Q&A: Travis Cloer
Travis Cloer spends most of his nights performing as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys at Paris Las Vegas, but on Dec. 7, he takes the stage as himself in his annual holiday show inside Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. He talks to Las Vegas Magazine’s Susan Stapleton about the inspiration behind his new holiday album, Christmas at My Place.
Tell me what went into making your new album.
We got the idea early I guess from doing our shows at Cabaret Jazz, with the Christmas show the last couple of years. Keith Thompson, my musical director and arranger, approached me with an idea of doing a demo of this Christmas song that he had and one that I’d been using in the show. We made the demo in January. We liked the way it sounded so much that we decided to make a whole record. So that’s what we did. And now that song is the first song on the record. That’s kind of what kicked it all off. Now we have this great 11-track, fully orchestrated Christmas record.
Which song was that?
The first song on the album is called “Christmas Is My Favorite.” It’s a great opening Christmas song that kicks everything off and sets the mood for the whole record.
Your album includes “(Baby, it's Cold) Under the Mistletoe,” which you wrote. How hard is to come up with a new Christmas song?
It’s something that I knew that I wanted to do. I wasn’t quite sure that I would be able to do it. I tackled the process. I was very happy with what I came up with. I’m a lover of big band and jazz and that kind of music. I think that’s why I like Christmas music so much. It slots into that category a lot. I knew that I wanted this song to have that classic sound with horns and the imagery. I wanted to paint a picture using different song titles and different Christmas and holiday images throughout the song to kind of give it a little bit of a clever twist to tell this story of the heartache that sometimes comes along with the holidays by yourself.
Where did you film the video?
We shot the video in October. We shot it at three locations. One was at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center where the show’s going to be on Dec. 7. And then we shot the scenes with my wife and I at our house. We shot the outdoor scenes at Mount Charleston. It was a very cold and rainy day up on Mount Charleston that day. We didn’t last long there. It made for a nice feel in the video, but, man, it wasn’t much fun doing.
Do you stick around Las Vegas during the holidays?
Yeah, with Jersey Boys, we don’t get much time off, especially during the holidays. Holidays for show biz people tend to be one of our busiest times of the year because people are off work and with their families, looking for things to do. So, what do you do? You go see a show. Pretty much every major holiday ,we’re doing a show. We’ve been really lucky. Our family has come here. We have Christmas here and they come see the show, and then they come see the Christmas show. It’s still a really big family affair even though we don’t travel.
So it truly is having Christmas at your place?
That’s the feel I wanted for the record. We have two kids now, my wife and I. They’re young. Christmas kind of takes on a whole new meaning again. We have that young vibe around the house. I wanted this record to show people what I feel Christmas is like and to invite them into my house during Christmastime. That’s why at the end of the record you can hear my daughter singing and my son laughing and my wife is on there as well. I think it’s a special time to be with your family and the people you love and to really just count your blessings, to steal a song title.
This is the third year you’ve been putting out albums. Are you setting up a tradition for years to come?
I would like to. I think the next record I’m going to work on is going to be some original stuff. I got inspired big time by writing “(Baby, it's Cold) Under the Mistletoe” and drawing on my influences of big band and jazz and doo-wop. I’ve kind of got some ideas record along those lines of the songs on the Christmas album right now. So I think that’s what I’m going to be working on in the next year or so and hopefully come up with some good songs.
There's now a deep relationship between performers on the Strip and the Smith Center. Has that strengthened the local performing community?
Oh, I know it does. Vegas has some nice venues but they’re more on the more classic Vegas side like the lounges and that kind of stuff. Before you’ve got these enormous concert venues that they bring superstars into. Stuff out at the Smith Center is just a beautiful, beautiful facility. I looks amazing. It sounds amazing. The people over there are so supportive. It just gives entertainers who don’t necessarily want to go to the classic Vegas lounge. It gives them an outlet to exercise their creative spirit.
Do you see yourself doing more solo showcases there?
Yeah, this will be my fourth one. I did my first one three years ago, and then that same year I did my Christmas show there.
You’ve been called Rat Pack smooth with your singing. Which Rat Packer are you?
I like to say there’s a little bit of all of them in me. Frank, of course, was the ringleader and just had that voice and the ability to interpret that song like no one else can. That’s something that I try to do, especially with Christmas music. You get everyone and their brother singing the same songs. With this record, I tried to bring something new to it and interpret the songs in a fresh way and a way I hope no one else has. Dino liked to have a lot of fun and he also had a very smooth and interesting voice. I try to do that as well. Then you have Sammy, who was the consummate entertainer, who did everything. He was able to showcase his talents in so many ways. That’s also something I try to do with my live performances and my writing as well as the vocal performance on the record.
You’re obviously a student of the classic style and the Great American Songbook. Have you found echoes of that old style around Vegas?
It’s kind of all over the place still, and I think that it is because it’s such great music and it’s timeless. I go to the Dennis Bono show a lot and he’s always doing that kind of stuff. Rat Pack Is Back is still going. Frank. The Man. The Music kicked it off again. Zowie Bowie does that vintage Vegas thing. Even though people might not think it’s their cup of tea or something that they want to listen to all the time, even if you go to a show that showcases this music, you’re going to walk away with this great feeling because this music puts you in such a good spirit because it’s so well written. Musically, it’s well written. Lyrically, these songs tell beautiful stories. They take you back to a time when music was something other than just background noise. A lot of times today it just turns out to be that way. I think it’s still alive and well and hopefully it will be for a long time.
Do you find it harder to perform as Frankie Valli or as yourself?
A lot of entertainers struggle with it. It is infinitely harder get up onstage and to be myself than it is to do Jersey Boys. I might sing a lot more and go through a lot of emotions in that show, but getting up as myself and trying to entertain people as myself for an hour and a half show, it’s hard. You might not want to be as open with yourself. I’m a private guy. I like to keep myself private. You have to get up and be that entertainer. I think a lot of comedians do that where they bring their family into the act but in a way where they don’t give too much away but you still feel like you know them. So that’s what I try to do. It’s incredibly hard to get up and be yourself.