Life Beyond Rock Stardom…
If you were to put out a public survey asking young people what their dream vocation would be, you can pretty much guarantee that being a rock star would be sitting at the top of the list. Touring the world, moving from city to city, staying in five star hotels, being given all the privileges that come with fame; doesn’t sound like too harsh a lifestyle does it? ex-drummer for The Living End, Travis Demsey gives us his reality check on life behind the AAA pass…
While hanging out upstairs at the Hard Rock Café a few weeks back I was introduced to Travis Demsey through a group of live music lovers and ‘Superman is Dead’ crew. After a brief chat and some enquiring on my part, he told me that he’d spent six years as the drummer for internationally renowned Australian band ‘The Living End’. Struck by his down to earth attitude and enthusiasm for Bali’s music scene, we chatted further before he told me that his reasons for leaving the band were to pursue a life path that stood him closer to his personal morals and beliefs. Giving up a rock star lifestyle to be more in touch with humanity? I was intrigued. It wasn’t long before I invited Travis over to my house for a decent chat.
Back in 1996, Travis joined a band that at the time was receiving some national attention in Australia. After a year of solid touring as the drummer for The Living End, things began to skyrocket after the release of double A-side ‘Second Solution / Prisoner of Society’ had the boys breaking records as it became the highest selling single of the 90’s, scoring them an ARIA Award and a whole lot more attention both nationally and across the waves. After a full length album release became the second highest selling debut rock album in Australian history (currently third), The Living End had entered a world of rock stardom that saw them touring constantly and earning coin that most aspiring muso’s only dreamt about in garage jam sessions.
For the guy that sat in my lounge room preferring to drink a coke over a beer though, living behind a celebrity status and a rock star image didn’t ever quite fit his ideals and despite the satisfaction of earning money doing what he loved, Travis’ level of success had come with a certain level of discontentment. As the responsibilities of success kept the band drilled to a heavy timetable, Travis felt after many years on the road that the band’s direction was creating a deeper gap between not only himself and his sense of home, but also between the band and their fans, as well as between the band’s message and their own actions. “I think the other guys in The Living End were socially aware because they were writing about it in their songs, but I don’t think that they were particularly living it.” In a band heavily committed to touring and recording, personal time can be hard to come by, let alone the chance to truly be in touch with those outside of press meetings and hotel rooms. At the same time there are plenty of requests for your attention.
“When you’re in a band like Living End you have people like football players and gangsters who all want to meet you, but at the same time you have charity organizations who ask that you donate your time to visiting sick children.” This caused Travis to start thinking about where the importance lay in his position and soon enough, after being approached by the Starlight Foundation, he began taking time out to visit kids in hospitals with life threatening illnesses, developing a kinship with one young AIDS patient in particular. “I remember one Christmas I was in LA feeling sorry for myself, the band had been touring constantly and we didn’t have much to talk about besides the gigs, so I decided to call Adam, a 13 year old cancer patient who I had visited a number of times. As it turned out I chatted with his dad for a while before he told me that Adam had passed on a few days earlier. He then proceeded to thank me for feature spending time with his son and told me that it had meant the world to him.” This was a turning point for Travis and before too long he realized that he wished to pursue a life that kept him more in contact with people on an everyday level.
Leaving The Living End come 2002, Travis spent some time searching for his calling whilst studying and working as an interior designer. Eventually he got in contact with White Lion, an organization that reaches out to young people involved in the Australian Youth Justice system, asking them how he could become involved. Thanks to his enthusiasm, Travis was given the opportunity to teach drums to kids in a youth prison and three years later he had moved from a one hour a week workshop to managing life performance and coaching programs in Victoria and Tasmania with around 42 staff on board. Still with a drive to achieve more, Travis then resigned to build his own program called Primal Beats and took it Australia wide. Using his childhood background and his experience as a successful musician, he combined them to create programs that encourage kids in less than fortunate circumstances.
From there, Travis has decided to take his philosophies worldwide. Having personally experienced the gap between the music industry and its audience in the western world, he is now working on a documentary series that will encourage kids to follow their dreams and pursue their passion for music, no matter what limits society places on them. To reflect this he will focus on countries where music is used as a daily means of expression. “Music should be available to everyone. You look at shows like Idol where kids get up and they’re told that they’re too fat or that they should choose better clothing. I would dispute that, if you can sing well you should be encouraged. I don’t exactly think that Aretha Franklin was an amazing looking woman but man, can she sing. Look at Susan Boyle, what an amazing story. They all laughed at her because of the way she looked, but her talent shone through.”
The idea behind Travis’ documentary is to show that throughout the world there are many places where music is encouraged, practiced and jammed out for daily satisfaction, despite lack of equipment or opportunity for fame and fortune. “I want to break down that distance between music and people and show that there are countries outside the west where people live and breathe music every day. Kids in places like Dili don’t have MTV at home, so they amuse themselves. How do they do that? They do it with their own music. Many indigenous communities are the same.”
So where does Bali fit into all this? “Initially I came to Bali with my girlfriend for some chill out time, but within days I had met Jerinx from Superman is Dead and loads of musicians. Seeing how dedicated these guys are to their music, even when they’re taping up their drumsticks with sticky tape and holding together their guitars with improvised scraps, it got me thinking that perhaps I should use Bali as a launching pad for the documentary whilst also focusing it on the rest of Indonesia, along with East Timor and many islands off the coast of Australia. I want to show how happy people can be when music is used as a daily form of expression”
Beyond the documentary project, there is also a desire to expose bands from Bali to an Australian audience. “The music here is fantastic, the reggae, punk and scar bands in particular are on par with some of the best I’ve heard in the world. Places like Darwin, Cannes and Broome are only three hours from here and have great tourist markets and large Indonesian communities that would be perfect for these bands to play in. These bands could earn good money and gain great exposure.” To aid in this, Travis plans on recording compilation albums of some of Bali’s best acts, to then sell and spread the word back in Australia. Any money made would then be donated back to existing programs in Bali that are helping local communities.
For his first trip to Bali, some big life plans have certainly spawned for Travis and despite only being here a short time; he seems convicted to set them in motion. Despite downplaying his previous position in a successful rock band, he has no doubt gained plenty of attention here because of it; especially amongst the dedicated punk lovers who grew up with The Living End on their speakers. Such notoriety is bound to make anyone feel familiar and accepted within a foreign place, though if addressed correctly, such a position will also allow him to give back to the musicians he has befriended; helping them to achieve greater things thanks to his own experience and connections. If you haven’t spotted Travis on a drum kit around town or hanging out down at Twice Bar in Kuta this time around, keep a look out for his return in April next year when he plans to get his projects moving. Make sure you stop him to say hello; he’s certainly not shy when it comes to having a chat…