Travis Gass makes no secret of his musical tastes: it’s right there in the title of his show. “West of the Fields”, the song that gives Travis’s show its name is a cut from R.E.M.’s legendary debut Murmur, a rightful staple of college rock. Indeed Travis bookends his show with a pair of R.E.M. songs every week. In addition, his Twitter background image is the cover of R.E.M.’s Chronic Town LP. But the material Travis plays on air is not limited to Michael Stipe and company. If you tune in to WMEB on Mondays at noon you’ll hear a wide variety of music across the alternative spectrum.
Travis has been on air for 16 years now, and his show, along with his musical taste, has evolved with the times. When West of the Fields first aired in the late 90s, independent music was burgeoning into a growing cultural force and beginning to break into the mainstream. Brit-pop music in particular was at the height of its popularity, and Travis was right on board. “I think I’m a little less of a hardcore Anglophile than in ’98,” he says. “Back then, if Q magazine or NME was into a band, they were going to be all over the show.”
Over the years, Travis has embraced newly emerging genres in the alternative world. As he puts it: “I’ve sort of surfed the wave of whatever’s going on in the indie rock/college rock world. When Rapture/LCD Soundsystem/CSS dance-punk was all the rage in the mid-2000s, the show was more beat-heavy. Lately it seems like indie rock is obsessed with R&B, and I’ve really enjoyed acts like How To Dress Well or Banks that have kind of combined those aesthetics.” No matter what the prevailing trend, Travis has remained meticulously attentive of current music. As a result, West of the Fields is an intriguing mix of the old and the new.
Travis has also seen the radio station itself change over the years, mostly due to the effects of changing technology. West of the Fields first aired when MP3 technology began spreading across the internet, and since then the show has eased into the digital age. “I used to just fill my backpack with CDs I was interested in playing that week, and then grab stuff from the new music bins at the station,” says Travis. “There was never a set playlist, just a general idea of what I wanted to play. Now I usually have everything plotted out in iTunes well in advance of the show.” According to Travis, this change in format has both its benefits and detriments. “You lose a little spontaneity that way,” he says, “but I think the flow of the show is much better than it used to be.” Now, West of the Fields is also available as a weekly podcast on Travis’s blog on the Bangor Daily News website.
Because of Travis’s longevity on the airwaves, he’s developed an uncanny knack for uncovering forgotten treasures from bygone eras. On occasion, he’ll play the top hits from the alternative charts from years past. This gives interesting and often amusing insights into what was used to be in vogue. Additionally, he counts down his favorite tracks of the year each December.
To listen to West of the Fields, tune in to WMEB every Monday from noon to 3pm.