“The whole album has a microclimate”, says Travis frontman Fran Healey when discussing their forthcoming new record 10 Songs. “You enter into the first song and it holds you there for the whole record and drops you off at the end.”
It’s an exciting proposition for fans of the Scottish indie heroes as they mark their return since 2016’s Everything at Once.
Recorded at London’s famous RAK Studios in 2019 and just before lockdown, the record is a heartfelt and emotional journey about life and love, and how they work together to weather those challenges we face.
Grandaddy’s Jason Lyle, Greg Leisz and Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles provide inspired cameos throughout, while Robin Baynton, who’s worked with Coldplay and Florence and the Machine, co-produced it along with Healey.
“This is the first record that I don’t feel like there is a weak point”, Healey tells Daily Star Online as he reflects on 10 Songs compared to the rest of the Glaswegian four-piece’s stunning 25 year back catalogue.
The Why Does It Always Rain On Me? hitmakers’ return was marked with glorious first single, A Ghost – a foot-stomping powerhouse backed by an incredible animated music video created by Healey and his 14-year-old son Clay during lockdown.
The coronavirus -enforced lockdown has sparked an incredible creative streak in Healey. He caught one of the last flights back to Los Angeles before Donald Trump banned flights from the UK to the US back in March.
He then threw himself into creativity during self-imposed quarantine where he designed 10 Songs’ album artwork, which includes 10 differently designed pin badges representing each song.
A Ghost’s video was created using Healey’s rotoscoped animations – with Clay’s handiwork with a drone completing the final, socially distant scenes.
10 Songs marks a beautiful new chapter for Travis, two and a half decades since Healey, Andy Dunlop, Dougie Payne and Neil Primrose first set foot in a rehearsal room in Glasgow.
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown caught up with Healey for a lockdown chat from his LA home where he showed us his writing and recording set up and chatted about 10 Songs’ writing and recording process, lockdown life, creating the video for A Ghost and Travis 25 years on.
Hi Fran, how are you keeping in lockdown? What’s your lockdown experience been like?
“It’s OK. When we’re out on the road and when I get back home I just tend to stay in. I don’t really get out much. I’m not a full hermit, I’m a medium hermit. I do go out but I do like hanging out and I spend a lot of time indoors trying to write. The lockdown has been fine. I feel like everyone’s come around to my way of living.”
Have you been working on anything during this time?
“Yeah. I’ve never made so much cool stuff! We’re really lucky because if we had gone into the studio a few weeks later, even a few days, we’d be in a completely different situation that we are now. We got the album tracked. The last vocal was done on the 13th of March. Then I sang the last vocal at 8-9 o’clock and night. I went on to the computer, changed my flight because it was going to be a week and a half later going back to America. I changed my flight to the next day, the 14th of March, and that was the day that Donald Trump said that the UK were on the naughty list and weren’t allowed to fly to America anymore. I went on one of the last flights out of the UK. Otherwise I’d still be there right now! I got home, went into quarantine for 14 days because I thought that would be sensible. I watched the whole pandemic explode from quarantine.
“In that time I mixed the album remotely with the engineer Robin (Baynton), who was in London at RAK Studios where I’d just sang the last vocal, and after he finished mixing it we sent the album to New York, to Westchester, to a woman called Emily Lazar, who is one of the best mastering engineers in the world right now. She’s amazing.
“We did that remotely and that took about a week and a half, two weeks. We finished that and I made this video for the first single of the album, I animated the video. I made all the art work for the album. It’s more involved that it’s ever been. I made badges. The badges on the front cover are on someone’s jacket and they represent the songs. I had to find somewhere to manufacture badges, all different types. I had to find two factories and get them to talk to each other and coordinate this crazy stuff. It’s all done now, I got my badges! I don’t think I’ve ever made so much artwork and creative stuff ever.”
Have you embraced remote working? Is it a new experience?
“A lot of band life, especially if you’re the songwriter, is spent indoors. In a room or studio. Not a lot of it really exists outside four walls. This is just normal for me.
“What is not normal is the absolute amount of work that I have been doing. I think it’s really good. Sometimes you farm out the artwork to different people. This time, because of the nature of everything, I told the record company I am going to do it. I went to art school. I’ve been making videos for the band for the last 12 years.
“ I think having everything, even the song coming from one person, the artwork coming from the same person, the video coming from the same source, there’s a certain continuity to everything that I don’t think any other band could have at the moment. It really has been good for us.”
The video is amazing. It’s visually incredible throughout. You worked on it with your son Clay. What was that like, that partnership, and is it your snapshot of your experience of quarantine life?
“Me and my boy, really ever since he could walk, we’ve always done little things together. Going back to when he was three we used to build. I am one of the best cardboard makers ever, I can make anything out of cardboard. Me and him would do these insane cardboard constructions in the house.
“We moved onto making rockets. We always have projects together. They were more hobby projects. No one would see them.
