Far Out Meets: Travis frontman Fran Healy on the art of songwriting, fatherhood and new album ’10 Songs’
There’s not much that Travis frontman Fran Healy hasn’t seen in the world of music since his band released their debut record, Good Feeling, in 1997. The Scottish four-piece have conquered pretty much all there is to conquer, they’ve headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and asserted themselves as a household name across Britain.
Even by Healy’s own admission, however, his priorities have been elsewhere since he became a father in 2006 to his son Clay. Now, however, with his firstborn now a teenager, Healy has felt reinvigorated to lunge back into the world of Travis with both feet. Their delightful new record, 10 Songs, is the first album the band has put together in which Healy has written the entirety of songs since the birth of his son. This latest project is one of a creative necessity for him and a challenge that he more than stepped up to deliver.
Given the current climate, I had a socially distanced Skype chat with Healy while he was locked-up quarantining in Glasgow, a call which arrived shortly after the singer flew back from Los Angeles and, like any interview in these strange, peculiar times, we begin by touching on the virus shaped elephant in the room. “It’s definitely the strangest time to record,” Healy confessed. “But it’s also it’s perfect for music. You know, it’s not like I own a restaurant and I don’t have any customers. Everyone that would maybe be interested in a Travis record can still hear a Travis record,” the singer said as he grasped for positives.
10 Songs is a record that’s all about love, raw humanity and the more important things that life throws at you. It also confirms Healy’s knack of being a mercurial songwriter, one which begs the question as to why he’s allowed the art of writing to take the backseat. “For the last 14 years I’ve been being a dad, that was kind of like an invisible laser and whatever point that laser took, I’d go completely 100,000 miles an hour at the thing and for the last 14 years, that’s been my boy,” Healy animatedly explained. “Just being able to spend time with him and be a dad, especially as I didn’t have that myself so I think to me that was very important. He came up to me a year ago and said ‘Papa, I think you should do the band now’,” with his son’s words ringing in his ears, Fran started work on creating what would later become 10 Songs.
“My laser is now back on the band again and it shows. We put out three albums in the last 14 years and they’ve been ok. They’ve been fine. They’re good. There have been some great moments but it just, frustrated me a little bit because you have to get songs out and get on the road. This is another level, singing someone’s song is fine. But I’m not a good person at singing covers or that sort of thing. So with the complete focus of all these songs been for me, then it’s made it much more cohesive record,” he said proudly about the band’s newest born child.
The art of songwriting is one that Healy is back fully invested in and he shared his thesis on why persistency is more important than some God-given creative gift for wordplay. “I actually don’t think songwriting is creative. I think, like, if you were to take a pie chart of some of the process, I would say 5% of it is creative, and the other 95% songwriting is digging. It’s like mining or fishing, you keep doing it in a place where you can’t see what you’re doing and eventually, you get to a diamond,” Healy proposed.
“Most of it is just fucking dead manual and very, very boring and not creative at all. But then when you get it when you get a little diamond, a little bit gold. That last 5% is where you go right what we’re going to make out of this?”
One song on the record took more digging to reach the diamond than the rest, a track which arrived as ‘Nina’s Song’ and made Healy look within himself and, more specifically, the things he’d tried to suppress in order to complete. “I wrote it for this woman called Nina Stibbe,” the Travis frontman revealed. “She’d written a book called Man At The Helm, which was going to be a TV show, they wanted it to be like a musical and asked me to make songs for it, which I did.”
“This one song, in particular, was more of about me like being seven years old and desperately wanting a dad because I never had one. So you drill down and stuff comes out, you know. You go ‘fuck where did that come from?’ Like I remember asking my Mum when I was seven, can you not just go the dad shop and get a dad? Like, how desperate for a wee boy to say but you really need it. You need that thing,” Healy said wholeheartedly.
What Healy missed out on with his own father has made him the dad he is to his son today and during the lockdown, their bond has got even tighter with Clay leading the cinematography work on lead single ‘A Ghost’ which Fran animated and drew.
“He’s really cool, he’s very smart and resourceful,” he lovingly said about his 14-year-old. “I’ve got to speak quite because he’s downstairs but I went to art school and I think either have a good eye for composition or you don’t so, in the end, I didn’t even need to check what he was doing because everything he was shooting was really great. It’s nice to work with this little boy is whoI’ve seen since he was a little baby and now he’s helping his daddy. How cool is that?” Healy said whilst wearing a giant grin.
Working with his son on the video for ‘A Ghost’ is undoubtedly one of the career highlights of Healy’s career despite all the awards and success he has had over the last twenty-three years. There’s one moment in Travis’ existence that is impossible to not touch upon and I lead the conversation to their set on The Other Stage at Glastonbury in 1999, an event which saw a rainstorm descend upon the Scots whilst they ironically performed ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’. It was a moment that became one of the definitive Worthy Farm showings and even played a part in the decision to see the band headline the Pyramid Stage the following year but, on the contrary, they thought their set was anything but iconic.
“I’ve got my eyes open. Just know,” Healy vividly recollects. “And I remember, I can see, I can see the audience, I can see the buggy beside me, I can feel us coming off stage at the end of that performance and feeling like it was the shittiest performance we ever did. Everyone thought it was a total washout.
“It showed me that it’s pure luck. We did that performance and that changed everything and you could see that everything like pivoted on that moment but then all of the work that brought to that moment. It’s like boiling a kettle you can’t just switch the kettle on and it boils, he adds. “You know the moment when you’re kettle clicks off and it’s boil, that was the Glastonbury moment and we switched the kettle on two years earlier three years earlier. That was the moment that boiled the kettle and sometimes the kettle doesn’t boil,” Healy profoundly noted.
Fran Healy’s proverbial creative kettle has finally again reached boiling point after over a decade of simply simmering as his life takes another direction. He has returned from that period impassioned and10 Songs is crammed full of heart which Healy has every right to be proud of as Travis release one of their most complete works of art to date.