Man & Boy
They’ve been out of the limelight but Travis have been busy, starting families, getting out of their musical comfort zones and learning to be friends again. Mark Robertson finds out if they’ve rediscovered their magic
New album The Boy With No Name is more of a grower than your other ones. Have you had time to go back, reflect on it and enjoy it?
Fran Healy We’re beginning to get a bit of distance from it so you get an idea of what it’s about.
Dougie Payne The Man Who was the biggest grower. When that record came out no one liked it. It didn’t get released in the States until a year later.
FH Everyone gave it terrible reviews.
DP This album has got a lot of different facets. That’s one of the things that makes it such a strong collection of songs.
FH I think we always make albums like that. Everyone says it’s like adjusting your mindset to someone else’s - because the songs are personal. They’re not written to any remit other than what’s going on in my brain at that particular time. They’re like a nice pair of shoes; once you’ve broken them in they’ll last you and the reactions people still give us for older songs live is amazing. When you’re in a band the only thing you can try to do is write what you think might last and the only way you can make something last is by not lying. That and try to find a melody no one’s ever done before.
Does it seem like a long time since the NME were calling you ‘new acoustic or soft rock’?
FH When emo was coined, we were one of the first emo bands.
Because emo used to mean a guy on an acoustic guitar singing heartfelt songs?
FH Now it means the guy looking like he’s about to cry in the video. The wee fella from My Chemical Romance is very amusing.
DP We go ego-surfing to check how the record’s doing and I was on YouTube looking for the most downloaded song. I looked at My Chemical Romance - 19 million views!
You’ve lived in London for 10 years. Do you miss Scotland?
FH The world’s a very big place and if you’ve lived somewhere for 23, 24 years then of course that’s where your roots are. But it’s nice to get to as many corners of the world as you possibly can in your lifetime because I think that’s one of the major ways you can broaden your mind and gain some wisdom by seeing how other people live and think.
I noticed you were working with Brian Eno . . .
FH We said ‘right, who haven’t we worked with? Who would we love to work with?’ And drew up a wish list. We asked him if he wanted to go into the studio to jam and he was like, ‘Brilliant’.
DP We went into the back studios for a long weekend. It was just exactly as you wanted it to be - you know, the Bowie stories all that - it was a bit of a fantasy. He had his oblique strategy cards [a system devised by Brian Eno to force musicians out of their comfort zones] so we’d shout things out and he’d write them all down. He made a little pack of cards and we had to pick two and play according to those adjectives.
FH . . . on an instrument we’d never touched before . . .
DP It was all random chord structures up on the whiteboard put into coloured sections. He’d say, ‘OK, it’s in 3/4, and it’s quite quick and blue’. It was like going to the gym or something. He’s such an intelligent man so you feel compelled to show off a bit. We had a great time and it was crucial for what came afterwards. Because we realised that we’re not a jamming band.
FH I realised that I was going to have to sit at the end of the bed and just write as many songs as I possibly can and then do the album the way we traditionally would have done it.
The response to your last album 12 Memories was a little muted. You’ve been quoted as saying it was a bit dark. How so?
FH A lot of 12 Memories was dealing with the seven years before The Man Who, Invisible Band and the success they brought. That and Neil’s accident (in 2003 drummer Neil Primrose suffered a life-threatening spinal injury after diving into a swimming pool). We all kind of lost ourselves because at the root of Travis is just friends, we’re just mates and when you become successful - it’s like success is this kind of wrecking ball. Because there’s always cracks, every relationship has little cracks, it’s natural. It moves about a little here and there. Success comes in like polyfiller and pumps into your relationships and pushes you all even further apart. By the end of The Invisible Band we couldn’t stand the sight of each other, it was like we were looking at each other and thinking ‘work’.
DP And so when we finished 12 Memories we were knackered. We did a bit but we didn’t really go and promote full pelt because we really couldn’t.
I guess you need to get your hunger for it again?
DP Otherwise it doesn’t work and people can tell.
You’ve been lucky that you’ve always had a champion at the record label in managing director Andy McDonald.
FH After our first album Good Feeling, I didn’t know this but everyone was thinking we were going to get dropped. But we didn’t, he kept us on, and then obviously The Man Who came along. They’re great, and we’re lucky - very lucky. We’re the luckiest band in the world. Official.
Fran, how did having your son Clay affect you bringing the songs together?
FH If I’m going to be away - if I’m sacrificing that time away from my son, if I’m going to miss the first words, the first steps, it’s a big sacrifice so I’m going to work my balls off. That time’s precious so it’s made me very . . .
DP . . . conscious of making it count.
FH Yeah, definitely. So I’m well fired up at the moment. When you become a parent it levels you out, makes you realise who you are and makes you comfortable with whatever it is, faults and blessings all. I feel like a person now. Your mid-late 20s you spend your life trying to fill this hole with toys, booze, holidays, whatever. And then you have a kid and - boom! It’s nice, I’m happy. He’s a lovely boy.
When you’ve been making music for a long time, it’s easy just to settle into a groove but you genuinely seem to have found a new energy in it.
FH Two years off mate, we needed a break. And every band has to do it. We see our contemporaries like Keane hitting the bottle because when you’re in a band, especially when you become famous, you get displaced from real life. No matter how down to earth you are. At our most successful I was at my most miserable because you are constantly being pushed and pushed and pushed. I feel so much more prepared this time around just because we’ve done it before.
DP And you know some of the pitfalls. I’m sure there will be new pitfalls and obstacles but at least we know how to avoid some of them. I think we’ve just got to be realistic and honest about it. I think that if Travis are anything we’re realists.
Travis play Barrowland, Glasgow, Thu 17 May. The Boy With No Name is out now on Indipendiente