Another one from the archives
Travis were the Scottish band who were enjoying a small level of success until on a blazing sunny day in Glastonbury in 1999 they strummed the opening chords of their new single Why Does It Always Rain On Me at the exact moment that clouds appeared from nowhere and the heavens opened.
The resulting hype pushed the single up into the charts and they ended the year with a number one selling album and they were launched as an international success story. Going from album to album they became the nice guys of the music industry and kept going. Singer Fran Healey ended up living in Prenzlauerberg, Berlin with his German wife and that’s probably how we got invited to interview them before their sold out concert in 2015 in Astra (see our review of the Travis Astra gig here).
It’s true – they were the nicest band I’ve ever interviewed, zero ego and very friendly, laid back and intelligent. As we sit here in 2020 with Covid-19 shutting everyone away at home, I thought it might be a good moment to repost my chat with Travis.
ib: Where do you see yourselves in ten years time? Still making Travis albums or doing something else?
Andy: The gap that we made there was just the halfway mark, we sort of said twelve albums and this is album seven. So I think in ten years time, we’ll be cracking on with it, yeah…
ib: So have you got a plan for x number of albums?
Andy: Not necessarily, we always said twelve would be good, you know, that would be a good career.
Neil: You set out with a set target but its best not to make too many plans. Like Andy said we had that break, which was kind of essential for us for the family and just chilling out and recharging the batteries, and then you start on the hamster wheel again and you then you do your next load of stuff.
Andy: It definitely feels like the second sort of cycle of the band, yeah.
Ib: So you took a break of five years, was it?
Andy: Yeah, but we did bits in between. The first couple of years we did nothing, then after that we did a few shows and things but it was very much that we needed time to sort of step off and you know, find yourself again.
Ib: So it was pretty much constant, full on from the beginning?
Andy: Yeah, from when we started. It was quite intense. You lose yourself in the band, you lose your identity, I think its good to go and be your own person again.
Ib: Can you have families and keep them running with the band touring all the time?
Andy: Yeah you can, it’s something youve got to try and find a balance of and I think we needed the time to see them growing up for a while without the band. We knew the band would still be there, the band will always be there. But if you miss out those years then they’re gone, you know. With the kids it was definitely a decision to step away for a while and see them grow up..
Ib: You’ve all got kids now.
Andy: Yeah, we’ve all got kids, yeah…its nice, it gives you a fresh perspective on life, it’s something new to talk about. It changes your view, before you have kids, you tend to live very much in the moment, you look at where you are right then, and once you have them you start thinking about life as a full 360 degrees. You look at these little people fighting their way through it like you did and then you start thinking, shit, you know, I’ve got to be around for them, cause someday I’m gonna die and you start looking at all the life that goes before that, and it’s an important perspective in life. And we’d done six records before that, so it brought to an end that little chapter and we thought we’d let the band settle for a while and let the songs do the work.
Ib: And you felt that was healthy.
Neil: Essential (both laugh)
Neil: There was always sort of writing demoes going on as well, it wasn’t totally five years off per se, and we did other things together as well but ultimately we did spend a lot of time at home. The weird thing for me looking back, Andy said we’d reached a halfway point. But even up to that halfway point we’d actually done a whole lot of stuff. Six albums and I don’t know how many shows we played and if you look at it from that point of view you think, yeah, I think it’s best we take a break….Even now, with this record, you realise how, being on the road and all that, it’s very physical, and it’s a very intense thing. It’s great playing live, and that’s why we do it, but you’ve got to take care and take that break. Anyone who says that you can keep going for ten or fifteen years is a complete liar. It can kill you.
ib: With this album, are you going in a new direction, being deliberately experimental or…?
Andy: I don’t think so, we don’t really sit down and say okay, this is how the album’s going to sound, we’re not that kind of band. We wrote a bunch of songs – we got together and wrote, and just having the time away, everybody had a fresh perspective. But it still sounds like us, you can put it on and go, that’s a Travis record. You put The Man Who and then that and it sounds like the same band. And I think working with Michael Ilbert, he comes from the pop world, and that was quite nice, getting someone else’s perspective. We tend to be very organic, with us it’s four people in a room playing music. He would come in suggestions and push us in different ways. It’s nice to work with someone who doesn’t think the same way as you. So it was a nice challenge, and it was kind of a risk working with him, we didn’t know how it would work out. He’s got a different mindset. But it was really good, from day one it worked out great. We knew we were in a good pair of hands.
ib: Which album was it where you produced yourselves?
Neil: Ode to J. Smith.
ib: How was it? Would you repeat that experience?
Neil: I loved it. I loved making it. We all said the same thing, it was right at the time, we wanted to go and do a record quickly, have a great time making it, and it was a great recording.
Andy: I like having a producer there, someone who isn’t so close to it. Because you get so close to it, and you don’t have a sense of perspective. But you’ve got to have someone that you trust. And it’s quite clear when it works and it’s quite clear when it doesn’t work, because you’ve got to trust their opinion, because fundamentally they’re telling you what to do with your music and you become very precious about it.
ib: Is it still difficult though?
