Gearing up for the release of their new record, 10 Songs, Fran Healy of Travis talked with QRO. In the lockdown conversation, Healy discussed making 10 Songs (out October 9th), getting it done like Indiana Jones, life in Los Angeles quarantine, making a video with his son and Apple Pencil, last year’s twentieth anniversary tour for their seminal The Man Who, doing a tour documentary with a journalist who doesn’t like them, the quantum level, be careful what you wish for, and much more…
QRO: How are you holding up with everything that is going on?
Fran Healy: The past, maybe five years, I’ve been getting maybe, a little bit…
When you’re in a band, there’s a certain routine. Say it was a clockface. Midday, you make the album. At 3:00 o’clock, you do all the interviews & promotion. At 6:00 o’clock, you make the videos and do all that shit. At 9:00 o’clock, you go on stage, and do all the shows. And then, at 11:00 o’clock, you stop, and then you have an hour off, and then you start again. The same cycle for each album. Does the same thing, again & again…
After twenty-four years, it gets a little bit like, ‘Argh, here we go again…’
Getting on stage, definitely, was beginning to get a little bit annoying & tiresome. Just because, I think, getting older, I was smoking – I don’t smoke anymore – my throat was beginning to get croaky. You get a little bit stressed out.
Anyway, and now this. So, we’re off the road. I’m getting to make all the artwork for the new record, do all the videos for the new record, and do it without this feeling of, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to do a gig.’ It’s nice.
That’s good, but then, the other side of it is, our business is shagged.
QRO: Where are you?
FH: I’m in L.A. At the moment, anyway. We were in Berlin for nine years, and then we came here.
QRO: How is it there right now?
FH: It’s going up again.
Here’s the thing. In California, everyone’s been really strict. You go everywhere, and everyone’s wearing masks.
The George Floyd protests, everyone was wearing masks, but I just thought, ‘Oh god, that’s not good timing for that.’ Even though it’s brilliant, but it was just like, ‘Oh shit.’
But it came at a time when they were beginning to loosen the thing up. And it just exploded again.
I don’t understand it. No one does. If you’ve got the biggest, brightest people in science, who are scratching their heads…
I don’t read the news anymore, because it was stressing me out. I was getting really, really anxious about – mostly, because you want to throttle some people, and you can’t. Can’t get your hands on them, because they’re behind glass.
The current administration, and just the way that it’s been handled, just the grandstanding that’s been taking place, and the absolute pure fucking neglect for civility that’s been happening – it goes against everything.
I’m a massive fan of America. Huge. Everyone in Scotland, we love America – always have. We just have a love affair with it, because it’s the wide-open spaces. A lot of our people came over, settled in America. It’s a land of wonder, and dreams, and all the rest of it.
It’s so funny how life imitates art imitates life. Because, three years ago, when Trump got in, and that administration, just their agenda is toxic. I was saying to our American friends, “It’s okay. You’ve just contracted a virus. It’ll be okay. You’ll be stronger in the end for it, but right now, you’re just on your back, and this thing has taken over, and you can’t get rid of it.”
In a funny way, this COVID thing is an allegory for fucking what’s going on in real life. It’s so weird, and darkly poetic, you know?
We could sit here and go into it…
Getting on stage, definitely, was beginning to get a little bit annoying & tiresome.
We know what life looks like right now. But what if we went right down into the quantum soup level? What would that look like? Would it be a swirling soup? What would Donald Trump look like, what would this time look like in the quantum soup? Would it look like a storm?
If you look at storm systems on a map, or in the universe, everything relates to everything else.
The coronavirus, we reasoned it, it started here and did this & did that, but what does it look like, at the really, really elemental level?
QRO: Are you at home with your family?
FH: They’re in Hollywood right now; I’m in downtown L.A., cutting a video.
QRO: Oh, you’re able to make a video?
FH: This one, again, it’s loosened up here, so I managed to get… I really got the best crew I’ve ever gotten. The guy who’s the assistant cameraman, he’s like, “For no budget, you’ve assembled one of the best crews I’ve ever seen. How the fuck did you do that?” [laughs]
When you see the video I’m making, you’ll realize everyone’s still socially distant in the video.
The record company and management, they wanted me to make a lyric video for a song called “Valentine”. And “Valentine” [is] a very rocking song; it’s almost like a throwback to our very first album, Good Feeling. I think it’s one of the best-sounding songs on the record.
I just had a good idea for it, so said to them, “Look, I’m gonna shoot this, and I just need a little bit more time than you’re giving me. I don’t think a lyric video is appropriate for this song. Let’s do something a little bit more special.”
