Wailing City Spotlight: Interview with Travis Hyll

Published October 5, 2023
Interview by Meghan Killimade

Tell us about yourself! Where did you grow up and how did you get started in music?
I was born in a small town in western North Carolina in the late 80's and lived in that state until I was in my 30's. My mom's maternal side had been in that region since before the revolutionary war and were mostly of Scottish descent. I've done research and read the wills of ancestors who died back in the early 1800's. Aside from leaving children, their stock of typical things from that era such as bacon, an apiary and family heirlooms, they also listed a large amount of grain, mostly corn, cooperage supplies, stills, and hogsheads of whiskey, so they were certainly involved in moonshining; the sort of people who moved further west into Kentucky and created the bourbon culture now loved around the world. My grandmother, born in the 1930's, who grew up poor during the Great Depression, picking cotton on other people's land with her parents, told me how her father played banjo and her grandparents also played musical instruments. You could say that side of my family is the same stock that produced so many old time and bluegrass musicians.

My dad's side of the family was from Texas and northern Louisiana, and moved to North Carolina later in their lives. My paternal grandma sang gospel tunes with her twin sister, as well as songs famously recorded by The Carter Family, and they played piano and guitar respectively. They typified that old-school Southern Baptist gospel background. They were also born dirt poor in the deep south and had very tough childhoods. My dad was born in the Fort Worth area in the early 1950's, and loved to play guitar. When I was a kid, I would hear him play and sing Johnny Cash songs, and along with his friend Jackie, a kindhearted amateur radio operator who had been crippled by polio as a child, I was introduced to the timeless music of Hank Williams at a young age.

I'm grateful to have been influenced by grandparents from the so-called "greatest generation" because without them, my values and worldview would be drastically different. When I was a small child, my paternal grandma would sit me down at the piano and try to make my hands play chords, and my dad gladly let me strum on his guitar. Their encouragement and support is definitely the reason I ended up becoming a musician at around 11 years old.

How did where you grew up influence the music you play and has that changed at all since moving to Connecticut?

Where I grew up, particularly the influence of my family, had a tremendous impact on the music I play, however In North Carolina, I lived in a bit of a time warp I guess you could say. The aspects of Southern culture that I am drawn to or allow to flow through me felt dead and gone down there by the time I was a young adult, and have been replaced with consumerist culture, pop country and rap/hip hop. The world that I was brought up in doesn't really exist anymore. I remember bringing my banjo to venues to play and sing old time songs, and the audience didn't even know what was happening or didn't pay attention. When I passionately played songs, the overwhelming majority of people stared at TV screens and watched sports broadcasts rather than appreciating the music. Some of this is socio-economic, some is cultural, most of it is being programmed by pop-culture and mass media. Values and interests have changed. If it isn't a multi-million dollar presentation with a lights show or a Hollywood movie full of explosions, they are under stimulated. In contrast, I first traveled to New England ten years ago and when I performed some old British and American folk songs and original material at The Burren in Somerville, Massachusetts, with just myself and a guitar on stage, the audience watched intently, then after my performance, they formed a line to shake my hand. This happened again a few years later when I returned to New England and performed at The Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts where the audience hung on every word, as well as a place that used to exist downtown called The Gypsy Joynt. The local people absolutely loved my old fashioned, folky acoustic singer/songwriter style. It gave me a new perspective on possibilities. Rather than being ignored or in the background, I knew that if I were here in New England, I could captivate an audience that was much more interested in what I had to say and show to them. This ultimately culminated in my wife and I relocating to Connecticut in February of 2023, and since then my growth has been exponential, which I am very grateful for.

How would you describe the style of music you are writing/performing?
I recently mused "If you want somebody who sings about fruity moonshine, lifted pickup trucks or raps in his verses, I'm not your guy. I'm old school. Very old school. My country is rooted in centuries-old folk traditions and the kind of music my grandparents sang and listened to, definitely not what is on the radio right now. I write songs based on my real life values and experiences growing up as a working class Southern man." That about sums it up.  

Where have you been playing recently, what’s your favorite so far and where are some places you’d like to play in the future?

