It's been 10 years since the Scottish quartet Travis released their seminal album The Man Who, unwittingly building Britpop's bridge to the ultra-earnest, Coldplay-heavy decade that followed. The obnoxiously humble Chris Martin has even described himself as "the poor man's Fran Healy," referring to Travis' ruby-throated singer-songwriter. But while Coldplay has been playing stadiums, Travis has slowly returned to their intimate roots, culminating in Healy and guitarist Andy Dunlop's low-profile acoustic tour, where they're playing and discussing songs from the Travis catalog chronologically.
"The idea came about pretty accidentally," explains Healy. "Andy and I were doing what we thought was going to be just a brief radio-show appearance in Austria a while back — just playing a few songs. But when we got there, it wasn't a radio station; it was actually this big hall — a real venue — with like 300 people there! So I asked someone, 'What's this? Who's playing here?' And the guy said, 'You are!' Basically, we had 10 minutes to think of concepts for an hour-and-a-half show. So I came up with this idea of doing a set in chronological order, mainly because it'd be simple. And as it turned out, it was a big success — the people really went mental for it! Austrians are usually quite subdued too, so we were thinking, 'Fuck, this is great!'"
Soon Healy and Dunlop decided to adapt the concept into their first tour without the full Travis lineup, dubbing it "A Chronological Acoustical Journey Through the Travis Back Catalogue: Laugh Out Loud Stories, Scottish Accents, Handsome Scottish Men & Naked Torsos." Appearing at considerably smaller venues than a typical Travis tour, the "acoustical journey" also presented Healy with a chance to knock out two birds with one stone.
"I'd been harboring this idea of trying to write an album on the road," he says. "Just traveling across America and writing a record. And so we took these two ideas and turned them into one, so that the subtext of this tour is that Andy and I are going to be trying to write the next Travis record while we're on the road."
For those keeping score, the next Travis record will be their seventh. The first six garnered a broad spectrum of critical reaction — especially in the incomparably fickle British press — and their chart success has dwindled in recent years, with last year's Ode to J. Smith only reaching No. 20 in the U.K. and No. 122 in the U.S. But with the aid of hindsight, 1999's hugely successful The Man Who is now generally regarded as a classic, making it both a benchmark and an anchor for Healy as a songwriter.
"When a record becomes famous, the band who makes it gets dragged along the ground behind it, almost like a cowboy movie when the cowboy gets shot off his horse and dragged along by it," says Healy. "It's like that. The horse is the record and you're the cowboy. And at the end of year, or however long it lasts, you see a picture of the horse sitting munching some grass, and the cowboy is just fucked. You know, [The Man Who] is still very pure to this day — kind of delicate and untouched. And people are still really affectionate towards that record, even as we've carried on all these years."
While hit singles like "Driftwood" and "Why Does It Always Rain On Me" took on anthem-like status over time, Healy has found that revisiting his older songs on this tour is helping to put things in a new perspective.
"After playing those songs for years with the band, I think playing them acoustically really brings you back to the moment," he says. "You're almost transported back to the time, sitting in your room with a four-track recorder. One memory springs to mind for the song called 'As You Are' on The Man Who. I did a demo for that on the stairs of our apartment building, because it had really good natural echo. And all the neighbors were coming up the stairs from work, climbing over me and asking me what I'm up to. I always have that nice memory of that song. A lot of times you spend the rest of your life trying to make a song as good as the demo."
While Travis has played their share of big arenas and festivals, it's that sort of staircase intimacy that Healy hopes to bring back on his acoustic journey.
"This is where songs are born and where you to get to see music in a really honest kind of light. With this tour, it's kind of like showing people pictures of yourself when you were a kid. We're going to be presenting these songs just the way they were when they were babies."