“He’s 14 and he’s very, very good at controlling controllers. He’s got one of these drones. The drone has a little controller, much like a PlayStation controller, and he can make this thing do anything. It’s like having a dolly track and having a crane, a helicopter and all these different things in one tiny little thing that he can control like it’s at the end of his hand. It’s the first time I got him to do something that other people would see. It’s a normal thing for us, we’ve always just had fun together.”
It’s for new track A Ghost – tell me more about it. Why did you choose that song as the first single?
“It was the last song we had recorded as a band. It was the last song written for the record as well. I wrote it just at the end of the December. We demoed it then. You don’t know what you’re going to get until it’s finished. In February, we did all the other songs and this was the last one we tracked. I remember Dougie going ‘this sounds like a single’. I was like ‘really?’. Andy nodded his head.
“When we played it to the record company, when they came in to check on what we were doing, we hadn’t played anything to anyone, and they were like ‘that’s a single, this is a single’.
“There’s a lot of singles on this album. Not deliberately but they’re those ear worm songs. This one was made first because it’s up tempo, it’s probably the most kind of slap you in the face kind of song. The single after this is a duet with Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles. There is a lot of stuff on the record.”
Is it a good flavour what we can expect?
“It’s an interesting record. Every song is very much its own thing. The whole album has a microclimate. You enter into the first song and it holds you there for the whole record and drops you off at the end. There’s no weak point. There’s always a weak point in every record we’ve ever done but this is the first record that I don’t feel like there is a weak point. You can stay on it until the very end.
“It doesn’t take too much time as it’s only 10 songs. The thing that holds it together is it’s a song. I’m an old school songwriter. We’re living in a time when you’ve got 10 guys writing one song, and not the old way where it was one guy writing 10 songs.
“In a way I’m sticking my chin out a bit and saying ‘you can write songs this way’. I think songs that are written this way are harder to write because it takes longer. But they also last longer because they’re about something. At no point in the writing of this record – it took four years and I must have written about 200 songs – was I thinking, and I swear to god, I’m not thinking of radio or anything. You’re chipping away and trying to find a wee diamond. It takes ages. You pull it out and put it to the side and you continue digging away.”
Was the idea of 10 songs something you had in mind when setting out to do it?
“10 Songs were just how many I’d got when the deadline came! The interesting thing for me is that, until I heard all of them together, I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a weak moment. You just don’t know.
“The record company came to the studio that day. I put them all together. We arranged them and we all sat together, for the first time all in a room, to listen to it and I was like ‘Oh my god, this is really good’. In a time when people don’t write songs anymore, I’m really just tossing this into a vacuum because I really don’t stop my car much anymore and go ‘I love that song – who’s that?’.
“Songs are really hard to write and everything these days is about production. It’s all about how it sounds. Producers can’t write songs. Songwriters write songs. I hope kids or people out there thinking they’d like to maybe be a songwriter will hear it and get encouraged that someone is still doing it.”
There’s a great analogy from yourself about the song Butterflies and how it can compare to songwriting – ‘that you look at them for a little while before setting them free again’. Has this always been your outlook with songwriting or is it something that’s formed over your career?
“That idea comes with time. I’m a really late developer and I’m still learning big time. There’s still a lot of things I haven’t learned.
“I was always a bit jealous of my more middle class, culturally aware friends. I come from a poor part of Glasgow. When you don’t have the means to get bus tickets, you’re literally just stuck. I didn’t have access to art or all these things. Art, music and culture are all middle classy, Guardian reading type of endeavours.
“I would go round to their house and their parents would be listening to classical music on vinyl on a Sunday. I would think ‘wow, that’s cool’. I longed for that. I’m still playing catch up massively and I am glad I am because it means there’s still more to discover song-wise and more butterflies to catch.”
Is there a theme that runs through 10 Songs?
“It’s all over the place. There’s never really a theme. You can write a song with your head, that’s where most of the songs that exist come from. Either you’re copying a song, I’m not saying I do that, the factory, the industry, they’ll hear a song on the radio and they’ll be like ‘let’s do something a bit like that’, and they’ll sit with five other guys and they’ll sort of copy it.
“My thing is down in the more quiet, emotional place. You just have to sit and, when it comes out, you don’t know what you’re writing, you don’t know what it’s about, there’s no agenda. It just bubbles up and you go ‘right, it’s about this or that’ and sometimes you don’t even know what it’s about. There’s an emotion to it.
“The lyrics can sometimes almost be misleading. When the song bubbles up it doesn’t really have lyrics, maybe a couple of lines here or there. For lyrics, you have to figure out the closest thing possible that you think you’re saying that fits with that melody. Then you go ‘what the f*** is that about?’.
“Some of the songs you figure out but the main, important thing on songs for me is that when you hear them they touch you at a certain level, below the neck. They’re not head stuff. I’m not writing music to make you think, I’m writing music to make you feel. Feeling is one of the things we have to do.”