I have performed at venues, festivals, fairs and private events all over southern New England so far. My favorite place would be any in which during that moment in time, the audience is feeling the performance, singing along, nodding their heads, or whatever form of expression they feel obliged to demonstrate. I don't care if it's in a tent set up on someone's side yard in Cape Cod, or at Hard Rock Cafe at Foxwoods Resort Casino. The crowd interaction and appreciation makes the experience for me. When my original music is respected, it is the ultimate satisfaction.

How would you best describe your set/performance to someone that isn’t familiar?
A fairly wide variety of musical expressions stylistically, rhythmically and contextually, but all rooted in an old school folk, country, and British Isles traditional sensibility. Definitely appropriate for a listening room environment, and for people who love music and take it seriously. Listen to the lyrics. Pay attention to the details of the instrumentation. It's performed with an almost spiritual touch.

Tell us about your upcoming single! Where did you record it, what’s the story behind the song and what are you hoping to get across to listeners?
"This Gold Ring" is a song I wrote for my wife when we were having a spat. She left the house to go shopping, and I sat down with my guitar and wrote it. We were enduring a tremendous amount of stress after the passing of my dad, my car being totaled in an accident, the strain of moving cross country, and personal health concerns. This song is about the merits of traditional marriage. So many people these days view marriage as passé, or something that can be abandoned when things get tough or minds are changed. My song is about how marriage is a permanent bond between two people, who weather the storms of life together and allow their love to grow and act as the glue throughout any situation. It is a beautiful thing that can save your life and give you purpose, and I stand by that. I recorded it at my home studio.

What are some bands/musicians you listen to for inspiration/motivation?

To be honest I don't listen to many bands for inspiration that have anything to do with the style I play as a solo artist. I have been like that since I was young. I didn't want to listen to similar artists then have my material be subconsciously influenced by it. Johnny Cash and Hank Williams are two of my favorites for country, as beat to death as that sounds. On a regular day, if I want to listen to music in the background, I will likely turn on a playlist of smooth jazz or classical. I have a soft spot for goth rock and new wave music from the 80's, such as The Cure, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Til Tuesday, etc. Due to the influence of what my dad often listened to while I was a kid, I also love harder hitting rock, blues and melodic metal. Van Halen (both Roth and Hagar), Boston, Extreme, Dokken, Lynch Mob, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in particular.

Do you prefer buying/selling streaming music or physical CD’s/vinyl?
I haven't bought music since CD's were being sold at the Circuit City in Salisbury, North Carolina haha. I am out of the loop!
Any local bands/musicians you’re really digging these days?
My pool of reference is rather small, admittedly, but of those I've had the privilege of meeting thus far, Jesse DeSorcy is a great writer and really friendly guy. Troy Caruana is a gifted guitarist and singer as well with an impressive background. Both these guys are accomplished multi-instrumentalists who write and perform quality music without vainglorious intent.

You just walked into the Telegraph or the Mystic Disc to flip through some vinyl – what section are you heading to first and what are you hoping to find?
I'd probably wander around with no idea of what I was doing, then end up buying Earth, Wind and Fire or something haha. Oh and maybe Boston's self titled debut album. Tom Scholz and Brad Delp's deceptively produced masterpiece of composition and talent.

What’s coming up next for you?
My calendar is always updated first on www.travishyll.com. I have six solo shows in the month of October and many more upcoming. I plan to keep growing, playing larger events and going anywhere the wind blows so to speak! More songs will be released over the coming months as well.

Anything else you want to include or wish we’d asked?
I want to personally thank you for supporting local music here in New London county. It is amazing what a small number of passionate and driven people can accomplish when it comes to spreading the word about artists, businesses and information in general. For the readers out there, thank you for taking the time to read this, and please visit my website for links to my social media to follow me for updates! www.travishyll.com

Fri 10/6 @ Ladder 133 Kitchen & Social - Providence, RI 6:30-9:30pm
Sun 10/8 @ Shunock River Brewery - North Stonington 4:30-7:30pm
Fri 10/20 @ Surf Cantina - Westerly, RI 9-11pm
Sun 10/22 @ Lebanon Green Vineyards - Lebanon 2-5pm
Fri 10/27 @ Paradise Hills Vineyard - Wallingford 5-8pm
Sat 10/28 @ Blue Duck - New London 6-9pm

MORE AT https://travishyll.com/





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