Slaton Glover, singer and guitarist for the local country/rock/bluegrass/folk sextet Travelin’ Kine, had every reason to be excited. Their new album was done, and they’d booked a release show at the Pour House to celebrate. But he wasn’t excited, at least not at first. Why, why did the show have to be on June 18?
Slaton comes from a family of firefighters, and before he and mandolin player Dave Vaughan hit it off in 2013 and formed a band, he’d spent 11 years on the job. And of those 11 years, June 18, 2007, the day of West Ashley’s Sofa Super Store fire, was by far the worst. By the time the fire was finally out, nine of Glover’s fellow firefighters (now immortalized as the Charleston Nine) were dead, and he had taken the first step on a path that would end his time with the Charleston Fire Dept.
“Long story short, I ended up marrying the widow of one of the firefighters in 2011, and it ended up going south,” Glover says. “And I realized after that I should do what I wanted to do, not what I thought I should do, and that’s when I decided I was going to leave and do music. I’d always loved music, but everybody told me it wasn’t an option.”
“But I found myself 11 years later realizing that life’s only so long,” he continues. “My life had been shattered by my divorce. And I’d never realized how unhappy I’d been; the only thing I was happy with was my wife. So I decided to make wholesale changes: If I’m getting divorced, I’m starting over everywhere. I’m going to play music, and if I starve, I starve. But I’ll at least know that I tried. I won’t spend years thinking, ‘What if?'”
And the most painful part of that decision was a realization. “Had that day in 2007 never happened, I’d probably be with the fire department right now,” Glover says. “That day was such an awful tragedy, but I’m finally doing what I’m supposed to be doing because of it. Had it not been for those guys, it wouldn’t be the case right now. I’d probably still be searching.”
But still that date for his band’s album-release show seemed … wrong. Until, as he did with his divorce, Glover took a negative and made something positive out of it. “Originally, I didn’t want to do it,” he says. “I said I couldn’t do it on that day. But I thought it would be a good way to honor those guys and pay my respects. I was trying to make something good out of something tragic, so we’re donating part of the proceeds from the show to the MUSC Burned Children’s Fund in memory of the Charleston Nine.”
The album that Travelin’ Kine has produced, aptly titled Change in the Wind, is an exercise in contradictions. Lyrically, the songs reflect the pain Glover was going through, but musically, there’s a buoyant sense of rhythm and even optimism. Combining rock rhythms, bluegrass-style ensemble playing, and the unmistakable country twang in Glover’s sturdy voice, the band has created a truly likable hybrid of styles. “Need pills and alcohol to finally get to sleep/ It’s the only way to put my mind at ease,” Glover sings on the surging title track, and its relentless push seems to drag the narrator out of his depression even as he sings about it. Fittingly enough, Glover wrote the song on the day his divorce was final.
“The whole mindset of it is about starting over,” Glover says. “It’s about dealing with loss. It’s kind of a divorce album, actually. They’re not all sad songs, though. A lot of them may be dark, lyrically, but the sound of it is a happier thing. I didn’t want something that was going to be sad, even if things were bad when I wrote the songs. One of the things that’s great about the band that I have is they find ways to make it sound like a happy song.”
The album, recorded at drummer Jim Donnelly’s Plow Ground studio on Johns Island, took two years to record, which troubled Glover at first until he heard the finished product. “When we started out, we tried a lot of different things,” he says. “We played a lot of these songs differently. That’s one of the reasons it took so long is that we’d go into the studio and play the song, and then we’d play it live and somebody would come up with something really cool. We were making this album as we were still finding ourselves as a band.”
It’s difficult to believe that Travelin’ Kine has been together less than three years, both because of their collective musical skill and because due to a heavy concert schedule, it seems like they’ve been on the Charleston scene for a lot longer. “I want to do everything I possibly can with this band,” Glover says. “We’re a very young band, but we’ve done a lot of cool stuff. We’ve been very successful, and we’ve got some really cool stuff coming up in the next month or two.
“Everything I do is in an effort to make the band better or promote this band and be as good as we can possibly be,” he adds with unmistakable certainty. “And the great thing is that I play with five guys who are all on that same page. They’re willing to do the same thing. You only have so much time. I don’t want to waste a day.”