My friend, he’s an artist, Douglas Gordon – he won the Turner Prize many years ago. He’s world-class, fucking mega artist. I sent him the song “Valentine”, and he absolutely loved it. And I never send Doug anything; it’s just not something I do, but I thought he might like this, because he likes The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and this sounds a little bit like that. And he loved it.
I asked him, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do a thousand limited edition one-sided vinyls, with an etching on one side, and a song on the other. No label, and some artwork by you?’ And he said yes, so we’re gonna do that as well.
This whole weird time, you can either sink, or you can just flourish in it. And I’ve been flourishing, creatively-speaking. I’ve been having a really great time.
Travis’ video for “Valentine”:
This whole weird time, you can either sink, or you can just flourish in it.
QRO: How was making 10 Songs?
FH: It was really easy. It was the easiest session we’ve ever done.
On the writing front, not so easy. It took four years. I must have written about ten, fifteen albums worth of material, to whittle it down to get ten things that were really, really good, that stood up for themselves.
And the good thing about taking four years to do something – If you have a melody for a song, and say you write it at a point, and then, two years later, it still seems fresh, then you’ve pretty much got a good song.
There’s an album called Ode to J. Smith. As a project, we set ourselves two weeks to write the album, two weeks to tour the album, to rehearse the songs, and then two weeks to record the album. And that was the project: can we make an album in two-week stages?
And we did, but it meant that the songs, they are not as good as I would like them to be. And there’s some really good songs on it.
So, for this record, I said to the band, “I’m gonna write all the songs now.” Because the other guys have been helping a lot. And that’s been great, because for the past fourteen years, I’ve more been concentrating on being dad. Cause I think that’s more important than anything.
My son came up to me, maybe about nine months ago, and said, “Papa, I really think you should go for it. Do the band now.” He’s like, “I’m okay.” And I was like, “Really?” And he’s going, “I really want you to go and do it.” He sorta gave me free reign.
That was a little bit before we started recording. So, with this in mind, I think we took almost an extra year to just chill, and to record, and write, and everything.
If you have a melody for a song, and say you write it at a point, and then, two years later, it still seems fresh, then you’ve pretty much got a good song.
We went into the studio in December last year, and we did two weeks in London, in RAK Studios. And then came out, did a little bit more tweaking, a bit more writing, finishing. And then went back into the studio end of February, beginning of March, this year. I sung the last vocal for the record on the thirteenth of March.
I remember finishing the vocal, maybe rushing it a little bit. Because I had to make a phone call to the airline, to change my flight. Because I was leaving two weeks later, and I thought, ‘I’m never gonna get out of Britain if I leave it that long.’ So, I left the next day.
Changed my flight, went to bed, woke up at four in the morning, packed my bags, and left. Got back to L.A. on the fourteenth of March, went into quarantine until the first of April. Like, self-imposed quarantine in my room, leaving cups of tea outside my room.
Mixed the album from my bedroom, remote, because the engineer was still in the studio, over in London. So, he would send me mixes, would talk, would do FaceTime. Be like, ‘Change this, put that there, do this, do that.’
He finished, and then we went on to master the record with Emily, who was in New York – she’s out in Westchester. I think we were the first thing that she had done after everything had started to go really wobbly. So, she didn’t have an assistant.
We cut the record. Usually, it takes a couple of days with Emily, three days. It took two weeks, because we just ran into little obstacles along the way. But she’s brilliant, and we just had a laugh. It was great.
You know the bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the guy goes, “Throw me the idol! Throw me the idol!” And he throws him the idol, and then he drops the whip. The guy’s jumped over the hole, and he drops the whip. Harrison Ford makes the jump, and slides under the door, and just grabs the whip before the door shuts? That’s how it felt, finishing this record… [laughs]
QRO: But I suppose you can’t make any plans to tour the new record yet…
FH: There’s none. Everything is frozen. Everything is off the road now.
It’s weird, because it’s almost, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Cause like, at the beginning of the interview, I was saying I was getting a little bit this ‘Same old, same old’ thing. Especially with playing live. I was just thinking, ‘Oh, I wish we didn’t have to do that. Maybe just for an album, just have a break…’ Be careful what you wish for.
And also, I remember driving on the 405 over here, every day, because I have to take my son to school. We live in Hollywood, and we’re in the car, probably three-to-four hours a day, just picking up & taking him to school. The traffic in L.A. is just so bad. I remember thinking, making a wish into the universe, ‘I wish that we had 1960s traffic.’ You know that Bewitched thing? And then, it happened!
‘I wish we had the number one record, and we never had to tour again…’ [laughs]
Travis’ video for “A Ghost”:
QRO: How was making the video for “A Ghost” (QRO review)?
