Travis Tritt On His 'Gratifying' Legacy and Why He Made His First Album in 14 Years
Travis Tritt was faced with an almost unfamiliar feeling when the COVID pandemic put the live market on pause in March 2020. After dedicating more than a decade to touring, Tritt—a self-proclaimed "road dog"—went back into the studio for the first time in 13 years.
The timing was a convenient coincidence, as Tritt's manager, Mike "Cheez" Brown, had floated the idea in 2019. "One of the first things [Mike] told me when we started working together was, 'I still think you've got a lot of music left in you,'" Tritt recalls to GRAMMY.com. "The more we started talking about an album, the more I started thinking that was a really good idea. But I had been out of the studio for so long, I still had a little bit of concern about it."
Luckily for Tritt, Brown had just finished working with GRAMMY-winning producer Dave Cobb (Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton) on the Dirty Heads' 2019 LP Super Moon. Cobb not only eased Tritt's worries but opened up an entirely new realm of co-writers for the superstar—many of whom reminded Tritt of the legacy he's built. The result is Set in Stone, which dropped May 7 via Big Noise. The album celebrates Tritt's classic outlaw country sound as well as his influence on the genre that is, well, set in stone.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Travis Tritt about Set in Stone and how it served as a reminder of his lasting impact.
It's been nearly 14 years since you last released an album. With all that has changed about music in that time, were you nervous about getting back into the studio?
Prior to sitting down and talking with Dave about his process, I did have a good bit of anxiety and nervousness about it. He records with a live band—no digital sampling going on—and tries to record as many live vocals as possible during that same period. That's the way I've done it since I first started recording back in the '80s. I don't think this album would be what it is if it hadn't been for that opportunity to work together.
Did he bring anything different to the table, since your recording processes were similar?
He set me up with some of his favorite writers, like Brent Cobb, Adam Hood, Wyatt Durette, Channing Wilson, Ashley Monroe, Dillon Carmichael. Pretty much every writer that I worked with told me how much my music had influenced them when they were young. That was humbling and gratifying. It was something that I really didn't expect.
In the first writing session [with Brent], he said, "Man, I was thinking about the kind of influence and impact that you had on so many people, including me. You don't have anything left to prove to anybody. Your legacy is pretty much set in stone." He had the first verse of "Set in Stone" and a couple of lines for the chorus already in his head. I heard it and immediately fell in love with the idea.
That's a pretty big statement! Did any other conversations result in songs for the album?
The first track, "Stand Your Ground," came from getting to know [co-writers] Channing Wilson and Wyatt Durrette. They were asking me about how I got started in Nashville, and I told them about the first time I met Waylon Jennings.
It was at a time when I was getting a good bit of criticism for doing things my own way, and a little bit different than the average country artist at the time. Waylon told me, "Listen, I've been hearing all the things that they've been saying about you. Just remember that [it's] exactly the same things they said about me, and about Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Jr., and David Allan Coe.
The only people you need to be concerned about are your fans, your audience. Those are the only people that matter." I told that story to Channing and Wyatt, and they immediately said, "We've got to write that."
Did any of your co-writers tell you that your less-traditional approach inspired them?
Almost all of them. A lot of those younger artists gave me a lot of credit for being able to stand up to record labels and say, "I think I know my audience better than any of you people, and I'm going to just stick with what I know." Some of them actually said, "You had a lot of balls to be able to do that." [Laughs.]
Had you thought about your legacy before making this album?
I'll be honest with you—prior to meeting all these writers, I never really thought about what my potential legacy would be, and how much my influence would be affecting so many of these young people.
To realize that you've had—not only a successful career—but a positive influence on other people that want to follow their dream the same way that you did is something that I am amazed by. It's something that I am humbled by, and it's something that, quite frankly, I take a lot of pride in.
So many of these younger artists, songwriters, producers and people involved in the industry look up to me the same way that I looked up to some of my heroes, like Johnny Cash and George Jones. To be thought of in that way is an extreme honor. It's kind of like gravy on top of everything else.
I thought it was awesome that you ended the album with an homage to your home state with "Way Down in Georgia." How have your Georgia roots played a part in your career?
Georgia has influenced me tremendously. Very early on when I was first starting to have success, I had a ton of people that said, "You've got to move to Nashville." I always resisted that. Not because I had anything against Nashville, but because no place felt like home to me the way that Georgia has. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me centered.
The other advantage is that I can still drive by places I went as a young man and have a specific memory come back, and end up writing a song about that. So many of the songs that I've written over the years were triggered by a memory that came from being close to where I grew up. Including songs for this album, like "They Don't Make 'Em Like That No More." I drove by a park where I took a beautiful girl on a date, and all of those memories came back and [inspired the lyric] "She was the prettiest thing this ol' boy had ever seen."
You've been able to play some shows recently. Has the energy felt different, considering your concert has likely been the first post-pandemic live show for many?
Definitely. I've noticed a palatable hunger. It's like a caged animal, you know? You keep an animal in a cage for a long period of time and when they get out, the first thing they're gonna do is sprint and go crazy, just to be enjoying a little bit of that freedom again. I think that's what we're seeing every single night. The excitement is overwhelming.
The sentiment of your hit "It's a Great Day to Be Alive" is all about enjoying life. Does it feel like fans are embracing that even more so now, considering the difficult year we've all endured?
I was doing a show in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and I noticed when I did that particular song, there were a few people running up and down the aisles high-fiving people. That's always been a song about celebration and the celebration of life, but I think you're exactly right. It's even more so now because people are not taking opportunities to enjoy their life for granted any longer.
Now that you've been back in the studio and writing again, it sounds like there probably won't be another 14-year gap before your next album?
No, I don't think so. Now that I've had opportunities to work with these younger songwriters, and some of these producers that are current and relevant today, I think you can anticipate that I will be not having these long hiatuses in the future. I'm definitely going to be writing and recording more, and I'm going to try to bring new music to the table as often as I can. [Dave Cobb], my manager, and these young songwriters all contributed to helping light a fire underneath me.
Is there anything left on your career bucket list?
I have worked with just about everybody that I've ever wanted to work with. I really don't see a whole lot of things that I would look at and say, "That's something I've never done or experienced."
All I ever wanted to do was just make music that moved me. To be able to look back on selling over 30 million albums and having the opportunity to perform in front of millions of people over the years—and still be able to honestly say that I love it just as much now as I ever did—it's an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure.
I've had the blessing of so many great experiences in my life. I just want to keep on doing it. There's an old expression, "Dance with the one that brought you." I just want to keep dancing.