Grammy-winning artist Travis Tritt releases first new album in more than a decade

Country singer Travis Tritt talks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his new songs and his Atlanta roots. Video by Tyson Horne

The veteran country singer - and Atlanta native - talks songwriting, advice and country radio.

Amid framed gold records and concert posters celebrating a Ray Charles tribute show at the Grand Ole Opry in 2006 and the 2014 opening of the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, North Carolina, there hangs a drawing of Charles.

A fan had created the artwork, and it looms as a spiritual music guide in this cozy studio room otherwise filled with racks of acoustic and electric guitars, including a customized Dale Earnhardt Gibson.

“Ray has more to do with what comes out of my mouth when I sing than anybody, probably. He influenced me so much.”

Travis Tritt is looking at the depiction of Charles with a crinkle-eyed smile as he relays his everlasting awe of the Georgia soul titan, and in that fleeting moment, the nearly 32-year history of Tritt crystallizes.

A member of the vaunted class of 1989 — which includes Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Clint Black and is widely recognized as the year that turbocharged the popularity of mainstream country music — Tritt and his amalgamation of country, Southern rock, blues and soul is still vital.

Travis Tritt's studio sits on the 75-acre farm in Powder Springs where he and his family have lived since 1992. Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com
Travis Tritt's studio sits on the 75-acre farm in Powder Springs where he and his family have lived since 1992. Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

From his first Top 10 country hit in 1989 — “Country Club” — through a spate of No. 1′s including “Anymore,” “Can I Trust You With My Heart,” “Foolish Pride” and “Best of Intentions” and dozens of other fan favorites, Tritt has been a defining voice in country music. His No. 2 hit from 1991, “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” remains a signature as well as an apt kiss-off.

On May 7, Tritt releases “Set in Stone.” Tritt co-wrote eight of the 11 songs, and all feature musical muscularity and plainspoken lyrics that will appeal to old-timers (“Smoke in a Bar,” “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That No More”), fresh-faced fans (“Stand Your Ground”) and those who appreciate the loyalty that the Marietta-born Tritt professes to his roots (“Southern Man,” “Way Down in Georgia”).

“I’ve been all over the world, and no place on this planet has ever felt like home to me the way that Georgia does,” Tritt said, perched on a stool inside the studio located about a football field away from his Powder Springs home, part of the 75 acres he’s lived on with his wife, Theresa, and three kids — Tristan, Tarian and Tyler Reese — since 1992. “This particular area where I live now, there are so many touchstones. I can drive anywhere in metro Atlanta and be triggered by memories that I had in school or the first time going to downtown Atlanta. Some of those memories have been the catalysts for songs. I just never felt comfortable leaving that behind.”

Travis Tritt's "Set in Stone" will be released May 7. Courtesy
Travis Tritt's "Set in Stone" will be released May 7. Courtesy

For his first new studio album since 2007′s “The Storm,” Tritt teamed with super-producer — and fellow Georgia native — Dave Cobb for the first time, an arrangement suggested by Tritt’s manager, Mike “Cheez” Brown. Cobb had produced an album for The Dirty Heads, whom Brown also manages, and the timing fit after Brown encouraged Tritt to consider recording new music.

“He got me to thinking that you’re at a point in your career that you don’t have anything to prove, but have the opportunity to draw in new people and feed your audience who has been with you a long, long time by just providing content,” Tritt said.

The news of Tritt, 58, signing a new recording contract with Big Noise Label Group arrived the week in March 2020 that the coronavirus was deemed a pandemic. Imminent plans to record in Nashville were shuffled to Castle Recording Studios in nearby Franklin, Tennessee, last April, where Tritt recorded several albums throughout his three-decade career.

Cobb, who has produced work for artists ranging from Chris Stapleton to Lady Gaga to Brandi Carlile, quickly agreed to work with the music veteran.

“I didn’t listen to a lot of country music growing up. Whatever we heard was the most commercial at the time, and Travis was one of those artists I connected with because he had so much more to his sound — the rock ‘n’ roll, the Ray Charles soul. I connected with it. It was like the (Rolling) Stones and Southern rock, and it hit everything on the head,” Cobb said recently from Nashville. “I didn’t want to reinvent anything, but to make the best Travis Tritt record we could make and I think we pulled that off. I wanted to capture the essence of what he is — real, proper Southern music.”

