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As we get older, it starts to seem like all our discoveries are behind us.  We've seen more. We're more calloused for having seen it.  But there's a stubbornness too.  A reluctance to admit that something grand could rise up behind us.  It is too strong a reminder maybe of our own mortality.  And so we die before we die.  

There is beauty in life, and to those whom it is given, it is theirs to pass on. 

HYENA:  What are you questioning now?

TRAVIS HOWARD:  I've been in L.A. 6 years now. And I think I've been through a lot of the initial confusion about spirituality that you go through when you first step out from under the umbrella of your parents' faith. But that's still my biggest question. How do I deal with God now that I see him or her (or however he likes to be referred to) from a different perspective? I'm either much much closer or much much further away than I thought growing up.

HYENA:  What couldn't you talk about at home?

TRAVIS:  Well, that, for one. There aren't many things that a Southern kid can be completely open about. Everything has to be tempered by this requisite respect for your parents and God. So you can't really talk about sexuality, drugs, racism, or spirituality unless you're saying what you've been taught you're supposed to say. 

HYENA:  What strengths and weaknesses?

TRAVIS:  As I move along, I guess I find myself less unique than I used to think. My features and flaws aren't much different than anyone else's. From around 25 on you start to lose your idealism, so you get less patient with people, especially the people you love. But you become more sure of yourself - what you can and can't do -  which makes you better at what you do. 

A lot of what I'm writing now is coming from seeing my father emerge in my own personality. Some of it I'm trying to nurture and some of it I'm trying to kill. But it's odd to see him in me whether I like it or not.

HYENA:  Chalybeate Springs, Georgia.  Tell me about that.

TRAVIS:  When I describe home, I always paint it like this lush, enveloping Southern utopia. It is. Cultural and political idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, Chalybeate Springs was little and green. Plums and blackberries grew everywhere. I would spend hours on my bike stopping in the woods to eat whatever was growing. Everybody knew I was John Howard's boy, so I couldn't get in too much trouble. It was the perfect starting point because even the smallest of dreams was huge. I mean, if you only think you're 1 foot tall, a 5-foot stepladder is pretty exciting, right? So, once I left home, the world seemed much more massive than it would to maybe a kid from Atlanta or something.

HYENA:  Your Southern heritage and your birthright as an American has inspired at least one great song -- I Regret It.  You touch on that theme again in Life Goes On. And it doesn't seem that it's because people got it wrong it's because we got it wrong.  We are betraying our own identity.

TRAVIS: Yeah, I think a lot of things about being Southern are wonderful.  But like I said in I Regret It, I inherited this white way of acting and talking and thinking that didn't seem intrinsically white. I loved my friends, black and white, because of WHO they were. And I remember very clearly the day my eyes were opened. I was with my buddy Durwin, a black guy and my friend Ric, a white guy. We were talking and I just matter-of-factly said N-----. I didn't really mean anything by it. It was a passing word. But I saw Durwin's face change. He didn't want to have a march or pull me out of a car and beat me or anything. His face just dropped and he didn't say a word. That killed me. This word suddenly wasn't just an expletive. It was a device that we all somehow knew was a tool to intimidate and oppress. I never felt like more of an ass. And I was never able to regain that friendship. I regret that.

HYENA:  You must've grown up on Lynyrd Skynyrd, like all of us down there in the 70-80's.  Molly Hatchet.  The Allman Brothers.  Atlanta Rhythm Section.  But I don't hear much of them in you. You sound familiar but at the same time, like no one else.  

TRAVIS: That's gospel baby! I was fiercely protected from all that music. I could only listen to Southern Gospel growing up. Later I went back and caught up on some of that redneck rock, but it was a different thing by then.

HYENA:  How'd you decide on LA?  Does it have anything to do with not wanting to be labeled exclusively country?  Do you feel at home yet in LA? 

TRAVIS:  L.A. was decided upon by my then wife. That is the oldest and most told story in Hollywood. Kids want to be actors/musicians, go to Hollywood, are blinded by the glare of newfound attention, and go a huntin' for the next big thing. We didn't deviate from that much.  I've had lots of adventures here, more than anywhere else. I definitely feel at home, though I do phase in and out of love and hate with this town.

HYENA:  One thread that runs through your music is that as a songwriter, you are clearly an observer of humanity, as all good writers are and what you seem to see consistently is loss.  A woman crying alone at a restaurant.  A friend who's been dumped.  A bum whose only hope was never born.  The easy girl from high school ignored no longer.  A fatherless son.  A son who might've been better off fatherless. An abused mother who couldn't leave.  You paint pictures of the lost, the scorned, the hopeless and then start peeling back the layers so that in the end, we are no longer free to dismiss them. Is it mostly loss you see? 

TRAVIS:  I guess the thing that affects me the most in my life is loss. I'm probably the most sentimental person I know and I grieve deeply over everything that has passed on. Did you see Vanilla Sky? In the end he loses things he never even had in the first place --- and I cried like a little girl! And I think it's the relationships and opportunities that you lose grasp of that shape you the most profoundly. I'd like to think that I'm wise enough by now to see what and who are good in my life and appreciate every second of them. But I probably have a little way to go.

HYENA:  You write like a much older man.  You've lived a long time already.

TRAVIS:  I tried for a while to write kid songs, you know, that would appeal to the late-teen and early-20's masses. But I thought I sounded like an idiot. Some people can pull that off, but not me.

HYENA:  You have said your dream "isn't to be a star, just a sympathetic (or commiserating) voice to people who live the kind of life I have.  And since the majority of Christendom can't get much past SUV, HMO and USA, USA I don't expect to be a millionaire."  Is that enough?  For someone to identify with you?  To be the voice of those that insist on something different?  

TRAVIS:  Oh hell yes, that's enough! If you can get into somebody's head with a song and share some sort of basic belief together, even if just for four minutes......that's why people go to church! And if I can keep pushing myself and people around me enough to make a life's work out of this, I don't need to sell a million records. Who NEEDS to sell a million records? 

HYENA:  What has it cost you to give this a shot, this dream of yours?

TRAVIS:  Well, it's cost me many a girlfriend. And living in Hollywood keeps me constantly uncomfortable. I'm working on guitar licks and lyrics at an age when most guys are learning what temperature a bottle should be served at and how much they need to put into their IRA to be a millionaire by 60.

HYENA:  What do you believe?

TRAVIS:  I believe that the world is overpopulated; that love is not all it takes, but that love is always worth the agony that comes at the end; that people only buy from you what you've sold yourself first; and that God doesn't care what you call him as long as you're calling.

I also believe that the propensity some people have to mispronounce "nuclear" as "nuculer" is an actual mental disorder.

HYENA:  How do you imagine yourself when you're old?

TRAVIS:  I IMAGINE myself a patient grandfather with a little house in the hills of Tennessee, dispensing wisdom born of hard years on the road and in hundreds of towns and studios, with friends and family with whom I share a deep respect, appreciation, and support. Also I get better looking with age. 

But my imagination has been known to miss the mark.

HYENA:  What do you want us to know most of all?

TRAVIS:  That I'm not having sex with Miranda Lambert.

HYENA:  Oh and are you part Indian?

TRAVIS:  Yes, but not enough to get free stuff from the government.

You can read more about Travis Howard at his official website.



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