FH: That was, again, necessity over invention.
When we were recording the song, I started drawing little drawings, and made a little quick storyboarding.
The idea was, we’ll finish the album, I’ll go back to L.A., we’ll somehow shoot a video. And I was drawing it while we were recording it. And I’ve never done that before, just the little storyboard pictures.
When all COVID broke out, quarantined, finished the record, and then the management was like, ‘Right – we need a video.’
I called up a few producers, a few cameramen and crew. It was naïve, because it was right at the start of the lockdown. So, everyone was still maybe working, maybe not, but in the film business, and in California, it was just, “No.”
I was like, ‘Cause this is a great song, it needs a video. What am I going to do?’
Around about that time, two things: I was on Twitter. I sometimes go on Twitter. I don’t really do a lot of social media, because it feels like the trough, just everyone’s got their head in it [mimics trough-eating]. It’s disgusting. But I do go on Twitter from time-to-time.
People want me to sing, people on ‘Celebrity Singing’. I think all of that, a little bit, something about it, to me, didn’t ring true. ‘I don’t want to sing, but if you tell me how you’re feeling, I’ll draw it, and you’ll get a drawing, and I’ll sign the drawing, and then that’ll be your drawing. How’s that?’ And everyone was like, ‘Yeah!’
So, I did twenty-five, twenty-six little drawings of people, how people were feeling, and they were really cool drawings. I went to art school, so I can draw. But I kept getting better & better, and the drawings kept getting better & better.
The other thing was, it helped me not watch the news. It gave me something to do.
I don’t really do a lot of social media, because it feels like the trough, just everyone’s got their head in it.
So then, my son showed me on the program I was using, which is called Procreate on the iPad. This is the Apple Pencil [shows Apple Pencil] – I think it’s one of the greatest tools that Apple have ever made. Feels like a pencil, exactly like a pencil, in your hand. It magnetizes and sticks to the side of the iPad.
The Procreate program, my son’s like, ‘Oh, look – you can do this now!’ Usually on Procreate, you had fifteen layers. You could only have fifteen layers at one time. But then something happened, maybe that week, where they suddenly, you could have two hundred-and-fifty or three hundred layers! And open up this thing where you could animate, using Procreate.
So, I did a test. I thought, because the management were going, ‘Let’s get an animator to do it.’ And I’m like, ‘We’re never gonna get an animation I’m gonna be happy with,’ because I’m really, really fussy, and the budget was terrible. And the song was important, so it was almost a necessity.
I just sat, did a test, figured out that it would take thirty days – if I drew for seventeen hours a day, it would take thirty days to do it. So, I just thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna do it.’ So, I did it. And just sat every single day, for thirty days, and drew, and drew, and drew, and didn’t stop drawing. I had these storyboards, and I just made them come to life.
Halfway through, I saw this moment where I was animating, rotoscoping, and then it jumped into real life. I was tracing a thing of me walking along by the road, and it went, ‘Pkew’ – it turned into real. And I thought, ‘Fuck, that looks great!’
I really wanted to shoot something, and I thought I could do this socially distant. Cause we got a drone, I got three mates who could help me, dress up – they would be in a ghost mask. Also, it would save me five days of drawing. So, we shot the end of it, as well.
It turned out – that’s the thing about animation, you do not know how it’s gonna [turn out]. I thought, after about a week, I thought, ‘Hmm… This might be good.’ After two weeks, ‘This is getting much better.’ By the end of it, like I was showing people, and they were like, ‘Who did this?’
One of my friends, who works at a big post house in L.A., he thought that I’d gotten one of the best animating houses to do it. And I was like, ‘No, I did it myself.’ And he was like, ‘What!?!’
And, Clay, my son, he shot all of that on his done. He’s fourteen! He’s really good at, control this.
QRO: What was it like, working with your son?
FH: There were moments where he sat down, I was maybe being a bit too demanding.
Weirdly, it wasn’t on that [live] part of the shoot. It when we were shooting things to rotoscope. I’d be walking beside – we had to shoot where the car drives under the camera, where the camera is driving with the car.
I had Clay on the bonnet [hood] of my Mercedes, that’s our car. I’ve got Clay on the bonnet of the car, holding onto the sides with one hand, shooting me on his iPhone on another, because we couldn’t get the drone to do that.
I’m driving at two miles per hour, but still… “Papa!” [laughs]
QRO: How was last year’s The Man Who twentieth anniversary tour?
FH: It was really good. It made me realize the most important thing…
Travis has always been, if our mantra is anything is, ‘Do not ever follow fashion.’ Just write songs. If you just try and write songs that are true to you, about what you’re going through, and stick to the truth, you don’t need to follow fashion.
