Structuralism is defined as a movement used to analyze the mind, a culmination of your entire life’s worth of experience, “in terms of the simplest definable components and then to find the way in which these components fit together in complex forms.” Founded by Wilhelm Wundt, and most closely associated with Edward B. Titchener (who studied under Wundt), the form of psychology has always been a minority school of thought–but gave way to other such countermovements as functionalism and Gesalt psychology. One of the many tools Titchener utilized was introspection, the act of holding experience as fact–affection and sensation were the prime measures of such resolutely unique foundations. Songwriting, an especially profound collection of this evidence, is a medium in which the human species frames their life’s story: needling the naivety of youth with the sour, sorrow-riddled trek of coming of age. Singer, songwriter and musician Travis Crowley brandishes his own storytelling with a firmly-planted and formidable voice, often cutting right to the truth with aptitude and slyness.
Based out of New York, Crowley relinquishes his rough-hewn vocal, particularly found on his new song “Cocaine and Yoga,” premiering today, with relief and heaviness. “I told her 20 minutes, 30 made no difference. I found her as soon as I got inside. Waiting wasn’t so bad, but no one wants to hear that. What’s going on with all these lines?” he remembers of an especially strange night out on the opening lyric. But things got even more peculiar as the evening wore on. “Let’s get one more drink before we get our last drink, and then get the fuck out of here. Then, what do we do? I can barely hear you. The music’s too loud and too weird.” In a recent email, he explains exactly what happened that night. “I was out in Brooklyn with like, six or seven good friends, hanging out after work. I had not-so-sneakily suggested we go [to a bar] because I was trying to see this girl who lived there I was really into at the time, and our nights finally lined up,” he says. “She was out with her roommate and a couple friends, so in my head, it made sense to come through with a few people myself, keep it casual and all that. We eventually made it over to the bar she was at, and there was a line to get in.”
“Each of my friends looked at me at flat out said, ‘no, we’re not waiting.’ I tried to convince them and failed, and they all straight up ditched me. They went to get pizza–but I mean, in fairness, who am I to compete with pizza? I was committed to the bit at this point, so I got in line, and since I’m petty, timed the wait,” he continues. “It took me seven minutes to get in. So, I walked in and saw her right away, and then realized, ‘oh god, this is not what I planned at all.’ The circumstances under which I was there had so drastically changed, and I mean….well, it’s all pretty detailed in the song. I so badly wished someone was there to witness the way everything unfolded, it was absolutely not what I expected. All I wanted was to turn to the camera a la ‘The Office’ and make one of those ‘can you believe this?’ faces. I planned to be back in Harlem by the end of the night. That did not happen.”
“It turned out that the girl lived on the same block that one of my friends used to, and I didn’t realize until the morning. The street was both brand new and a place I had gone to several times. I was able to phrase this literal happening as a highlight of the song’s theme of duality. Funny how things happen that way, huh?”
Crowley’s story then took an unwelcome left-turn. “A crazy time to ask me about a heart condition. After what you slipped me, it’s already in my system,” he wails over of a wave of dirty guitar, his vocal hanging thick in the air. He deploys that experience to play with the duality of life and fundamental opposition, as affirmed with the song title itself. “Specific is a good word to describe it. Cocaine and yoga represent fundamental opposites, literally and figuratively. The song touches on my fascination with the fact that a person can be a living contradiction; you might embody two starkly different things at the same time,” he says. “You can wake up early and calmly meditate on the roof of your building after a long, late and fast paced night of partying, like it’s nothing. For a while, I was surprised at how often this came up in life.” He originally planned to include someone’s name in the title of the song, but coming off his previous single “Pretty Little Adelaide,” he “decided to cool it and stick with ‘Cocaine and Yoga.'”
“At first, I tried to write it as a more upbeat song, but ended up making no progress. It felt like the type of story that you should be dancing to, and I sat with it for a couple days, hours at a time,” he adds. “It wasn’t until I landed on the triple meter timing that the hook of the song popped into my head. After that, the song basically wrote itself. I had all the phrases in my head, and after figuring out the feel of the music, I knew exactly where to place every line.”
Pressed with a John Mayer-esque bend, the song is earthy and spacious, another sampling of Crowley’s forthcoming new album, The Trouble Kid Tape, out Aug. 4. Pre-order on iTunes.
Take a listen to “Cocaine” and “Yoga” and read our Q&A below:
Who is singing harmony on the song?
That would be my partner in crime, HaleyJane Rose. We go way back. She took me to her prom, we used to be roommates, and she’s one of my best friends in the whole world. She is a musician and songwriter herself, and was often in the room while I wrote the songs that would ultimately be picked for [the record]. She is a featured guest on a song called “Circle of Hell.” She’s got a great ear to bounce ideas off of, and now that I think of it, Haley is pretty much always the first person I go to when I have a newly written anything.
There is such a slinky rawness to the song and has a rather similar vibe to “Pretty Little Adelaide.” Is that indicative of your album, as a whole?
