Travis - Scotland's Raining Royalty

On first listen, Travis might remind you a lot of Radiohead, but don't tune out. The band's plangent pop is evocative and well-crafted, putting to shame all the groups that clone a style without providing any real substance. Actually, the real reason Travis sound like Radiohead is because frontman Fran Healy sings in a breathy, tender style similar to Radiohead's Thom Yorke. But Travis music is far simpler and more immediate, thanks in part to guitarist Andy Dunlop who augments the outfit's delicate melodies with tasteful, uncomplicated guitar passages.

Instead of filling the rhythms with washes of sound, Dunlop carefully picks his moments, dazzling with chiming atmospherics and sparse, emphatic licks. It's a sound that has developed over the course of two albums. The band's first offering, 1997's Good Feeling was urgent and raw filled with brash power chords and unpolished hooks. However, Travis' new record, The Man Who, is far more complete, downplaying volume in lieu of shimmering songcraft that abounds with textural guitars and vulnerable vocals.

As a whole, the album is sweeping and passionate, holding together as a cohesive musical expression, but its the buoyant single "Why Does it Always Rain on Me?" that's turning Travis into radio darlings. The band is currently in the middle of a tour with Oasis, which should provide lessons in how to act like rock stars. Then again, even if Travis eclipse Britney Spears (whose "Baby One More Time" has become a staple of their live set), the bandmembers will likely still remain in the background, allowing their music to speak eloquently and emotionally for them. As guitarist Andy Dunlop says, "It's all about the songs." Your singer Fran Healy writes all of your songs, right?

Andy Dunlop: It's weird because we have another language almost. Frannie completely finishes a song and brings it to us on acoustic guitar. He has this idea in his head of how he wants it to sound. It would sound mad to other people. But we understand each other and we turn it into a song. What's your contribution?

Dunlop: The most important thing is not to spoil it with too many guitars. When a song's good, you have to leave as much space as possible. Obviously, you should augment it, but the space is the key thing. Far too many people are caught up with being great guitarists, and they cover up their songs too much. A great song has to have room to breathe. At the end of the day, I don't care if people think I'm a great guitar player or not, as long as [what we're doing] sounds good. How do you get a song to breathe?

Dunlop: You just sit behind the melody because the melody is what people listen to. And if the melody is in the vocals, you then just have to compliment that, not overshadow it. Your first album Good Feeling was virtually ignored, but your new one, The Man Who, is attracting lots of attention. Why the dramatic turnaround?

Dunlop: We spent a long time in Britain setting ourselves up with the first album. People had heard about us, and once the second album came out, people came around to it. Also, the effect of selling so many records in Britain is causing a buzz everywhere else. Are you happier with The Man Who than you were with Good Feeling?

Dunlop: It's a more accomplished album. I still love the first album, but it was really a reflection of a very young band in the studio. It was very raw. We really just wanted it to be like a snapshot of what were like live. With this one we were a lot more experienced. We'd played about 400 gigs between the first album and this one. Onstage, you often play a radical reinterpretation of "Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears. Why?

Dunlop: We thought it was a great song, and I think so many people switched off because of the way it was presented to them - the young girl with a school uniform. It was total pop. So, we thought, let's just present it in its purest form with acoustic guitar, and make people realize that the song itself is really good. That's what were all about - good songs. We don't really care about anything else. "Why Does it Always Rain on Me?" has taken you to new heights. Why does that song strike a chord in people?

Dunlop: I can remember when Frannie had first written that and was sitting in a taxi. He was talking to the driver about the song he'd written. And the driver said, "Aw, yeah. Thats the story of my life. Why does it always rain on me." And I think a lot of people relate to that. And it was written because it does, literally always rain on us. When you come from Glasgow, you carry this raincloud above your head. Wherever you go, it pours. Why don't you move somewhere else, so it won't always rain on you?

Dunlop: No matter where we are, it always rains when we play that track. When Frannie was writing it in Israel, he was on holiday, and it started raining. Then, we went to France and it was gorgeous outside, but it rained while we were recording it. Then we played it at festivals over the summer in Britain, and every time we played it, the rain would come. Last year was the first sunny Glastonbury festival in years, and just for that one song, it rained. You're touring America with the sunny-dispositioned Oasis. How did you forge a relationship with them?

Dunlop: Noel [Gallagher] heard "All I Wanna Do is Rock" from our first album. And he came to see us three years ago when we were doing two nights in London. And from that, he asked us to come and support them on their "British Be Here Now" tour. We did two tours with them, and it was great fun. We learned a lot because they were so far on in their careers, and we were just starting. And now they've invited us back, which is amazing because I haven't seen them in a long time. What was the craziest thing that's happened on tour with Oasis?

Dunlop: It's not that crazy. You'd be surprised. All the stuff you hear is really apocryphal. Contrary to belief, they're actually really nice guys. They really look after us. Do you want to be rock stars like Oasis?

Dunlop: We've always avoided the celebrity thing because we've put the music ahead of ourselves. Britain is so small, so if you're in a band it's easy to gain that celebrity status. But we've always kept quite quiet, so we don't get recognized in the street, which is great. Therefore, the songs are much more famous than we are. The Man Who is a pretty mellow album overall. As a guitarist, do you prefer doing something ethereal and quiet or really rocking out?

Dunlop: They both have their benefits. Live, it's great to rock out. But I love the subtler stuff as well. And I think it creates more of a challenge sometimes to play subtly. Have you started working on the follow-up to The Man Who?

Dunlop: Yeah, 90 percent of the material is written. I think we're probably going to record it at Ocean View studios in L.A. after we finish touring. The atmosphere there should be nice, so I think it will be a slightly sunnier record if we dont bring in the rain, that is.

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