Shooting the breeze with 28-year-old Fort Lauderdale native Travis Newbill will lead to whimsical conversations about artistic stimuli, meditational transformations, and botched relationships. Delivered with a starry glaze through larger-than-life spectacles and with an eccentric-yet-welcoming style, one can't help be but wonder: Is he serious? Truth be told, Trav is... and isn't. This ambiguity is the centerpiece of Newbill's ethos and the impetus behind his slightly unhinged folk tunes. He will tell you his inspiration comes from years spent meditating and devotion to Buddha Dharma, which has led him to the foundation that form is emptiness and emptiness is form.
Not following? Perhaps that's the point? You are trying too hard. Since 2003, the singer/songwriter has been constructing songs that are not meant to be so wholeheartedly cerebral. Or maybe they are? Since this past Tuesday, the uncanny musician has embarked on a career-defining project that will have him releasing one of his previous albums each day, for 11 days straight, culminating on Saturday, November 11, with the "Oneness" event.
The "Oneness," held at the Bubble, will be unveiling Trav's newest effort, Iron Rabbit, a project based solely on "psychedelic singing." Also on tap for the night are two feature films Trav has made since taking residence at the Fort Lauderdale performance art space, the Bubble. (By the way, when we say "residence," we mean that literally, Trav actually lives in the Bubble in a converted storage loft he calls "the hug.")
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Trav is also a regular contributor to this very blog. Matter of fact, the personable and unconventional artist had just wrapped up his piece on New Times' Beerfest headliner, Sister Hazel, when we caught up with him to try to dissect what exactly he means by the Oneness event trying to "dissolve our conceptual experience of time and separateness, allowing for a collective experience of nowness, interconnectedness, harmonious eternity."
New Times: So you mention in your press release that Iron Rabbit is an album of psychedelic singing. Can you explain what exactly "psychedelic singing" is?
Travis Newbill: On Losar of this year -- Losar is Tibetan New Year -- I sat in the dark at the Bubble, in communion with "the other," opened my mouth, and channeled the vibrations.
So it's kind of a mantra set to music?
It is mantra-like, chant-like, but doesn't feature any mantras I know from anywhere else except for several OMs, which conclude the set. And there is drumming in some parts.
Where do you think you are in your journey as an artist with this album and the Oneness event?
I feel more open and exploratory than ever. This album was a big step for me artistically, especially as far as singing goes. I've discovered my voice as a primary instrument, and I think it translates all of my experience into sound.
How about your movies; how does that come into play with your openness as an artist?
The first movie is called From the Hug. It is a collection of spontaneous songs that I recorded with a webcam during my time living in the Bubble. It is very open in that it is spontaneous. I am opening what is there and channeling it.
You will also be releasing a new album, called The Sun Is Shining, Birds Are Falling From the Sky, the Sun Is Shining, the day before the Oneness. Explain what that project is about?
It is a handful of songs that were written between 2005 and 2009. I had the opportunity to go into a real recording studio for the first time here.
The name itself, The Sun Is Shining, Birds Are Falling From the Sky, the Sun Is Shining, seems to have a cyclical, full-circle type of theme?
There is a full circle theme to all of this, absolutely! What's old is here; what's new is here. Onwards! One thing that is very special to me about this EP is that it was recorded while my dad was going through cancer. He passed away shortly afterwards, in between those sessions and the Iron Rabbit sessions. That was really big for me, of course. "Sun Is Shining" is dedicated to him. Songs, although previously recorded, were selected with him in mind.
Any song in particular that is close to your heart?
"Smoke in the Rain" is probably the most special. It is very much about passing and letting go.
I'd say you've developed into very conceptual artist. How does that compare to the Trav that started out 11 albums ago?
In the beginning, I was writing songs about what I was going through personally. To an extent, that is still happening, but the early stuff is very focused on relationship drama. It's less ego-, melodrama-centered now and more centerless.
You must get tons of inspiration living in a place like the Bubble full time, but at the same time, I imagine it gets lonely?
Yes, both. It is a very creatively charged space and extremely lonely at times. I think both of those qualities of my experience really show through in the art that I've created.
Any other surprises for the Oneness event?
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There will be interpretive dance, public meditation, installations, lots of art on the wall, and various performance art. During The Iron Rabbit music periods of improvisational music by various ensembles -- with my brother Brady Newbill and Steve Bristol at the core, on bass and drums, respectively -- will play out.
The Oneness, featuring Travis Newbill. 6 p.m. Friday, November 11, at the Bubble, 810 NE Fourth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Click here.