Travis Frontman Fran Healy On Revisiting ‘The Invisible Band’ Twenty Years Later

Scottish alternative band Travis will come to the U.S. this November for five shows in six days, starting November 4 in San Francisco and ending November 9 in Washington, DC (in between they’ll play Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York City). The tour is in support of the twentieth anniversary release of the band’s breakthrough third album, The Invisible Band. Released in June of 2001, the Nigel Godrich-produced collection, which featured the smash single “Sing,” spent four weeks atop the U.K. album chart and made the band full-on alternative stars at the time.

So the official anniversary of the album was 2021. The reason for that delay is obvious, COVID. The reason for the second delay, why the tour is not happening until November goes back to an old cliche — “No good deed goes unpunished.” As frontman Fran Healy explained to me over a recent Zoom chat, he was rescuing a dog who got loose when the dog bit him and ripped his fingers up, making it difficult for him to play guitar. Thankfully, after a surgery, both Healy, who needed the surgery, and the dog, who did not, were doing fine.

‘I spoke to Healy about the extent of the injury, revisiting the album 20 years later, songwriting and the emotional story of playing the album’s “The Humpty Dumpty Love Song” for a dying friend and why that song is now forever changed for him.

Steve Baltin: Where are you?

Fran Healy: I’m in downtown Los Angeles, and I’m in my little studio place where I try to write. But I’m having a little bit of problems at the moment playing guitar, ’cause I got bitten by a dog a few weeks ago. The story is, I was driving out of my house, and I just had come out of the house and was going down the hill in Hollywood and all these cars were jackknifed on the street and everyone was out of their car. Then suddenly, a little dog ran out and I thought, “He’s gonna get hit.” I shuffled up behind it to try and pick it up, and that’s when it ripped my hand to bits. After I went to what you call urgent care, I came and I knocked her door and checked to see if the dog was okay, and the dog was okay. So I did my civic duty and I’m happy the dog is okay too.

Baltin: Do you write typically words and music together? So are you able to put together any lyrics or no, right now you’re just in a holding pattern?

Healy: I’m on the piano a bit more. I’ve got like four fingers available so I can get by, and I’ve got this whole hand. So I’ve got nine fingers available. But just playing the guitar is almost impossible. The dog bite healed and I couldn’t get full movement back in my hand and I went to a specialist. And he’s like, “You should have full movement, we need to open you up, we need to go in, there’s probably an infection in there, and maybe damage to the tendon.” So he went in and now my finger looks like Frankenstein.

Baltin: How much of an impact will this delay actually have?

Healy: Right at this stage, it’s hard to say. ‘Cause before the operation I couldn’t play certain chords, ’cause my finger would get there and it would spring back. So he’s like, “You have to operate.” And I said, “Well, how long will it take to heal?” And he said, “One and a half to two months.” Then when he did the operation and I said, “Oh, I’ve got shows in April.” He gave me this look. And I’m like, “Whoa, really?” And he’s like, “Well, you know, it’s hard to say.” I haven’t really thought about it until you asked. But I’m just every single day doing my exercises, and this finger is getting a little bit lower every day, so we’ll see.

Baltin: How have you handled not being able to tour for years?

Healy: I made a secret wish when we were on our last tour. I said while on stage to myself, just thinking I missed my son, and I didn’t want to miss him from his fourteenth birthday ’til his sixteenth birthday. I didn’t want to miss those years ’cause I think they’re quite important, and it’s quite important to try and be there for that, but I was like “We’re going into an album, we’re gonna be touring, ah whatever.” But I wanted to be home. It was not that I didn’t want to tour, I just felt I wanted to be home, and I got my wish. And I also wished for the traffic in Los Angeles to be like Thanksgiving for at least a month, and I got that wish too, so that was good. So I think I’m gonna keep wishing for certain things, I didn’t expect there to need to be a pandemic to get my wishes come true though, that’s the only thing.

Baltin: Twenty years ago, you are a different person. When you come back and look at this album for the anniversary, how has it has changed for you, and are there songs that you really hear in a different way?

