Our People: Two-part harmony

If he’s not seen strumming his guitar in the park or singing from a stool at local coffee shops, long-time Portales resident Travis Erwin can be seen jamming at various local musical events and concerts.

But as passionate as Erwin is about music and sharing it with others, he said finding a balance between it and the other elements of his life has been a long, difficult road to travel and he’s still in the midst of figuring it out.

Staff photo: Alisa Boswell Portales resident Travis Erwin teaches local resident Kathy Gore how to play guitar in his music workshop at home.

Staff photo: Alisa Boswell
Portales resident Travis Erwin teaches local resident Kathy Gore how to play guitar in his music workshop at home.

Along with being a musician and teaching private guitar lessons, the 39-year-old father of three is also a part time assistant physical therapist and a family man.

Erwin said more than anything else in his life, it’s his children that keep him grounded and make him a better person.

“I think my kids have made me want to find that balance,” Erwin said concerning his music and other aspects of his life. “Because all of a sudden, you have these little people who are loving and sweet that are making you feel not loving and sweet. They’re showing you your darker side just by being there.”

Why are you so passionate about music? When I look back, music is where I found comfort. On a guitar neck, there are patterns and shapes that are always there for you; they’re not going to change, and the more I invested myself into understanding the shapes that match the sounds, I felt more and more powerful in that space. I could hear a sound and could go, “oh, I know what shape that is,” and that whole process was just very, very comforting to me.
I think, over time, becoming a performer and someone who’s able to communicate my joy to others was the next step, and I had many people that I watched, some of them peers and some of them older, who were able to communicate that joy long before I was able to communicate that joy. When I watched those people communicating joy, delivering their listener from the pain of this world, then I was like, OK, all the scales and patterns that I know, I want to be able to use those to be able to do that.

What is one of your favorite elements of music? I really love teaching. I just love sharing what it is that I know and watching people get it and being the kind of person that is helping pass on that information is kind of my ideal self at this point and so, I love opportunities when people allow me to be that person with them.
There’s the whole get up on stage and be a rock star deal, which I’ve experimented with my share of that. I always thought if music is such a healthy thing then how come so many of my musician friends and myself are not so healthy people? (Laughs.)
So I just started doing some self-examination, I guess, and really, teaching music seems to be healthier for me than trying make myself into a more popular musical being. It took a really long time for me to be able to come into that.

travis erwin: Courtesy photo Travis Erwin said his family keeps him grounded and his kids teach him to be a better person. From left to right: Anna, 15, wife Carol, Emma, 11, Travis, and Joseph, 13.

travis erwin: Courtesy photo
Travis Erwin said his family keeps him grounded and his kids teach him to be a better person. From left to right: Anna, 15, wife Carol, Emma, 11, Travis, and Joseph, 13.

What do you hope to accomplish with music? I suppose if I could find a way to share that with people that’s also healthy for me mentally, emotionally, where I’m not over-extending myself with my music and I’m not under-extending myself with it. A kind of balance with music because I can tend to get involved with this “bigness” thing. For me, the goal with my music is I want to feel that bigness coming from inside of me and I would like to, even if it’s not with words, share that bigness with everybody. Even if it did it in one small place, if I could share that over the next 15 years with students who come through ENMU and with people who pass through this town; if I could just share a few cathartic moments with people because when I’m sharing it, I’m also getting it.

You said you stopped at one point and wondered why you were so unhealthy with your music. At what point did you feel you got to an unhealthy place, and why did you feel that way? First of all, I don’t think it’s the music that makes people unhealthy. I just think it’s how we pursue anything and music is just one of those things that’s really easy to obsess over and in many instances, we’re rewarded for that obsession that may not be a healthy obsession.
There was never any one moment where I realized that I was obsessed with my music. Over a period of time, I had a string of just really fantastic shows where I was playing really well; my chops were up, meaning my fingers were playing well, and I was playing fun music and I was getting a great response. People were just like, “Wow, yes, I’m inspired.” I made an album that I felt, at the time, “Wow, I did it.” Of course, there’s so much bigger that I could have been, but it was this level of success musically that I was able to recognize in myself and as soon as the applause stopped, all that good energy was gone, and I started noticing that and it hurt. And I thought about how I wasn’t happy and I thought if I just go to the next level, I’ll be happy, then I thought, has any other level made me happy? I was there, dealing with my own personal human stuff.

What are some other goals you have in your life aside from music: Just balance between my music and my physical therapy and my wife and my kids. I want to be here. I just want to be present. That presence is threatened, on some level, frequently, whether I’m threatening myself or I’m feeling threatened by others. And I would just like to be here wherever it is that I am. I would just like to be here and to learn to be that empathetic, compassionate person that is my ideal self that I have experimented with before, that I’ve felt and I know is there. That’s my goal.

— Compiled by staff writer Alisa Boswell