SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Travis Meadows describes himself as an orphan who turned into a preacher, a preacher turned into a songwriter, a songwriter that turned into a drunk, a drunk that is learning to be a human being. He's known for making music of dark poetry. And on his new album "First Cigarette," he opens with a song from his troubled.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIDEWAYS")
TRAVIS MEADOWS: (Singing) If I could buy myself a conscience that wasn't broken, mend every fence I drove hard head through...
SIMON: Travis Meadows joins us now from Nashville. Thanks so much for being with us.
MEADOWS: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: Let's hear a little more of that first cut, "Sideways."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIDEWAYS")
MEADOWS: (Singing) I have moments when I act just like my father, the only man whoever broke my heart.
SIMON: How did your father break your heart?
MEADOWS: By not being there - you know, my grandparents raised me, and what I really wanted was attention from my father. And he was an alcoholic as well. And it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that he was 17 - 16, 17 years old when he had me. He had no idea how to be a father.
MEADOWS: You know, I spent a lot of years holding something against a man that I became exactly like. And that's maybe the part that broke my heart the most.
SIMON: And then cancer came into your life.
MEADOWS: Yeah. Yep. I had a rough introduction to this world. I was going through puberty and cancer at the same time if you can imagine. Either one of those is plenty.
SIMON: (Laugher) Yeah.
MEADOWS: You know, we humans are resilient animals. I don't look at my life and I think, well, you know, I wish I would have had it easier like somebody else because we all have our own share of heartache and our own share of burdens.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNDERDOGS")
MEADOWS: (Singing) Young lovers with broken hearts, old soldiers missing parts. Yeah, we all got battle scars. Maybe that makes us who we are. We are, we are, we are the underdogs.
Music was always the thread that ran through all of that, you know? When I was about 11, I started playing the drums. And then I was 21 years old, and that's really when the lightbulb came over for me. I was in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and I had moved there to smoke pot and to play bluegrass music. I discovered the songwriters and all of these beautiful songs. And I had never - because chemotherapy affected my hearing, I never heard the words. And when it was just a guy and a guitar, I heard the words.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HUNGRY")
MEADOWS: (Singing) There's always something out of reach, another set of stairs these feet just want to climb.
SIMON: When you were a young man, you found God, I gather?
MEADOWS: I did. You know, it took a while. I had been running all my life. I had been looking. I had been searching for some kind of anchor to hold on to. And you know, at 24, I had a religious experience that took me down a 17-year-long road that I do not regret.
SIMON: Do I get this right? You became a missionary.
MEADOWS: I did. You know, I can't do a little bit of anything. And so when I was getting high, I wanted to get high. When I found Jesus, I wanted everybody to have Jesus. You know, everything in my world was black and white. And you know, I found myself at 38 years old with a lot of gray that I could not understand, and I couldn't explain. And when I wasn't satisfied with the answers, I just went back to the one thing that I knew and understood. And that was drinking.
SIMON: You know, I've got to tell you, Mr. Meadows, I've interviewed a number of great country musicians and so many of them have had problems with drinking or have had problems with drugs or with the law. You are the whole ball of wax and then some (laughter). What an extraordinary story.
MEADOWS: Well, thank you. I do feel lucky to be alive. And I do have a lot to live for. You know, I'm much too old to be at this point in my career, you know. I'm, in some ways, starting over.
SIMON: Let's get back to the title track, if we can. And this is "First Cigarette."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRST CIGARETTE")
MEADOWS: (Singing) I - I am a little more content. A little more content with who I am than who I was. And I have learned to love the comfort when it comes. Like a first cigarette in the morning buzz.
SIMON: Tell me about the contentment part in your life. How - what are you feeling now that's different?
MEADOWS: Well, you know, I would wake up in the morning just to give you an example. I hate even going down this road. But for you, I will. I would wake up in the morning. By this time, I had completely gotten rid of any mixers, just vodka out of the freezer. And for breakfast, I was shaking so bad, I couldn't actually hit my mouth. And finally, I would get a sip down. And I could feel it from the top of my head. You know, I'd start getting warm, and then I started feeling human again. These days, I don't go to the freezer. I'm eating pretty good. And I'm sleeping pretty well. I'm spending a lot of quality time with my son.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER BOAT")
MEADOWS: (Singing) My, how the last few months have changed. I'm smiling more, despite the pain.
SIMON: Do you think that everything's that's happened to you can find a place in a song?
MEADOWS: I do. I feel like that's where almost all of the songs come from, if not all of them. You know, oddly enough, a lot of times I don't know how I feel about something until I write about it. It's part of my processing. And so this record in particular, I started writing some things - deep, emotional content. But there are moments on this record where you can catch your breath in between and kind of go back in and look at the hard stuff.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER BOAT")
MEADOWS: (Singing) Now and then, I let it go. Ride the waves I can't control. I'm leaning how to build a better boat.
I've always been quite a pessimist. And I've been trying to battle that. Now that I'm, you know, seven years sober, you know, it's the glass is half full or the glass half empty. And I was always like, who drank my water? And...
MEADOWS: But these days, you know, it's a half-full glass sitting there. And it's a nice one. I love that glass. Look how it sparkles in the sunshine.
SIMON: Travis Meadows - his new album, "First Cigarette."
Thanks so much.
MEADOWS: Thank you so much for your time.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PONTIAC")
MEADOWS: (Singing) Kisses laced in cinnamon, Coppertone on summer skin, wasted time you can't unspend, county roads and bumper dents...
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.