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Travis Scott on ‘Astroworld,’ returning to theater and three Grammy nominations

INGLEWOOD, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2018: Travis Scott Astroworld Tour at the Forum in Ingle
Travis Scott, backstage at the Forum last week, got his start as a music producer but has made a name for himself as an artist.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Two carnival rides are a part of the set design inside Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” tour, which returns to the Forum on Feb. 8 after selling out the venue last week for two nights in a row.

The show launches with Scott buckling a seat belt and proceeding to perform in a chair that briefly takes him upside down as it rotates in a 360-degree arc.

At another point, Scott stands in the seat of a roller coaster car traveling up and down a track suspended in the airspace between two parallel stages. After he dismounts, he chooses fans from the packed floor to take his place on the attraction.

“It’s so dope seeing all the space and the fans crowding it up,” he says backstage.

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The two-hour show, which features an “Astroworld"-appropriate carnival theme that extends outside the arena, marked the end of the first leg of Scott’s tour. The second leg, which will play across 28 cities, launches on Jan. 25.

“I really care a lot about the craft and not anything else,” he said. “I just want people to see that in me and understand that I really care about giving an experience out to the fans. I’m really just trying to make music that impulsively brings people out of their shells.”

Scott’s two nights at the Forum in December were attended by an A-list crowd including Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Halsey and members of the Migos. The audience, comprised heavily of white, seemingly high-school-age kids, was wild throughout, throwing articles of clothing and other objects into the air, across the floor and onto the stage. Scott performed nonplussed through it all.

INGLEWOOD, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2018: Travis Scott Astroworld Tour at the Forum in Ingle
Travis Scott backstage at his "Astroworld" tour at the Forum in Inglewood last week.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

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“Astroworld,” Scott’s platinum-certified third studio album, debuted at the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 chart in August and has since been nominated for three Grammys, including best rap album. “Sicko Mode,” the album’s second single, received two nominations for rap performance and rap song.

“It’s so tight, I’m so happy,” said the Texas-raised artist of the nominations. “I’ve always wanted to be recognized” by the Recording Academy. Scott said he’d love to “bring one of them gramophones home and put that up in the city of Houston.”

Born Jacques Webster, Scott derived his stage name from an uncle named Travis and his music idol Kid Cudi, whose first name is Scott. He got his start in the industry as a producer, contributing to albums including Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and Jay Z’s “Magna Carta ... Holy Grail.” Making a name for himself as an artist proved more challenging.

“I’ve been creating music and working for a long time,” he said. “Producing, helping other artists on their albums, whether it’s Ye, Jay, Rih[anna], Madonna. I’ve produced on a John Legend album and a Seal album. I’ve been working on music for four or five years now on this scale and to be able to be recognized for my own body of work is dope.”

He added: “I want people to see how we’re moving [the needle] with the album and how it’s touching [people], so it was dope to be recognized. I’m so nervous but whatever, it’s cool. I’m just here, man. I want to continue making the best music [possible], but it’ll always be an honor.”

In the wake of the Grammy announcement, Scott’s star appears to be rising at an accelerated pace. The artist is already a tabloid fixture, thanks to his high-profile relationship with Kylie Jenner (with whom he welcomed a daughter, Stormi, in February).

News broke last week that Scott would join Maroon 5 onstage during the band’s Super Bowl halftime performance. Soon after, there were reports that several celebrities, including Jay-Z, Michael B. Jordan, Meek Mill and the Rev. Al Sharpton, urged him to bow out in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s NFL boycott.

When pressed about the Super Bowl and the potential backlash, Scott declined to comment.

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Still, the 26-year-old, who is prone to trailing off midthought, gives off a live-wire energy even seated on a plush sectional with a blunt in hand. That energy is what allows his two-hour sets to command up to $389 for front row seats (and almost double on the secondary market).

Scott launched the first of what he hopes will become an annual Astroworld Festival this fall in his native Houston. The festival was constructed on the site of the city’s former Six Flags Astroworld amusement park, which was shuttered in 2005. A more fleshed-out version of his stage setup, the festival featured a Ferris wheel, drop tower and chair-o-planes.

