Travis: Return of the invisible band

Travis's singalong chart-toppers led the way from Britpop to Coldplay. Their frontman tells Elisa Bray why they've been out of sight for a while

Fran Healy, the frontman of Travis, one of Britain's most enduring popular bands and the pioneers of melodic indie, has had an eventful morning. En route from his Berlin home early this morning, the singer and songwriter left his passport behind at the airport. “A father was saying goodbye to his daughter, which made me cry,” he says, by way of explanation. “The past couple of days I've felt…” His eyes mist up. “I'm a father – my son is seven and he's so cool at the moment, so maybe it was that. Anyway. Nice to meet you.”

This clarifies how Travis are famously known as the nicest band around. This is despite their considerable fame; they were one of the biggest bands in the Nineties, headlining Glastonbury following their breakthrough, second, album The Man Who, the biggest-selling album of 1999. Their melodic indie paved a way out of Britpop for a raft of bands from Snow Patrol to Keane and Coldplay, whose Chris Martin called himself “a poor man’s Fran Healy”.

Now Travis are back with their much-anticipated first album in five years, Where You Stand, which they release later this summer. How have they remained so grounded, and so, well, nice? “We're Scottish ,” states 39-year-old Healy. “And Scottish people, we don't do that starry fame thing. It's very against something in our unwritten constitution: don't get above your station, so maybe that's the main thing. The title [of our third album] The Invisible Band came from the idea that our songs were all over the radio, but no one knew what we looked like.”

Part of the reason for their longevity is that Travis have always existed outside of fashion. When they started out, their goal was to write songs that would still be played in 25 years, and melody remains the heart of Travis. “God yeah, we've always been about the song. I think sometimes bands get in the way of the song. I started listening to The Band when they'd been split up for years; they were an invisible band. I aspire to be that.”

It has been suggested the reason for their absence is that the four-piece needed a break after the tour promoting their last album Ode to J. Smith left them tired and fed up, but Healy disagrees. “I think our state of mind was probably the best. We left at such a nice moment. I remember for the final tour we were in America and it was one of the best tours we ever had.”

By contrast, he says, when they boarded their separate flights, the break was to allow the bandmates to devote time to their young children. All are fathers – Healy to the aforementioned Clay with his wife, the German photographer Nora Kryst with whom he's lived in Berlin for the past five years, while in December bassist Dougie Payne had his second child with his wife, the actress Kelly Macdonald.

“We spent a couple of years being dads, and that's been amazing. We slammed it since 1997. We just decided, 'let's chill', because this moment when you have kids is really important – you'll never get it back. We're artists: we write songs and we perform. I think when you're in a band you're one of the emergency services… you see how happy it makes people feel. And, when you have kids, I like the idea that this is the most important project you'll ever do, the most important record you could ever write.”

His son hasn't yet taken to singing, but then it took his father a while to discover his musical path. Growing up in Glasgow, aside from winning a prize for singing aged seven, in a concert to celebrate Robert Burns, and a one-off singing role in a school play at 12, Healy didn't take it up until he was into his teens. Although he does have a childhood memory of visiting his aunt, and the adults investigating the sound of a radio coming from upstairs only to find the young Healy at his cousin's Bontempi organ. He was playing songs, chords included, despite no musical training and no music played in the home he shared with his mother (she separated from his lorry-driver father when Healy was young).

“I guess you just find what it is you like to do. I went to a Catholic school and the head teacher every week at hymn practice would say, 'he who sings prays twice', and I always remembered that.”

Travis formed from a band that guitarist Andy Dunlop founded, which drummer Neil Primrose had joined soon after. All from working-class Glasgow backgrounds, Healy auditioned to be their new singer in 1991 after being invited by Primrose (the drummer had poured him a pint), and joined the band when he enrolled at art school in Glasgow, and would later bring in his best friend and fellow art student Dougie Payne to play bass. In 1993, Healy quit art school to do Travis full-time.

Healy released his debut solo album Wreckorder in October 2010, featuring Paul McCartney as a guest bassist. It was McCartney who inspired him to become a vegetarian. Has he kept his pledge? “I eat fish now,” he admits. “But I'll kill you if you put that in the article because he'll come after me. I'm not very organised with my diet so when I was a total veggie about three years ago I didn't think I was getting the right things, so fish helps.”

It was on this tour, when he played with session musicians, that he missed his bandmates. Not that the band members felt bereft without Travis. “It's like switching off a switch,” states Healy. “You don't even think about the band. Nobody did, because we'd just spent so much time – almost too much – doing something, living in each other's pockets. I think all of us worried, 'will we still have our connection?', and it was immediately apparent, 'yes'. When you are with people for that amount of time – I met the guys when I was 18, and people you met when you were 18, no matter how old you get, you're always 18 with them.”

When they did decide to regroup, it was with some important changes in mind. While Healy had always been the band's songwriter, they all agreed that a more democratic approach would give the band its much-needed change in direction while continuing the ear-worm melodies which first brought them fame with “Driftwood” and “Why Does it Always Rain on Me?”.

“We'd definitely gotten to a point where the way we did it before needed to change. I did everything, I wrote all the songs, and I felt that maybe if we were going to continue we should do it differently, everyone get in the room together, everybody write. We spent a lot of time in the room jamming. When we got to the studio it was a little bit like, 'let's see what everyone's got'.” The result, Where You Stand, is brimming with melodic rock singles bolstered by jangling guitars and, something which you can't often say of a band known for the melancholic side of indie melodies, it is really quite uplifting.

With Healy in Berlin and the other three members scattered in Glasgow, Liverpool and Lancaster, they recorded the album with Swedish producer Michael Ilbert across several locations – in London, Norway, New York and Berlin, including on a sound desk on which Radiohead's OK Computer was recorded, as well as their own The Man Who. If there's one fear that Healy has about the band's seventh album, it's replicating the falsetto vocals live. This, it would seem, is the downside to sharing songwriting duties – the songs written by Payne require singing very high-pitched and very loud. This he achieved with a dip in Norway's chilly sea-water.

“I heard that adrenaline opens up your throat for five minutes. So I went into six or seven degree water for two minutes, and then ran back up the beach and got the notes. How am I going to do that on stage? I'm going to have to have a bath of ice.”

The democratic process allowed him to focus on his vocals. “I'd never done that because when I've been in the studio I've been in the control room all the time, over the producer, just watching everything, and I would be singing but I'd never be concentrating on it. For this album I was hardly ever in the control room and I was so much more relaxed than I ever was. I've sung my best things on this record. And maybe that's because I didn't have to worry about writing all the songs. And for the first time ever there are two songs where I'm not playing a guitar. I get to be a singer.”

Many of the songs are autobiographical; “Reminder” lists fatherly advice for Healy's son: “celebrate, don't be late, finish what's on your plate”; while “Moving”, written by Payne, is about the upheaval that accompanies being married to an actress. “Kelly's been going here, there and everywhere and just when they get settled down they've got to move again. It's about realising it's not where you are, it's who you're with, that's home. And I liked the moral to that.”

Travis may no longer be the million-selling band of the Nineties, and their performance at Glastonbury 2013 might not be as headliners, but their songs are as classic and enduring as ever. Does Healy miss those festival headline spots? “I never cared about it. Since we began we've always played every show like it was the last show we'd ever play. We play it like kids, just lose it. And it's so nice. Nice,” he repeats in mock horror. “I didn't say that!”

'Where You Stand' is out on 19 August on Red Telephone Box through Kobalt. The single “Where You Stand” is out on 10 June. Travis play Islington Assembly Hall in London on Thursday

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific