Travis Denning is a songwriter with many talents. He can write a chart-topping song like ‘After a Few’ one day and write a quick, hilarious jingle in 30 minutes the next.
The 27-year-old Georgia native is no stranger to sharing his quirky side through his music. On his debut single, ‘David Ashley Parker from Powder Springs’, Denning reflects on his days of having a fake ID at age 19, while his more recent songs, ‘Call It Country’ and ‘ABBY’, really encompass Denning’s animated, high-spirited personality.
'Call It Country', Denning’s latest “barn-burner” of a single - as he declares it - uncovers what a night of trouble and a lot of fun looks like for him.
Now, he is sharing that witty personality in an online series called Travis Denning and Friends Do Stuff, where he challenges other members of the country music scene - including Brothers Osborne, Kip Moore and Jordan Davis - to take part in the activity of his choosing. The season finale of TDAFDS has already been released, but according to Denning, there could be more episodes to come.
Denning released his debut EP, Beer’s Better Cold, back in 2020, ahead of what was supposed to be a summer full of performances as the opening act on Sam Hunt’s Southside Summer Tour. Although his touring plans came to a halt, Denning didn’t lose touch with his fanbase during that time. Instead, he reached a few milestones in his career. His track ‘After a Few’ became his first No. 1 at country radio, and he was nominated for his first major award - the ACM’s New Male Artist of the Year.
Before heading out for a relaxing day of fishing, Denning took some time to sit down for a chat at his girlfriend Madison Montgomery’s place in downtown Nashville. There, he reflected on a few of his biggest accomplishments this year, getting back to live music and preparing to tour with the mighty Brothers Osborne.
Congratulations on the release of your new song, ‘Call It Country’ – a song you’ve described as “country as hell”. What does this song mean to you?
It’s a great show opener, that’s for sure. It’s been so fun to play live - it’s just so high energy. I wrote it with Jessi Alexander and Chris Stevens. Essentially, I walked in there and said, “I don’t wanna write anything slower than 120 BPM’s. I want a barn-burner“.
I’ve never really done anything like it that turned out cool; they always came off as cheesy or I just couldn’t get the subject matter down. I had the guitar lick, but we had no idea what we were gonna write, which is usually the total opposite of how I like to work. I’d rather have the idea first, but we just started writing lyrics. I said, “I just want to write about rockin’ and rollin’ tonight, on a Friday, ready to party”.
I pulled everything out of those nights. I think back to growing up in Warner Robins. I mean hell, there were plenty of times where a group text would go around saying, “Let’s meet at the Flash Foods and go ride dirt roads”. All of a sudden, there’s 30 trucks there and we’re getting DNR and Georgia State Patrol called on us - that’s just what we did to have fun.
The song also has a touch of that “kick to the critics” - the people who constantly have their own opinion of what country is and what it isn’t. I really couldn’t care less about that, I just enjoy making music and if people like it, they like it. It’s hilarious that some dude sitting on his couch behind a computer is like the end-all-be-all decider of country music. You can call it what you want to, but this is what we call it and we don’t really give a shit if you like it or not.
This release follows your single 'ABBY'. Did you ever expect this song to become the fan-favorite that it did?
Man, I felt like people were going to like it. I thought it would get a laugh and all that, but I never thought it would be this big. It’s our biggest song live. We’re closing our shows with it right now, we’re choosing it over ‘After A Few’. It’s just so wild to see people when that intro hits - they just go crazy and seeing them sing it back live is awesome. This one is so special; I feel like it’s just getting started too, so it’s gonna be cool to see where it goes.
Now that live music is finally making a comeback, have you played a live show at full capacity yet?
I played in Tifton, GA, at a place called Terminal South where I’ve played many times before. I used to play there even before I lived in Nashville. That really was our first show back, where we said, “Okay, we’re going full capacity, real rock and roll, the whole thing”. It was really awesome; it’s crazy how much I missed it, even just getting back in a small little club like that.
Can you describe what it feels like to be back on stage, hearing your fans singing your songs back to you again?
It’s just unbelievable. I mean it kind of reminds me that I actually really enjoy doing this. It’s so crazy how much you get disconnected from it when you don’t play for a year. We played some shows during the pandemic, but they were social-distance shows. They’re just not the same. Getting back in, being able to lean down to the front row and high five people and do all that, it’s a whole other level.
You’re gearing up to get back on the road for Brothers Osborne’s “We're Not For Everyone" Tour with Tenille Townes next. What are you most looking forward to with this tour?
I’ve known TJ and John for a while now, so I’m pretty excited to just share the stage with them. Honestly they’re such a musical group, they have an insane band, so I'm looking forward to being able to lean into that jam side of my music a little bit more.
I love The Allman Brothers Band and southern rock - really leaning into exploring the songs, jamming and taking your time with solos. [Brothers Osborne is] definitely a band that has made that their brand, so that’s pretty exciting that we get to kind of lean into that too, we normally don’t get to do that.
Another big accomplishment for you this year was being nominated for ACM’s New Male Artist of the Year. How did that feel?
That was pretty awesome, it was just a nice little bullet point at the end of an otherwise crappy year. I was happy to share that category with some insanely talented artists. Every dude in there was so on another level and it was very special, it was cool just to finally say, “I’ve been nominated for a major award”.
How did the idea come about to start the Travis Denning and Friends Do Stuff series?
Really, it just came out of an idea while drinking beers, brainstorming with my managers and just discussing what we could do during the pandemic, like do something that’s different. We had the idea to make a variety show, where you hang out with buddies, do interesting stuff and maybe play music here and there. Then we dumbed it down to just stupid stuff with friends and that’s really where it came from.
I spent a good month texting guys and girls going, “Hey, so I’m starting this thing and I haven’t really done it yet so I can’t show you an example…” Kip Moore was one of the first ones I texted, and I said, “I want to work out with you, but you’d whoop my ass”, he was like, “I’m in”. I’m asking Bobby Bones, “You want to play a game of horse”? and all this, but in the end, it turned out to be really good. We’re gonna brainstorm and do a lot more; we have a ton of ideas for other artists and folks we’re gonna work with on it. I think we’re gonna branch out and get out of country music too. We might try and get some NASCAR guys, maybe some NFL guys, so it’ll be a lot of fun.
Do you have a favorite episode that you have done so far or artist you have hung out with on the show?
The episode with Kip was just so funny. Honestly the whole idea of the show really revolved around that idea because we knew that would be great. I was like, “We need to capture that energy in all of them”. So that one was super fun. I loved doing ribs with Jordan (Davis). I’ve known Jordan for a long time and it’s always just good to catch up with a buddy that I’ve known for a while.
The jingle at the beginning of each episode perfectly encompasses the theme of the series. Did you write it?
I wrote it in about seven seconds and cut it on GarageBand in about 20 minutes, so, yeah, that’s a half-hour masterpiece right there. When it first came out, Jon Pardi texted me saying, “I cried laughing to that jingle”. He said, “It was so short and stupid, but it was great”, and that’s what I wanted.
Travis Denning’s new single, ‘Call It Country’, is out now via Mercury Nashville. The Season Finale of Travis Denning and Friends Do Stuff, with special guest Jordan Davis, is out now. Watch below!
Photography courtesy of Mercury Nashville.