The Scottish band’s lead singer and talismanic songwriter, Fran Healy, takes us through the making of their upbeat debut album
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. The band’s second studio album, The Man Who, frequently receives the plaudits but their lively debut LP, Good Feeling, also deserves attention and credit for setting the group on their stellar trajectory.
Almost 24 years since its release, Travis decided to reissue the debut on 180-gram heavyweight vinyl in its original format. What a perfect excuse to catch up with the group’s affable frontman, Fran, to take us through the creation of their first collection of songs, track by track…
All I Want To Do Is Rock
“In 1994, we played a gig in Perth in Scotland, and a producer called Niko Bolas – who was working with Mike Scott of The Waterboys and produced Neil Young’s – came to see us. At the end of the gig, he said, ‘You guys are shit, I want to take you into the studio and I’m going to produce you. So we went to a studio called The Funny Farm which belonged to Fish from Marillion and that’s where we got our ground zero lesson in rock and roll by one of the best producers for that job. He took me aside and said, ‘What are you singing about? Because I don’t really hear your lyrics.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I’m just singing stuff.’ He’s like, ‘Well, just sing what you feel, sing what you know, and then I’ll believe you, you’ll believe you and everyone else will believe you. From now on, everything you write has to be about you and your experience – never make shit up.’
“About six months later, I went to Millport – which is on a little island on the west coast of Scotland – with the sole intent of writing new songs. I was going to write a huge big hit single and I wrote All I Want To Do Is Rock, which was a kind of homage to Niko. I wrote Turn [which was released as a single from The Man Who] at the same time. This was 1995, then I got a publishing deal and we recorded it.”
“I was like 19 when I wrote it. It was all about how girls were, sort of, older than boys and you wouldn’t ever know. And it was about dating someone who was younger than you, which I was doing. I was dating a girl who was three years younger than me. So it was kind of based on my experience, but then it was embellished, of course. So with ‘I met a girl in Paris, she talked like Vera Lynn’, I went to Paris when I was 16 or maybe 17, and I’d never been out of Britain before. We went on a coach trip and I got off at the Arc de Triomphe to take pictures, and I thought I was following someone who was on a bus, but I wasn’t, and I got lost. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I had the most amazing day and I met this Japanese woman, we just got chatting and hung out. Nothing happened, I was too young for anything to happen! She was saying, ‘We’ll meet again,’ so that’s the ‘Vera Lynn’ line. But again, it’s embellished, it’s all made up but sort of based on where I’d been in Paris.
“That was written in a room above The Horseshoe bar in Glasgow. We wangled rehearsal space from the manager there and it was an abandoned studio, all soundproofed, so it was ideal for us. We went up there almost every night and, after I got my publishing deal, I went up there and wrote U16 Girls, the demo of which is brilliant – it was all on four-track. The riff was written on electric guitar. I’d just got a new Fender Telecaster, because we got some money from Sony. So that demo was kind of how it was written: it sounds very cool, very grungy and swampy.”
The Line Is Fine
“The Lane Is Fine is the sister or brother song of [Writing To Reach You and they were written almost 20 minutes apart – The Line Is Fine came first. I was in our flat in Glasgow, it was really cold outside, I had two Calor gas heaters going and I think I got a little bit high on the carbon monoxide! It’s about a guy standing on the window ledge, wanting to jump. I’d just been chucked by my girlfriend and I was having a hard time – I wasn’t going to jump out the window, but in my mind, I was like [silent comedy actor and stunt performer] Harold Lloyd standing on the window and I was gonna jump. I wrote that in Glasgow, at Christmas in 1995, and then about 20 minutes later along comes Writing To Reach You.”
Good Day To Die
“That was written earlier, in the girlfriend’s bedroom (the one who chucked me). She had a brother, and her mum and dad had split up, just like me, so we were both in single-parent families. Her mum and my mum were mates and I kind of dramatized the story about them, even though it was really nothing to do with them, they were the characters like a Hansel and Gretel type of thing. I was just getting into writing, so I was still finding my language, but it’s still an amazing song.
“I wrote that when I lived at my mum’s, where the bed just slotted perfectly into this alcove, next to the fridge in her kitchen. I lived there for a good five or six years, and I remember writing it and going, ‘Wow!’ I love the way the chord changes are really interesting. Again, it’s a song about my girlfriend at the time, I was thinking that in 20 years from now, it’ll be the same and we’ll be getting married. It was before she chucked me, but I could feel it coming! The Fear that was another song that was written around that time and that’s what that song was about: it’s coming, I’m going to get chucked, I can feel it. I wrote that sitting in my bed, the way you should write a song: staring at the soundhole on your knee, just letting it come out. I think it’s got some of the nicest little switches from E minor in the verse, and goes to E major instead. It’s like Am / C / Em and then Am / C / E major, which isn’t deliberate – your fingers just go there and you think, ‘Oh, that’s cool!’”
