New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Traveller are proud to release their debut album, Western Movies, on Refuge Foundation for the Arts. Last week, American Songwriter previewed the album, calling it "...a rootsy singer-songwriter collection that finds the three songwriters trading vocals on their off-kilter songs, at turns humorous and devastating..." The trio have begun a U.S. tour which hits Great Scott in Boston tonight. Full list of dates below.
Longtime friends and well-respected solo artists, Robert Ellis and Jonny Fritz had been writing together for quite some time when they got the hair-brained idea to head to India to write a "country" record. The two set off on their epic journey but after an ill-advised exuberant jump into the Ganges, Ellis got ill and nearly died. Though Ellis was fortunate enough to kill the bug that had overtaken his body, the idea of this collaboration didn't die. A few months later they roped in Cory Chisel, a GRAMMY-nominated singer-songwriter and friend who had a recording studio in the Wisconsin monastery he ran as an arts space. Chisel rounded out the group and within two weeks the trio wrote an album full of songs and made their debut at the Newport Folk Festival, also playing Stagecoach and ACL that year.
In the spirit of The Highwaymen, Ellis, Chisel and Fritz each play to their strengths - three band leaders taking turns showing their stuff as well practiced performers and musicians. But they also play with the trope of the "supergroup" and the been-there-done-that-played-every-venue musician, injecting a tongue-in-cheek humor into both the lyrical content and their live performance.
Traveller will be on tour throughout the month of May. Highlights include two nights at Union Pool in Brooklyn this week, on May 8th and 9th and their spiritual hometown (and the town where all three resided) of Nashville on May 12th at The Basement East. Full tour dates below.
May 07 - Great Scott - Boston, MA
May 08 - Union Pool - Brooklyn, NY
May 09 - Union Pool - Brooklyn, NY
May 10 - Radio Bristol - Bristol, VA
May 11 - Standard Deluxe - Waverly, AL
May 12 - Basement East - Nashville, TN
May 13 - Hi Fi - Indianapolis, IN
May 14 - Space - Evanston, IL
May 16 - Codfish Hollow - Maquoketa, IA
1. Nobody Makes It Out
3. Western Movies
5. Chia Pet Goatee
6. Happy In Hindsight
7. Lonely All My Life
8. When You're Away
9. Get Me Out Of The South
10. Christmas Eve At Kroger
A supergroup, n., is an act that brings together musical personalities too stubborn or sizeable to fit inside a normal band. This goes triple for Traveller, the country-rock-folk-whatever supergroup comprising Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel, and Jonny Fritz. On their premier album, Western Movies, their talents combine without losing in the slightest their signature stamps and fortes. Cory Chisel is the same one-man melody machine behind Wisconsin's Wandering Sons. Jonny Fritz, as usual, fills verse after verse with his spot-on lyricism and sharp-edged scenes from daily America. And Robert Ellis is the eerily talented composer, breaking down everything and flawlessly rebuilding it back up with a Rubber Soul-like finality.
For all that, Traveller began entirely impromptu. Screwing around in Nashville one fine evening, Jonny Fritz and Robert Ellis bumped into a promoter, and half on a bluff, asked for a place on the Newport Folk Festival with their new band. When the promoter asked whether this band was real, they responded with a resounding "sure." And it was- if only as a text thread and a twinkle in their eyes. They didn't have a name yet, but they'd been excitedly gabbing about a supergroup- or "stupid group," as they called it. They even conscripted Cory Chisel via text, strategizing that any supergroup worth the name would require at least "one very beautiful man." The promoter believed them and agreed, leaving Jonny, Robert, and Cory approximately two weeks to hash out a superset before festival time. Unflustered, they squeezed out four stunners, generously garnished the rest with covers and personality, and- viola!- Traveller was born. After touring for two weeks, up to Newport and back, the trio disbanded to merrily continue on their solo careers. Nevertheless, the chemistry was good, the songs were great, and a record deserved to be made, they all agreed.
As it happened, Cory Chisel was the caretaker of a 57 bedroom monastery in Appleton, Wisconsin, named The Refuge, that hosts culture-makers of every stripe to come nest and create work in splendid isolation. So over a year after Newport, in the iciest bite of January, all three made their way Midwest for the musical lock-in. The first ten days, they wrote; the next ten, they recorded. "Every morning," Jonny recalls, "three bald eagles would circle outside my window, in a turret overlooking the frozen Fox river. I kept thinking they were symbols for Cory, Robert, and myself. I'm half-kidding but..." This independent spirit is what gives Western Movies its happy, pass-the-mic variety, just as the trio's playfulness makes it feel like a young man's clubhouse where the checkers are jumping and the root beer flows freely. The record carousels from the made-for-the-convertible namesake "Western Movies," to the grinning and seductive "Hummingbird," to the pining "When You're Away," which Robert penned in a caffeine binge as Jonny and Cory were dropping hundreds at a Croc's Outlet Store. A cooly moonlit "Lonely All My Life" alternates with the holiday warmth of "Christmas Eve at Kroger," hymnifying "Sugar cereal... Lil' projects with the cousins...Eating Cracklin Oat Bran... and watching Diehard with my Mom." In short, Western Movies is a collection- and an entente between three big musical personalities that stopped razzing each other just long enough to make a true work of art.