starting to realize how good it is. Like, how good the local Edmonton scene is.
“I feel a lot of people don’t really know what a good live show is because their they’ve only gone to rock shows where they are 100 feet from the stage and the sound is garbage. You don’t feel a connection there. But with the local scene it doesn’t really matter what kind of music you’re into, because shows from local Edmonton bands have that connection and they’re all extremely fun.
“And I know if I brought any of my friends to these shows they would have a good time. I know they think poorly on live music because of what they’ve bee exposed to, but I think if people start going out to local shows, they’ll realize what they are missing. And I think they have started to realize.”
You can check out Travis’s music on Spotify, as well as see his upcoming shows. On December 15th, Travis will be dyeing his beard white and going on the Dirtbag Café stage as Santa Claus, along with his Mrs. Claus, friend and fellow musician Braeden Gates. For further updates and shows, check out travismatthewsmusic.com.