There’s something to be said about lyrics that seem to uplift you while simultaneously punching you in the gut (in the best way), and to be entirely saturated in sincere confessions and hopeful assurances. For Travis Shallow, it conveys nothing but a natural gift.
Shallow had his self-titled solo album debut in 2016, and followed that release in 2017 with a full band album, The Great Divide, released as Travis Shallow & The Deep End. Prior to these releases, he was a member of an alternative country band, A Few Good Liars, where he recorded one studio album back in 2011 titled Battered Wooden Body.
His past works have established him as someone who continually refines his craft, with a mix of soul-crushing ballads and upbeat rock jams. His lyrics are all-encompassing, relatable in a way that forces us to unravel our insecurities and confront our own issues head-on. And yet, at the same time, his voice provides a safe atmosphere to unlock memories we might have unintentionally locked away, reminiscing in the joys that once bestowed upon us — the joys of driving with the windows down, wind blowing in your hair, and the gleaming rays of sunshine shining down on your face.
Released on June 26th of this year, Shallow’s single “Let it Pass” is a thoughtful, heartfelt tune that expresses the value of moving forward after love has been lost. Shallow reels us in with the tender strum of his acoustic guitar paired with the gentle rasp of his voice eloquently curling around the words, “What ever happened to going down swinging/Going down in a blaze/I know you’ve had your troubles/But these ain’t the glory days.”
We had the chance to catch up with Shallow about the single, his current day-to-day, and much more.
First things first: what called you to developing a career as an indie folk songwriter?
I started this 18 years ago. It was just something I did on my own time and for myself and never stopped, and somewhere along the way it turned into a career. Those lines stay blurred, and I’m okay with that. The last 5-6 years I’ve really been more aware and intentional with my songs and releases.
Before that, I would write a batch of songs, save up some money, go into whatever studio I could afford and track the songs. Maybe have a friend or two layer some other instruments. And to be honest, things aren’t that different now. Same formula, just scaled up a bit. More intentional, and hopefully better songs.
What artists would you say have inspired you the most when it comes to your sound?
I still don’t think I’ve fully landed on my sound yet, and not sure if I ever will. I go through these cycles where I write some folk songs and record them solo, and then write some songs with a full band arrangement in mind, and put a band together and go record those. I’ll play listening rooms stripped down with acoustic, and for the last 6 years or so Bob Russell has been with me on guitar and pedal steel. He’s incredible. And after doing that for awhile, I get the itch for full-band shows and electric guitars. So I will put together a full-band line up, record some songs and go out and play em, and after I’m tired of my ears ringing and lugging around all that gear, I will cycle back around and write a new batch of folk songs, and go play listening rooms. It’s been rinse and repeat for awhile now. But to answer your question, I’ve seen a lot of artists do this and not be married to one lineup, or sound, or approach. Neil Young I think is at the pinnacle of this.
Can you give us a run down of your creative process? (Writing the song, developing the production, etc.)
Lately I’ve been working from my home studio. I’ll write in the mornings and be recording the writing sessions too. That has been helpful to have a Pro Tools session up and running while I’m writing. If I get onto something I like, I can flush it out, layer some takes, listen back, and get closer to a finished song with that system.
I see that you’ve been livestreaming your Shallow Chateau performance series for weeks now. What has it been like playing to a camera rather than to a room full of people?
It took a few episodes to work out the format- livestreaming is a completely new thing for me. I had never streamed a show before the pandemic. There’s a big learning curve to the tech side of things, but luckily I had almost everything I needed to livestream already by having the home studio already dialed in. I had a DSLR that was sitting on the shelf not being used, so I dusted it off and it finally came in handy.
Once the stream was technically dialed in, I did some changes on my end with what I see from the audience and that helped. So I can see comments now on a screen and I can kind of respond in real time if I want. 46 Episodes into it now and as long as people keep tuning in, I don’t plan on stopping it anytime soon.
