Singer-songwriter Travis Denning watched as his second single, “After a Few,” debuted at No. 58 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart dated March 23, 2019. And watched and watched.
At last, in its 65th week on Country Airplay, it ascended to the summit, on the chart dated June 13, 2020. The song broke the record for the longest run to No. 1 and most total time on the survey, as it added a 66th frame on the June 20 list.
Mercury Records’ vice president of promotion Damon Moberly was charged with inspiring his crew to talk to program directors about the song every week for over a year. “The motivation for this run really came from the promo team’s belief in Travis as an artist first, and our belief in the song second,” Moberly tells Billboard. “Travis is excellent at understanding how to build relationships with people, programmers and fans. He has invested heavily in that aspect of his career in a big way and we’re all very emboldened by his work ethic. We had some great early research from several stations that played ‘After’ a lot early on. That gave us confidence that we had something worth fighting for.”
So what does a 27-year-old from Warner Robbins, Georgia, do to celebrate his first chart-topper? He goes fishing, of course. Billboard caught up with Denning while he and a couple of friends were on Old Hickory Lake outside Nashville.
I don’t want to interrupt this fishing trip. Do you have your line in the water now?
Nah, I’m good. I got my legs kicked up and I already scored a six-pounder.
You grew up in Georgia. Was fishing as important as listening to music?
It was big, and I did my share, but I got my first guitar when I was 11. Santa brought it to me [laughs]. So, all I did after that was play my guitar and listen to music. I listened to lots of AC/DC, The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band. I was hooked. I actually wanted to play drums at first and still sit behind a kit sometimes.
On “After a Few,” the drums are way out front.
To me, the biggest thing is that I want the core of it to feel like it’s a band, like a bunch of guys in the studio playing live. I am just a big fan of raw energy and want the listening experience to feel like you’re seeing the group live.
“After a Few” claimed the record for the longest trip to No. 1 in the history of the Country Airplay chart. What was it like watching that unfold?
Well man, honestly, hectic as hell and stressful. I kind of actually had to unplug a touch and not watch the charts as much as I did on my first single [“David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs”, which reached No. 32 on Country Airplay in September 2018]. As an artist, you can torture yourself when you’re constantly looking.
Were you disappointed in the performance of your first song?
Some, but it definitely got my foot in the door, established my name and the track is still a big part of our live shows.
How did you keep your sanity during the past year?
It was like, okay, I know this game pretty well, and when the song was in the 50s, then the 40s, I knew it was going to stay there a while. I had to back away and trust Damon and the promo staff that they weren’t going to give up on it. I knew they weren’t. Once the song hit around No. 30, it was fun to see it take off.
How ecstatic were you to see it hit No. 1?
It was huge to see it cross the finish line. I’m so thankful to everyone at radio for sticking with it and my team for working as hard as they did.
Do you remember the first time you heard the song on the radio?
Absolutely. I was on a radio tour and was in Salt Lake City. I heard it on KSOP around 11 a.m. I thought it was pretty badass to hear it in the middle of the day. But it never gets old anytime I hear it. It’s just like affirmation you’re doing things right.
Were you tempted to give this song to another artist?
Yes. I actually wrote it [with Kelly Archer and Justin Weaver] about four years ago and at that point I didn’t have a record deal. My first thought was to pitch it to either Dustin Lynch or Luke Bryan. I could hear either one singing it. When I signed with Mercury, they wanted me to keep it for myself.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. You were going to be on Sam Hunt’s tour this summer. How crushing is it as a newer artist that you’ll have to wait?
For lack of a better term, it just kind of sucks. That tour was everything that I dreamed of doing. Realistically, though, it is what it is. I think people are digging into music harder than ever right now. For instance, the other day I had The Black Crowes cranked up and just hope people are doing that with my music. I do think that when we finally get to go back out and do concerts it will be a huge release for everyone.
You’ve got one EP out: Beer’s Better Cold, and the title track will be your next single. Any thoughts on maybe releasing a full album sooner than you thought you would?
We’re going to stick with the timeline of hoping to release an album this fall. I’m hoping to be in the studio in the next month or so.
What music are you listening to?
As a songwriter, name an artist you’d love to see record one of your songs.
George Strait, hands down.
Finally, Nashville is definitely a town of collaborations. Who’s your top pick for a duet partner?
Halsey. I’m a huge fan.