With his third EP release, Might As Well Be Me, Travis Denning has leaned into lessons learned from the pandemic and his upcoming personal milestones, including turning 30 years old later this year and getting married next year.

Denning talked with Music Mayhem about curating authentic songs for Might As Well Be Me, how his fiancé Madison Montgomery reacted to his current single “Buy a Girl a Drink,” and the hilarious story about writing “Red Round Here” with HARDY.

When it came to putting together his third EP, Denning took a reactive approach. He wanted to be in and out of the studio every three months to put pressure on himself and get in a specific headspace. Yet, he also wasn’t overly concerned about things like a minimum beats per minute on a song. “I’m turning 30 years old. I think I just don’t really give too much of a damn anymore,” said Denning. “Hell, I might as well be me because no one else will be and I’ll suck if I try to be anybody else.” And that’s what inspired the title of the authentic collection of songs.

The “David Ashley Parker from Powder Springs” singer also reflected about the shift in his perspective from his last EP, which happened during the early days of the pandemic when he didn’t know what the future would hold for him as a performer. “A lot of that fear went into making Dirt Road Down,” said Denning. So when touring resumed and life shifted into a new gear, Denning changed how he approached his next project. “There was a level of, okay, write about who you are now. I’m turning 30 this year, I’m getting married next year. I’ve got a lot to sing about. That’s a lot different than what I had before. And then there’s a side that’s like, let’s get back to work.”

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That work resulted in a well-rounded group of songs that have an intentional sequence. “I want to kick the teeth in on the first song or two, that’s what I love to do,” said Denning. For this EP, that song is “Red Round Here,” which he co-wrote with HARDY and Chris LaCorte.

Denning’s fiancé Madison Montgomery called HARDY’s fiancé Caleigh Ryan and invited the couple to hang out at their place. “Madison and Caleigh made a charcuterie board and me and Hardy just drank and talked and then we ate the charcuterie board and then we drank and then when then we continued to drink,” recalled Denning. “The last thing I remember before going to bed was… me and HARDY were on the roof, listening to Jimi Hendrix.”

HARDY and Caleigh stayed the night and Denning woke up with “a nice little hammer in my head.” He and HARDY were scheduled to write with LaCorte at 11am, so he told HARDY to move their time to noon. When they arrived at the writing session and LaCorte asked what they’d been up to, Denning replied, “I’m like, well, he spent the night at my house and we just got pandemic drunk, you know, nothing to do. And now here we are.” He tried to reassure LaCorte that the hungover artists were prepared. “We talked about this idea last night. I just can’t remember anything we said about it.” Somehow, the trio ended up writing the song in two hours. Denning shared his gratitude for what HARDY brought to the table. “I’m glad I got the redneck king in the room right now, Mr. Hardy… We did our own A&R the night before with the charcuterie board and White Claws and Jack Daniel’s. It was a lot of fun.”

One of the most personal songs for Denning from the EP is his current single, “Buy a Girl a Drink,” which he wrote and recorded in two and a half weeks. “Everything about it is totally true. I pulled from our life and the first verses, I can relate to every line of that… dumped a lot of money into my boat, bought a house last year.” The song is special to him because not only is it personal to his relationship, but other couples can relate to it as well. ”I think that’s what country music is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be personal and universal at the same time.”

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When he played the song for his fiancé Madison, he wasn’t sure what to expect. “Compliments from Madison on songs are few and far between,” Denning joked. “It’s not that she’s like a tough critic. She’s just like, I hear you sing all the time.” But when he played her the EP, she had a surprising reaction.” The next day she was in the kitchen and she’s like, damn it’s stuck in my head. And she actually texted me when I was on the road, like a week later, just out of the blue… it was so funny. She was like, ‘I think Buy a Girl a Drink, I think that might be your next one.”

The track “River Named Mississippi” was inspired by Denning’s 90s country music influences, which are becoming a popular trend in contemporary country. “I want this to feel like Rhett Akins would’ve cut it back in the day,” said Denning. “Everybody’s putting a foot back into that, which is so awesome because I’m not really sure why we ever got our foot out of it.“ He wrote the song in 2020 when he had a lot of time on his hands. “We were drinking and fishing and having fun. And we were listening to Alan Jackson and George Strait and Shenandoah… so a lot of that spilled into it.”

The EP concludes with a moving tear-jerker, “If You Need Anything Down Here,” which was inspired by a conversation with Denning’s future brother-in-law, Walker Montgomery, who had lost two family pets within a month. When Denning texted Montgomery to let him know if he needed anything, he contemplated the meaning of the often-used phrase. “What if you were saying that and having a conversation with someone who had passed on and it wasn’t someone here on earth. And as soon as I kind of wrapped my head around that, I wrote the first verse and the chorus just like in my truck driving.” The conversational lyrics transform the heartache of losing a loved one to a spiritual chat with a friend. “I hope it just really connects with people who’ve been through that.”

Denning is currently on tour with Dierks Bentley and has had some incredible experiences so far. “The private jet home from Hartford was probably the coolest thing so far, that was a lot of fun,” shared Denning. “He [Bentley] came off-stage and he saw me out back and he was like, you got 90 seconds, go grab your stuff and we’re leaving. I just looked at him and said, I’m ready to go. I’m not taking anything. Let’s go.” On the plane, they played a Monopoly card game and Denning beat Bentley and his band in the very first game he ever played. “I’m not gonna get used to this cause it ain’t gonna happen that often,” said Denning. “But I could get used to it if I had to,” he grinned.

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Nicole Palsa is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 2012, she has written about the newcomers, superstars, and legends of country music for publications including Music Mayhem, Country Now, and Country Music Tattle Tale. Nicole has served as a volunteer guide with Musicians On Call since 2016 and is a Troubadour member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications and her Bachelor of Arts degree in French. In addition to being a devoted country music fan, Nicole is a family historian and genealogist who can often be found in stacks of research. She is also an avid traveler with a passion for wildlife and nature photography.

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