Diehard Profile: Kurt Travis (A Lot Like Birds, Dance Gavin Dance)

Photo Credit: Michael-Rex Carbonell
Photo Credit: Michael-Rex Carbonell

I finally get hold of vocalist Kurt Travis (A Lot Like Birds, Dance Gavin Dance) after two of my calls to him go to voicemail.

“Screening my calls?” I accuse, jokingly.

“Yeah (laughs). I was like, who do I know [with a number] from Hackensack, New Jersey?”

Travis is sitting on the other end of this conversation in Sacramento, CA., home to both A Lot Like Birds and Dance Gavin Dance, as well as his recently established record label, Esque Records. It’s this hyper-involvement in the music industry that’s got us talking. Between being a vocalist for multiple prominent bands, putting out his own solo project, being a band manager and now owning a record label, Travis fits the HXC Magazine “Diehard” description.

You’re going on the 10 year tour for Dance Gavin Dance soon, right?

Yeah. A Lot Like Birds is playing. A band I manage called Strawberry Girls (Tragic Hero Records) is gonna be on tour. I feel awesome about it. I feel super stoked. A Lot Like Birds and DGD haven’t done a tour in a while and it’s mostly A Lot Like Birds’s decision. We kind of wanted to branch out and play with other bands other than like the homie bands…But now that we got to do some other tours—we played with Enter Shikari and Stray From The Path and the whole Warped Tour thing a few years ago—it just seemed like a good idea to do another Dance Gavin Dance, homie tour.

So since you’ve done vocals for both bands, will you be making appearances for both bands on tour?

Yeah. I’m supposed to do three songs with [DGD]. I’ll probably do four. They’ll probably get me to do another one. Jonny (Craig, former vocalist for DGD) is doing the same thing, that’s why Slaves is on the tour. (Laughs) I think he’s gonna be doing a few songs as well. It’s gonna be an easy tour for Tilian (Pearson, current vocalist for DGD). Maybe we should get Tilian to sing on some A Lot Like Birds stuff.

dance gavin dance_tourflyer

You guys should just swap all your members.

(Laughs) Yeah, it should be really fun. I haven’t toured with DGD in a while and they’re always really fun to tour with. Ticket sales are doing really well, too.

You recently launched Esque Records, too.

Yes, literally like a month ago.

Why did you decide to start that up?

A lot of reasons. For one, I want something for when I can’t sing anymore. I don’t know when that’s gonna be, but you know, if my wife (Lauren Travis, web designer/public relations for Esque Records) and I have kids and I don’t wanna tour anymore…I’ve [also] toured so much that I’ve gotten the privilege to meet all these other bands and they always ask me, “Hey, what do I do to get big?” and I just kind of shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know, just keep doing what you’re doing.” So this is my way of helping other bands out and trying to get them where they wanna be. Also, when touring all over the country and even the world, you get to hear bands that open up for you. When I was younger I didn’t really pay attention much to it, but now that I’m getting a little older and I don’t drink and get fucked up as much, I’m actually paying attention to the talent that’s playing….and now I’m honestly listening to everything that people send me and show me and give me. And I just really want to help the music scene that has helped me. I figured a record label would be the perfect way to do it. Even though CD sales aren’t what they used to be in the decades before us, with the whole technology thing, I still think it’s a big representation, being on a record label. This band is on this record label. Well, why are they on that label? They take care of them and it’s like they’re part of their family. And that’s kind of what I want to have is a family of musicians.

“I just really want to help the music scene that has helped me.”

What kinds of bands do you want to support?

My first band that I put out, they’re called Floral, a two-piece instrumental math rock band. But honestly I’m looking for everything. I kind of want an element of each sound to be representing Esque. And that’s kind of why I named the record label Esque, because the word Esque [means] “to be like something”; my point being that if you’re a part of Esque records you are also like it, no matter what. Even if you are different, you are a part of it. But yeah, we have like, a throwback emo band, they’re called Lemix J. Buckley. We have a band that kind of reminds me of Lower Definition meets Chon, they’re called In Angles. I have an indie pop band called Rome Hero Foxes, and I’m looking to maybe sign a hip hop act. I love rap and hip hop and stuff like that. 

Any post-hardcore acts you think you want to sign? Since that’s where you came from as a musician.

There are some post-hardcore elements in In Angles. I manage a band that’s very post-hardcore, they’re called Adventurer, but they’re on Blue Swan Records and that’s kind of a sister label to us. They’re actually the first band that I started managing before I even thought about a record label. I got them signed to Blue Swan Records, and their demo is coming out pretty soon.

So you’ve been in a ton of bands, you manage other bands, you’ve started a record label. What keeps you so motivated to be so involved in the music scene?

Honestly, it is hard to stay motivated. It’s hard to keep the excitement level of anything going. You know, when you’re a kid, you get a new toy, you like it, like a Transformer—I loved my little Transformers when I was a kid—but they’d end up being at the bottom of the toy chest in a week. It’s hard to keep that spark alive, but honestly it’s the bands that I work with. I love every single second of music that they play and it really, really, really excites me to hear new music. So that always recharges me if I’m feeling frustrated…Also [the] fans. I try not to look at comments online just because it gets too overwhelming, but every now and then I’ll look up and see what they’re saying about my solo record or something like that and I’ll see a lot of good comments and it helps me get through it. It really does. This nice lady, she sent me a long Facebook message on my band page and just talked about how I got her through, and when times were hard for her she turned to my music and so that really keeps me going. Hearing things from people and seeing how much I’ve impacted other people. It’s very, very energizing and gets me right back on track if I’m in a slump. Music is definitely the thing that I think I’m supposed to do with my life. It’s been hard financially, mentally, even spiritually sometimes. Weird shit goes on and you just don’t know what to do, but at the end of the day you can look back on what you’ve done and be proud of it. Or even cringe, too. 

What are some cringeworthy moments for you looking back?

Oh god, they’re everywhere (laughs). Mostly my very first band, my high school band. I can’t even listen to that whole thing. I was in a band called Five Minute Ride. We actually got pretty big. There’s a lot of kids that still know about that band. I actually got the gig to sing for Dance Gavin Dance because of my old band….So even though it was cringeworthy, it definitely opened some doors for me. You know, you’re always more critical of yourself than other people are but it really is pretty bad (laughs). I used to sing kinda low because my voice was already too high and my band was like, “Dude, you’re singin’ way too high. You need to have a lower, grittier sound.” ‘Cuz it was like, the late 90’s and we really didn’t know what was gonna be popular. It’s weird, it’s super weird (breaks out into laughter).

What about some of your favorite moments?

Oh my gosh. There are so many. That’s the cool thing about having opportunities to tour around the world. I feel like I’ve lived a couple lifetimes already. I’m 31 years old, so I’ve got plenty more to go. But I really enjoyed the last European tour that I did with A Lot Like Birds…So yeah, looking back on the memories, just being able to sightsee with my homies, you know being able to go to like the Eiffel Tower. Those are some really cool memories. I still haven’t gone to Japan. I really wanna go to Japan. I’ve got a frickin’ Totoro tattoo on my arm. I’m really, really about Miyazaki films. But looking back on it, the memories, the sightseeing, being able to hang out with my bros–priceless. It really was.

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Interview condensed for clarity. 

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