“Everyone in the band are at a very good point in their lives,” Fran Healy begins to say. Having based himself in Berlin for a while now, the lead singer of Travis is very happy about the life he is leading. However this happiness hasn’t affected the blue atmosphere of Travis’ music.
The Scottish band’s 8th album Everything At Once was released last month. When we listen to the album, we feel that the group’s vibe hasn’t changed at all. The freeing melancholic rock tone of the band lies at the heart of Everything at Once which enters around an acoustic guitar. Which is what makes Travis good. In a period where everything changes so rapidly – including music – Travis is one of the few bands that stayed the same. A few whites in his head and the affect of years on his face, Fran Healy still maintains his warm, heartfelt presence. I met him first on a Bosphorus cruise when I did an interview with him for Rolling Stone Turkey. Our paths crossed many times over the years. This time, we had a chance to talk on the phone about Travis’ new album. We talked with Fran Healy about London’s first Muslim mayor Sadiq Kahn, how Germany perceives migrants, his thoughts on Turkey, Hansa Tonstudios where they recorded their latest album, why the critiques towards Spotify are ridiculous, his relationship with his past, and of course Travis’ music.
You’ve been together for 26 years. Has the process of writing songs change a lot for you?
No. It is exactly the same since the beginning. The best songs are written in the living room with a cup of tea. The best songs are written when you wake in the morning and say; “I’m hungover.” The best songs are written when you don’t expect to write any song at all. And the best songs are done in a very old way. Nowadays nobody does this anymore. We are a dying breed. Songwriters who are sitting in the room with a cup of tea are disappearing. The business has become different. Now you’ve teams of writers that work together on a song. I think that’s fine. If you look at the new Drake album, there are 50 different credits on it. I think that’s great. The album sounds really well recorded. But it doesn’t have a sound of a song written in an old way.
In your new single Magnificent Time, you’re singing “I looked at the past inside my rearview mirror / There was nobody behind me and nothing up ahead.” How do you feel when you look back at your past and the future?
Becoming a father really changes you. And it should change you. Because you grow up very fast in this modern world and you leave childish things behind. And some of those things, you’re supposed to leave behind. Because it’s part of the journey. To live in the moment you need to be not so much looking behind, and not so much looking up ahead. On this song when I sing “‘There was nobody behind and nothing up ahead,’ I talk about a choice. I’m telling myself; “Be with your son and live in the present moment.” Because that’s the only time you’re in. We stress ourselves out so much about worrying about the future and regretting the past.
How do you relate the song to your son?
The song is like the 12 year old self talking to me. What would my 12 year old self tell me now? I’m 42 now. I’ve been keeping a diary for a very long time. I still write everyday but not in the same way. I found this diary, dated back to 1986. I showed it to my 10 year old son. And it was an interesting moment. Because he’s ten and I was twelve. Couple of years older than him. He gets to see what his 12 year old dad exactly thought. And all the things I was doing. And actually we’re not so different from one another. And that’s sort of, in a way inspired the song a little bit. The past you, talking to the future you…
You’ve recorded Everything At Once at Berlin’s Hansa Tonstudio. David Bowie, U2, Iggy Pop, Pixies and many more have also recorded albums in the same studio. Does being in such a legendary studio have an impact on you on a personal level?
It was a weird one for me. I feel like I’m the luckiest musician on the planet. Because I managed to get one of the rooms at Hansa, as a writing room. I keep going there everyday. I don’t know whether if it’s to do with the people who have been there but Hansa is really cool. The studio is just brilliant. We’ve got instruments that were used on the David Bowie albums. Amplifiers Iggy Pop used on Lust For Life. It’s a really special place and very inspiring to be in.
We’ve lost many musical legends of the last century one by one over the past recent years. How do you feel about the loss of David Bowie, Prince, George Martin and people like them?
I don’t get too sad. Because they don’t really die. When we losoe these great musicians, they’re leaving more than just a memory. Whenever you put a David Bowie record or touch his vinyl, he is alive again. Whenever you hear Prince on the radio, he’s alive again. Whenever you hear a Beatles song, George Martin is alive again. These musicians never die. It’s the power of music. Of course it is sad for their families. It is the saddest thing of all.
You’ve been living in Berlin for a long time. How do you feel about living there?