“I’ve been wanting to do a festival for a long time,” he said. “I was yelling and yelling and yelling. … It took me to say, ‘Yo, man. If we don’t do this festival, I’m not doing certain [things].’”

The festival was attended by an estimated 40,000 and served as an extension of the album, which Scott calls “my dissertation, my walkthrough” of Houston.

“I’ve always wanted to give people that experience of what I feel like it is to have fun somewhere,” he said. “I had to put a lot of my own money into it, but I’m thankful enough that it turned out to be the way it was. The whole city of Houston came out and decorated it with pride and joy.”

Scott’s devotion to his hometown is, to borrow from his own parlance, sturdy. Backstage in the greenroom, an hour before he would take the stage, his eyes are fixed on a massive TV playing an NBA game. The Houston Rockets are playing the Miami Heat, and with 3.8 seconds left, the score is 99-101 in Miami’s favor.

“Man it’s crazy, we can tie the game up with this,” Scott says, pausing our interview. The room, filled with a handful of people from his team, is completely quiet. “This is crucial. They’re going for the double, two seconds.”

The Rockets’ Eric Gordon goes up for a three-point shot and misses. There’s a long silence.

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“He should’ve got it to him a little bit earlier,” he says, peeling his eyes from the screen to return to the interview. “Damn.”

I’ve been working on music for four or five years now on this scale and to be able to be recognized for my own body of work is dope.
Travis Scott

“Astroworld,” a nostalgic, atmospheric, futuristic commentary on hedonism and depression, follows on the heels of Scott’s acclaimed second album, “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight,” which was released in 2016.

“ ‘Birds In the Trap’ was just something I had to get off at the time,” said Scott. “It was something that I was just going through at the time, I felt like I just had to get the album off.”

“It’s like a saga,” he explained of his debut album “Rodeo” and “Astroworld.” “I wasn’t even expecting to drop ‘Birds.’ It was just like, ‘OK, I have to get this off.’ Boom. And then it was like, ‘OK, it’s time for ‘Astroworld.’ ”

The production-heavy “Astroworld” features a handful of features with artists ranging from 21 Savage and Drake to Stevie Wonder and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala.

Yet he admitted that getting to work with Frank Ocean was particularly memorable for him.

“Man, one of my favorite artists is Frank Ocean,” he said. “I really love his music. As a creator, that guy … he’s special with his music. So to be able to have been on that wavelength is ill.”

INGLEWOOD, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2018: Travis Scott Astroworld Tour at the Forum in Ingle
Travis Scott's "Astroworld" tour sold out two nights at the Forum in Inglewood.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Scott was born in Houston but grew up in nearby Missouri City. In high school, he taught himself to play the drums, which led him to beat-making. Around the same time, he joined his school’s thespian society and starred in the play “Kiss Me Kate.” He still has a fondness for the theater, though he hasn’t had as much time lately to partake.

“To be honest, I haven’t really dialed completely into plays, but it’s always been something I wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve been working to get to a point where I feel like my music is ...”

He trails off before beginning again: “I’ve always had these ideas of [stuff] I wanted to do and explore, [things] I did when I was younger. I came in making beats and then I focused on becoming an artist. I didn’t want people to label me as a producer. I came in working on videos, but I feel like while working on my videos I wanted people to see the best of me as an artist. I’ve slowed down to try to conquer my craft, conquer my shows. Now I just want to adapt things I liked when I was younger and bring them to life.”

In other interviews, Scott has floated the idea of staging a Broadway play around an upcoming album, something he confirms he is serious about pursuing.

“I don’t really want to spoil it because I’m just working on making it the finest thing,” he said. “I’m working on something new and I want to make sure I’m attacking it right. I’m linking up with this guy who’s working on a dope play right now in New York. Just one of the illest plays.”

“I’m going through the research of it, and I want to really bring the experience of a live show with built-out sets,” he added. “I want to bring in that live interaction” between himself and the fans. “So if someone is going to sit in the seats and watch, they need to understand they’re a part of the show. If you don’t want to [participate] then you just bought a ticket to watch.”

sonaiya.kelley@latimes.com

follow me on twitter @sonaiyak


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