By Lisa Morgan
We’ve all heard the admirable term “a Man’s Man”. Eric Church’s reputation goes beyond that in Nashville. There, in the city that represents the best of the best, Eric Church has made himself known as a “Songwriter’s Songwriter”. That was the message I heard loud and clear as I spoke to co-writers on the single “Dark Side” off the newest Church album The Outsiders. Church describes this album saying, “I really see this album as a game changer for us. I want people to understand that we’re here, and that we will be reckoned with. It was time to up our game. This record is what we’ve been trying to do all along. We’ve gotten close before, but this is the first one where we’ve really been able to just go for it and take it to the next level.” (Note the artist’s use of the word “we” as opposed to “me”) That goal in mind, it makes perfect sense why Church would reel in two of Nashville’s most honest and soulful writers: Jeremy Spillman and Travis Meadows.
Currently the owner of Brave Music, an artist development/publishing company in Nashville, Spillman has had cuts on previous Church albums as well as on albums by Josh Turner, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Brantley Gilbert, Trace Adkins, Charlie Worsham, Frankie Ballard, LeeAnn Womack and John Pardi. That is the short list. “Travis and I first met when we were both signed to Universal Publishing here in Nashville. You know I pretty much taught Travis everything he knows. He’d be lost without me,” Spillman laughed. “No. Honestly, Travis is one of the true poets of our generation. The man is brilliant. When you’re in the writing room with him, you’d better be on your game. He brings a cannon and he only aims for the kill shot. It’s an honor to get to be a part of a few of his songs.”
In regards to Church, Spillman shared, “I’ve known Eric for more than a decade. We got together shortly after we’d both been in town (Nashville) and started writing. Writing with Eric is one of the easiest things I do. He KNOWS exactly what he wants to say and honestly, he’s one of the best at saying it. I think he enjoys the process of co-writing and that’s why he does it. But in reality, he doesn’t need much help. He’s just damn good with a song. He’s a force to be reckoned with. He commands excellence on every front, and I think that shows in his artistry. ‘Dark Side’ was Eric’s title, and he came in with a chunk of it done. There are parts of Travis and me in there, but Eric knew where he wanted to go with it. We were just fortunate enough to help him get there.”
I was introduced to Travis Meadows through a friend and fellow Nashville, singer-song writer, Jon Eben, who accurately described him as an artist “so hot, people in Nashville gather around him just to keep their hands warm.” He was not wrong. Meadows has been making music for 30 years, 10 of them in Nashville. He has an ASCAP Christian Music Award, 8 top 20 singles in the Contemporary Christian genre and landed a staff writer deal with Scott Gunter at Universal Music Pulbishing where he met Spillman. His songs garnered cuts with artists Lynyrd Skynyrd (God & Guns), Blackberry Smoke, LeeAnn Womack and Jake Owens, not to mention the title song, ‘Riser’ on Dierks Bentley’s newest number one album (co-written with Steve Moakler). Meadows also earned several #1 singles and five RIAA Gold Records with Australian artist, Adam Brand. His own records, My Life 101, Killin’ Uncle Buzzy and Old Ghosts & Unfinished Business, journal a life that has frequented the road to hell and back. Meadows does nothing short of bleed his story into well-crafted tributes to courageous, yet painful pieces of truth, leaving no listener unmoved or unchanged. Meanwhile, songs like Nice Girl and Good Country People reflect another side to this artist reflecting a wel- placed, easy going sense of humor and acutely sharp wit.
“I’ve written with Eric Church twice,” shared Meadows. “They contacted me through a Facebook message of all things. Our first song didn’t get recorded. The second time they contacted me to write with Eric, it was like getting contacted by the CIA; telling me to meet here at such and such a time. But then he showed up in a baseball cap and sneakers. It was just a Southern boy and two dudes hanging out. It started with a greeting, a little catching up and then we got down to business. I’d been told by Jeremy that he usually has an idea in mind, but I made some preparations the night before so I’d be ready. Jeremy put out an idea, then I did. Then there was this long pause. Eric said, ‘Well, I do have this one thing. It may not be anything’…and then he starts singing, ‘Over there in the shadow…’. His talent was just beyond freaking amazing. And Jeremy…he’s only the best writer on the planet. All the elements were there, and we were all on fire, which is a very rare thing. We finished the song in an hour and a half. I think we all left feeling pretty excited.”
Out of 365 days, Travis Meadows will write around 200 songs. For every one song that gets heard, there’s still 30-40 out there waiting. It is no small thing to be behind a song on an album that is predicted to set Eric Church apart as an artist and potentially secure his name among the record halls. As it stands, The Outsiders, Church’s fourth album, is his second to reach #1 on the Billboard Charts, selling 288,000 in the first week. You can bet an $11 beer that you will be hearing this “game changer” live above the sound of thousands of screaming fans at Stagecoach 2014. But sometime, somewhere, away from the noise of the crowd, take a minute to discover what the heart and soul has always been in country music: America’s story tellers who have lived and bled the songs they produce, the best of which you may never hear on the radio.