Americana musician Travis Linville navigates pandemic to release mellow 'Sounds of the Street'
A version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
'Sounds of the Street': Amid the change and chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, Travis Linville cruises on a mellow energy with new EP
For an EP debuting amid the chaos and confusion of 2020, Travis Linville's “Sounds of the Street” cruises on a markedly mellow energy.
"Keep in mind, this was all recorded last year," he said wryly. "I don't think I'm probably as chill as those songs sound to some people. ... I don't think it's much of a reflection of something about me other than I really like that production vibe: I like the sound of pedal steels with a lot of reverb and pianos and chill stuff, and then the songs that would fit into those vibes are the ones that feel good to me."
Like virtually every other professional musician across the country, the Tulsa singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has struggled to adapt to the world-changing coronavirus pandemic.
"I guess kind of like everyone, just trying to conserve and stay home as much as possible. My main job right now is to try not to spend any money. But as far as music goes and lifestyle goes, I started playing a pretty serious schedule as a teenager. So, it's been since almost 1996 - or '95 - since I've gone this long without playing live and in person. There's a lot of things I do with music, but performing live is always sort of the main lifeblood of it. So, when you take that out of the equation, you can 100% still do music, but surviving doing music is a whole different thing. But I've tried to up my recording since I'm home," Linville said in a phone interview last week.
"The silver lining is that I've been home and spending time with my son. Spending a lot of time on the bike trail and just trying to keep things going however I can."
Out Friday, “Sounds of the Street" is not only Linville's first new release since 2017’s “Up Ahead,” but it's also the first new music Linville is premiering from the sizable stock of recordings he has been creating the last two years.
"It's been an exciting time, not only in this pandemic talk, but 2019 and 2020 for me have both been all about recording. And this is one of the first things that has been released of all that work. ... So, it's exciting to have something new to share with everybody and to have a bunch of a stuff planned for the future, too," he said.
In between touring as a sideman for Texas roots rocker Hayes Carll, Linville spent last year making new music in three separate recording sessions around the country. In January 2019, he headed to Memphis, Tennessee, to work on a planned LP, produced by fellow Oklahoma native JD McPherson, titled “I’m Still Here."
"We had a big plan for what we were going to do with this record. ... The pandemic changed a lot of those things because it's the type of thing where I want to release the record and I want to be on tour all over the country and traveling everywhere and playing live shows. So, we got to the part where we finished making the record. But everything is put on pause, so that's still yet to be released," Linville said, adding he hopes to unveil "I'm Still Here" in 2021.
"It was really cool to collaborate with him. ... It is a very exciting record. I think it's great, and I can't wait to share it with everybody - and then also all these others."
Linville did additional 2019 recording sessions in his old stomping grounds of Norman at Bell Labs and in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Butcher Shoppe, the studio owned by the late John Prine and David Ferguson.
His new EP comes from the latter session; as fate would have it, the Butcher Shoppe shortly after he recorded there, making Linville’s "Sounds of the Street" one of the last albums recorded there.
"I really, really ended up liking the songs and liking the feel. I just think it sounds cool," he said.
Co-produced by Linville and Dominic John Davis, "Sounds of the Street" features two songs - the first single "Brokenhearted #1" and the title track - Linville penned with fellow Oklahoman Samantha Crain.
"I've been aware of her as long as she's been out singing songs in Oklahoma just about. I did a couple of shows as a band member, and of course, she plays the Illinois River Jam," he said, referring to the annual Tahlequah music festival he curates. "But mostly, I'm just a really big fan of her songs and her singing. I think she's just about as good as it gets, so I really was excited to collaborate with her on some songs - because I knew they'd be good if she was involved."
Adapting to change
Adapting a musician's life to a pandemic has been challenging, Linville said, noting that he had to scrap his tour plans, his LP release and his autumn Illinois River Jam. In spring, he began performing daily morning live-stream concerts - mostly informal shows he dubbed "Facebusking" - quickly adapting to playing for an online audience.
"I had a really good tour in January, so I was able to start off the year having already played 20 shows before any of this even happened. So, that helped kind of start off on the right foot. Then, I really did a lot of streaming for a bit," he said. "It's not great, that's for sure. But there's been a lot of kind people come to the (online) shows and put tips in the jar. There's been people trying to keep us afloat whoever they can, and that's very much appreciated. Hopefully, people will enjoy this little EP."
Since, the Chickasha native has been building up the "song club" he has started on Patreon, a membership platform that lets content creators set up a subscription service.
"That's been really a great outlet for me and for the people who have joined because it's not like doing a record release or doing a big publicity campaign or doing a national tour. ... It's like, 'You know, I really love this song, I'm going to record it today, and then immediately I'm going to post it to these fans who subscribe to my Patreon page.' So, it's been really neat to start a song in the morning in the studio and by the end of the day, I'm sharing it with these people who are part of this group," he said.
"It's a total product of the pandemic. I've definitely thought about it for a long time and thought it would be cool. But I was on the road all the time. Putting out studio cuts, you kind of got to be at the studio to do that."
Between his song club, his live-stream shows and his remote collaborations with other musicians on their projects, Linville has spent much of 2020 in his home studio.
"I've recorded like 400 songs in morning shows on lockdown live-streams and on Patreon once a week," he said. "The only thing I can't do right now is drive all over the country with a trunkful of them and play shows and sell them. But there's so much amazing music that's released every day just digitally - which is all we're doing with this (EP) for now - or through other formats. Writing songs and recording songs has sort of been the source of everything for me always. And that part is still super intact, so it feels good to be able to do that. I feel fortunate to be able to do it because I have somewhere to focus the energy."
For more information, go to www.travislinvillemusic.com.