Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interview with Travis Donnell – Writer, Singer/Songwriter

by Melissa Kline

When I first met Travis, I knew immediately that he was a very special person. His great sense of humor, lighthearted demeanor and interest in the horror-writing realm had me intrigued from the start. As I began to learn more about Travis I discovered a super talented individual with a plethora of creative abilities yet to be discovered. Not only is Travis a very talented horror writer, he’s also a singer, songwriter and musician who writes and produces his own music! I couldn’t wait to learn more about Travis and his dynamic creative processes. Meet Travis!

Travis caught during a lighter moment in his day job as a hospital administrator.

Travis Donnell was created by the kind of horny, stoned teenagers that are the first to die in a Friday the 13th film and was born just in time for the 80’s. He loved being a kid during that time because you got all of the fun of the 80’s but without the coke or steroid addiction.

1. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I can remember; as a kid it was a lot of silly things about a regular kid encountering a strange event, a talking jellyfish or something like that. I was into the Twilight Zone a lot and also those supernatural mystery books they had at our library, the ones that left out all of the relevant facts like the lady who was talking to the ghost in her house was also a diagnosed schizophrenic, so it wasn’t long before the talking jellyfish became a thing in the attic.
[For an example of Travis' silliness at work check out Ratboy Genius' video "Potato Knishes", here and then Travis's parody of it in a song called "Opera Knishes" here.]  

2. Tell us how you became a singer/songwriter? When did you know you wanted to create music?
I was born into music, so it was pre-determined to a degree. My dad was in a series of bands throughout my childhood and I did a lot of singing at the church my mom attended. Most of my family members on my dad’s side played something or sang or did both, and I just sort of followed into that. I play bagpipes and can functionally play the piano and saxophone. 

3How did you find your singing voice?
I’m not sure that I have. I was singing from a young age but got serious and started taking vocal lessons in my mid 20’s, which was incredibly beneficial. My voice frustrates me because I am very comfortable with and can put a lot of power behind say a classical aria, or a piece from a musical, but I can’t seem to find the right place for my voice in the songs I write for myself.

4. Do you write and sing, or sing and write? How do these creative talents flow into one another? Tell us about your creative process.
I think all songs are stories, so I think they are definitely connected. That said, the process for each is much different to me, writing I think by far is more difficult. In music, if I get stuck or I don’t know where to go next, I can mess around by playing different chords or trying different soundscapes or production tricks and more often than not you will hit gold and say “that works”. With writing it’s a very specific kind of thing that shows up in my head and says “write this scene down” or “here is a plot idea”. My experience is that writing is a lot more static and a lot less free-formed, I guess.
Travis Donnell’s avatar
Travis Donnell on SoundCloud
5. Do you favor writing or singing?
Above all, I’m most comfortable writing lyrics. I can write lyrics for just about anything. That sounds immodest but I’m very proud of it. As long as I have a general idea as to what a song needs to convey, I am confident in my ability to convey it well.

6. Which musicians inspire you?
I wish I were the love child of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. I don’t think that pop music can get much better than anything those two have done. Tears for Fears comes close, but they weren’t as consistent. In terms of lyrics, musicality, tone, story, passion, creativity, and raw talent, you are, in my opinion, hard pressed to find their equal. All art is of course subjective, but that’s my take on it.
Little Travis Donnell

7Who are your favorite authors?
I love Stephen King, who is extremely popular, but he is popular for a reason. He’s an extremely thoughtful author who, to my delight, doesn’t just write human dramas, he writes human horror dramas and gives some dignity to an anemic genre. Richard Matheson, who just passed, is of course fantastic and I’ve read almost everything by H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick as well.

8. What genre would you place your music into?
I don’t have any idea. We live in a different era now where literally every single type of song has its own category. When I was a kid there was pop, rock, country, and RnB. Then there was alternative, then electronica, then indie, then rockabilly then hardcore. Now there is a “core” for everything: nerdcore, metalcore, emocore, screamcore, I just have no idea. Is encore its own genre now? I’m not comfortable using the term “pop” because pop music as I remember it certainly contained the silly throwaway shit of the time and the extremely popular stuff, but it made room for Kate Bush, it made room for Howard Jones. I can’t even turn on the radio anymore; I don’t want to hear it.

9. Tell us about some of your albums/songs. Do you have favorites? If so, what makes them so special?
Blood on the Neon and How to Find an Exit are both pretty good I think. I wrote some songs for a Shadowrun RPG that a couple of friends were working on and out of that came The Black Leaf of Summer and Paper House in the City which I am happy with. I have a soft spot for One Hour in Wonderland, which is about how Bobby Driscoll was just used up and tossed out, literally, by Walt Disney, because the story behind it is sad and one that a lot of people aren’t aware of.
Bobby Driscoll and Kathryn Beaumont in One Hour in Wonderland
10. Tell us the story.
Bobby Driscoll starred in several early Disney films and was the model for Peter Pan. He was Walt Disney's favorite until he hit puberty and got a bad case of acne and was literally thrown out of the studio by security after Walt refused to see him anymore and cut his contract. He was pulled from his school of other actors and actors' children and sent to public school by his super religious mother (to get used to "normal" life) and was bullied extensively. He got hooked on hard drugs and died at age 31 in an abandoned apartment complex and it took 6+ months to identify his body. He is currently buried in a pauper's grave, although the family has made several attempts to get him relocated.

Bobby sang to the birds and climbed the trees in Technicolor breeze.
He met Jim Hawkins on the sea and there they traveled endlessly
He flew with Peter Pan
but The Happy Time just could not stand
And when the cameras stopped a-rolling
The fates took up their bell for tolling

You never know what the rain will bring
When you're thrown to the wolves
And the only choice you have
Is to mimic their howling
And the time you spent in Disneyland
Is a painful reminder
Of the things that you had to do
Just to become an outsider

Bobby got sent to public school where the cruel have majority rule
Where they took the chance to crucify the apple of Walt Disney's eye
The fear he could conceal
But the pain was more than he could feel
And when the silver hook was gleaming
It was the thing that kept his smile beaming


11. Leave us with a fun, quirky fact about yourself.
I have a gigantic video game collection that shames most independent game stores. 

Thank you, Travis, for an awesome interview! Be sure to check Circuitboarding and Blood on The Neon - my two favorite Travis tunes. :) 

Tell us your thoughts on Travis and his songs. We'd love to hear from you!



  1. I am fascinated by the One Hour in Disneyland background story, song lyrics, and haunting melody and singing of that song. Whoa!

  2. Awesome interview. Being a songwriter and writer sounds like a great combination and I could see the songwriter helping you as a writer making every word count.

  3. He is surely one talented guy!! Nice interview.

  4. I had so much fun with this interview! Thank you, Travis. You are such an inspiration. :)

  5. Nice to meet Travis. Thanks for letting me get to learn about him, Melissa.

    I'm a professional aide, so hand sanitizer is one of my staples. The first picture made me laugh!

    I love the poetic form of lyrics. Writing poetry and songs can only make us better writers in other forms.