Midsummer Nights Dreamin’
“That song was written in London. I wrote it in my room in Chesterfield Gardens on the Harringay Ladder. I like the way that the chords moved. But that song is a throwaway, I’ve got to be honest: I’m not a mad fan of that song. But I heard it the other week and that recording of it is just, ‘Woah!’ It turned into something a lot better.”
Tied To The 90’s
“Tied was written in London. It was all Britpop and I was sick of it. I loved Oasis, but it was all… Just because someone’s got a guitar, it’s not a seal of quality. It doesn’t matter whether you play a guitar, a piano, keyboards, beats… I don’t care, it just has to touch you in some way. So yeah, I was really tired, I was tired of the 90s and we were all stuck there. But we were getting close to the end of the 90s, I was looking forward to the year 2000, and what the next century might hold for us all. So this is almost like a ‘goodbye to the 90s’ song.”
I Love You Anyways
“That song started off really fast and it was really high. I remember playing it to Dougie and him going, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing, that’s really beautiful.’ And that song’s about me and the girl who eventually chucked me. All these songs are about me dealing with your first major rejection in life and it’s hard. I used to go to the cinema with my grandma, and there’s a bus journey that took me from my house in Glasgow on the south side directly to where she lived, and it went past all of these places in my life, and the cinema was one of them. At the end of it, there’s a lyric that says, ‘And when I got outside, I caught the 44,’ that’s the number of the bus. ‘It dropped me outside my front door / Forgot what I’d been living for…’ This is me saying, ‘You shouldn’t be living for a person, you should be living for something a bit higher than.’ It’s a love song to this person, but it’s also a wake up for me to go, ‘I think you like this person too much and they don’t like you enough, there’s not a balance.’”
“Oh, I remember waking my mum up with this song in the middle of the night and going, ‘What do you think of this?’ I used to do that a lot when I lived there. At two or three in the morning, I’d be like, ‘Mum, listen to this,’ like she’s the first A&R man! She’d be like, ‘Okay, good. Night night,’ But then the next day she’d say, ‘What was that song you played me last night? That sounded quite good.’ And if she never said anything I’d just maybe forget about it. So I played it to her again and she’s like, ‘Oh, that sounds like a song from when I was wee called Needles and Pins.’ It’s kind of similar.
“It’s about weed, it’s about rolling a spliff and getting high with your mates – ‘I’m rolling, I’m rolling / I’m rolling so quickly / I’m not a doctor and I’m not a lawyer / I just get the prescription and set it on fire / Blow me a kiss, I’ll be happy the rest of my life.’ It’s about getting stoned.”
More Than Us
“We packed the front end of the album with all the bangers and then this was like the comedown – the plane landing at the end was More Than Us, Funny Thing and Falling Down. The demo of More Than Us was recorded in the stairwell of my mum’s flats and it was stone so it had a lovely, natural reverb. I’d plug in a mic and stick it up the top, up a flight of stairs, and then go down a flight outside our door, and record so I’d get natural reverb. So I remember recording that with the four-track, the mics and everything, and all the old ladies coming up the stairs with their shopping and stepping over me.
“It’s like a sort of Brill building song, quite wistful and melodic and looking beyond this thing – it’s more than us, but what is that? It’s the force, it’s the thing that holds us all together. It’s more than us. It’s about whatever it is – some people put a beard on it, sit them on a cloud and call them God, some people call it Buddha. It’s that little feeling we’ve all got at the back of our ken that there’s something else going on here.”
“I think this is one of my favourite songs in the album, there are some great lines on it. It feels dead pure to me, I didn’t need to screw about with it. Sometimes songs just come out. There were no rewrites, it just came out all at once. I think it was a really fast song to write – it was about a seven-minute thing and it was done. It’s a guitar song but it was played on piano in the studio with Steve [Lillywhite, the producer]. It was just on a particular night when we tried to record Writing To Reach You and we were slightly inebriated, and it didn’t work. So we needed to do something quiet and that’s what we did. Whenever I hear that song on the record, I remember us being really taken aback and being slightly out of it!”
“Funny Thing reminds me of my granda, I wrote it about the time when my he died. I can remember being in a car and singing the lyrics over in my head, trying to work it out. ‘Because the sky was red / It all went to your head…’ In Glasgow, we have amazing sunsets and when the sun goes down the sky just turns into like a beautiful furnace. The whole album is very Glasgow, there’s lots of stuff from there.”