Andy: Yeah, it’s always difficult until it becomes easy – you push through walls and walls and walls to get there. This time we booked three weeks on an island off Norway and at the beginnin of the three weeks we didn’t know if we had a record or not. You know, we had a bunch of stuff but we didn’t know if it was going to be any good or not. You’ve just got to write one song, then write another song…
ib: Now that you’ve played the album live a few times, have the songs evolved?
Neil: We play very faithfully to the record…but we’re very organic…we’re tougher sounding live than we are on record. I mean, any band is. It’s different to being in the studio, the sound is beefed up more. But it’s there.
Andy: But what was good for me was that they fit into the set very well, with the rest, straight off. With Ode to J. Smith and the last one it was difficult…they were tougher songs and it was hard to go straight from the older songs into that…thes esongs slotted in very well. Because sometimes you don’t know until you take it on the road what it’s going to be like. But this time it’s been very gratifying.
ib: Was there any weird or funny stories from the recording of this album?
Neil: Mainly the time when we had to get Fran to jump into the sea to sing one of the songs, and this was in November…off the West coast of Norway, pretty chilly….just to get the adrenaline going. Cause you’ve got your range and everything, but sometimes you have to really go for it.
Andy: It was for Moving, that was written by Neil, and he’s got a very high voice when he’s writing and it sounded really good when we were playing in that range, but it was just hitting that note….Sometimes you can take an adrenaline shot to get it, but we were in the middle of nowhere and where can you get adrenaline there, so….we didn’t make him do it, it was Fran’s idea, but he was into it, he ran straight out of the sea and straight back into the recording booth and hit the notes perfectly.
Ib: But he is from Scotland…
Neil: Yeah, but we don’t go in the water there either (laughs). Freezing!
Andy: Fran went in once before that for a dip…it was bloody cold…
Neil: I put my hand in…Sod that…
Andy: But it worked for a time….it was one of those places, it was a tiny island, off the west coast of Norway…and itwas the most beautiful place…you saw things at night…the sky was huge….we saw this moon halo…it’s ice crystals around the moon, a big white circle, and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen…every night you’d come out and you’d see shooting stars, every minute things’d be shooting across the sky. It was beautiful, stunning….a great place to record.
ib: Must be great to make music somewhere like that.
Andy: Yeah, also cause we’ve done lots of recordings in cities and everyone’s always missing, there’s too much distraction, it’d be time for the guitar part and it’d be like, Where’s Andy? And I’d be off out…Whereas there there were no distractions, just went for a run in the morning and then play all afternoon.
Neil: We did have a funny halloween, we got all dressed up and played a load of songs across the internet for the fans, had a good laugh..
ib: And do you do other projects?
Neil: Yeah, sometimes…I played with Ron Sexsmith, also some things with Dougie together…Andy’s played for some guitary people…
Andy: Yeah, it’s just playing…
Neil: It gets you out the house…(laughs)
Andy: Yeah, when you say we had four years off…I’d still go into my music room every night, play and do stuff…you can’t switch off the tap…but it just means you’re not going out and going away to do it.
Neil: I play every day, I practise a lot…I listen to a lot of vinyl…I go through the old stuff and keep playing…you just do it…
Andy: Yeah, once you start touring it’s hard, there’s so many distractions through the day, but it was nice having time off, I started learning theory again…classical theory…Funnily enough in the four years I went to the piano instead of the guitar….you get into lazy habits, I’d do the same thing every time I picked up the guitar, so I played piano…and when you come back and do Travis, you’ve got a different set of ideas to put into it.
(Dougie walks in)
Andy: Yeah…so then we went into a studio and did some rehearsals for the tour…
ib: Do you ever fuck up songs that you’ve played a million times before?
Andy: Oh yeah happens from time to time…but it happens when you start thinking about what you’re doing…then the whole thing falls apart…it’s very strange…and if you’re just allowing it to happen it’s fine. It’s a peculiar thing.
Dougie: I remember Noel Gallagher saying, I had one of those nights where I couldn’t play a bum note if I tried…and I did try, it didn’t work…
ib: I found it funny when I read that Noel Gallagher was an early fan, somehow he doesn’t seem the type..
Andy: No, he was great, he was very supportive of us when we got started..
Dougie: Yeah, Noel came to see us at the 100 Club when we first played there, and then from being at that show he asked us to support them on the Be Here Now tour and then that led into doing another one with them….and they’ve always been great. In fact Liam and Noel have always been great, in fact the whole band really, big supporters….and really kind of helpful to us…and obviously they were an inspiring band to be around, just when we were first getting things together…they are the nicest people you could possibly imagine, they’re funny, sweet and generous…I mean, Noel and him together is the funniest room in the world…if they’re getting on….
ib: You’ve got to catch them at the right time…
ib: One last question: What does the phrase indieberlin mean to you?
Neil: This room….(the room is an empty, weird place, two ancient sofas, an unnusual lighting setup, an empty fridge with the door hanging open with one empty beer bottle on the middle shelf, little bits of rubbish half-swept to one side, people coming in and out)
Dougie: ….seventies wallpaper, leather couches, graffiti outside….
Interview by Noel Maurice.