Hellhound Music chats with Travis Richter (From First To Last, The Human Abstract) about the story behind From First To Last, his time spent with The Human Abstract, the state of the music industry, Dubstep and a plethora of other topics.
HHM: Travis Richter! It’s great to hear from you Mr. Rattlesnake. How has life been treating you this holiday season?
Thanks for the opportunity to jot down some answers and give you some thoughts! I’m doing great right now in this current phase of my life. Currently, I’m spending Christmas with my family in Georgia. I get to come home once a year and as you can probably imagine, Georgia is a lot different than being a music-producing commercial actor in LA. I’m the first grandchild from a rather large family, so when I get to come home it’s pretty fun and exciting… not to mention I gain about 20 pounds from all the southern home cooking.
HHM: Travis I kind of want to take fans, chronologically, through your musical career & journey; is it safe to say you’ve had one hell of a ride over the last decade?
What an amazing journey it has been so far! For me it starts in Orlando, FL: going to Full Sail, despite my parent’s great efforts to thwart me from focusing on music as a career. As soon as I graduated I hit up my buddy Matt Good, who was only an hour and a half away in Brandon, and asked if he was still looking for a 2nd guitarist. We had met because I had my own band that would play shows with his band: which was called First Too Last at the time. He was excited and said yes immediately. I would literally drive an hour and half to Tampa every day to write and practice. We kind of immediately clicked as a duo, had a strong partnership, and bond built off of our desire to start and grow a successful band, brand and business. We also decided that we weren’t going to be a “local” band at all, and we focused only on the recordings and early demos; in hopes that we could use them to book a tour, which we did. We did some small tours, met some awesome friends, put out our Aesthetic EP, and blew up our first van (on purpose mind you) and I lucked out with 2 beautiful broke arms: 6 breaks to be exact in each. Then Epitaph stepped in. We released Aesthetic via a small indie label out of long island called Four Leaf Recordings; it got us enough attention and hype to start shopping our band to labels. We talked to a few indies first, like Drive-thru, Victory, Equal Vision, and Fueled by Ramen. We were able to get the attention of an up and coming manager; his name was Tim Smith: he was managing a hardcore band from LA called Atreyu and was looking for fresh talent… we were happy to oblige. All the way back then, we were able to start talking to majors about potentially signing; I mean we really were patient and talked to everyone. Then we finally met Epitaph. Brett wanted to fly to Gainesville and meet us and see where we lived. He was very down to earth and very honest. He made sure to tell us he was an artist and that the art came first. He played some bad religion solos on Matt’s guitar (we were writing dear diary in a 3 bedroom apartment as a full band [haha]) and we showed him some early demos of just the instrumentals for “Ride the Wings of Pestilence” and “Failure by Designer Jeans.” He was already interested but when he heard those songs, he flipped! He said he would love to work with us and was really excited on the future of our band and the music we were preparing.
We parted way with our first front man around this time, and went into the studio as a 4 piece. Since the demo days and into Aesthetic, Matt and I did all the singing (I screamed as well as sang) up until we found a front man, so we weren’t worried about going into the studio for our first real release with a label as a four piece. After we had the entire album tracked, we obviously started recording vocals and writing lyrics: That’s when Sonny Moore popped into our lives. He hit Matt Good up on like the first version of MySpace at the tender age of 15, and he begged to fly out to play guitar for our band. We told him we were staying as a 4 piece and that we weren’t looking for any additional members… but he was really persistent and ended up flying to Valdosta GA to “hang out” while we recorded. We were always down for adventure so we said sure dude if you want to pay your way out here, live in a hotel and hang out, we don’t see why not. He obviously has insanely supportive parents (who are amazing people by the way) and I’m glad I got to meet them and know them for a little bit. Sonny flexed his pipes a few times in the studio and he just had that tone and that sound that we knew was HYPE at that point in music: It was the “scene” sound to its fullest. So Dear Diary was obviously a huge piece of the success behind FFTL with sonny impressing us with his vocals and being so young we kinda’ knew that it would work to everyone’s advantage. Epitaph thought we were nuts… until they heard some mixes… then they didn’t complain at all. We did Warped Tour and had a blast grinding hard on the road in support of Dear Diary. I’ll always love the Dead by Dawn tours as well.
Heroine was our next big adventure. We were listening to Deftness, Silverchair’s “neon ballroom” and Slipknot pretty much all the time on tour. We had an amazing mix tape of 90s and we would punch the roof of our van singing along to Slipknot… and we always loved At the Drive In, so that led us to fixate on Ross Robinson. He was a bit out of our price range since we were an indie band starting up, but when we wrote the demos for Heroine (“The Latest Plague”, “Mothersound” and “Shame Shame”) Epitaph got floored and said, “Whatever you want, whatever you think is best” and we of course said “We want Ross Robinson.”