Was it more different this time around to previous albums?
“The last 14 years I have been concentrating on being a dad. The main project was Project Clay. He was my album for the past 14 years. He’d asked me over the years he had noticed that I spent lot of time at home being a dad. As he got older he noticed I was not out on the road all the time. I’d be back quite a lot.
“About eight months to a year ago, he came up to me when I was doodling about up here, we were chatting and he asked ‘papa, I think you can go for it again. I’d like you to do the band now’. I was like ‘really?’. He was like ‘yeah, I’m good’. He was 13 going on 14 and he’s a really smart, very stable young man. He’s a really nice guy.
“I guess he was like ‘I’m good – off you go’ and letting me off. There’s like an invisible project table and he was on it for 14 years and he just got off it and went ‘table’s clear. Do what you want now’. I totally went straight into my passion, my band.”
You co-produced it with Robin Baynton, who’s worked with the likes of Coldplay and Florence and the Machine, how did his work help mould the sound?
“He’s incredibly fast. He’s also very sweet and nice. Both of us are quite similar in temperament. I’m a bit more nippy, if something’s not been done quick enough. He’s really nice. And really calm. And so f****** fast. He’s fast but his engineering skills are off the scale.
“I think it’s a brilliant combination of band, producer and engineer. One of the songs on the album is called Valentine and I remember the assistant to Robin came upstairs. When we came up from recording the song Valentine, which sounds like it’s off our first album A Good Feeling, he was like ‘I’ve never seen that before’, This is RAK Studios, a proper recording studio. ‘A band that just went and played the song and it sounded like a record’.
“First of all it’s good that it sounds like a record because that’s what you want but he’d never heard that because no one does it anymore. No bands go into a room all, sit in the same space, put up some screens and play all together and that’s it. Nobody does that unless you’re a jazz musician.
“Always get the band in the room. That’s the edge you’ve got on everyone else, use it to your advantage. It’s been an amazing few months.
“The band are playing better than we’ve played. We’re getting better and better.”
It’s also got cameos from Jason Lytle from Grandaddy, Greg Leisz and Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles. What was it like having them on board?
“I met Jason because we did a project together with a band called Midlake. The guys from Midlake got a few of their favourite singers for the project called BNQT. He was one of them. We went on a little tour across Europe and some places in America. We got on really well. I asked him if he would help out and he said ‘sure!’ and did some really cool, crazy spaced-out keyboards in the middle of this song.
“On the song with Susanna, there’s a cello at the beginning of the song and that’s the same cello and player as the beginning of Why Does It Always Rain On Me? It’s subliminal, like a voice, but it’s really cool.”
You must be itching to get back out to play…
“I’m enjoying having a bit of time off. It gives us time to properly get a show together. A lot of time there’s just no time to digest what you’ve just done. See what songs people like, see what happens on radio, whether or not things get picked up or people recognise songs.
“It’s nice to have a minute and do things totally differently. Once you get into the routine of making records, releasing records, touring records etcetera, although it’s over a period of three years, it’s repetitive after the ninth time.
“This is great, it’s totally new and it’s refreshed everything. Travis are in a really interesting position. There’s a lot less releases, there’s a lot less music going to radio, it’s a really good time to put out a strong record.”
Finally, you mentioned A Good Feeling, your debut and you’ve got 10 Songs coming out in October. How has Travis evolved in 25 years?
“I think we’re maybe better at playing as a band. I’m still trying to write simple songs.
“Travis have never been interested in following fashion. Our main objective has been always writing a good song because we know, and don’t let anyone tell you any different, it is hard to write good song.
“The reason why music has gone on a production direction in the past 10 years is because it’s easy to make something sound cool. That’s why there are so many songs that sound a certain way.
“It’s just really hard to write Wonderwall, it’s really hard to write Why Does It Always Rain On Me?, it’s really hard to write Imagine. It’s really hard to find a melody that no one has ever heard before. The evolution is very subtle.
“In the songwriting department there’s hopefully no evolution because it’s the still the same objective which is find a little tiny diamond in the rough or catch a butterfly and set it free.
“I guess just lose your hair, and get old gracefully, don’t eat too much, don’t drink too much.
“Someone left a really nice comment on the video for A Ghost on YouTube and they said ‘Travis still the same after all these years’ and they meant it in a good way.
“In this world we live in you can take that in a bad way, this idea of evolving. Why do you have to evolve? We think we have to evolve because that’s what we’re taught to do. But there’s a lot to be said that if you find something that’s good and works and you’re touching a certain nerve, the nerve is always in that same position. You just need to touch that nerve again.
“There’s a certain thing we do and we’ll keep doing that and hopefully find a certain song here and then.”
Travis’ ninth studio album 10 Songs is out on October 9 via BMG