The album touches on a couple different sounds, but it still feels like a cohesive unit. “Cocaine and Yoga” and “Pretty Little Adelaide” have that sort of dirty folk sound, and the language of the lyrics come from the same place because of where I was at that point in my life, when they were written. I wanted them to lean toward rock and roll, and throughout the album, that sound and those styles ebb and flow. I think the similarities help depict the exact way everything felt at the time, and the differences contrast well with the songs that help complete the overarching narrative.
What is the core theme of the album?
I like to say that the album is an account of the types of trouble I get myself into when left unsupervised. It also carries the message that even though things might look dark from time to time, everything really might be alright in the end.
How did the album start for you–was there a song which jumpstarted your journey?
There’s a song toward the end of the album called “The Tuesday Blues,” and it was the first one I wrote. This was back when I wasn’t even actually thinking about making a whole album, I was just writing for the sake of it, as a one-off. It’s still my favorite thing to do. I have a running gag with my friends about my distaste for that day of the week. Do you know what they say about Tuesdays? Tuesday is the new Monday.
The job I used to work often gave me off on Wednesday, so I would end up hanging out and drinking the night before. I remember sitting on my bed, across the room from Haley, playing through the same chord loop and singing out the lyric, “I’ve been drinking on a Tuesday night.” Fast-forward a couple months later, after working out a bunch of other songs, I sat and started to think about a tracklist. Despite the fact that this was the first song written for the project, it felt like the finale. There’s something full circle about that, ya know?
What did you learn about yourself through writing and recording this album?
I learned that the best way to get my friends to listen to my dumb stories is to tell them to them from behind a guitar.
Who has influenced your songwriting the most?
I am inspired and influenced by a million different things at a time in my environment, whether it’s the music I’m listening to, a book I’m reading or a TV show I’m watching. From a storytelling standpoint, I am directly influenced by the people around me: friends, family, casual acquaintances, enemies, anyone I might be able to write about or tell a story to. My mother is a brilliant writer. I learned from her how to recognize a good story or lesson when I see one, as well as the importance of documenting it.
Musically, I’m all over the place. I know everybody says “I listen to a little bit of everything,” but I really do. Growing up, my favorites ranged from Jason Mraz to The White Stripes to Kanye West, and I never ruled anything out (and I still don’t). I had a sort of obsession with becoming familiar with every album an artist I liked ever made, no matter when it was released. I would borrow my uncle’s old Black Sabbath and Metallica albums. I remember going to Virgin Megastore (RIP) and buying ‘Illmatic’ by Nas. There was something about knowing and understanding the full breadth of a musicians experience that helped me better appreciate their newer efforts. I think it’s helped me gain a unique understanding of what “songwriting” even is. So, to answer the question in a more straightforward way, my songwriting has been and always will be influenced by my constant state of learning. I guess it’s never as easy as just naming a person or band.
The best thing in music right now are the women of country music. Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price. Joy Williams, as part of The Civil Wars (also RIP, but both of their solo efforts have been outstanding to me). They’re so fucking good. I listened to their albums a lot while writing and recording. It’s important to me to have good stories, and to tell them in a way that only I can.
In what ways have you grown since the Crowley Brothers days?
I think it’s mostly been personal growth, and to me, the music I make always sounds like exactly what I’m going through, good and bad. Everything that happens to you affects the person you wake up as the following morning, whether you’re aware of it or not, and that’s certainly reflected in my songs. The good news for me is that even though we don’t make music as a band together anymore, I still see and hang with my brothers Brian and Jeffrey all the time.
In fact, they both made significant contributions to j’The Trouble Kid Tape.’ Brian worked with me on album structure and made several recording suggestions that proved to be extremely important. Jeffrey made the album artwork. I was unable to fully articulate what it was that I wanted exactly–I made very vague suggestions and requests–and he somehow nailed it. They both contributed backing vocals to a song called “I Met A Girl.” It’s a nice little reunion for the old school CB fans.
Stylistically, the band’s “Radio” is so far removed from your new music. How did that change?
Musically, the recording of “Radio” is very tight and shiny clean, and I would say that’s the biggest difference. I wrote that one with Brian and Jeffrey, and it was intended to be more ironic-leaning than everyone took it. We might have sold it a bit too earnestly. I still love that song, though. Any changes after that were inevitable personal growth related changes, but I think it all comes from the same place.
Why did it make sense to return to music now?
Oh I never left, baby! I actually continued to write and play during the whole quiet period. It just took a bit of time to figure out exactly how I wanted to present what I had been working on. [The album] serves as a nice summation of my efforts.
Whose career would you like to emulate the most?
The first name that comes to mind is Dave Grohl. He embodies everything that I love about music; he worked hard and just always always played with whoever he could, whenever he could. He understands the value of recorded music and of live music. Every success that has come to him in his career did because he always pursued what he loves and what he believes in. He is THE man, a true rock and roll icon.