Travis Meadows knows a thing or two about being haunted by the spirits of our past — he’s battled addiction, cancer, the loss of his leg and numerous trips to rehab. Luckily for artists like Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and Jake Owen, he also knows how to turn struggle into songwriting redemption: They all rely on Meadows for his ability to spin a lyric that blends pain with catharsis. For Bentley, that means current single “Riser,” which has become a rallying anthem for his fans. Meadows is proud of Bentley’s version of that song, but is now revealing his own voice on the eerie “Old Ghosts.” Although the song was released in 2013, the Nashville-based artist says it’s never too late to pay tribute to where we’ve been and where we’re going.
“I feel like it is one of the best songs I’ve ever written,” Meadows tells Rolling Stone Country about “Old Ghosts,” whose stark, mostly black-and-white video premieres today. “So it’s kind of a reconciling — cleaning the closets out, and having a look at some things emotionally and spiritually. I’m getting ready to do a new record, and this video serves as way to say goodbye to that record, and make a transition to the next.”
A track from the album Old Ghosts and Unfinished Business, which was all about leaving the demons in our wake and moving on to a more hopeful future, “Old Ghosts” is an introspective, acoustic ballad that connects not only in message, but with Meadows’ haunting voice. His vocal delivery holds heartbreak in every raspy, cracked corner. “These old ghosts, they all belong to me,” he sings, “they hurt me and they heal me.” Meadows doesn’t want to forgot all that hardship — it’s scar tissue that builds songs, after all.
Many of Meadow’s co-writes have gone on to become hits for others — “What We Ain’t Got,” recorded by Owen; Bentley’s “Riser” — but now the songwriter is finding a little “me time.” Meadows cleared his schedule recently just to work on songs for the next record, heading back to his home state of Mississippi to hit the pause button on everything but the music.
“I just went down to Clarksdale and rented one of those little shotgun shacks the sharecroppers used to use,” he says, “and I got in touch with my Delta roots — back in the home of the blues. It was so inspiring. Plus they didn’t have TV or Internet, so all I could do was play my guitar and work on the record. It reminded me of another lifetime. I think the heat index was 120.”
Meadows played the “old trashy Silvertone guitar” that the property’s management had strung up — left-handed — just for him. He left with a few songs, and plans to begin a pledge campaign to fund the record. He’s been sober now for five years, and has found the clarity to be nothing but helpful in his work, though he will admit the thought of writing without the crutch of intoxication was worrisome at first.
“No doubt about it,” he says, “I have several friends who have gotten sober, and it seems to be a constant thread. I used to call it ‘numbing the editor,’ but my problem was I was killing the editor. When you don’t have anything to lean on, it’s intimidating. But I write better [sober]. I’ve been pretty reflective in all my records, and there is a whole lot of truth and brutal honesty.”
Brutal honesty, yes, but with a look to brighter horizons — like the fuzzy streetlight glow of Nashville that ends the video for “Old Ghosts.” “I quit killing people in my songs,” Meadows laughs, “and I’m a lot happier.”