Travis seemed like such a reliable band. Every couple of years they’d bring out another album of melancholy melodies to brighten people’s bad days and prove deeply offensive to the kind of people who are upset by the popularity of inoffensive pop music. Between 12 Memories in 2003 and The Boy With No Name in 2007 there was a longer gap, but that was pretty excusable since – as the second album’s title suggests – lead singer Fran Healy had his first kid in between the two. And then they apologetically turned around Ode To J. Smith one year later, as if to make up for it.
But their seventh album, Where You Stand, took an unprecedented five years. Drummer Neil Primrose explains the gap. “It may seem on the surface to people that it’s been five years, we’ve all been sitting at home and stuff, but that’s not been the case. We’ve actually been working with the preparation and the writing of this record for about 18 months, if not two years. Fran had his solo project that he went and did, Andy [Dunlop, guitar] and Dougie [Payne, bass] were doing some stuff on that as well, I’ve been playing music with other bands. The whole timeframe was really designed to give everyone a bit of breathing space and live a bit of normal life. I think you can only come back to it if you’re fresh and you’ve lived a bit of life and then you’ve got something to write about or something to perform for.”
In those five years while Healy and co. were working on his solo project Wreckorder, Primrose also had a side project going on in Glasgow, playing “rocky, jazzy stuff that’s a bit more avant-garde or whatever you want to call it,” although that was mostly just jamming and keeping in practice, with plenty of time spare to spend with his family. “You’d be surprised, five years flies by.”
When it came time to start writing and recording Where You Stand, rather than settle down in one spot the band travelled, doing bits and pieces here and there. One of the most noteworthy stops was Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, where David Bowie and Brian Eno worked on some of his ‘Berlin’ material, U2 recorded Achtung Baby and where Iggy Pop and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have also recorded. They’ve all left their marks on the place in different ways. “There’s little things, like Brian Eno scribbled graffiti on the wall in the studio rooms,” says Primrose. “It’s quite funny, it’s like a kid at school; it just says, ‘Brian’. They had some old keyboards lying about which Bowie probably used on some of the recordings, so yeah, it was quite good. We managed to appropriate one or two of those keyboards on these songs, so there’s a touch of the Bowie keyboard on some of them.”
Fran Healy lives in Berlin these days, so it made sense to work in the historic studio. But they also spent a lot of time recording in Norway with producer Michael Ilbert, with whom they’d never worked before. “He was a guy who Fran had met in Berlin,” Primrose explains, “spent some time with because they both live there and just got on with him really well. He came to a couple of shows that we did last summer, just to check us out live, to have an idea of how to steer the production.” Live, Travis sound much more rousing, far from the sad-sack stereotype their detractors peg them as. “We’re a lot more rocky live than what we are on record sometimes,” says Primrose, “and I think [Ilbert] managed to inject a bit of that into a few of the songs, which makes the record quite dynamic.”
Immediately after the album’s release, Travis have a string of festival dates booked, including Britain’s V Festival. They’ve played plenty of festivals over their career but Primrose describes them as a bit “weird” compared to their own concerts. Famously, when they played Glastonbury in 1999, well-timed rain drenched the crowd as soon as they started ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’
“[With] festivals, there’s always a good vibe if the weather’s doing its thing or depending what time or what slot you’ve got. You’ve got to gauge what you’re doing if the audience have been – what shall we say – if they’ve been overdoing it during the day and they’re a little bit tipsy, you’ve got to keep things going because they demand a bit of a rocking show.”
It may have been five years between Travis albums, but it’s been even longer between Australian tours. Primrose says he’d love to visit Australia again, blaming management, booking agents and promoters for never quite getting a tour lined up in time. “I’d really quite like to do that, so hopefully we can get something organised. Maybe the end of this year, start of next year, we can get down for a couple of weeks and do a few shows. Make it worthwhile,” he says. “If we do come down we want to come down and do it properly, not just come down and do one show, you know? Hopefully we can get a whole series of shows booked up and actually have a proper time down there and see everyone again, because it has been too long.”
BY JODY MACGREGOR
Where You Stand out now through Kobalt.