Over the past several years, Travis Hayes has become a staple name in the Bay Area music scene. With a voice that sounds like it’s been soaked in equal parts honey and whiskey singing emotional, heartfelt lyrics that could be forged only from the genuine hardships of life, it’s hard not to listen to him without getting chills.
On Oct. 5, Hayes launched a crowdfunding campaign powered by Kickstarter to help fund the pressing and distribution of his new album, “Sleepless,” which he plans to release in December. Hayes will be performing songs from his upcoming record as well as previous works of his live at JaM Cellars on Oct. 19.
Hayes describes how started songwriting. “I was a very emotional kid for most of my life… I had trouble keeping everything inside until it boiled over into a physical illness that I didn’t really understand. I had always written things in notebooks as an outlet, like poetry or lyrics. Between middle school and high school I decided to play guitar and get into music so I was able to turn all of my writing and stress into something positive.”
After high school, Hayes moved from Mendocino County to San Francisco, where he began playing his music at open mics for anyone who would listen.
“More and more people heard my songs and encouraged me to start playing shows. Songwriting had been my own personal thing before that, but during my time in the city I really started to develop my chops as a (performing) singer-songwriter.”
Hayes released his debut album “Young Daze” in 2014. Since then, he has accumulated a list of musical accolades including performances at the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco and South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
Hayes listed his musical influences. “When I was in high school I was listening to a lot of punk and new wave bands like The Clash, The Cure, and The Smiths. I loved that they all talked about real stuff. They weren’t afraid to be unapologetically honest about emotional or political things.”
“Today I’m really into Ryan Adams and Jason Isval. Sometimes it’s hard when I’m up on stage performing with a band because I want to talk about real stuff, and people don’t always want to that. It’s always nice to see a band or artist that’s on the same wavelength as me, just trying to tell stories.”
Hayes described some of the life experiences that shaped the lyrical content of his new album. “‘Young Daze’ was about not not really knowing what anything was about, and all the songs on ‘Sleepless’ are way more conscious of the heaviness that exists in the world.
“I used to have a more naive view of the world, and then out of nowhere one of my closest friends, whose name was Karina, was walking home one night and got hit and killed by a drunk driver. She had been someone in my life that was nothing but pure joy and had a great view of life, and then she was just gone. I didn’t know how to cope with it, I was just trying to do my best and keep my head above water. Eventually I did the only thing I knew how to do, and that was to just write songs and keep writing.
“I think we all have those moments in life that mark the changing of tides, and that was definitely one of those for me. After that I didn’t want to go so lightly into things. I wanted to write and record the best songs I could so I could put my best work out into the world. These songs aren’t just for me, they’re for Karina, for my family, and for anyone who’s coping with something real in the world.”
Hayes launched his Kickstarter campaign to help pay for the physical and distribution processing of “Sleepless” including CD and vinyl pressing, wearable merchandise, photography, videography, and public relations. The goal is to raise $10,000, and if Hayes does not meet his goal by the end of the campaign on Nov. 4, he will not get to keep any of the money he has raised. “It really is all or nothing,” says Hayes.
“I grew up in this punk, DIY scene where you don’t ask for handouts and you do everything yourself, so making this has been a little foreign to me. At the same time, it’s been really amazing because I didn’t get into music for myself. Everything I’ve done has been for the greater good of the community,” Hayes said.
“This is the largest personal, emotional, and financial investment that I’ve ever put into anything. It’s been a really big learning experience for me to let down my guard and trust people to meet me in the middle. I’m hoping I can take this momentum and put this record out in the best capacity that I can, play the best shows I can, and give my best to the people who have been supporting me over the years through my music.”
Hayes said he is excited to return to Napa and perform at JaM Cellars. “I always love playing in Napa. I play a lot of places and I always look forward to coming back there.”
Travis Hayes performs at JaM Cellars from 9-11 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19. Admission is free to the public, though attendance is limited to those who are 21 or older. JaM Cellars is at 1460 First St. in downtown Napa. To learn more about Travis Hayes or contribute to his Kickstarter campaign, visit www.iamtravishayes.com.