Travis Garland (Carlene K )
Travis Garland was seated behind the control board at Shortbus Studios in Century City, previewing tracks from his upcoming EP, “Fashionably Late II,” which continues the 23-year-old’s reintroduction as a solo artist. He grabbed one of the switches on the sprawling console midway through a lustful R&B jam entitled “Homewrecker” and turned up the volume.
As the tempo of the guitar-laden track slowed, the song transformed into a synth-filled futuristic romp that sounded like a formidable pastiche of Drake, Miguel and Justin Timberlake. He nodded his head in satisfaction as the room vibrated.
“I strive to just be something different, a breath of fresh air,” Garland said. “Someone who is true to the art of it, that’s all I want to be. The best compliment someone can give me is saying 'Man, I haven’t heard something like that in a long time.'”
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Having gained teenage fame as lead singer of short-lived boy band NLT (“Glee’s” Kevin McHale is also an alum) the Lubbock, Texas, native has spent the past three years honing his sound.
After NLT’s 2009 split (“The group kinda ran its course,” he offered), Garland issued his debut single, “Believe,” in 2010.
He landed a plush performance slot on “American Idol,” where gossip blogger-turned-music mogul Perez Hilton touted him as the next big thing, and heir apparent to Timberlake’s blue-eyed pop-soul throne.
Those were strong words for the relatively unknown singer, and the Danja-produced track, though radio friendly, was too generic to make a real splash.
“At that point, I was still trying to figure out my sound and who I was as an artist,” Garland said. “It was a little premature back then. It was a great experience, but I just wasn’t quite ready.”
Garland asked his label, Interscope, to release him, and turned to production outfit the Stereotypes (Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Far East Movement) to help him develop his sound.
In October, he released the first installment of “Fashionably Late,” which was executive produced by the Stereotypes. The stellar four track EP showcased his edgier, genre-blending update on R&B of the kind that's been grabbing listeners of late, thanks to Frank Ocean, Miguel and the Weeknd.
“I tell people its gumbo,” Garland laughed when asked about his sound. “It’s a little bit of pop and R&B, paired with growing up singing in church. And sex, vibe and art all thrown together.”
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The EP -- issued for free through his website -- logged more than 50,000 downloads. Garland continued to build a following with videos featuring stripped-down covers of hits from Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Ne-Yo (his mash-up of Rihanna and Miguel is particularly strong) that were shot at Shortbus, the Stereotypes’ production hub.
The videos garnered more than 10 million views on YouTube, and Ryan Seacreast has called the singer-songwriter one of the best new artists of 2012.
“Fashionably Late II” is led by “Where To Land,” a minimalist R&B groove that was conceived during a trip to London, where Garland wrote, recorded and shot a sleek, guerrilla-style music video over a week.
Garland said he isn’t in a rush to ink a deal with a label. He’s been there before and prefers the creative control he’s afforded with the Stereotypes.
“Having been on a label before you learn all the ups and downs. I’m really gonna take my time this time around,” he said. “If someone comes along who really gets the project and it’s the right situation, then we’ll move forward.”
The singer is already plotting a follow-up to the EP, though he’s tight-lipped about whether or not the project will be a full-length album or another “Fashionably Late” installment. He's also prepping live shows in support of the project, and is scheduled to perform at the House of Blues’ Foundation Room on March 27.
“The biggest misconception about me is that I’m disposable,” he said. “That I’m just a boy-band kid, come and go. But I’m a real artist, I have something to say.”
Listen to an exclusive stream of “Fashionably Late II” below and download the EP from his website on Monday.