Interview: Travis

Simon Parkin Eleven-years since their debut album, Travis have returned with a back-to-basics record that's closer to their rockier live sound than polished pop. Ahead of their sold-out UEA show, SIMON PARKIN spoke to drummer Neil Primrose. Further listening: TravisFurther listening: Tarvis

Simon Parkin

Eleven-years since their debut album, Travis have returned with a back-to-basics record that's closer to their rockier live sound than polished pop. Ahead of their sold-out UEA show, SIMON PARKIN spoke to drummer Neil Primrose.


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Travis made their name in the late 90s with polished indie pop hits like Sing and Why Does It Always Rain On Me? Their second album, The Man Who, went nine-times platinum.

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They were often lumped together with the likes of Coldplay and Keane, contemporaries who also specialised in stadium friendly melodies and soaring choruses. Yet this was only ever part of the story. Live the band were always a far rockier proposition than their Radio 2 friendly hits suggested.

This rougher and readier side to the band's personality is much to fore on the band's new album, Ode To J. Smith, which marks something of a back-to-basics.

That it has been released on their own Red Telephone Box label, last used by the band for their very first releases in the early 90s, speaks volumes.

Tonight they play a sell-out show at the UEA, one of a number of smaller venues on a short UK tour that is part of the plan to reconnect and reintroduce the band.

“When we bring a new record out we like to play some smaller shows, rather than just going out to play a football stadium or whatever,” says drummer Neil Primrose.

“It serves a purpose really. It's better to have that more intimate vibe to begin with, especially as it's an album that people don't even have yet. It gives it the right launch pad and you build from there. We are probably going to be looking at some big shows next year.”

The album is a heavier outing then their previous few releases, but it's unlikely to shock fans who've followed the band from the start. “This is really us doing something more akin to what we've actually like live,” says Primrose. “When you spend so much time crafting good records, and we've always tried to do melody and pop really well, inadvertently we've become known for the songs that are well known, that's what people expect you to sound like.

“With that in mind you can choose two things. You can either be yourself and do what happens in a studio writing and playing together, which for the first time we did every quickly with this record, or you can try to do a Brian Eno and make some weird sort of computer space music which is definitely not what Travis are about.”

The inspiration partly came when the band were involved in a project to mark the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' St Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

“A lot of the inspiration for it was the session we did for St Pepper's. When we recorded on the original equipment and the original style of tape with very little channels, you have to play live and get it all done at once. We're actually very good at that, but a lot of bands find that quite problematic. So that was the catalyst for wanting to do it that way.

“We just went into the studio and instead of spending two or three years making stuff we decided lets try and get this done as quickly as we can. With the computer technology these days it's often not really playing live all at once. It's was back to basics in a way.

“There is less fiddling and trying different stuff in the studio, which is all very nice but before you know it you've gone down a long road and it takes a long time to get songs finished. It's good to have the songs constructed and that's pretty much it apart from a few overdubs. That's what sets this album apart. It's got a very different vibe and energy to it because its 90pc live, with less studio effects.”

Despite being together for well over almost two decades, the band - whose line-up is completed by lead singer Fran Healy, Andy Dunlop (guitar, vocals) and Dougie Payne (bass) - remain a tight unit and seem unfazed by the constant changes in the music industry.

“We've known each other for almost 20-years,” says Primrose, amazed. “It's like a brotherhood, you know. You send all your time in each other's pockets and people assume that after you play a show you all go back and sleep in the same bedroom. It's just not like that, especially as you get older and you have a family. You need some independence.”

Though they met and formed in their native Glasgow, the foursome are now scattered. Primrose lives in Cumbria, Dunlop in Lancashire, Payne in London, while Healey flits between London, Berlin and New York.

“When we meet up it's like we've never been apart though,” says the affable drummer. “Someone can be on the other side of the world and it's like you've been away for a couple of hours. It's a special relationship, and one that has to be nurtured.”

“Nuclear bombs might stop us but anything other than that we'll keep on going,” jokes Healey.

Another character repeatedly crops up on this new album - but who exactly is J. Smith? “It's an everyman character who's contained in some of the songs on the record. It just seemed to make sense to make it all tie together,” says Primrose, keen to point out it not a concept album.

“It's the most common name in the phonebook, whether it's John Smith or Joan Smith. Some of the songs tell the tale of someone who is having a s*** life and they die and go to heaven and life gets even s****** you know? But it's meant to be a concert or rock story, it just a bit of fun.

“The song J. Smith was one we came up with really quickly in rehearsals, and along with Chinese Blues, those were the songs that really got things going.”

Though they're now on their own independent label, having parted company with Epic, they weren't tempted to follow the example of Radiohead in asking fans to play what they want for the album.

“We do a lot of stuff off our website and Myspace that is unusual and unique that gives fans something different,” says Primrose. “But for us its best to not try to copy something that was done very well because imitation is never usually very good in the long run.”

Healey feels so strongly about the album he's not even insisting everyone should run to the shops for it.

“I just want people to listen to it; they don't even have to buy it. Just do whatever you need to do to hear it and then talk about it because it is I think the most cohesive thing we've ever done.”

There is an air of rejuvenation about Travis, like they're making sure that while other bands come and go, they remain a strong force.

“Dougie's the talking man, Andy the handy man, Neil's the sexy man and I'm the beardy man,” Healy says. “Together we make the perfect man.”

t Ode To J. Smith is out now. Further listening:






Good Feeling - “Like a school album for us”

The Man Who - “Warm and wintery”

The Invisible Band - “Total pop”

12 Memories - “It's the most personal one- not political like everyone seems to think”

Singles - “The obligatory album”

The Boy With No Name - “Where we were finding ourselves again, probably our most polished album”

Ode To J. Smith - “Unpolished and good fun”

Further listening: Travis Further listening: Tarvis