And those songs are still as fresh as they were – if they were a pair of sneakers, they’d be like opening a pair of sneakers, that smell you get, that cool smell from new sneakers, or new books. They’ve not aged.
And that has a lot to do with the songs. That has a lot to do with the fact that Nigel [Godrich] produced that record.
But, again, all of our of albums have that thing about them. We came at the end of Britpop – we weren’t an ‘anti-Britpop’ band, but it was over. I think we were almost the first ‘post-Britpop’ band that kind of made an impact. And we made it with that album.
So, touring it confirmed to me that, ‘Oh my god, these songs are still very strong, and they have a big place in people’s history.’ We soundtracked a year or two of people’s lives with that album.
And the shows were great. Cause you can go on tour and play an album, I know Teenage Fanclub have done it. I know a lot of bands do it.
But that album was a ubiquitous record in the U.K. I think one in seven households had that album.
QRO: I have the CD of it…
FH: It was one of those very interesting, who knows how that happened? Taking an album like that, which is embedded deep in people’s consciousness, taking that on the road was really cool.
And watching the reaction to it was great, as well. People just getting lost in it a little bit, bringing their kids or whatever.
Trailer for Almost Fashionable: A Film About Travis:
QRO: And speaking of not following fashion, how was making your 2018 documentary Almost Fashionable?
FH: It was long. To shoot it, we were on tour in Mexico for ten days.
The idea of the film was, people have tried to write about our band, thinking, ‘Oh, this is easy.’ Or, ‘I get them,’ and they try to put it into words, and they’ve quite got it right.
I thought, I really wanted shoot something, after doing the last thing before that. I shot a movie for the last album [Everything All At Once – QRO album review]. And I still wanted to make something else.
I got the DP [Cristian Pirlo] from that shoot. The idea was, ‘Let’s not make a regular band documentary. Let’s do something a bit more interesting.’ The idea was to bring a journalist [Wyndham Wallace] who didn’t like the band on tour with us.
First of all, what is there not to love about our band? [laughs] And I really mean it. The guys in my band, we’re all dead cool, dead nice – we all went to art school. We get a real ribbing, because we don’t do the game, we don’t play it the way people want, we don’t give people stories – so we frustrate a lot of journalists. For that reason, I think we get a good kicking, very time we put records out.
There’s a faction of press who, I think, for whatever reason, we remind them of something that they don’t like.
QRO: When an album [like The Man Who] was that ubiquitous, especially for music reviewers (speaking for my people), you get this almost, ‘Oh, I hate that band…’
FH: We brought a journalist there, for ten days. The resulting documentary is a nice portrait of us. It’s a nice explanation of why we exist & what we do.
But also, it talks about journalism. It talks about what the journalist, as a critic, it becomes your job – your love, your passion, your thing of music, becomes the thing you do as a boring job. And any boring job, eventually, you kind of lose your enthusiasm for it, in a way.
Especially when you’re writing like eight hundred reviews a year, you know what I mean? Not being able to fuckin’ keep up with stuff, and not give things your full attention.
So, it’s an ode to us, but it’s also an ode to critics. It’s nice. It’s an interesting watch. It’s funny.
First of all, what is there not to love about our band? [laughs] And I really mean it.
QRO: Speaking as a music critic, the idea of being invited to go with a band, ‘Oh, we’re going to play ten days in Mexico…’
FH: That you don’t like!
QRO: What did critics who like you guys think, ‘Why didn’t you take me?!?’
FH: The funny thing was, we interviewed a lot of those critics in the doc. There’s some really, really great moments that the journalists talk about us in there. We got a couple who don’t like us talking.
It took two years to cut it, because we had about a hundred hours of footage. It took a long time.
In the end, it came out. We premiered it in Edinburgh, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival – it won the Audience Award there. Really cool.
QRO: You were playing to a home crowd…
FH: Very much…
It’s also just put me further along with getting my little fix from making moving pictures.
QRO: Oh, why did you do it in Mexico?
FH: We had two options, cause we had two tours lined up at that point. One was in Mexico, and one was in Japan. And Japan was just a little bit too far away, and with probably way too many restrictions. So, we chose Mexico.
For us, and for most bands on the planet, playing in Mexico is like – you go to Mexico, it’s like being in The Beatles for two weeks.
QRO: Other interviews I’ve done, they said the same thing…
FH: Being Scottish – Scottish people and Mexico people have a similar passion of life, and for live music. When you go out, you go out to have a complete blowout. The band & the audience just really connect, in a way that doesn’t happen in other places, other than a home show.