The man who I might always think of as David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs is actually Travis Denning from Warner Robins, Georgia.
And I got to know him a little bit better when Denning called me to talk about his upcoming EP Beer’s Better Cold, due out on Friday (May 15). We talked about this batch of music, and all of the big and little moments that landed him here.
CMT.com: Every artist I talk to always tells me about their turning point: the moment when he or she had the I-have-to-move-to-Nashville moment. What was yours?
Denning: Honestly, I think it was a probably in high school. I mean, I’d loved all of Jason Aldean’s records, but especially My Kind of Party. And when he was on that tour, I was just watching him on stage and I had this realization, like, “Man, this dude sold out the Macon Coliseum. He’s from my neck of the woods and he went to Nashville and look what he’s doing.” It was just kind of this really affirming moment. If this guy is from my neck of the woods and he made it, why the hell can’t I go give a shot, too? That was my turning point and it just made it real. It made the idea that you could go somewhere and become somebody really real. It just put a face to the dream.
And you probably knew that besides just having Georgia in common, you and Aldean didn’t exactly have a million record label deals waiting on the table. Did that make your dream seem more reachable?
Absolutely. I remember seeing a behind-the-music show where they said that Jason had done like 32 or 36 label showcases. And the last one he did was for Broken Bow, and the rest is history. He had such a long path to get where he is now, and he just never stopped believing. And the people around them didn’t either.
Was there a certain country song — Aldean’s or not — that made you have one of those pull-over-to-the-side-of-the-road moments?
One hundred percent. And I always had this list. But the first one I can remember is Gary Allan’s “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful.” I mean, it literally kills me. I played a show with him one time and was watching his show, and he kicked into that song, and I had one of those, “Oh, I forgot about this one. I gotta get somewhere safe. I’m going to start crying.”
And what about the moment — we all have at least one — when you knew you’d made your parents really proud?
Man, I’ve been fortunate enough that I have some of the best parents ever when it comes to the support of this dream. And they’ve always had my back. But I think the earliest moment for them would probably be when I had my first cut when “All Out of Beer” came out on Jason’s record in 2016. Not only was it awesome for them to go, “Hey, you know, Jason Aldean recorded a song that my son wrote,” but it was kind of a nice way to put it out there for the naysayers. My parents knew that I was going to work and they knew I was gonna put in the effort. And so as long as I did that, they would have my back. But it was nice for them to go, “This guy who sells out football stadiums just recorded one of Travis’ songs, so we think he’s making the right decision.”
That must’ve felt so validating for all of you. Because there are non-believers around all of us, and people who only want you to take the path of least resistance.
I try not to think in that headspace. I’ve never been a guy who has had some success, and then flips the bird at these people. I’ve never had that chip-on-my-shoulder kind of mentality. You’re always going to want to succeed and there are people you’re always going to want to prove wrong. I’ve really never lived in that mentality and neither have my parents. But at the end of the day, it is nice to say, “Look, I went, I worked, I was motivated, I put in the time and effort, and now I’m starting to reap the benefits. I’m proud of myself. I’m confident in myself.” And I think it’s totally okay to say that, you know?
Okay, so then you were established in Nashville writing songs and meeting people in the business. Was there a moment or two then that you were like, “How is this my life right now? How am I sitting here in a write with Rhett Akins or Scooter Caruso? Where did I go right?”
Those are definitely two right there, with Rhett and Scooter. And then the fact that they have both become friends is kind of a crazy thought. Another one was when I went to Steve Wariner’s house and we just played guitar and hung out, so that was a pretty wild day. I remember leaving his house going, “Not only did I play guitar with Steve Wariner — who is one of my favorite country guitar players ever — but I also felt like we were just friends.” We genuinely just wanted to spend time together and play guitar and nerd out on some guitars and amplifiers. But I was still like, “But I’m doing that with Steve Wariner.” That’s nuts.
Another time was when I met Garth Brooks at a CMA Kixstart program. We had coffee, had a great conversation, and then he gave me his number. I thought that was pretty cool. So then one time I was in California with a mutual friend of me and Garth’s — a radio program director — and I sent a selfie of me and him to Garth. And Garth texted me back. And I was like, “Dude, you just texted me back.”
That is more than just a moment. That is huge. It’s one thing to have him give you his number and for you to get up the guts to text him, but then for him to reply.
I definitely had some kind of wine courage going on. I was like, “You know what? I’m texting Garth, I don’t care.” But that’s the kind of guy he is. You know what I mean? That whole time, I feel like I didn’t deserve to be in that moment. But it’s where I’m at, and it’s literally the thing I dreamed about as a teenager: just being able to rub elbows with my heroes and the people I respect and look up to.
Cheers to that wine courage. I have you saved in my contacts as Travis David Ashley Parker Denning, so you never know what I might text you someday. So let’s talk about that smash of a debut single you wrote with Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs.”
That was almost like an experiment. It was like, “We’re gonna put out something with a long-ass title that’s really specific and we’ll just see if people like it.” And the way it connected with everybody was just because they had a fake ID. Everyone did. That’s just what your life was like. And you got into the bar or you got a six pack, and you felt like, “I just broke all the rules. Now I’ve got beer and I’m only 20.” Playing that song live really takes me back to the beginning of everything.
And for as much as you’ve already proven your songwriting shops, your new EP has one song you did not write. What was it about “ABBY” that made you consider including an outside cut?
I firmly believe that the best song wins. And that song is just so good. It’s so well written. I remember the first time I heard it, my eyes popped out of my head. I was like, “God, that’s so great.” Because every now and then you’ve gotta tell somebody to kick rocks and get out of your life. Everybody’s had that relationship and everybody’s had that person. It felt like something that if I had been in the room, it felt like something I would have written, you know? That’s what I connected to from a songwriting level.
Beer’s Better Cold track listing:
1. “Where That Beer’s Been” (Rhett Akins, Travis Denning, Chris Stevens, Jeremy Stover)
2. “After A Few” (Kelly Archer, Denning, Justin Weaver)
3. “ABBY” (Ashley Gorley, Matt Jenkins, Chase McGill)
4. “Tank Of Gas And A Radio Song” (Denning, Nathan Spicer, Shane Minor)
5. “Beer’s Better Cold” (Scooter Carusoe, Denning, Cole Taylor)
6. “Sittin’ By A Fire” (Akins, Denning, Stover)