This world has seen a lot of things over the last thirteen years. One thing it hasn’t seen in that time, however, is new music from Travis Tritt.
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It’s hard to believe but the man from Marietta, who beginning in 1989 cranked out legendary hits for the better part of fifteen years, hasn’t had new music to share since his album The Storm came out in 2007. Though he hadn’t been recording any new music, he also never really went away. For all those years, Travis kept touring and slinging his hits from the stage to the tune of roughly 130 shows a year. For a variety of reasons however, new music never emerged.
On March 5, speakers will glisten again with Tritt’s signature voice as his brand new single, “Smoke In A Bar,” is released. Today however, American Songwriter has the privilege of pulling back the curtain for the song’s exclusive worldwide premiere (Below).
Sinking his teeth into lyrics that are more about taking listeners back to a simpler time than actually smoking in a bar, it takes about three bars to remember just how much Tritt means to country music and how much country music needs him. Written by Jeremy Bussey, Derek George and Tim Montana, “Smoke In A Bar” is every bit the down-the-middle fastball that has always exemplified Travis Tritt.
“Tim [Montana] sent this to me and as soon as I heard it, it just hit all the right buttons for me,” explains Tritt. “The thing I’ve heard more and more from fans and people inside the industry over the last few years, is that people are hungry for the nostalgia of how the music of the nineties sounded and the general way of life in those days. Back when there didn’t seem to be so much division and confusion and uproar.
“Of course, those were the days before a lot of the social media stuff, so it was just a different time. It was a much happier time for a lot of people. The two biggest comments I hear from people are, ‘Man, I wish music sounded the way that it did back then. I wish it told the same kind of stories that the music of that era told.’ The other thing that I hear is, ‘Man, I would love to go back to a simpler time where we didn’t have so many things to worry about and stress over. When things moved just a little bit slower.’ As soon as I heard this song, it was like, he said everything that I’m hearing from everybody and sentiments that, quite frankly, I agree with across the board.”
Since one new song in thirteen years isn’t nearly enough, come May 7, Tritt will release a full new album titled Set in Stone. While Travis co-wrote eight songs of the eleven-song set, in a somewhat surprise move his co-writers were made up mostly of people he didn’t even know before they were paired together to write. It sounds like a risky deal, but Tritt is quick to credit his producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, the Oak Ridge Boys, Brandi Carlile) with introducing him to co-writers who became a key part of the project, including his cousin, acclaimed singer/songwriter Brent Cobb.
While the influx of new writing blood might give some cause for worry, you merely just need to remember who Travis Tritt is. He never chased radio or compromised his music for fame before, and he sure as hell isn’t going to start now.
“When we started first talking about doing this album together, Dave said, ‘I don’t want to change anything about what you do. I just want to do a great Travis Tritt album, but with a more modern spin on it. Every one of the people I’m going to recommend you write with, they grew up listening to your music. They loved your music, and you were a huge influence on them when they were first getting started.’ He thought it would be a really good chemistry and he was exactly right.”
While Tritt’s co-writers were in mid-season form as they have been continually writing for years, Tritt had to brush the dust off his writing pen. Part of what makes some people songwriters is that ideas are always presenting themselves in hidden fashions, but it takes a writer to recognize them. A stranger at a coffee shop might say something and you’ll think ‘that’s a great line.’ You might hear a story and think ‘that’d be a great song.’ Heck, sometimes a random thought will pop into your head out of nowhere so, as a songwriter, you take that line or that story or that thought and write it into a song.
Thing is, for a long time, Travis stopped doing that.
It’s not that the ideas stopped flowing, but for over a decade he didn’t do much with them. While he may not have stopped performing over these past thirteen years, he did put the songwriting pen down.
“I don’t think I ever really completely turned it off, but I definitely scaled it way, way back for the last 10 or 12 years, because we were focused on just going out and doing the best live show that we could possibly do. Throughout my entire career, I’ve never been that guy that writes all the time. For me, it’s two totally different modes. There’s touring mode, where you’re focused on the shows and set lists—how you’re going to change things around, which songs to drop and which songs you’re gonna add. I get blinders on and when I’m in touring mode, it’s very hard for me to switch over and go back into writing mode.
“When I’m writing, I like to forget about everything else. Not have to worry about setting up all those other different things like logistics of going from one town to the next and all that. I like to just be alone with my thoughts and take the time to sit down and focus on that. That’s the way I’ve always done it. I would block a period of time where I would go and sit down and just focus for however long it took, until I had the songs together for an album.
“I’ll have ideas, obviously, that pop in my head from time to time. I’ll jot them down or sing into my phone, but I don’t really focus on trying to finish them until I get into writing mode. Once I get into writing mode, then I start pulling all that stuff back up and try to work on it or finish it and customize it to what I want it to be. That’s when I try to figure out exactly what the songs are all about and what I’m trying to say with the music.”
While it would have been easy for Tritt to rest on his laurels, he has too much drive to sit idle. There’s still too much music inside of him that needs to be created. With a voice that has never sounded stronger, and a songwriting style that is very much missed, “Smoke In A Bar” and the rest of Set in Stone marks the return of a man who helped define an era as much as it reveals an artist who has never been more passionate about making the music he loves.
“Kenny Rogers told me years and years ago, ‘You know what success is? Success is doing things because you want to, not because you have to. If you go out and do it just because you love the music, the money and the success and all the other stuff that goes along with that will probably come to some extent. But whether it does or whether it doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re out there doing what you love, having an effect on people and watching what the music you’re creating does to people. How it becomes the soundtrack of so many people’s lives and how powerful that is.’
“That humbles me. I marvel at it daily, because music is such a powerful medium. That’s the thing that’s always motivated me to not only listen to it, but to try to create it and try to move other people with it.”
Check out the premiere of Travis Tritt’s “Smoke in a Bar” below:
Photos by David Abbott