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More often than not, young aspiring performers are encouraged to leave their hometowns if they ever want to find success. While singing in a band at the Whiskey A Go Go increases an artist’s exposure, for one local singer/songwriter, success isn’t measured by fame, fortune, or location.
This past Sunday afternoon, I attended Rafter’s Tavern’s open mic to cheer on my co-worker and roommate, Veronica Daub, and to sit down and chat with Richard Traviss, a local musician, who opened for the Blue’s hall-of-famer SaRon at the Hurleyville Arts Centre with his band, Talking Fire, the night prior.
After a couple of incredibly talented performers finished their sets, Traviss took to the stage, sat at a piano and began to play. The song started out as a soft melody, Traviss’s voice reflecting the mood, and as the song progressed, his volume and physicality increased to find him jumping wildly all over the stage. His lyrics are poignant and thought evoking and, at times, downright hilarious. Traviss’ undeniable energy and confidence on stage make him not only a talented musician, but an all-around performer. The songs were a journey through his consciousness—I was observing the world from his perception, where one thought was just as important as the other.
When we finally sat down to talk, I was most interested to learn about Traviss’s background and how he got his start in the music industry. It turns out, his father was a singer and guitarist in several early punk rock bands, including one called HotShot, and opened for Blondie, The Ramones and others in NYC during the Greenwich Village ‘70s punk scene. Traviss’s first guitar, a Fender Stratacaster, was given to him at age 8 by his father, the first major musical influence in his life.
“I’ve always had this rock n’ roll thing going on,” Traviss said as he gestures to himself. “This is what a man looks like to me.”
Traviss was born and raised in Manhattan for the first few years of his life. When he was about five years old his parents separated, and he and his mother moved to the Catskills. They settled in Monticello, where Traviss’s mother owned a thrift shop, Encore. His mother attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked at a high-end boutique in New York City called Countdown. According to Traviss, her taste was highly regarded, and celebrities, such as Nina Simone, relied on her for fashion advice.
Traviss went to Tri-Valley Central School and recalls that it was a culture shock to him. Compared to his life in Manhattan, people were more conservative than he was used to and there was little to no diversity among students. He had a difficult time for the first few years at his new school, where he was bullied for being different.
Rather than surrender and learn to blend in, Traviss refused to change. At the end of eighth grade, he decided to campaign for student council for one specific reason: he would have to give a speech in front of the seventh and eighth grades. In his speech, he asked all 200 of his classmates why they didn’t like him and if there was anything he could do to change that.
“After I gave the speech, kids who were bullying me the day before came up to me, apologized and explained that they had been bullied too,” he said. “I started to think; maybe getting up in front of people and speaking up might be my thing.”
Today, Traviss uses his music to speak out to people, but also as a channel for his emotions.
“I don’t write direct songs, I write around things. I write how I feel, what I going through,” he said.
After his parents passed away, he began to focus on the importance of pursuing what makes him happy and paying extra attention to taking care of himself.
“The planet, you know, it’s a pretty hard place for some. My parents dealt with a lot of pain and you know, I’m trying to not make the same mistakes,” he said, explaining that what tore his parents apart was that they didn’t invest in what they each loved to do.
With songwriting, Traviss’s ultimate goal is to provide listeners with a sincere representation of the world as he sees it but also convey the “mistruths” he tells himself. He uses everything around him for inspiration, taking a news story and using it to relate a feeling of his own. He said it’s important to be direct and that it isn’t always necessary to use “flowery” language to write a profound or poetic song.
“I love layers and layers of metaphor,” he exclaimed with excitement, “I live for of hearing a new artist whose words capture me in a new way.”
Reggae and the music of Jamaica—particularly Sizzla Kalonji, Bob Marley and Beres Hammond—are major influences in Traviss’s songwriting and style. When he turned 20 years old, he started attending reggae concerts and was captured by how the music flowed effortlessly out of the musicians. This, he explained, is what he is trying to accomplish with his music.
Traviss started connecting with local musicians in the area after a bad heartbreak. After not performing for a year, he pushed himself to find something he could get involved in and ended up at an open mic in Rock Hill.
“I went there and I had no qualms about using it as an outlet and making a complete fool out of myself,” he said, as he explained that not everyone understands his performances—probably because he likes to “stir the pot.” Many people may oppose his music because it draws attention to issues they would rather turn a blind eye to.
Since stepping into the local scene, Traviss started threebands, two of which are Richard Traviss and the Mandatory Parade and Richard Traviss and The Secular Sextet. He is currently working on recording an album of his latest project with the help of Josh Druckman at the Outlier Recording Studio in Woodbourne. The four-song EP features his most recent band, Talking Fire, and is “anything but a straight reggae album.” The release date is set for this coming September.
Most of all, Traviss is grateful to live in the Upper Delaware region and to be able to make music and perform with the rich and talented community of musicians in the area. His goal isn’t to make a ton of money or “sell his soul” to a record company. He enjoys performing publically, most of the time at open mics like Rafter’s, to encourage people to analyze and talk amongst one another about his lyrics and what they mean to us individually.
“I’m trying to be the lighthouse shining on the Delaware River,” he says, “I really believe that we live in a sacred place and I feel like I can use the energy from to shine a light on the world.”