Travis bounce back
EMMA LEE Scottish melodic rockers Travis are back with a new album and play Thetford Forest on June 8. Guitarist Andy Dunlop tells Emma Lee how it was important to take time off and about actor Ben Stiller’s hitherto unknown musical talents.
“It's uninspiring sitting in a hotel room,” says Travis guitarist Andy Dunlop, explaining the band's lengthy hiatus from the charts. “We never wanted to make that cliched album about being on the road. And we were in danger of making that album. So we had to take a step back into the real world.”
Now the purveyors of radio-friendly melodic rock, who Coldplay frontman Chris Martin credits with being the “inventors” of his band, are reinvigorated and back.
They've just released their fifth studio album, the Boy With No Name, and have a string of live dates lined up, including one at Thetford Forest on June 8.
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The band has existed, with various line-ups and name changes, since 1991.
Andy and drummer Neil Primrose have been mainstays since the band first formed, with singer Fran Healy and bassist Dougie Payne joining later.
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In the mid-'90s, after spending time plugging away on the Glasgow gig circuit, they moved to London, where their big break came when they were signed to the Independiente label.
Much rockier back then, their debut album Good Feeling, released in 1997 at the tail-end of the Britpop years, won them critical acclaim and high-profile fans including Noel Gallagher of Oasis.
But their big breakthrough came two years later with the follow-up, the more melodic The Man Who, and a certain single called Why Does It Always Rain On Me? Suddenly they had Brit and Ivor Novello awards cluttering up their mantelpieces.
But, as Andy says, when you're in the thick of that sort of success, the enormity of it often doesn't sink in straight away.
“You don't notice at the time, you're too busy. But a few years later you realise what happened. There's points where you really realise this is something bigger than you'd ever imagine, like headlining Glastonbury. You can't comprehend that many people. It was so overwhelming. It is amazing though. I was bricking it. You step out [on stage] and it's an amazing feeling. It's still one of my favourite shows ever,” he says, sounding as excited as if he'd just stepped off the Pyramid Stage seconds ago.
More success, on both sides of the Atlantic, followed with their third album, the Invisible Band, in 2001.
And with that came the inevitable gruelling tour schedule.
But in 2002 everything came to an abrupt halt when drummer Neil Primrose had a terrible accident diving into a swimming pool in France, breaking his neck. It almost cost him his life, but, happily, he made a full recovery and the band returned the following year with the album 12 Memories.
By that time, though, a break was long overdue and, after the release of the record they largely disappeared off the radar, playing a warm-up gig at Norwich UEA for their few appearances at events such as Live8 and also playing on the Band Aid 20 single.
“I think everyone was feeling pretty burnt out,” Andy says. “We were really tired and we needed a break.”
During their time away they got the chance to go into the studio with music legend Brian Eno, which Andy says they found reinvigorating - if slightly scary to start with. “It was pretty daunting. He's such an influential man and made so many records we all love. He's amazing. Really generous.”
From the way Andy talks about the experience, you sense that it really was make or break time for the band.
“We didn't go in with any songs - we just made music. It's not really the way we work, but it was an exercise in freeing everyone up. I think after that we felt 'we have got this in us to do it again'. There was an enthusiasm there for doing it again,” he says.
In fact it was a hugely creative time for the band.
“And for the first time we had many more songs than we needed. We used to go in with nine songs - this time we had 30 or 40 and whittled it down. It was so weird to pick an album. It took us two years to make the record we wanted.”
The result is The Boy With No Name - the name is inspired by the fact that it took Fran and his wife, Nora, several weeks to choose a name for baby son Clay after he was born.
“I really like the track Selfish Jean,” Andy says. “I think it's just a fun song - it's so much fun to play and I can't wait to play it live. There's something great about a few people making one noise.”
The video for the first single from the album, Closer, stars one of the band's A-list fans - Ben Stiller, as a supermarket manager. He had also joined them for recording sessions in the studio.
“He plays a mean cowbell,” says Andy, who admits to still getting star-struck.
“It's weird being in that position. You meet other musicians, which is cool. But it's so different meeting actors - they're outside your world, and they're so different to us - they're so glamorous. That's when I get really star-struck - especially when I meet people that make me laugh.”
t Travis play Thetford Forest on Friday June 8. Tickets cost £24.50, subject to booking fee. Telephone 01842 814612 or visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk or www.gigsandtours.com
t The new album, the Boy With No Name, is out now.