What kind of guy releases a breakup song on Valentine’s Day? That would be Travis Denning.
But the 27-year-old Georgian hastens to assure — and no doubt his girlfriend would be happy to hear — “I’m not anti-Valentine’s Day!”
Denning simply thinks “ABBY,” a wickedly fun good-riddance romp, would be just the tonic for all the singletons left out of the annual love-fest. (The title is actually an acronym that stands for “anybody but you,” and you can see a live performance of the tune in a video that PEOPLE is premiering exclusively.)
Like his breakout top 40 hit “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs,” this latest single shows off a mischievous side that Denning’s fans have grown to love. Whether it’s in his music, his saucy posts on his socials, or his sunny-side-up stage presence, Denning has quickly established himself as a go-to guy for a good time.
Here are five more things to know about the up-and-comer, whose current radio single is the top 20-and-climbing “After a Few”:
He set his sights on a music career while still in middle school.
Growing up in Warner Robins, Georgia, Denning originally fell in love with music through heavy metal and received his first guitar for Christmas at age 11. His skills quickly developed and his musical tastes broadened, and by age 14, he was backstage, guitar in hand, before a Marshall Tucker Band show, a perk of his father’s friendship with band guitarist Chris Hicks. Out of the blue, lead vocalist Doug Gray invited Denning on stage to join in on the band’s signature hit “Can’t You See.”
“And I said, ‘All right!’” Denning recalls, but on the inside, “I was, like, oh … my … God.”
He’d never performed at anything more than a garage band gig, and now he was standing onstage in front of more than 3,000 people. “I took one little solo round,” he says, “and I bet it was so bad.” But afterward, he watched as his father asked Hicks for advice on how Denning could turn music into a profession.
Up until that moment, Denning says, “it never really seemed like a possibility. But seeing my dad talk to somebody who makes a living doing this made it a real thing. That was the moment when it was like, okay, now I need to focus on just being the best musician I can be.”
He came to Nashville with a dream and $10,000 to chase it.
By the time Denning turned 21 in 2014, he had developed his country music chops performing at clubs, bars and events across the Southeast, and he’d saved $10,000 — enough seed money, he figured, to move to Nashville in pursuit of a next-level singing and songwriting career. “I might be eating Beanie Weenies,” he says he thought, “but I’m going to be able to focus on music.”
After grinding it out for six months without a major break, discouragement began to set in: “Everybody has a moment — and pardon my language — but they say, ‘What the f— am I doing? Am I supposed to be doing this?’ You just get scared.”
Here’s to 6 years livin’ in Nashville, Tennessee. The day I moved up here somehow feels like a lifetime ago and equally like it was yesterday. My parents were comin’ up from Georgia the next day with a U-Haul packed with my stuff, so I blew up an air mattress on my new bedroom floor and drank a couple cold beers to toast the new journey. I remember being just overwhelmed with excitement, and feeling like I was finally on the right road to chase down what I always wanted. Six years later, I’ve got a song on the radio about to be in the Top 20. I can honestly say I wake up everyday excited and so grateful for the blessings in my life. Cheers to y’all who listen to the music, buy the shirts, and just genuinely make a Georgia boy feel at home wherever he is. Y’all make it all worth it. And cheers to that air mattress. : @awendowskiphoto
A post shared by Travis Denning (@travisrdenning) on Jan 15, 2020 at 6:14am PST
But just two months later, his perseverance paid off with a publishing deal. Two months after that, Jason Aldean laid claim to one of Denning’s co-writes (“All Out of Beer”) and put it on his 2016 album, They Don’t Know. “Going into Christmas,” Denning says, “I was like, okay, I got this.”
He signed a record deal in 2017 with Universal Music Group, and after two years of touring and releasing singles, he’s set to debut his first album later this year. He also continues to write songs for other artists, including Michael Ray‘s current top 30 single, “Her World or Mine.”
No, he doesn’t have an endorsement deal with Bass Pro Shops.
Denning came by his ever-present Bass Pro Shops cap the old-fashioned way: An ardent outdoorsman, he started wearing it because he likes it. (Granted, the retail giant now provides him a steady supply.) Though the cap hides what is undeniably a handsome head of hair, Denning feels the covering is essential to his musical identity: “Someone told me once, ‘What’s your music sound like? Does it sound like you got your hair done, or does it sound like you’ve had a couple of drinks and you’ve got your hat on, and you’re having a damn good time?’ That’s what I want my music to sound like.’”
Denning has other trademarks and traits that also set him apart: his snakeskin boots, his lefthanded guitars, and a circulatory system that runs Bulldog red for the University of Georgia football team. His father, an alum, has long held season tickets, and Denning has attended games on the Athens campus since he was 3. Recently in Athens for a show, he spent two days hanging out with the team on the sidelines during practice and in their indoor facilities. “Those two days,” he says, beaming, “were, like, the greatest accomplishments of my life.”
A post shared by Travis Denning (@travisrdenning) on Sep 1, 2018 at 7:14am PDT
He has a sideline in the funny business.
Laughing matters, and you’ll do a lot of it around Denning. Take, for instance, his good humor about that adorable baby face. (Is it any wonder the man needed the fake ID he sings about in “David Ashley Parker”?) Denning looks at least 10 years younger than his 27 years.
“Ten-and-a-half is usually what I get,” he corrects with a sly grin. “Hell, I just think it’s gonna come in handy in 10 years when I’m 36 and people are like, ‘Dude, you look 26,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Thank you very much.’”
Denning has already been wryly assessing his place on the lineup with two buff, burly and bearded artists, Sam Hunt and Kip Moore, on Hunt’s upcoming “Southside” tour. “I told he should have called it the ‘Two and a Half Men’ tour,” Denning quips.
A post shared by Travis Denning (@travisrdenning) on Jan 24, 2020 at 7:37am PST
Denning’s humor shows up often on his socials. For the Dolly Parton challenge meme that recently went viral, he posted the same image — chilling out shirtless in cap, sunglasses and rolled-up overalls — for his hypothetical LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Tinder profile pics. (The genius of it: For Denning, it really does work for all four.)
And then there’s his recurring episodes of “The Bachelor After a Few,” a play-by-play commentary of the popular reality show from a sloshed male perspective. “I’m gonna need a lot of tequila for this season,” he tells the camera in his latest entry. “I can’t handle the cringe-iness, man.”
His girlfriend also has a musical pedigree.
Denning’s steady is Madison Montgomery, daughter of country singer John Michael Montgomery, who had a string of hits in the 1990s. The couple met while out clubbing in Nashville with mutual friends. “March will be a year together, so it’s been crazy,” Denning says. “It feels like yesterday.”
When he visits her family, he and her dad talk a lot more about golf and hunting than music, Denning reports. “Her dad is her dad to me,” he says. “That’s what I love about him and I love about her.”
Another thing he loves about Madison: the fact that he can be himself around her, “which just means that she’s perfect,” he says. “And she is who she is, and we just complement each other.”
A post shared by Travis Denning (@travisrdenning) on Feb 8, 2020 at 12:58pm PST
And as for Valentine’s Day? No flowers and candy for Madison. Denning got a little more creative for his girlfriend, who’s an avid reader now finishing up a communications degree. He says he knows her well enough to know she’d rather have books. Since he’s out on the road for the holiday, she’s already received them, two memoirs and a novel, and he reports they were a big hit.
“I haven’t gotten my present from her yet,” he said, speaking a few days before Feb. 14, “but apparently it’s hilarious and I’m going to laugh.” Sounds like she knows him well enough, too.