Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins/All Eyes Media
Travis Meadows Talks Sobriety, Songwriting & 'First Cigarette'
Nashville-based country singer/songwriter Travis Meadows is a survivor many times over.
Now seven years clean and sober, his path to recovery wandered a broken line that included four trips to in-patient rehab, not to mention a lifetime of hard lessons learned.
A professional musician since his teenage years, Meadows found religion in his early 20s and spent almost two decades traveling as a missionary, preacher, and active songwriter in the Christian music industry. At age 39, faced with growing disillusionment, he cut ties with the Christian music scene and relocated to Nashville to work as a traditional songwriter and performing musician, where he concurrently suffered a multiyear spiral into addiction and alcoholism.
The support network and partner services offered through MusiCares, which is designed as a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need, had a part to play in Meadow's effort to regain control of his life and find a sustainable path to recovery. Following the release of his third album, First Cigarette, the singer/songwriter sat down with us to discuss his ties to the organization, writing songs for his new project and artists such as Dierks Bentley, and his thoughts on personal writing and strategies for self-growth.
How did you first encounter MusiCares and at what point did their support enter the picture?
Well, it was in the very beginning. Sadly, I did not even know that MusiCares existed. I lived in a bubble — my drinkin' bubble. And when I came to the point when I said, "I need help," and just started telling everybody, "Get me outta here. What do I do?" There were some people that were somehow connected to MusiCares, and they are the ones that put me in treatment that very first time.
It's all a blur. All I remember is making that call, and I remember that MusiCares came up, and my [former] wife said, "Pack your bags, you're going in." And the very next morning I was on my way to treatment for the very first time. So MusiCares has been a part of my entire recovery experience. I am very, very grateful to them.
How you been able to make use of any of their other support systems or other partner services?
Mostly, for some medical needs here and there. [MusiCares has] also been a great resource for some friends of mine. In fact, though obviously I can't say the name, maybe three or four days ago I made a call and said, "I have a friend that is dying, and I think he's ready for help." And they've put that person in treatment. So they're still just an incredible resource.
I look at MusiCares like an angel of mercy. They've just been so much a part of my entire recovery experience, and I love them for it. It's hard to find words because I'm so deeply grateful.
"My phone is probably the most powerful weapon for sobriety that I have found. No matter where I'm at, I can call a friends and say, 'Look, I'm about to walk into this uncomfortable situation.' … It makes it a lot easier to remember that I'm not alone on this journey."
Is there anything you'd like to share that your journey to recovery has taught you about building positive coping mechanisms, dealing with repression, or that you think could help educate others who may be drawn to self-medicate in an attempt to deal with traumatic experiences?
For me, personally: writing, and surrounding myself with people and resources that I trust. [In] the chaos of using multiple substances, you kind of find yourself surrounded by a certain kind of people. The thing that worked for me was I had to change my playmates and my playgrounds.
That was really hard to do because I had years invested in these relationships. There was nothing wrong with those people per se, but it was just that I could not be in that surrounding anymore. So I started surrounding myself with a community of like-minded people and people that I trust. My phone is probably the most powerful weapon for sobriety that I have found. No matter where I'm at, I can call a friend and say, "Look, I'm about to walk into this uncomfortable situation." … It makes it a lot easier to remember that I'm not alone on this journey.
That's certainly been something very helpful for me, knowing that I have some people —including a couple of the people at MusiCares. Debbie [Carroll, Sr. Executive Director for MusiCares Nashville], in particular. She's been quite kind to me, and it's not always been business stuff. Sometimes it's just been, "I just wanted to tell you what was going on, and check in, and tell you how grateful I am today." It's pretty remarkable.
You've said in other interviews that many of the lyrics for 2011's Killin' Uncle Buzzy came out of writings that you didn't necessarily intend for people to hear — lines you wrote at the behest of your rehab counselor. Is the practice of personal writing something you think anyone/everyone could benefit from?
It absolutely helps, and it was quite a surprise. I was in treatment for the fourth time, and I was checking out, and one of the counselors suggested I keep a journal. I said, "Honestly I just don't do well with journaling. I wouldn't say that I'm lazy, [but] it just seems a little redundant, and I can't even read my own writing. But if you think it will help, I do write songs." And she kinda chuckled, and I said, "I'm not kidding. I don't want to die."
She [told me] the benefit of writing your thoughts down, and where you're at, is you may wake up one day and see some progress, and that will motivate you to keep going.
One song turned into two, and two became three, and it became evident that I was making a record, and that record changed everything for me. By the time that record finished I was nine months sober. It was life-changing. To this day, seven-something years later, I still find writing quite therapeutic.
Can you share a bit about the writing and inspiration behind "Riser" (written for Dierks Bentley), and what that song means to you today?
What a fantastic interlude to writing. I was just coming out of a real dark period when I first met [writing partner] Steve [Moakler]. Steve is just full of hope and full of optimism. He had just fallen in love, and you know, everything was going right in his world.
I had this idea about getting back up, and getting back into life, and Steve was the guy I wanted [to write with]. …Graciously, he accepted, and we wrote a beautiful song. I have lost count of how many people have sent pictures of these lyrics tattooed on their bodies.
Let's talk a bit about your brand-new album, First Cigarette. Can you break down the single "Underdogs"?
"Underdogs" is me, man. And it's you. It's everybody that's ever felt overlooked, a little misunderstood. I've always felt like I was a little bit on the outside looking in, in every situation. I've always pulled for the underdog.
What about "First Cigarette"? How did you make the decision to name the record for that particular track?
Underdogs, to me, was the obvious [album] title. I just, for some reason, did not want to be too obvious. Every record I make, I like [people] to take a journey along with me. I like them to settle in and try to find the heart of the record. So "Underdogs" was the obvious title, but it was so obvious that I just felt like it might be taking the easy way out.
"First Cigarette" ended up being the sleeper on the record. … Just to address the obvious, [the song] actually doesn't have anything to do with smoking. It has to do with contentment and learning how to lean into it. We've spent a lot of time in this discussion talking about how challenging life can be, but there are also some beautiful moments. When those beautiful moments come, embrace them. Lean into them and enjoy them. They are gifts.