Grief is a nightmarish blood-sucker that creeps upon you when you least expect it. Such was the case for indie-rock god Travis Hayes two years ago, and through making his new album, Sleepless, he comes closer to soothing that pain.
When a dear friend was hit and killed by a drunk driver, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Travis Hayes was sent spiraling out of control. “I had the wind knocked out of me,” he says in a spoken introduction of his new music video, premiering today. “I didn’t know what to do or how to cope. I did my best to stay strong for those who were close.”
Behind his good-spirited facade, his life was crumbling down around him, and so he turned to music to absorb the shock. “Sleepless,” the album’s first track, opens with a sea of guitars thrashing and crashing against his sorrow. In such tragedy, bleeding out onto every other part of his existence, the song attempts to make sense of “the choices we make in order to carry on. It’s about recognizing that the world we live in is not an easy place to exist, and we have to find ways to cope and take on what comes our way,” he explains.
The suffocating blackness would serve him well throughout much of the record. Sleepless (produced by Sean Beresford) is as much a personal statement as it is tremendously cathartic for the listener. “Grief and loss is different for everyone, and I think all of it is hard,” he says. And it goes much deeper than that. Unspeakable pain threads us all together in a vast tapestry of humanity, strained through layers of anger, confusion and denial. “I tried to channel all this turmoil directly into my album,” he adds. “Grieving is a necessary part of life. I don’t believe that it is ever time wasted.”
Even, as he mentions in the visual, filmed by Andy Strong, the boiling over of the political and social landscape spurred him forward. “I think the state of the world has weighed heavy on everyone these past few years. The people close to me have also been going through tough times, so we’re all just trying to get through it together,” he says. “I wanted to be 100 percent honest with myself and with others on this album, and this video is an extension of what this music and these lyrics mean to me.”
In the song “Harrowed Hearts,” you sing, “Once I was told, ‘Son, you’ll grow old / The years will fly by / Then, one day, you’ll die.'” Was that particular image from a very real moment in your life?
Yes, a few years back, I had a conversation with my father about growing up, and he told me there will always be something next. Once you achieve one goal, you’ll set another, and so on, until you pass away. The real goal is to try your best to live in these moments and not get caught up in moving on to the next.
“No one tells you how to start over again,” you observe on “Second Chances.” Two things: first, what would you tell yourself two years ago? Second, do you feel you’ve gotten a second chance?
Every day is a an opportunity to learn and to better yourself. We’re given more “second chances” than we know what to do with. The tricky part is to not taking them for granted.
Generally, as human beings, each death we encounter feels as if we are shedding a past self or life — as you seem to say on “Past Lives.” What has that felt like for you?
Everyone deals with grief in their own way, and I think the most important thing we can do is just be there for one another. Listen to one another, and tell those you love that you love them while you can. Tell them every damn day.
Top to bottom, this record is such an emotional journey. When you left the studio for the last time after recording, was there a big release for you?
This is the longest I’ve ever spent working on a collection of songs. At some point, I just had to decide that I was done and walk away. You can spend your whole life lost in a moment or hung up on something if you don’t know when it’s time to walk away from it.
A piano ballad, “Goodnight” feels like an appropriate way to bookend your story. The lyric “no one’s ever prepared for death, even when it’s on your doorstep” is especially moving. What does this song mean for you?
Never take a day for granted. Love your life. You’ve only got one.