It’s great. Peaceful. People are nice. The Summers are beautiful. The weather is great during the Summers. It used to be very cold in the Winter. But for the past four years, it is milder. Probably because of global warming. Life is good. My son is at a bilingual school. He speaks German and English. I feel very lucky.
How do you remember Glasgow and London after all those years?
Dougie (Payne) lives in Glasgow with his wife and kids. Glasgow is a really cool city. It is small and very intense with a lot of very cool things happening. The music scene has always been a very vital part of that city. Fine arts in Glasgow is fantastic as well. And the movie scene is also great. Best of Scotland is based there. London just got a Muslim mayor.
What do you think about Sadiq Khan becoming the very first Muslim mayor of London?
I think it is incredible. It is absolutely brilliant. The Muslim people in London and all over the world are having their religion trashed by a minority of people. Their distinguished, pure and wonderful expression of faith destroyed by these idiots, these terrorist groups.
London is telling the rest of the Britain and the rest of the world that “We’re multicultural. And we support multiculturalism.” Majority of Muslims are cool and peaceful people. Just like the majority of most people of the world from all religions. Having a Muslim mayor in London is such a great thing for rest of the world.
Germany, the country you live in, is one of the key countries in terms of migrant crisis. How do you feel about the attitude towards the migrants over there and migrants crisis in general?
At first, Germany, because of it’s history, opened it’s doors to migrants. They said; “Come on. We’ll take you on.” They’re having a population drain at the moment and they need people in that country. So they welcomed the people. Then this thing happened in Cologne at new years. It sadly changed the landscape especially for women. I can only speak for the women I know. In Berlin they all became way more cautious. At the start they were very happy. Then they started to think like; “Oh my god. What’s going on? All these guys, who are not respecting woman and doing things like that…” It was very unfortunate.
What do you think about the relationship between Angela Merkel and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? How do you see Turkey from where you stand?
That thing recently happened with Erdoğan… That satirist in Germany who has been silenced by an ancient law which is kind of bizarre… I think Erdoğan and your country is in an absolute state of complete paralysis. It is very difficult to imagine a different scenario when you have someone like Erdogan in power. All of my friends from Turkey are sad. They’re unhappy. I feel really bad every time I see the news.
But instead of getting down about it, the only thing you can do is to just go and embrace the tragedy of it and just turn it into something positive. You guys are awesome and you’re in an amazing country. When I listen to my friends it gives me hope. Even when you’re in a pretty desperate situation, I think there’s a lot of hope.
That like how you never lost hope when your drummer Neil Primrose had a near-fatal accident in 2002. You were really massive in those times. In one of your recent interviews you said “When we were massive, I was miserable.” Why did you feel like that?
I tell you why. At the heart of our band we got our friendship. The band evolves around that friendship. And this really works. When the band got massive, the band became the centre of the system and the friendship became on the outside. And when he had that accident, it jolted us. It jolted the system and put the friendship back into the centre. And we have kept that at the centre ever since.
We are a dying breed. Songwriters who are sitting in the room with a cup of tea are disappearing. The business has become different. Now you’ve teams of writers that work together on a song.
You’re back on tour. Do you like being on the road? Does the definition of being on the road change a lot for you?
Well, I’m sitting in here in the bus. Dougie is in his pyjamas. Making a cup of coffee. And I’m having a cup of tea. We’re on the fifth gig of the tour. So we only just started. And everything is great. When we’re on the stage we’re looking at the people who are singing the songs we’ve been singing for years. It’s a special moment in our band. And I hope we’ll come to Turkey and you’ll see it Alper.
Any plans on coming to Turkey?
Yeah I think so. But I haven’t heard anything yet. We always come to Turkey.
Where do you stand about the ongoing debate on digital music? What do you think about the deals made by record companies?
My view on digital music has never changed. Labels are doing deals with Spotify and YouTube. And I feel that those are almost on the same level as the deals that were used to be done at the beginning of the music industry. The deals where artists weren’t getting paid. Everyone is blaming Spotify for only paying 0.0001 per play. It’s kind of bullshit. Because we know the reason why artists are not get paid.
Even when the record companies make money from streams, they’re not paying the money to the artists the way they should. And they’re also using legacy causes and their contracts with artists. Artists are still paying for packaging when there’s a stream. And there’s no package in stream! They are trying to get as much as money they can. But there is a thing they have to remember. Their product is a living, breathing thing: It is an artist. But I don’t think they will ever think like this.