Travis frontman Fran Healy: The biggest virus of all in the United States is greed
Travis frontman Fran Healy talks to Alex Green about politics, family life and the importance of song
FOR a band sometimes considered over-earnest, it takes a level of self-belief to name an album 10 Songs – and then describe it as a “radical act”.
Scottish rockers Travis have done just this, and listening to frontman Fran Healy, you might be inclined to agree.
“Let me get this right because I'm either going to look like a right fanny or a genius, or fall somewhere in between,” he preambles down the line from his native Glasgow.
Healy (47) is quarantining with his 14-year-old son Clay after flying in from his adopted home of Los Angeles. He's stopped off in Scotland to visit his mother before travelling to London for a string of performances to promote the album.
“To say that there are 10 songs on the record is a statement,” he explains. “Nowadays, just writing a song is a radical act. I would say it is even a punk move to write a song – because nobody is doing it.”
His band's ninth album, recorded at RAK studios in London earlier this year, encapsulates what it is to write a song in the most classic sense.
Healy envisages a “golden era of songwriting” in which songs had “a lyric that speaks to the truth of something” and a “soulfulness” which touches you in ways other music cannot. But these days, he argues, real songs are few and far between.
“You have got producers who are very cerebral people, who don't go deep at all most of the time,” he says.
“Brilliantly, technically minded guys who make s*** sound really good. And then you get singers to come in and sing over the top.
“Everything sounds like a song. You have your radio stations and airwaves populated by stuff that sounds like a song. It's almost an impersonation of a song. But it's not a song.
“It's not touching me because I would know and you would know.”
When Travis emerged from Glasgow in the early 90s they were thrown in with the Britpop crew by a press excited by the prospect of Cool Britannia. But the quartet quickly abandoned the truculence of contemporaries like Blur and Oasis for something kinder, more soulful and, to their critics, middle-of-the-road.
Their sophomore album, The Man Who, included the top 10 hits Why Does It Always Rain on Me? and Turn. It led to international acclaim and inspired soft-rockers like Coldplay and Keane.
Healy penned every song on that record and follow-up The Invisible Band but in recent years had allowed other the members to take over the reins.
10 Songs, however, was written, co-produced and led artistically by Healy – and the quality shows. Healy's breathy falsetto works magic over a mixture of contemplative piano, classic rock guitar and drums. It is perhaps Travis's most Travis-sounding album in a decade and a welcome counterpoint to the strife of 2020 life.
On the visual side, Healy made the animated music video for A Ghost by drawing on his iPad over a month, before mixing the results with shots taken by his son's drone.
As a teenager he attended the Glasgow School of Art and 10 Songs is evidence he might have blossomed as an artist if he had committed to that path.
His pride in his son, who he shares with the German photographer and former make-up artist Nora Kryst, is also obvious.
“He was brilliant and it turned out great,” he says of their joint project. “We handed it over to the people who edit it and colour it and they were like, ‘Who shot this?' and I was like, ‘Oh, my son' and they were like, ‘What?' He's only just turned 14. Finally I can put him to work.”
Time spent living in the US has made Healy reflect on his relationship with the UK.
He lives close to Laurel Canyon, an area in the Hollywood Hills famous for being the home of folk stars like Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash – both of whom have been cited by Healy as influences.
It's apparent he has a love/hate relationship with both America and the state of California.
“California is beautiful but it is not the liberal Valhalla that they would have you think,” he says with a sharp laugh. “You have 70,000 homeless people and people who are so outrageously wealthy driving ridiculous cars past people. And nobody is helping anyone.
“I have not missed the UK really at all until I went to live in America. We take it for granted.
“Well, you have got Boris Johnson who is a fanny but essentially, forgetting about politics for a second, we are a very caring charitable nation. By and large we like to look after our neighbours as we would look after ourselves.”
The spectre of the US presidential election, yet to take place when we speak, hangs over our conversation. Healy is unsure what kind of country he will return to.
He admits he is more comfortable dissecting the political situation than predicting it. And who can blame him?
“Donald Trump is a symptom,” he offers. “He is not the cause of this. Donald Trump is a symptom of the American dilemma, the American problem. And the problem is greed.
“Joe Biden, he is a nice guy, and Kamala Harris. The Democrats by and large are more socialist leaning, but those problems are so deeply rooted in America I don't know what it will take to ever change that.
“Root and stem, you have to change everything.”
He is quick to praise the Black Lives Matter movement and shocked by the racism he sees around him.
“It's an ongoing thing in the United States,” he says of the anti-racism protests. “I have never experienced full-on, total racism like you get in America. Being a person of colour in that country is not good.
“It's systemic. It goes right to the core and even people who think they are not racist are racist.
“It's really unbelievable. But the country of the United States is really at a critical phase in its history.
“It's funny because it's recent, as in the last 14 years, that stuff has really accelerated.
“What I have noticed living there is that – of course they have got coronavirus which is a virus – but the biggest virus of all is greed.”
:: 10 Songs by Travis is out now.