We made Heroine, and it was an amazing experience; though looking back I’m sure there were things about that time, on a logistical term, that weren’t very logical… we still loved every second and it felt pretty much like magic to us at the time. We lost Sonny during the Heroine cycle: about 1 week before we were going to fly from Orlando to LA to meet back up with Sonny and hit the studio with Ross Robinson; for what would become our Self-Titled record. I was actually the one that Sonny called and talked to him. He said “I dunno’ man… sometimes you just gotta’ make earthquakes.” I’ll never forget those words; they ring in my head still to this day. I like to think that I’m a very understanding person… all I said was “Well, you know you will let down a lot of fans” and he said “I know but I’m prepared” and I said “Ok dude, you gotta do what’s right for yourself” and that was that. We parted ways with Tim Smith (who still manages Sonny). We actually kinda’ found out that a lot of people knew before we did that he was going to quit: which was a bum out but we were already rapidly moving forward with a new manager and a new record deal to our second major label. We did a lot of rad stuff for the Self-Titled release: we got to open the main stage for all the major European festivals sharing the stage with the likes of Metallica, Rage Against the Machine (their comeback), Incubus, and Serj from System of a Down. It was a 90’s music buffet of awesome to say the least.
After that, things just started slowly dwindling down to a [lower] level because of the music scene, the internet, and the loss of our very popular front man. It was just impossible to keep a float something that had become so huge… and then to go through a down period… it was just a lot on our backs and a lot stacked up against us. Sorry this answer was so long, but I have the gift of the gab.
HHM: What was it like: signing one of the last big rock contracts of the century with Capitol Records?
It was amazing! I love telling this story. We talked to every single major. We had a set goal of what we wanted: Matt and I kinda couldn’t shake the number 7 (million) so we turned down everything that wasn’t that number; literally passing paper across tables and turning down 2.2 and 4.3 million dollar offers; We really knew what we wanted. Matt and I were the east coast dudes that kinda grew up with money lingering over our heads and having to deal with a lack of growing up, so with FFTL at the height of its career, we were tenaciously committed to getting the deal we felt we had earned; It was easy to look someone in their eyeballs and tell them we knew what we had, we knew what it was worth, and we knew what we wanted.
The deal with Capitol was the quickest of all the meetings: we kind of strolled in like “oh boy another meeting where we get to turn down millions because it’s not the number 7.” We were prepared to stay on Epitaph because we had built so much with them, and the only way we would leave would be for a lot of money because at this point we just wanted to try and get a house and live the life we felt we had worked towards and earned.
HHM: From an artist’s perspective, what was it like going through the Capitol meltdown? How did this event hinder you as a musician, and what strenuous situations did it leave you in?
We were scared because Sonny had quit and we didn’t want to tell Capitol, fearing they would be angry, considering we had signed a massive deal just a few months prior. Our manager that replaced Tim was amazing during this transition; he is a pretty known person in the major label world so he was able to smooth things over with Capitol/Virgin. We were then able to move on, sign to Suretone/Interscope and try to continue with our lives despite not having our wildly popular front man.
HHM: In light of the former bidding war, did you ever ponder “what might have been” had the band chosen to go the Warner Brothers rout instead?
Not until just now [haha] I think Warner would have been an amazing home for us. I actually fought tooth and nail with Interscope on FFTL’s first videos and releases after Sonny. They really wanted to go with “Worlds Away” and I wanted to shoot multiple videos for some of the more fun/upbeat tracks on the self-titled album. I wonder what warner would have done; having such huge success with My Chemical Romance, and the energy they put into Rock n Roll.
HHM: After the collapse of Capitol, how did you guys hook up a deal with Interscope [Suretone]? Was it a similar deal in comparison to your previous contract?
It was a smaller deal; we obviously had taken a huge blow losing Sonny and we were smart enough to not expect the same numbers to be thrown at us… but it says a lot about how big we were with Sonny considering we still ended up on a major label, even after his departure.
HHM: Next up was Rise Records: back to an indie label. Were than any reasons for not going back to Epitaph? Were you offered a typical 360 deal by Rise at that point? How was your experience working with Rise in general?
