Long before it was the norm for artists to become internet superstars right from their bedrooms, Travis Mills launched his career at home. He introduced himself to the world as T. Mills, a teen engrossed in Pop Punk culture who also had an affinity for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony classics (a group that eventually received placement in Mills’s collection of tattoos) and Tupac Shakur staples. By 20, he’d befriended one of his idols, Blink-182 icon Travis Barker, and soon, he was touring the world, performing his fusion of Pop Punk and Rap for global audiences.
For nearly a decade, Mills dedicated his life to his music career. He was consistently on the road as he continued to build on his already popular name while taking time to collaborate with artists like T.I., Dom Kennedy, Chevy Woods, 24hrs, K. Camp, and Ty Dolla $ign. Hailing from Riverside, California, Mills has encapsulated the feel-good, summertime vibe that the Golden State often echos, and after a lengthy hiatus from the industry spotlight, Travis Mills has returned. The singer is back with his new two-piece band Girlfriends (stylized “girlfriends”) alongside Nick Gross, and a fresh outlook on how to approach the industry as a veteran making a giant leap back onto the much-cluttered scene.
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“I feel like a lot of the same energy around Girlfriends is what I felt when I started my T. Mills project,” Mills recently told us in an exclusive interview. “It’s really fun to have this new thing that we’re building and you get to kind of cross off these milestones together.” Girlfriends developed just prior to the pandemic, leaving Mills and Gross locked in together for months with Goldfinger frontman and music icon John Feldmann, who produced their self-titled debut record.
“The Pop Punk and the Rock scene is where I grew up and shaped me and formed me, as well as Hip Hop. I find so much similarity between Punk Rock and Hip Hop,” said the 32-year-old creative. “There’s so much emphasis on this DIY mentality and no one’s gonna work harder than you. Whether it’s promoting your own shows, throwing your own shows, making your own music in a bedroom, releasing your own music…there’s really an emphasis on doing things yourself. Those two genres have always resonated with me.”
“I put out a lot of music when I was young, when I was 20, 21 years old, and it got popular. For that, I’m eternally grateful, but there comes a point when you’re on tour for nine years, playing these songs every single day, that you start to get over it.”
In October 2020, Girlfriends shared their debut album, a project that Mills had previously called a journal of sorts. “I don’t think I ever wanted to stop being an artist,” Mills admitted to HNHH. “I put out a lot of music when I was young, when I was 20, 21 years old, and it got popular. For that, I’m eternally grateful, but there comes a point when you’re on tour for nine years, playing these songs every single day, that you start to get over it.” Looking back, he appreciates the opportunities presented, but he joked that not everything aged well.
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“I like to equate it to like, looking at a yearbook photo of when you’re in sixth grade,” he said with a slight laugh. “You’re looking at the clothes you had on, the puka shell necklaces. It felt really cool the day that you took those school photos but it didn’t really age the best and now you look back and you’re like damn, I was corny. You know what I mean? You kind of have that perspective.”
During his years-long hiatus, Mills wasn’t twiddling his thumbs. You can find him hosting MTV’s hit show Ghosted with Bachelorette alum Rachel Lindsay, working on Apple’s The Travis Mills Podcast where he interviews industry professionals, or you can look up his ADHD with Travis Mills podcast where candidly discusses his mental health journey. Mills has even worked with several artists behind the scenes, writing and producing tracks in the Rap and Rock arenas—credits that include YK Osiris’s hit, “Worth It.”
In today’s Rap scene, we see more artists emerging with a sound that fuses Alt-Rock and Hip Hop, specifically Trap, and Mills is all too familiar with the amalgamation considering his previous work with a certain beloved New York-bred artist who we tragically lost back in 2017.
“When I met Lil Peep, I very much felt that what he was doing was kind of what I started doing in 2009: touring with Emo and Pop Punk and Hardcore bands and implementing all of those guitar licks and melodies into my music, just in a different way.”
