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16th October 2013

Interview: Travis

We caught up with the infamous Scottish four-piece Travis, to discuss unorthodox methods, recording techniques and international tours.

Travis are a band that, for young and old alike, need no introduction. Famous for making sensitivity fashionable at the turn of the millennium, the Scottish four-piece are back after a lengthy hiatus with their new album Where You Stand.  When I speak to Dougie Payne – founding member, bassist and sometimes-songwriter – he’s fresh off a twelve-hour bus ride to Denver, Colorado, on the band’s first major international tour in half a decade which hits the UK, including Manchester, later this month.

Why, I ask, did they take such a long sabbatical? “It’s quite a long time, isn’t it? We kind of decided after we finished the last tour that we wanted to take some time out, and spend that time just being dads and being at home”, he admits, “Because you can’t get that time back. And if the success of previous records buys you anything, it doesn’t buy you stuff, it buys you time. Also, you need to spend time apart, ‘coz if you don’t, there’s nothing surer to break a band up than getting sick of each other!”

A lot has happened in the time Travis have been away, not least of all the members’ steady embracement of middle age, a fact which Dougie states was not lost on the band. “There was a working title for the record, which was In The Middle Of. You just feel like that when you hit forty, but we all feel really good about it actually. It’s weird, ‘coz it’s like, we’re all forty, and we’re reflecting on what is – hopefully – the first half of our lives, but also we’ve all got kids so we’re looking forward as well. So it’s reflective and positive. That’s very much, I think, a theme of the record.”

Certainly, reflection and contemplation are – in typical Travis style – the order of the day on Where You Stand, an album which features songs written and co-written by Dougie himself, including recent single ‘Moving’. “It was a couple of things: being and living in New York was part of it; a classic cliché.” he says, discussing how the track came about, “I was writing about, basically, moving around. Kelly [Macdonald, Payne’s wife] and I were moving every six months because she’s filming Boardwalk Empire in New York. The logistics of that is tricky, and I was finding it quite hard, and I had this epiphany. I was walking down the street one day, and I was like ‘ah, man, that’s what it’s all about!’ That’s just what it is, you don’t stop, and it’s just accepting that life is movement. Life is change, and that song is a kind of celebration of that.”

Where You Stand reached number three on the UK Album Chart upon release two months ago, which gave the band a return to a level of commercial success they enjoyed a decade ago; their previous record, 2008’s Ode to J. Smith, whilst well received by fans, failed to make much of a splash on the radio. Reflecting on this, Dougie muses “Well, you always want a record to do well, but the nice thing about J. Smith was that it was critically well received, which we never really had before. Even The Man Who got absolutely slated; every single review was terrible. I remember sitting on Franny’s floor in his house and we had all the newspapers out and all the magazines, and we were looking at them all and we were like ‘aww, fuck.’”

The recording of J. Smith was, for Travis, a relatively unorthodox procedure. “We said we were gonna go into a rehearsal room for three weeks, write a record in those three weeks and then we’re gonna record it in two weeks, so within a month we’ve got a new record.” For a band used to painstakingly crafting their music, this was a big leap. “We ended up making this very interesting, odd rock album. It was very rocky, like a garage band, very reminiscent of Good Feeling, so I can understand why radio would slightly balk against that. I kinda got it, but I was still pleased that we made that record. It was huge for us.”

As the conversation draws to a close, I ask Dougie what the future holds for a band that have achieved so many career milestones already. “We’ll see. We’ve got a lot of touring to do over the next year, we’re gonna be all over the place. This tour was a bit of a step into the unknown to be honest, because we haven’t played in the US for four years, and we had no idea if anybody would turn up! We had no idea what our situation was here, but it’s been great, really enjoyable and the shows have been fantastic, so fingers crossed that will continue.” On the subject of future Travis material, he sounds hopeful. “We’ll keep writing songs, and if we get a few songs we feel strongly about, we’ll just keep putting them out; we’ll keep going as long as we have the songs. With J. Smith, it felt like a full circle. This feels like the start of something new.”

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