Travis Denning is taking the Dirt Road Down the path to his most authentic artistry, as exhibited in his new EP. The six-song set serves as the next step following his 2020 debut EP, Beer’s Better Cold. Shortly after moving to Nashville, the prolific writer landed cuts by Jason Aldean, Justin Moore, Michael Ray, and more. His sophomore project released August 6, continues along his upward trajectory, but with unexpected evidence of a breakthrough star.
“Growth here is from truly doing it, crafting it, and trusting that X-factor gut feeling of knowing a song is for me,” Denning tells American Songwriter in a recent phone interview. “And the only way to get there is spending time writing a lot of songs that are nos, then some maybes until you start writing those yeses.”
It’s difficult to tell a full story or convey a breadth of emotion without a full-length album. But over the six tracks, Denning manages to paint a full picture. Dirt Road Down introduces the artist to his audience with a varied sonic approach that exhibits his dexterity as a songwriter and performer.
Pulling from a pile of ‘yeses’, Denning’s song selection came from a place of missing live music. The EP-opener, “Call It Country,” along with title-track “Dirt Road Down” and “Grew Up With A Truck,” he says, “sound like an army. These were written during the pandemic, and I was writing from that place of wanting to be out there. I wanted really big sounds that were made for the stage.
“I always try to have something in there that’s just really me,” says Denning. On this set, it’s “I Went Fishin’.”
Denning points to track three, “Jack And Coke” with pride. The song began as a note on his iPhone. Not only is it his go-to drink, but Denning felt the title would lend itself well to a country song. He just wasn’t sure what to write about. As a songwriter, he feels proud of his ability to take a playful title, and wield double-entendre to tell the story of a man, “Jack,” who couldn’t make it work with an ex-lover “Jill.”
“If people know me, and see that title, they would probably think it’s a party song,” says Denning. “It’s actually your standard kind of breakup song, but told through this outside perspective, somebody walking in a bar and seeing ‘Jack’ and just know what that guy’s going through — everybody’s been there. And I loved the nursery rhyme aspect and the way the hook lands. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever been a part of from the songwriting perspective.”
Another point of pride is “Grew Up With A Truck.” As the first solo write, he has ever cut, Denning feels he was able to take his time to reflect on his personal experiences and craft something authentic to who he is as a both country artist and a person. Lyrically, he details the first-time keys-in-hand freedom he felt when he turned 16. Throughout the track, Denning captures the memories with melodic nostalgia.
“Writing on your own, there’s no sense of urgency because it’s not a ‘let’s meet at 10 o’clock in the morning and write a song,‘” he says. “I do love the collaborative process, I think truly makes great country songs because you bring in other perspectives, stories, and experiences. But I think it’s also important to dive in really hard on your own sometimes, into the things that you went through—good or bad. It was cool to sit there and think about those moments.”