“I think the first one who really did it was an artist like Lil Peep. I found him in 2016,” Mills recalled. “I signed him and I moved him out to L.A., essentially. And so, kind of getting to be behind the scenes with that whole project, being hands-on with an artist like Gus was extremely fulfilling to me.” It all came during a time when Mills was reevaluating who he was as an artist. “When I met Peep, I very much felt that what he was doing was kind of what I started doing in 2009: touring with Emo and Pop Punk and Hardcore bands and implementing all of those guitar licks and melodies into my music, just in a different way.”
A similar voice that Mills’s group recently collaborated with is Jasiah, an Ohio artist who teeters in the Trap Metal and Industrial Hip Hop sectors. The partnership made waves on their single “Congratulations” and Mills called the 25-year-old artist “an enigma all of his own whether he’s singing opera or rapping or making Rap records. I feel like that is the convergence of our two worlds.”
Jasiah, like many artists, was birthed during the “SoundCloud Era,” much like Mills was in the MySpace heyday. He reflected on his early years and dropped off a few gems to the younger generation carving out their space in an often oversaturated industry.
“The music has to come first and when you’re 21 and you’re finding success for the first time, it’s easy to get distracted. There’s so many distractions,” said Mills. “Whether it be girls, the parties, the whatever. Money. Music always has to come first and for so long, I definitely was experiencing things that I never really felt would come true, so I was trying to live them out to their fullest potential.” Yet with Girlfriends, Mills added that “it all starts and ends with the music.”
He advised artists to “put those 10,000 hours in” and to “focus on your craft.” He said, “All the other stuff is cool and I got to experience all that, I got to be on the road for years at a time and do all the fun rockstar sh*t.” Yet, he knows that the industry is fickle and often difficult to steer. “For me, I don’t know many other artists that have been around for 14 years that are still doing it. I’ve toured with so many people who, for one reason or another, aren’t making music anymore, aren’t creating anything. I feel very blessed to have this head on my shoulders to navigate an industry like this one.”
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Girlfriends may be Pop Punk-centered, but as an avid fan of Rap, Mills listens to hip-hop daily. Aside from those legendary rappers that he’s continued to listen to for decades, Mills detailed a few new artists that have caught his attention. “I love what 42 Dugg is doing,” he said. “I’ve been listening to this dude Flee a lot. I’ve been listening to this kid Lil Eazzyy, he’s f*cking awesome. And then I feel like, obviously there’s the classics like, I’m really into Young Thug. He’s one of my favorite artists.”
Mills has also kept Young Dolph and Key Glock’s Dum & Dummer projects on repeat. “I really feel it’s light-hearted, it’s kind of an easy thing to listen to,” he explained. “It’s fun to just put it on in a car and not really have to think about it.” Another artist that Mills said is “having a run right now” is Pooh Shiesty. “I love playing him on my Apple Music shows, as well as OhGeesy.”
“I think what OhGeesy has been able to do with navigating away from being in a group like [Shoreline Mafia] to becoming a solidified superstar on his own, it’s been really impressive to watch,” Mills continued. “I’ve had those dudes on my Apple Music shows numerous times, so to see the way he’s been able to navigate and transcend how big Shoreline was and step into his own—he has this new record with DaBaby right now that’s f*cking awesome.” Mills was, of course, referring to the pair of rappers’ buzzing May release, “Get Fly.”
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As Girlfriends work on their next album, slated for release sometime in 2022, Mills expressed what he hopes to communicate in this era of his life, and it’s saturated in maturation. “I think one thing I’ve really been emphasizing in this Travis 2.0 is my vulnerability and kind of being a lot more open and honest with the things that I struggle with,” said the singer.
“I feel like, 10 to 12 years ago you couldn’t talk about [certain] things, especially around mental health and my anxiety and my OCD and my depression,” he continued. “I really felt when I was first starting to get popular, I felt like I had to keep it a secret like it was a burden on everyone. With Girlfriends and the records that we’re making, this is really the first time that I’ve been open and honest and vulnerable to a point where it’s almost scary at times, how much I’m using these songs as my confessional.”
“As fun and cool and exciting that life looks on Instagram, there’s also a level of humanity that everybody has that I don’t feel like everyone shows or gets to experience. So just being open and honest with everything that I do, whether it’s music, whether it’s acting, interviews…just being my most authentic self. Took me a long time to figure it out.”
Check out “Congratulations” by Girlfriends featuring Jasiah.