Cobb suggested that Tritt collaborate with other writers, including Cobb’s cousin, Brent, a noted country-folk singer-songwriter who recently released his fourth album, “Keep ‘Em on They Toes.”

Brent Cobb, who grew up in the small town of Ellaville, came to Tritt’s studio room to work, and birthed what became the title track, as well as the song, “Ain’t Who I Was.” Tritt also worked with longtime Zac Brown partner Wyatt Durrette, Ashley Monroe and Channing Wilson, among others, on the album.

Travis Tritt doesn't record much in his studio, but uses it as an office and quiet space for writing. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)
Travis Tritt doesn't record much in his studio, but uses it as an office and quiet space for writing. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

“The cool thing I discovered writing with them all — who are a good bit younger than me — is they all were telling me how much they were influenced by my music in one way or another,” Tritt recalled. “Brent said, ‘I can’t tell you how many times I rode around as a teenager listening to your music and coming to see you play live and what an inspiration that was to me.’ He said, ‘I started thinking about your legacy, and in my view, your legacy is already set in stone, you don’t have anything to prove to anybody.’ First of all, it was a huge compliment, but I also thought it was a great idea (for a song). He said, you can apply it to anybody who works with their hands for a living, has a little bit of age on them. He had part of the first verse and chorus written and I said, ‘Man, we’ve got to finish that.’”

Tritt is back on the road and will share his new material on dates throughout the summer — though he likely won’t hit his standard 130-ish annual concerts — and into fall, including a Nov. 19 full-band show at Bell Auditorium in Augusta.

Throughout a 90-minute interview in February, a gracious Tritt, rosy-cheeked and casually clad in jeans and a layered T-shirt, talked about some of the songs on the album — even pulling down a C.F. Martin & Co. acoustic to sing some of “Smoke in a Bar” — the advice he gives younger artists (including Tyler Reese and Tristan, both musicians), and why he isn’t relying on country radio to promote his music.

Travis Tritt said despite being lured to Nashville and other cities, he's chosen to stay true to his Georgia roots. Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com
Travis Tritt said despite being lured to Nashville and other cities, he's chosen to stay true to his Georgia roots. Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Thoughts from Travis Tritt

About the songs on “Set in Stone”: “The last thing I would want is to hype people on a new album and then for some reason to do something different than I’ve always done. It’s been pretty consistent, and the last thing you want anyone to do is listen to a new album and go, ‘Really? What is this? This is not you. We know who you are, and this is not you.’ So, I think that when people hear this album, (those) who are already fans of mine will recognize all those same influences mixed in together and they’re going to relate to a lot of the songs. It all goes back to my favorite quote in music, which came from Dan Fogelberg: I write music to move me honestly and objectively because I know that if I can honestly move myself, I can move other people.”

About the role of country radio: “I’m at a point in my career to try to chase after radio just doesn’t make sense. If I can be so bold to say it: it really doesn’t play the part it used to play. When I started my career, radio was the gatekeepers for everything. They’re no longer that. The thing that everybody is looking at now is your streaming numbers… I’m gonna take the same approach to this album that I’ve always had, and that is if radio plays it, great; I consider that to be gravy.” But if they don’t play it, that doesn’t bother me, either.”

About the more you play, the more you learn: “Before I got signed, I was a human jukebox and playing everything from everybody. For whatever reason, if I did a Hank (Williams) Jr. cover or Waylon (Jennings) or Willie (Nelson), people accepted that from me. I tried doing George Strait songs and for whatever reason, my audience never would accept George Strait from me. That was extremely helpful. That made me realize right away, I need to gravitate more in this direction. It helps define you as an artist…I always tell (young musicians); every time you get an opportunity to entertain in front of an audience, you should do it. My oldest son (Tristan) has done it the right way. He’s been out there hustling with his band (Pale Moon Creek). They are playing clubs all over the place. They’re trying to establish a following and a reputation based on playing music in front of people. They’ve done some really cool gigs and some really small, terrible ones. For all of the bad experiences I had from those early days, I would never take them away.”

Travis Tritt

by the numbers

12 singles

5 No. 1 country hits

12 studio albums

3 children

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