They produce one of the purest sounds in music, they've spawned the most influential songs in the history of rock `n roll, and they're the favorite for songwriters the industry over, but in the eyes of hard rock fans, acoustic guitars are still fighting for respect - on radio they're equated with power ballads, in live shows they result in a sea of lighters, and unplugged sets have become nothing more than trendy sidebars during performances.
Enter Days of the New frontman Travis Meeks, whose acoustic guitar has meant a great deal more. It's helped him earn a platinum album, one of the most coveted billings of the summer, and an opportunity to disprove the fallacy that unplugged bands can't rock as heavy as their amped-up peers. An impressive list of accomplishments for a 19-year-old from Kentucky whose artistic vision projects far beyond his breakthrough commercial success,
``I was sitting in the back seat of the car, my sister was driving, and I was thinking of names that could identify how I felt about life and the direction I wanted to go in," says Meeks of the name Days of the New. ``It had to be something I could relate to, and with the new millennium, that was the `new day.' I'm not totally religious, but I have faith in God, it's about being spiritual... The earth and trees are like raw spirituality," he adds in explanation of the DOTN album cover, as well as the tattoo that adorns his right arm. ``Have you ever read The Celestine Prophecy? That mentions that human beings will evolve into more spiritual beings, and that's kind of what I'm hoping for. It would be phenomenal to see the world go in a more positive direction."
Sitting backstage at Atlanta's Lakewood Amphitheater, on only the second date of Days of the New's summer tour with Metallica and Jerry Cantrell, Meeks looked the part of the rock star he plays onstage, but it didn't take long to realize the depth of his character. He cites ...And Justice For All as his favorite Metallica album, respecting their ability to ``take rock `n roll and beef it up, while being themselves. It's intelligent and it's emotional, and it's total destruction, it's tight. It's got a sound you can't compete with," continuing in the metal vein with his admiration for Pantera, whose Great Southern Trendkill says it all -- ``don't copy us, don't wear what everyone else wears, do your own thing."
He does his own thing on Days of the New, venturing into the world of hard rock with an album that defies the conventional wisdom of the genre. After playing the local circuit in the metal outfit Bad Dreemz, pooling the influences of Pantera, Sepultura, Prong and Iron Maiden, ``I discovered a place that I didn't feel was tended yet." While DOTN has its moments that ring of unadulterated Alice in Chains, discerning listeners will notice Meeks' songs building to an unexplored plateau, a lavish garden of underspoken acoustic construction, supple, driving melodies, and passionate vocal delivery. The results are intense, whether enjoyed for their subtle instrumental majesty, their more blatant lyrical realities, or the staggering juxtaposition of the two.
``I know a town where people are running / Away from life it seems always funny / They think they are smart don't doubt what they say / Scared of change existing only to bring me down," Meeks sings on ``The Down Town," providing a cutting insight into the world we live, if not the commercial industry he has found himself a part of. ``It's all about truth," he says of his lyrics. ``I write about a lot of stuff that people don't want to hear. A lot of dysfunctional people are in denial, and this is like, `Hey, admit it dudes, realize what your real deal is.'"
Heeding his own advice, the voice of Days of the New has mended his own existence in the past year, the Metallica tour marking three months of sobriety. ``I'm not afraid to admit it-I'm so fuckin' nervous now..." Meeks said of performing infront of 25,000 Metallica fans on a nightly basis. ``I'm vulnerable now. I used to always be drunk on stage, and when you're drunk you don't give a fuck. I was keeping my eyes closed and in my own world. Now I'm trying to experience the people."
In the meantime, the songwriting force behind the breakthrough act is already well into the writing and recording process for his sophomore release, an album which may see Meeks venture away from his band in favor of a more solo-minded direction. ``After this tour, we'll see what happens, but the second record is big-time my baby. I wrote all the parts individually, from the fillers and the rhythm section to orchestrating the guitars, vocals and leads. It's my visual baby, it's a lot more intense with a lot more going on." Indicating that the sound, which remains acoustic, at times sounds ``Mid-Eastern folky," Meeks is also tearing a page from the book of his favorite band, Dead Can Dance, and using a female lead vocalist. ``When you hear their vocals, there's nothing like them. This will have that emotion."
But first and foremost, Meeks wants to avoid the rock-star trappings that lead to disaster in rock `n roll. ``It's nice to know that I can feel like my finances are taken care of, and I'm gonna get what I want, but I don't go spending money on hot rods and shit. I don't really see the `success' because I stay so unsocial. Not because I'm weird, but because I don't want to get into that egotistical world. I see it as an artistic thing, and the more I get out there, the more vulnerable I'm going to be. I want to stay humble."