I’m actually setting up a Patreon right now too, where I will be doing more live streams and give my audience a way to connect and be more part of my process creatively and kind of see the day to day, and what it looks like getting a song and album to fruition. Planning to launch that very soon.
You recently got the chance to finally play a live show for a drive-in concert. Can you describe that experience, and if you see that becoming the new norm for live performances?
Sure, I still have those car horns and flashing headlights ringing in my head. I’m kidding- we had a blast doing that actually. It was the first one here in Wilmington, NC, and really was one of the first ones that I heard of too. I think some artists overseas were trying them out, but it was a new idea to flush out.
But I jumped in and everybody involved, including the crew, sound guys, and the Wilson Center that hosted it really pulled together and made the first one go off without a hitch. People bought tickets and showed up and filled the lot, the sound guys nailed it, and the Wilson Center went above and beyond to make it a successful first Drive-In show.
You gotta remember at that time, people had been locked in their houses for months, so having a socially distant and safe show to go to outside of their house was just a win all the way around.
I could totally see this being a new thing that people see a lot more of. I would definitely do it again.
You have the privilege of having your own studio at home. Do you prefer creating music at home rather than the good ol’ average recording studio?
I’ve just got my home studio to a place in the last couple of years where I can record, mix and master a song and release it without going anywhere else. My latest single “Let It Pass” I did all from home.
But with that being said, I love working in other studios and with other engineers and producers. Especially for their outboard gear and for recording live drums. But for my solo stuff, I have found a work flow and signal chain from home that I’m happy with and doesn’t break the bank. It’s more about the quality of the output and if the song hits the way I want it to. How I get to the finish line is getting less important to me.
Your new single “Let it Pass” has been out for a few months now. What is the influence behind the song and its significance to you?
Yeah, I wrote this song last year and recorded it in late January right before the quarantine and COVID thing got into full swing here in the states. I was watching a friend of mine going through a divorce and it was hard on her, and I could see her trying to hold onto to something that was already long gone, and she was holding onto more of the idea of how it used to be instead of how it actually was. The acceptance part of this thing that was always there is now over, but how to leave it behind is always tricky and messy, while knowing it’s necessary.
It’s like holding onto an electric fence waiting for it to stop hurting you, when all you have to do is let go. I’ve had to keep learning this lesson over and over, so I’m singing it to myself just as much as documenting her story too.
The single is also a part of an LP collaboration put on by Cavity Search Records that includes 7 other artists’ original music. What made you choose “Let it Pass” for this project?
I connected with Cavity Search Records initially a few years ago. They have been the label and publisher for some of Jerry Joseph’s releases, who is a great songwriter and friend of mine that I met about 14 years ago, and I wanted to record one of Jerry’s songs that I love- a song that he has never recorded (to my knowledge). So we initially connected working out the details on that, and then continued keeping in touch.
Then last year they reached out and asked if I had any interest in putting a song on a compilation album they were putting out with singles from different artists on Cavity Search. I had just finished writing “Let It Pass” so I sent them a demo of it, and they said “no need to send anything else, this is it” – and that’s kind of all there was to it.
Can we expect that you will be releasing more music soon?
I’ve got a couple of singles that I’m putting finishing touches on that I will release this year. The downtime from COVID has led to a new batch of songs. I might release them as singles, or they might be part of a bigger project. Still figuring that out, but more music will be released in 2020.
What do you hope to have achieved by this time next year?
Live shows being back would be nice. I’m gonna keep it simple and just hope for that. In the meantime, writing, recording, and livestreaming from home is the new normal. If I plan out too far ahead with this hovering uncertainty, it’s too hard on my mental health. I’m taking this one day at a time.
And lastly, what does music mean to you?
It’s served a lot of roles in my life.
It’s been a sword when I needed one.
It’s been a light in the dark.
It’s also been the dark.
But more importantly it’s been a way for me to understand things about myself and my place in the world that I’m not sure I could find anywhere else.
And it’s cheaper than a therapist.
To sum it up, I always liked Leonard Cohen’s quote about songwriting, “It’s like being a nun, you’re married to a mystery”.