The Glaswegian frontman talks about piecing together their precipitative breakthrough hit single in the arid climes of Israel and Spain
Formed in Glasgow in 1990, Travis are a Scottish rock band comprising singer-songwriter Fran Healy, bassist Dougie Payne, lead guitarist Andy Dunlop and drummer Neil Primrose. The group is widely claimed as having paved the way for other bands such as Keane and Coldplay to go on to achieve worldwide success throughout the 2000s, particularly through the band’s second studio album, The Man Who.
Four tracks were released from that influential record, but it was arguably Why Does It Always Rain On Me? that proved to be their international breakthrough single, fueled in part by a triumphant appearance at the 1999 Glastonbury Festival, where the song dramatically coincided with a change in the weather.
Almost two decades on from its release, the group’s affable frontman recalls when, where and how the rhetorically titled song was made…
“The other songs just came along… you’re just dropping things everywhere, you put in your bag and don’t think about it, and move on… I remember going to Israel on holiday and writing the verse Why Does It Always Rain On Me?, which ended up being the chorus but I didn’t know it at the time… Then we came to record the record and everyone had a big reaction to Why Does It Always Rain On Me? People really liked that immediately – the demo of it.
“I got [to Israel] and it was pissing with rain! It’s supposed to be sunny because I met our accountant and said I wanted to go away on holiday and he said, ‘You’ve got to go to Eilat, it’s going to be really sunny there.’ So I went and it was pissing with rain! I sat in the hotel room and sung that; just made it up to myself to be funny, or something, and cheer myself up. And I thought, ‘Oh that’s good.’
“Then, later on, about three months after that, we were in Madrid – I think it was a promo trip or we were doing a little gig or something. I was in a hotel room and Good Feeling had come out, but it didn’t really sell many records and everyone was a bit dejected. I’d just come off a phone call with my manager who was trying to cheer me up, and then I wrote the verse. But I didn’t connect it with the other ‘Why does it always rain on me’ thing. I wrote the ‘I can’t sleep tonight…’ based on that phone call and my state of mind, and I remember finishing it and thinking, ‘Oh I’m sure I wrote something…’ and I remembered that thing I thought was a verse – I found it in the archives of my brain – and stuck the two things together. And it was like, ‘Wow!’ They lyrically and melodically went perfect together. But the verse wasn’t written with the thing I’d written in Israel in mind – it was just a moment. I never think, ‘Oh this is a chorus or a verse,’ it’s just a thing that you write.
“The bridge part came in Madrid. It was like two o’clock in the morning, I wrote the verse and I think I got the chorus, and then I wrote the bridge to connect the two. I think that was the only bit that was kind of manufactured, and it came very quickly. I think the middle eight also came quickly. The song was definitely finished within 20 minutes or something, it was very fast. It was so random, even the writing of it then, that I wasn’t aware that it was anything special – it was just another ideas. It was written on the same Kimbara acoustic guitar that I write all my songs on. There’s something about the tone of it that goes with my voice.
“After Madrid, we went on to Beth Orton’s tour and I remember leaning against a pillar in some university, between soundchecks, and strumming it to myself going, ‘That’s a solid song.’ Then I made a demo of it. There was a big thunderstorm in London and I recorded the thunder and then the song starts. Then I played the demo to Andy Macdonald and he was like, ‘That’s fucking great. Good, now… next!’ That was it. Then I played it to the band and I remember it was a little bit faster at first, almost the same tempo as Tied To The 90s – more jaunty and upbeat. Then we did it and I was like, ‘Oh that sounds shit, let’s slow it right down,’ and I remember we all went, ‘Oh no they’re going to love that, that’s going to be the one that people like!’
“Then we sort of had a record, but it wasn’t until we were cutting it at Abbey Road with [sound engineer] Chris Blair that I remember hearing it all put together going, ‘Shit! This really hangs well,’ but it was very quiet and subdued, and completely in opposition to everything that was happening in the charts and on the radio at the time. So I think we all thought we were doomed. Then we had an interview with Mark Beaumont from the NME who said, off-record at the end of the interview, ‘Looks guys, I really like this record, but it’s commercial suicide,’ and we were like, ‘Oh fuck!’ And, of course, all the reviews came out and they were just shit, they were the worst reviews we’ve ever had. But we managed to get one of the songs on the radio, and they hammered it, and that was Why Does It Always Rain On Me?”