Record of the Week: Tré Burt’s ‘Traffic Fiction’

Tre Burt talks grandfather and sonic influence on his third album Traffic Fiction

Some of Tré Burt’s earliest musical memories are from watching “The Temptations” television miniseries, and listening to recording artists like Prince, Michael Jackson, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, War, and Bobby DeBarge. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter especially cherishes those musical moments because he was able to share them with his grandfather Tommy Burt, who was the inspiration for Tré’s third album Traffic Fiction.

He said the album’s title track refers to made-up problems that arrive in your mind or in the world that really don’t mean anything, unless you give that thing meaning.

But musical influences aren’t the only sounds Burt elevates on Traffic Fiction. Around the time he was writing these songs, Burt’s grandfather was struggling with early onset dementia and was slipping away each time Tré saw him. He preserved those moments of connection by using a tape recorder during some of those final conversations. In early 2023, his grandfather Tommy Burt would pass away, and Tré would use some of those voice recordings throughout the record.

“He basically shaped the character that I chose to follow through my life,” Burt said. “I fell in love with music through him twice. Once when I was a kid, we were driving to go to work. I’m seven years old, we’re going to the capital nursery to move plants around. Listening and bumping that music in his Cadillac on the way.”

“The second time was right before we lost him to dementia. Music was the only thing that brought him back to life. I put on a Louis Jordan record, because he loves Louis Jordan. Up until that moment, he wasn’t talking, wasn’t moving, just in his head sitting on the couch. I put on that record, and he just started thumping his toe and started moving. You saw something, moving his bones, mouthing all the words, he just came alive. I saw the power of music and I fell in love with music again.”

Those recorded conversations between Tommy and Tré Burt, as shared on Traffic Fiction, cover everything from Stevie Wonder to carrying the family tradition through his music. On one of those voice messages, his grandfather tells Tré, “Every time I see somebody, I look to see if it’s you,” then proceeds to ask Tré if he’s doing OK. Tré’s response is that he’s “just tired,” as he reflects on his career and how fatigued he felt.

“Pop always had a sunny disposition,” Burt said. “I didn’t really tell him my troubles, I wanted to show him how good I was doing in the world. I wanted to make him proud. That’s why it leads into ‘All Things Right’ after that, because it goes into the sort of mental space that I’m in that I don’t really share with my family.”

Making this album, Tré went back to those times when he was a kid driving with his grandfather in his 1975 Cadillac Seville and the sounds that were coming out of the stereo. From country-soul on the album’s title track, to using his rock influences on songs like “2 For Tha Show,” this album carries on his family tradition using those musical influences to create a sonic shift from his previous two records.

On the song “Pieces of Me

“That song took the longest to finish on the record because it has three different parts to it, and I started out with one. I was trying to make it all fit in a puzzle, and for a long time I didn’t know how to make those three fit. That sound is inspired by listening to Beach Boys and The Ronettes. That’s when I wanted the record to be what I call a future doo wop record and then I abandoned that theme quickly after. But then it’s inspired by that Phil Spector and that Motown sound, I just wanted to make it a little weirder.”

“As I was making the record, I heard sounds coming out and I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can do this,’ because I’m a Folk and Blues guy. I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this,” Burt explained. “But I started hearing sounds come out, which are my other influences, and it was punk, and it was rock. And I was like, ‘OK, I’m just going to let that come out, that’s going to be this record.’ I let my punk influences come out.”

“The last song on the record, “Yo Face,” I wrote about two years ago. That was the first demo I made, and it was kind of a joke and I sent it to the label two years ago, I did get a response [Laughs]. Because they never heard me do something like that before. It’s kind of a joke that’s the last song on this record. But all the other songs happened in a week period where I went up to Canada, rented a cabin, and just wrote.”

On the song “Kids In Tha Yard

“It was the second to last day of being in the studio and the record was missing something, and I just got back on my keyboard and started jamming and ‘Kids In Tha Yard’ came about. For me, it’s a bit of a darker tone. It’s talking about the future generation of kids. What’s it going to look like for them? They’re left with this world that we’re going to leave behind. Who knows what it’s going to look like? On this record, I learned that in order to get these darker themes across and to have them be palatable for people, I wanted to infect their body, make it something you could move and dance to and then the message would sneak in.”

After this trip to Canada, Burt returned to Nashville’s The Bomb Shelter to work with esteemed producer Andrija Tokic. He said that the death of his grandfather and writing most of these songs during isolation changed his outlook on the world. At a time when it was dark, emotionally, he didn’t want the record to feel that way sonically. So there’s a sense of playfulness, fun, and a joyous spirit on the album, and that helped him get through those difficult times.

“There was a period of time where I couldn’t stop thinking about the end of the world, the apocalypse,” Burt says. “I think my grandfather, who’s my like my father figure, dying had a lot to do with that. But the music is energetic and danceable because it’s like you dance through the apocalypse. Ultimately, you don’t let that get you down. If the fear is already there, they’ve already won.”

“I always wanted to make this record,” he continued. “But I will say that the death of my Pops, really put me in the space where I wasn’t fearful about the outside world. I just needed to be me, completely me. In the moments of writing the record, I wasn’t thinking about anything else except transmitting what I felt.” 

The last recording and final sounds on Traffic Fiction are Tré asking his grandfather if he remembers BNB Maintenance Inc., his grandfather’s company Burt N Burt. Tré tells his grandfather that it’s his business now, signaling that he’ll carry on the name and the tradition even after Pops is gone.

“I feel like a different person,” said Burt. “I feel more grounded because I used to be a traveler, and that was the end of that phase. Now I’m a person who lives somewhere, who has a house, who’s got a team, a record label. It feels good and I feel whole now.”

Tre Burt recently performed at The Blue Room for WNXP and KUTX “T” Party and will return to the venue on November 2.