Fran Healy talks new album, past success, working with The Killers and more
Andrew Trendell

13:34 19th June 2013

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At the turn of the century, Travis were arguably Britain's biggest band. They were selling out arenas, headlining festivals, and shifting albums in their millions. They paved the way for likes of Coldplay and Keane to rule the airwaves for years to come.

You may have thought that the band were gone for good, but in fact they've always been here - mastering their craft, exploring their sound and doing what they can to conquer themselves, rather than the world. 

Now they're back. Their seventh studio album, Where You Stand, is due for release in August. Ahead of their mainstream return, we talk to frontman Fran Healy about life, his new home in Berlin, changing sounds, working with The Killers' Brandon Flowers and the chances of lightning striking twice...

There's a classic Travis sound that people may come to expect. Would you say that say that 'Where You Stand' is likely to surprise people?
On the last record, when people heard it they had no idea that it was us because it sounded so different. This album is what people know. It's melodic but it's different and maybe that's because we're a bit older and my voice has changed. I'm not the biggest fan of my own voice but on this record I really like the tone of it. There are a lot of quite motorik songs and beats on this album, people will say there's a very Germanic thing going on because I live in Berlin. If anything has influenced the sound it's the programme Ableton. It's a recording system used by DJs that has been adopted by a lot of songwriters. It's very fast and super-simple and it allows you to make loads of mistakes and from those mistakes you get songs. If there's one thread that runs through this record or difference with what we've done before, it's that.

Listen to the title track from Travis' new album, 'Where You Stand' below

A lot of people slate modern recording techniques and say that suck the humanity out of music, but are you saying that you use it to harness your mistakes and keep everything organic?
Yeah. The debate around modern technology is a weird one. Digital just takes what you give it and effects the end product, it's super-transparent. It will just sound shit. So what you do is send things through vintage mics and tape machines then put it in and you end up with something really nice. I think technology is great. If you look back at history, when amplifiers came around they created rock and roll, then synthesizers created a new type of music, now we have things like Ableton and Pro-Tools. Change has always been fought but I just think that you need to go with it.

So you're not against auto-tune?
Nah, you've got to use it some times. Imagine you've just done an absolutely brilliant take of something but there's just a millisecond or tiny glitch that's not quite right. If it still hits me and makes me feel something then great, but if not then it's probably not a good song. Everything's cool, as long as you're not shooting someone.

Berlin is a city renowned for its creative influence on artists. How would you describe the impact that the city has had on yourself above other places?
Berlin is really relaxed compared to London. Coming here is like getting a shot, whereas the pace of Berlin is more provincial. It's a huge, big city and it's pumping, but at a steadier speed and at a human level. New York and London are too much some times and you see people ground down here. Parking fines are small, you're allowed to drink in the streets, clubs are open until 8am and some are open for four days strait, it's liberal and it's great for children. My son goes to a school that was set up by parents, just because they needed one and you can do that over there. It's like a utopia at the moment and I just feel a lot more relaxed in my own skin at the moment.

Watch the video for 'Something Anything' below

 

A number of your records have touched on darker themes, ideas and sounds than people might have been expecting from you - like war and depression. What can you tell us about the mood, ideas and sound of Where You Stand?
In general, the content of the lyrics has all just been experience. We were looking at all of the signs that a war was approaching on 12 Memories, you could tell that something was happening and the songs came out of that. It's just all what's in front of you. Andy Warhol used to say 'paint what you know', and because his mother gave him that soup every day, it became that. I'm a great believer in that. On this album, 'Reminders' is a list of things that my son can refer to if I weren't there for him - like 'celebrate and try to enjoy what you've got, always try to be on time for things and don't be an arsehole'. Our experiences are something that run through all of our records, and if you're close enough to a band then as a fan you tap in to that. It's bread and butter.

At the turn of the century Travis pulled off some pretty amazing accomplishments. It's almost unheard of for UK guitar bands to scale those kinds of heights any more. What do you think has been lost from that being a reality?
If you take the genre out of the equation and just map out the success of when that kind of crazy success happens, and then change all of the bands' names on the map, you'll find that it's all evenly spread between rock music, dance music and pop music over time. It happened to us, it happened to Coldplay, Adele, The Prodigy and Keane - and the thing that they all have in common is that they became popular and it's not neccessarily anything to do with genre. Before we brought out The Man Who, we definitely weren't making a record that was a guitar band's album for that time. The NME told us off the record that it was commercial suicide - and we were sat there thinking 'ah fuckk, that's rubbish'. Then it just become popular because it got exposure and we got lucky - but this is what happens with everyone. It's arbritary - it' like lightning striking.

 
Travis' new album is released in August 2013

How do you guys feel about the level of exposure that Travis get these days?
When lightning strikes, it's electrifying. It's lethal too and it blows you apart. It took us to a point where things started to go crazy. Our drummer really hurt himself so we took our foot off the accelerator. We had five years off and the tendency seems to be to focus on the business, but your family is all that you've got. Business has a habit of pulling you away from that but we made a stand and chose life. But yeah, we go, we tour and I think this record is strong so I really hope that people get to hear it. You can't control that lightning, so there's the fear that it will strike when you step out the front door.

Many of your peers and contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. What is that keeps you guys going and driven to make music with each other and not elsewhere?
I have always liked the sanctity of the band. We got together in a really nice way and we were all mates who had a laugh. When you have a proper band, you take little snapshots of them throughout their lives and to look over them over the year is great. I hate listening to my voice on our early stuff, but I love it at the same time because I was a kid and it takes me back. Too many bands split up, but I just think 'man up and whatever happens, stick it out'. We still really like each other and I want to make as many records as possible. When Bill Berry left REM, Michael Stipe said 'a three-legged dog is still a dog', but I wouldn't say that a member of a band is a leg - it's a vital organ. If you take that away then that's a dead dog. You can get a transplant but that's a mere zombie dog. That's when REM stopped being REM and had a major impact on their sound and I lost interest.

You co-wrote 'Here With Me' for The Killers - one of the best received tracks on a huge album. How did that feel and how would you describe the thought process of deciding whether a song is for someone else or yourself?
I was on tour with Brandon and I was supporting him when we had both done our solo albums. I was driving from gig to gig so I asked if there was space on his bus and we just hang out. Brandon is an absolute work horse and he's at the back of the bus every night writing songs on this really basic, cheap Casio keyboard. So I just sat and listened and he was playing this thing and I made a few suggestions, then about a year later I got an email saying 'can we use that song?' I know how it feels when I'm singing someone else's song - it's got to be really, really good. I only help people who I know.

What is it that keeps you with Travis and not purely as a songwriter for others?
I wish I could do the songwriting for others thing because there's a lot of money in it, but I can't do anything just for that. There has to be a level to service to it. When you're getting paid for a gig you're making each other happy and that's a nice reciprocal thing, but writing songs for money is less attractive to me.

Are there any key artists in your mind that you really feel that you could write the right song for?
If I wrote a good enough song then I would keep it! I wouldn't want to give it to anyone else. I've only ever helped people, I can't write songs for other people. I'd do it myself then they could cover it. I'd never say never because I'm still in a band, but if you need any help then you just need to ask.

Travis will release their seventh album Where You Stand on 19 August, 2013.

They are also set to perform at T In The Park, Sandown Park Live and V Festival. For information visit Gigwise Gig Tickets here.

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