I wasn’t in the band very long to deal with Rise. I don’t even remember the deal to be honest. I know that it was all about a “back to the roots” approach for the sound, but obviously using electronic and modern “heavy” arrangements. We didn’t want to abandon the scene that got us where we were and we were trying to scale down and do things from a slightly smaller level. Almost all scene music at this point (aside from Bring Me the Horizon) was hurting and not doing as good all the while electronic music was slowly creeping up. I left the band, and Rise made a big deal and wouldn’t sign me off the contract so I could be in The Human Abstract without me paying them money. That was so funny to me.
HHM: Do you care to offer any insight or perspective into the state of the music industry? What are your opinions on 360 deals, the quick signing, the “digital” topic, and the industries general operating mentality?
We never partook in 360 deals as far as I know… we were always getting the contracts we wanted and knew enough about the business not to sell our music rights. I was dabbling in Dubstep pretty much at the beginning of the movement with some DJs from Orlando, and I kinda knew that things were about to drastically change. I sort of pride myself on knowing what’s going to be “next” and it’s a part of why I like to produce new music in whatever modern state it is in. Once Electronic music showed everyone that you can give away music and sell out arenas, everything changed and everyone’s focus went to self-release and digital distribution. But I think that era is slowly starting to fade… Pushing a record is an art and a skill, and I for one depend on my royalty checks and still actually selling records. When people say you don’t make money from selling records, they have no clue what they are talking about. They just haven’t made anything that struck a nerve or they don’t know how to facilitate a “cult” following.
HHM: As an artist who has sold in the realm of 500,000 records, do you feel you have been financially ripped off or are you content with what you have to show for it?
It’s not the same as if I sold those records in the year 1991. I would have been really rich and we would have sold more like 5 million probably back then. We were the first band to blow up through social media without the aid of a huge marketing team. We ran our MySpace all on our own. We had as many MySpace friends [on epitaph] doing it ourselves as My Chem, and they were on Warner with a massive team pushing them.
HHM: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming musical acts as they enter the industry?
Focus on theme and niche. YouTube is the new MTV, and bolden your musical lines.
HHM: Moving forward, you took the reigns as front man for The Human Abstract. As an artist, how was the experience for you: having your singing ability and vocal brutality serve as the centerpiece of your work?
The Human Abstract holds a very dear place in my heart. I love AJ, and I didn’t even know who he was getting into the band. When FFTL ended for me, I had a few options: I was talking to my friend Telle in The Word Alive and making dustup with Modified Noise I was the oldest in FFTL and I was ready to challenge myself and do something that I felt was closer to my maturity level. The metal scene in general is fascinating because, to my perception, having long hair for life, getting to scream and doing it till you are well into your 40s and 50s is a beautiful thing. It’s an old genre that is led by old dudes that still pack stadiums. It felt like I was doing something credible and impressive even if you hated metal.
Once I got to know AJ, I felt like I had changed a lot as a musician; how I saw and listened to music changed as well. He has helped me as a musician more than anyone in my life. I am still a better guitarist, to this day, than I ever was in FFTL and I didn’t even play guitar at all in The Human Abstract… I just sang. So it goes to show what I absorbed, just being around such talented people. Dean is also someone I look up to a lot as a guitarist and I am happy that we are all still close. Brett is great friend of mine, and I’m happy to see him growing as a manager in the music world. Henry is in school for live sound and was one of my best buddies on tour; we had some amazing pregame drinking sessions [haha].
HHM: THA fans were pretty disappointed with Midheaven, but your addition to the band and the release of Digital Veil was met with thunderous praise [not to mention Digital Veil charting the Billboard 200]. How did it feel to be “accepted” as a new vocalist by the fans? Was there a personal Validation of sorts?
We were all work and focus for Digital Veil. We didn’t know what we made and we probably still have no clue as to how long that metal record is going to stand up within the genre and scene. The Human Abstract has some AMAZING fans; they will tell me to my face that they like Nocturne better and then ask to get a picture and my autograph [haha]. They are as loyal as FFTL fans to say the least.
HHM: Can fans expect a new “The Richter Abstract” album in the future [haha]? What do you see in the cards for the band?
I have a new band with a good buddy of mine that I met on tour for Digital Veil: His name is Robbie Tessitore. I had the privilege of flying him out on my 31st birthday so we could track guitar for our first song. It was awesome showing him how metal is tracked, and I think he was stoked & surprised by the work load that goes into make some neck breakin’ metal music. We are approaching the project slowly and diligently. There’s an opportunity for us to not only make some awesome technical metal with classical and progressive under tones, but also, flex our song writing muscles and try to make some songs that are more towards the realm of new school bands like Art by Numbers We don’t have a name locked down just yet, but we are excited about the future and have been receiving amazing feedback on the first demo.
