Travis Denning shoots it straight, chatting about his biggest influences and how he’s grown as an artist since the days of being chaperoned by his parents at his bar gigs.
Q&A with Opry NextStage Artist Travis Denning
Opry: When you first started out in music, you were playing 21+ bars where your parents needed to chaperone you. How does it hit you when you compare where you are now to where you were back then?
Travis: There are definitely a few more people showing up these days, not just my parents. There are so many similarities in the sense that there’s still that rush and that fun on stage. It’s obviously different now that I’m in a van or a bus or whatever it is that weekend. You know, honestly, there’s not a whole lot that’s different. It’s still about getting on stage and having fun, playing guitar, and singing.
What was the first song you ever learned how to play on guitar?
You know, this is funny because I sometimes forget. I know for sure that it was a John Denver song. I’m like 99 percent sure it was “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but it also could’ve been “Rocky Mountain High.” But it was one of those two songs, and what was funny is the reason that it was those songs was because they’re such great chord and strum songs. My teacher at the time was like, “These are the fundamental, foundational songs we can learn right now.” It was a lot of John Denver songs.
You’ve said before that The Allman Brothers Band has been one of your biggest influences. How have they inspired your sound?
I mean really on all angles, specifically, Greg Allman’s voice. I think that I pursued that grit and that soul throughout my whole life. Not being afraid to step back and lean into my band is a big part of it. That is may be not so noticeable, but it is important for me to be surrounded by great musicians that I trust with my songs and trust with the music. If we want to jam, if we want to take that song to another place that we haven’t done before, [it’s important to have] trust in them to be able to do it and also just knowing that’s just such a fun part of music. I’d say those are the two biggest things, the band aspect and just pursuing Greg’s voice.
Your single “David Ashley Parker from Powder Springs” is based on a comical true story. Tell us about that.
That entire story is 100 percent true about the fake ID that I had growing up. It is a real name and a real person. In fact, I just talked to him the other day. It was just the account of kind of how it was to grow up in that time of your life when the top of the world was just trying to get into that bar and maybe have a beer or two. I think most people had that kind of situation growing up.
Now that you’re a part of Opry NextStage, do you look to any Opry members for advice or inspiration?
Absolutely. If any of them want to call me and take me to dinner or whatever and talk — Keith Urban. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten specifically on my Opry [debut] was when I got to talk to Charlie Daniels. It was just backstage down there, him sitting there saying, “Hey look, enjoy this. Come here. Know what it means. Don’t take it for granted, but soak it up, enjoy it. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be the Opry, you know what I mean? It’s supposed to feel like that to you.” I’m taking it all in stride and just going with the flow and enjoying my time here.
Now it’s time for some rapid-fire questions. What’s something you’ve something always wanted to try but have been scared to?
That’s difficult. I don’t get scared about a lot of things. I would say if I was faced right there about to do anything in life and the thing would be like, “Whoa, I’m a little worried,” certainly skydiving, I think. I sit there and think, “Oh, that’d be fun. That’d be easy,” but once you’re sitting in a perfectly fine airplane, getting ready to jump out of it, there might be a second guess.
What’s been your most memorable career moment so far?
Probably playing the Grand Ole Opry, honestly. It’s the one thing that anybody who knows anything about country music knows is a big deal. I think [fellow Opry NextStage artist] Riley Green made a perfect statement that I thought was kind of funny. He said, “My grandparents will finally think I’ve made it.” It’s reached every generation, and it’s still reaching those generations, and I agree with Riley.
What’s your current obsession?
Springsteen on Broadway. I’ve literally listened to it twice. It’s two and a half hours long, and I’ve listened literally for five hours. I cried on the airplane listening to it yesterday. That is no joke. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.
What was the last dream you remember?
I actually had a pretty weird dream the other night. Anytime I eat right late at night right before I go to bed, it’s weird — especially pizza. I cannot remember what it was. It had something to do with a show, and I left with someone famous, and we went to a diner. That’s what I remember. It was like, “Let’s just go get food.” I don’t even remember who it was. It was either George Strait or Halsey.
What is your life motto?
It is a quote that Steve Harvey said during a commercial break one time. He said, “At some point in your life, you’re going to have to jump. You cannot simply exist in this life — you have to try to live — and all successful people have jumped.”
What’s the most adventurous thing you have ever done?
Trying to be a musician. Trying to write songs for living. That’s crazier than any snowboarding trips I ever went on, for crying out loud. Trying to do this for a living — that’s the craziest thing I’ve done.