In early June newcomer Travis Denning scored his first Number One hit at country radio with “After a Few,” a lusty late-night anthem about the potent concoction found between two hearts and a few empty bottles. But it took more than “a few” months to get there, and what began as a typical sophomore single turned out to be career defining.
“It felt like I won for the first time, and it was cool to share that with my team and the people I work with,” Denning says now of his life-changing achievement. “It’s a really special thing.”
That’s certainly true, as “After a Few” serves to validate all of Denning and his team’s hard work – but his success arrives in a world that looks much different than it did when the song came out. “After a Few” topped the charts following a record breaking 65-week climb, and in that time it witnessed some of the most transformative events in recent American history. It stands now as a hit for a world turned upside down (just like the bottles Denning sings about), but it didn’t start out that way.
“After a Few” was released way back in January 2019 – and at the time we all thought we knew drama, as the turmoil surrounding an infamous Presidential phone call with Ukraine was front and center. But with a strong hook and a solid hard-rock foundation, Denning was only focused on making the song a hit, and he had relationships at radio to bolster the feeling it would be. He’d been visiting radio station across the country for years prior.
“In my head, I believed it was a Number One song the whole time,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville. “It felt a little different than [debut single] ‘David Ashley Parker [from Powder Springs].’ I had established who I was, I had a Top 40 hit. I felt like the people in radio wanted me to succeed. So there was a level of expectation that was higher than the first single, and I was pumped.”
But by the summer of 2019, the song hadn’t made it very far. Elsewhere in the news the stock market was reaching record highs, but “After a Few” was stalled in the 40s and 30s of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, and Denning admits he was concerned. Things were moving slower than expected and some of his label team even thought the song had run its course. There was talk of moving on to another single, but Denning was having none of it.
“I didn’t want to move on,” he admits. “I didn’t like the idea of having back-to-back barely Top 40 songs, and at the end of the day I just believed once [the song] got into people’s ears and they could live with it for a bit, that they were gonna fall in love with it.
“The biggest thing I remember was talking to a guy who works at the label named David Friedman, and I was just expressing that I was a little worried,” Denning goes on. “We had been stuck for a while, and he said ‘We are not letting this song die with a “3” in front of it,’ and that reassurance was really nice. They kept telling me ‘Just wait until it gets into the Top 30,’ and literally that was such a turning point. When we hit Top 30, it was only three or four weeks later that we were at 21. It was starting to blow up.”
By the beginning of 2020 “After a Few” finally had a full head of steam behind it … and then it all “hit the fan,” as the good natured Georgia native jokes.
Just a few weeks after congress closed the book on the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history, a novel coronavirus swept across the globe forcing entire countries to issue emergency stay-at-home orders, completely shutting economies and with it, every single live music tour. On March 13, Denning was sitting on a plane waiting to fly to Reno, Nevada, when word came down his shows had all been canceled for the foreseeable future.
“It was wild,” he says. “I was on the phone with my agent about to fly to Reno, and I was like ‘You need to tell me if I need to get off this plane.’ I was in my seat but they hadn’t closed the doors yet, and it was like you could see the dominoes falling. He called me like ‘Dude, get off the plane,’ so I did, and my bag and guitar went to Reno while I flew to Nashville. It was horrible.
“I wouldn’t say I was frustrated, but I was kind of bummed,” he goes on, noting that at the time he had no idea if “After a Few” would continue rising without live shows to promote it. “It was almost laughable to me, like ‘This is just my luck. The Georgia Bulldogs can’t win a national championship. The Atlanta Falcons had the biggest implosion in Super Bowl history. And the time I’m finally getting up the charts, I can’t go play a damn show.’ That’s just the luck of Travis Denning, 100 percent.”
The track was just outside the Top 10 and Denning thought it might never go further, but its journey wasn’t over, yet. As protesters marched in the streets demanding racial justice following George Floyd’s death in police custody, the track finally hit Number One — an astounding 65 weeks after it entered the chart. It was the longest rise to Number One in history, and made “After a Few” the longest charting country single, ever.
“Someone told me ‘It’s not the record you necessarily want, but it’s the one you get,’” Denning says. “And I kind of agree. There’s an aspect where you could say ‘Well, it took forever to get up the chart’ and be negative about it. But to me, I think anything that’s worth something and has the potential for greatness, is worth the time and effort.
“I look at that 65 weeks as a testament to the effort that goes into not only music, but anything in life,” he continues. “I love being able to say this song was historic. I think that’s so cool. Not only did it get to Number One and it’s a hit, but it made a mark on country-music history, and that is bad ass. That’s the kind of stuff I literally never dared to even dream about, because it just doesn’t seem possible. Kenny Chesney breaks records. Garth Brooks breaks records. You don’t think you’re able to do something like that.”
One year, three months and a week after it started, Denning’s mission was accomplished. But the world didn’t look the same, and he didn’t feel the same, either. He’s grown a lot as an artist and a person, he says, and he’s definitely feeling the pressure to follow up with more success. He’ll aim to do so with his good-timing new single, “Where That Beer’s Been” (another track off his recently released Beer’s Better Cold EP) … and this time, he’s hoping the journey will be drama free.
“The world has completely changed in those 65 weeks, and I have as a person, too,” he explains. “I think it’s cool to look at it like a chapter in the book of my life. … and the next step in the story I want to tell is the song ‘Where That Beer’s Been.’ It just feels like the no brainer next step in ‘This is who Travis is.’ … But I definitely hope it doesn’t take as long.”