The Obelisk Questionnaire: Travis X. Abbott of Ealdor Bealu, Sawtooth Monk & More

travis x abbott

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Travis X. Abbott of Ealdor Bealu, Sawtooth Monk, The Western Mystics & Obscured by the Sun

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

I am an artist, through and through. Ever since I was a child, I’ve just had this drive to create things. Originally, I think people thought I was going to grow up to be an illustrator or graphic designer because I was constantly drawing things. But by the time I was a teenager, I found that music was more of my thing and have pursued it ever since. Even now, I still feel similarities between the two, even though I haven’t really drawn anything since childhood. They’re both just avenues of creation. Basically, they both involve playing pretend with an idea, having some fun with it, and working at it until it becomes something that you’re happy you’ve spent some time on.

Describe your first musical memory.

My first musical memory was probably listening to Queen’s A Night at the Opera. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what it was, or how I even came to listen to it in the first place. I was probably six or seven years old… I’m not sure. But I remembered the band’s name and that sound. It was only years later that I figured out exactly what album it was, because when I heard the first few notes of “Death on Two Legs,” I immediately knew how the rest of the album going to go. And then it all clicked.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

If I had to choose just one, I think my favorite musical memory was playing with The Western Mystics at Treefort Music Fest (Boise, ID) in 2016. It was a total risk on everyone’s part. The band itself was more “free,” meaning that we had a few themes we would play, but would improvise most of the set, and all transitions were based off of certain cues that any particular band member would signal. We had two baritone guitars, keys, drums, some ambient vocals, and had only been a full band for just a few months. Nevertheless, Treefort had us slotted for one of the prime spots on opening night of the 2016 festival (which was right after the set of other band I am in, Ealdor Bealu, on the same stage).

The house was packed and the crowd was electric, and we somehow nailed all of the transitions. Not many bands take such risks, it seems, and I don’t blame them. It had the potential to be a trainwreck, but we trusted each other musically and let the music itself lead us. Every member of that band was musically gifted, so ultimately, I wasn’t too concerned, but was still blown away by our performance, the energy of the room, and the warm reception we received. It was kind of a spiritual experience, and it set the standard for what I want music to mean to me.

In a way, I knew that the music we were making together in that group wasn’t going to last long, as the band itself formed out of the desire to play music for music’s sake – nothing more or less. In a world where you’re often told that you have to keep figuring out ways to impress audiences, it was pure freedom to just go out and play our hearts out for no other reason than to enjoy the process. I often look back to that exact performance when I need to remind myself that music is supposed to be, at its core, a cathartic and joyful experience.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

In reality, just about every time I read a well-written book this happens – which is often. Although I am an individual who has my own firm convictions, I am also a person who believes that adaptation is the key to survival, and I try to keep an open-mind to new experiences that shed light on things that I would not have previously considered. Sometimes this can be agonizing, which is why many people avoid such circumstances. In this sense, the last time that a truly firm belief of mine was challenged was just a few years ago when I had to go through the work to untie many of the self-destructive knots of my own mind – which is something I believe more people should be doing. My mind was running many self-destructive “programs” or “software,” so to speak, but of course, I didn’t realize it until I was tested. It took a lot of dismantling of my own self-perception in order to heal.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I’m not sure how to answer this question, as I feel that there’s not really a destination. Sure, I’d like to have more people listen to my music, to regularly release albums that people enjoy, to play shows in other countries, and even to make a living doing it all. But even then, it’s as simple as working to get better at my craft merely for the sake of getting better at my craft. If I can keep doing this, then I feel the music should speak for itself, and by doing so, I hope it inspires others to pursue what they have a drive to do as well.

How do you define success?

Success is just creating a life in which you can be at peace with yourself – to be able to find your center anywhere you go – even during times of great turmoil. At the end of the day, I just want to know that I made the best of the opportunities I was presented, and did the best that I could with what I had to work with. To me, adding anything more to this definition makes it much more unrealistic.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

There are a few things… that I won’t elaborate on. But I do think that anytime someone you once looked up to is revealed to be a questionable person (to say the least), you wish that you hadn’t placed them on such a high pedestal to begin with. When you finally see such people for who they truly are, you definitely spend a great amount of time wishing you hadn’t seen what you did. You often wish that you could just ignore some of the things you’ve seen because life we be so much simpler if you could. But you can’t un-see things. Growing up can fuck you up. And don’t worship other human beings.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I want to create an actual story – like a comic book, novel or film. To me, that’s the ultimately piecing together of a puzzle. You can emulate this process with music at times, but it’s much more abstract. I’d love to just create an entire world of characters and settings and pour all of my thoughts and understanding into it.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

I believe the most essential function of art is to hold a mirror up to society and challenge its perceptions. Art helps us understand others and makes conversations possible. It is a form of communication that provides perspective and allows us to look at the past, present and future simultaneously. In our society, we tend to be encouraged to view art as only being “entertainment,” which completely misses the mark in my mind. Art is much more than that. It allows us to actively shape our world without trying to force people to see things our way against their will. You can’t directly change someone’s perception by actively trying to change them, but you can plant seeds of change – which can be done most effectively through art. If you truly want to make the world a better place, then turn to art to discover the answers you seek. Each observer must find the answers for themselves in order for the message to be fully received. And through art, this is possible.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to doing more hiking during the summer and hopefully playing more basketball at some point (although both activities seem to be destroying my knees). Other than that, I’m really looking forward to the new DUNE movie. I really love Frank Herbert’s original six books, but can’t stand David Lynch’s 1984 film (to the fans of this film, I am sorry), and am not that interested in any of the newer books that weren’t written by Frank.

Sawtooth Monk, Peregrination (2021)

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