HHM: You were deep into Dubstep long before its mainstream explosion; did you have a good chuckle watching it all blow up, as an artist who took part in the genre’s incubation stage?
Absolutely! I knew that stuff was gonna’ take a majority of the focus within the music world. I think the FFTL dudes were confused by my attraction to early Dustup, but to me it just made sense. I thought it was aliens making hardcore breakdown bass driven music that was great for split enthusiasts and audiophiles. The saddest part about everything is how the EDM scene is run by such a small group of people. It’s truly a circle of friends and workers that make all the decisions and green light all the careers. I look up to people like Bassnectar that have built a cult following for themselves of fans: fans that will follow their music despite the restlessness of the scene. It was Dubstep, then Moombaton and now it’s Trap; next will be Hardstlye. I think Drum & Bass could make a cool comeback just for the sake that it never really had its hay day in America like Dustup did. Dubstep put EDM on the map for America. Yeah I know all you 90s rave heads have been doing huge warehouse parties and into it for a long time, but Dubstep made EDM the new sliced bread. Even Taylor Swift is looking for EDM producers to give her a lil’ of that boom boom in the trunk.
HHM: At least in your time spent with From First To Last, you were always the more “professional liaison musician” to the production side of the musical process. So it was no surprise to see you diving into this side of the industry with Lungr. Tell me a little bit about Lungr and how it came to be?
Lungr is my way to help out artists that I think make good music and are people that I personally connect with. I don’t put out music with Lungr for direct success and money – I do it for up and comers that are committed to growing their brand and their talents as producers/musicians. The Hi-Yahs would be a sound example of focusing on an artist and watching them grow; same with Sonny’s little brother Bobby Duque: I have known him for a long time now and it was a pleasure to link him up with my label partner, Wayne Emerson (QARRELL) and One For All Records that put out some early Cyberoptix and Robokop releases.
HHM: How has your experience been, owning a company on the distribution side of music? Has it been an interesting transition for you?
It’s been a learning experience for me. I obviously know how labels work and I don’t have the same amount of money, but I get branding, and I try and talk to my artists and give them advice based on my personal experience with trying to build a brand and grow a band. The Internet is a busy place for music, specifically for EDM. Wal-Mart doesn’t really carry Knife Party CDs if you catch my drift (or maybe they do by now).
HHM: Which artists on Lungr are you particularly excited about? How do you delegate your efforts between your releases?
The Hi-Yahs are an amazing group from Dallas. The amount of releases they put out is mind boggling. Also, Notixx though on One For All and not Lungr, he has really consistent work and a solid approach to marketing himself. I would love to see some of these artists like Bobby Duque that truly love the scene and support it from the floor up to get their big break and get injected into the main scene. I think it’s just a matter of time before a new generation steps up and delivers the passion that will keep the scene going.
HHM: What does the future hold for Travis Richter? Have you found your place in electronic distribution? Do you plan to continue musically as an artist as well?
I’m currently working with these two dudes in LA. They are a couple of my best friends in LA and since the summer of 2012 we have been hanging out and working on our production skills together. I’m starting a production company with one of the guys: Justin Gabrielli. He is a producer/studio nerd and puts a lot of time into the pop world, working with some notable artists, so he has been helping me on the mix skills and we pass knowledge back forth like it’s goin’ out of style. The music we are making is intense!! Kody Didier, Justin and I will be releasing music under the name “Deaf Intent.” It’s multi format musical dynamite. Kody is a mind blowing MC and rapper that’s been DJing and doing his vocal thing for many years; I love his lyrics. We all feel like we are at the same point with our production skills, and are ready to unleash the sounds that we feel will accurately represent what we like about the EDM movement.
HHM: Is there anything else you wish to say to your fans and our readers?
I have to say Thank You. Fans are the most important ingredient. You hear a lot of artists say some cheesy stuff about their fans. They “give back” and tell them “you can do it too !!” and I don’t really want to say that. I want to say thank you for sticking by me throughout the years. Thanks for spending your money on music when you could easily go and download it for free. It’s my responsibility to provide a product that is worth your purchase, so thank you for continuing to challenge me, and I hope everyone takes something from the music I’m a part of, that they can carry into their adulthood or pass along to their kids. Rock n Roll and music with vocals are important. There’s a huge boom in instrumental music, specifically in the metal scene (and EDM) but I’m old school: I love vocal production, writing lyrics and working with singers. I think there’s a lot that helps us, as humans, when someone makes the effort to speak to our hearts and help guide us with their perception. That’s what’s always drawn me to music… the marriage of sound and soul.
Interview by Matt Crane – HHM