Healy: Well, here’s the thing that I’ve realized. Like this is the top layer. This bit here is me talking to you right now, then there’s little substrata’s that go there, there and then there’s one right at the bottom. And when you’re songwriting, this top layer is the person that you are at the time, meaning, I don’t have a son, just kind of different. But if you drill down and down and down into this layer, down the bottom, generally this is where I go to find melodies. You go, you shut your mind off, you try and shut everything off and let stuff bubble up from down here. So when I go back to listening to this album, I’m like, “Oh my God,” it feels like a song from that album is coming from this. I try and go to the same place every time I try and write a song. But you get songs that were mined from this strata, you get songs that were mined from this. There are like five depths, the best songs come from digging the deepest and finding the little diamond and bringing it to the surface and a little bit of gold and bringing it to the surface. So they still have that same punch that there’s a certain universality to certain songs on that record. And I write very much from what’s going on in my life at the time, but that’s more so much the lyric that you drape across the melody and the tone of it. So the melody and the tone of something tells you almost tells you the lyrics that you need to write with it, but it always begins with the melody and the tone and the emotion of the song or whatever bubbles up. So, in a long answer to your question, it feels kind of the same going back and listening to it. I’m like, “Oh my God, ‘Sing’ sounds really great.” It’s got that same feeling. Originally, this song was called Swing, and it was this feeling that you get when you’re on a swing, when you’re a child and you’re going up and backwards and forwards, and that’s what that song makes me feel. When I hear it it’s quite an uplifting song. Most bands don’t listen to the records after they’ve cut them in order, but I had to do it this time, and I got to the end and got to “The Humpty Dumpty Love Song.” And at the very end, there’s a 30-second note played by an 80-piece orchestra, and there’s something in just that. I wasn’t there when they recorded it, I was over here, actually, Nigel and the band went into the studio in London and recorded the strings for “Sing,” and for the “Humpty Dumpty Love Song,” and I think another song. And that long note at the end of the song, it just stops and I burst out crying, and I called Nigel, the producer up and we chatted and I was like, “Oh my God, I haven’t heard that song in so long and I hadn’t really, really given it much time, but it’s so beautiful.” And I thanked him again for the direction that he took it in. And so, yeah, it’s been really nice to go back and look at it all.

Baltin: Were there songs that you were surprised when you go back and listen to them, that you realize how much something you wrote in 2000 or 2001 is still so relevant to your life in 2021?

Healy: So, an interesting story as I was saying about “The Humpty Dumpty Love Song.” Now, 21 years ago, we shot a video for a song called, “Coming Around,” which was one of our singles. We shot it in Los Angeles, and the video director is a really, really good friend of mine, was a really, really good friend of mine. And his idea for the video was bringing Humpty Dumpty into the modern context. Like how would Humpty Dumpty fare in the modern world? And we shot it in LA. It’s a really good video, it’s a bit dark. It doesn’t end well, but the video director is called Ringin, and he did videos for us before that as well, and we’ve been friends forever. So that night, after I shot that video, I remember being in the room and I wrote “The Humpty Dumpty Love Song.” It all wrote itself very quickly, we went, we recorded it, and out it goes. Two weeks ago, my friend was on his deathbed in Northern Washington, and his friends had come from all over the world to be beside him. He got cancer, he’s 50. The same director, like one of my best friends, and here he is, sitting in this room and breathing his last breaths, and we spent this amazing day with him, all of his friends around him, together in the room laughing and joking, while he was on morphine. He was in a lot of pain, so he was kind of out of it, but he was there. And then his friends came up later on in the day around about eight o’clock in the evening and asked me, he was like, “Would you sing a song ust to sort of break it up a little bit?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.” It’s not something I would normally volunteer to do, but everyone gathered in the room around him, and I said to him, “Here, Ring. Here’s a song that you inspired 21 years ago,” and I played it. And suddenly I realized what the song was about. The song was about him. It suddenly made sense ’cause I’d always been like, “What is this about, what’s going on here?” And I played it and there was this really wonderful, unforgettable moment where we were all there and there was this song, and 20 years can pass before you realize, “Wow, this is what the song is about.” Maybe it’s got to do with context. I can’t explain it, but it was kind of amazing.

Baltin: When you look at the song, going back from this new experience, does it totally change the song for you forever?

Healy: Yeah, it does. It’s his song, I thought it was mine.

Baltin: As you go back and look at the anniversary of this record, are there favorite stories you’ve heard from people about what this record has meant to them?

Healy: That’s a good question. You know in Scooby-Doo where they threw the white bucket of paint over the invisible guy and he shows up, you’re like, “Oh there he is?” And in a sense that’s what a song is, to these deep emotions that everyone has that you can’t quite put into words.And when you hear a song that touches you, that explains, it’s like throwing that white paint over that feeling that you had and you see it. You’re like, “Oh my God, I can see it!” It’s like therapy, it helps you, if you can identify it, then you can just like, “Okay, you can get past it.” But if it’s invisible, you can’t, it’s like a ghost, you don’t know where it is, it’s just gonna haunt you forever. So, I think that’s the power of the song, and people over the years have come up and told me their stories about these songs that have helped me and how they’ve helped them. It really does make it all make sense where you think this is not just my song, this song belongs to lots and lots of different people. I’ll tell you this very quick story. I listened to a song called “Another Sleep Song,” by Graham Nash, religiously, almost entirely one song for a whole year. I just obsessed on this one song almost for a year. Cut to about a year after that and I was in a lobby in Manchester, and I met this guy who’s a mutual friend, and he’s like, “Hey Fran, do you know who this is?” And I looked beside me and it was this guy, and I was like, “No,” and he’s like, “It’s Graham Nash!” And I put my head down on the reception desk and then almost started crying, I turned around to Graham Nash and I said, “I have been listening to ‘Another Sleep Song,’ almost solely that one song for an entire year, and now you’re sitting right here beside me.” And he’s like, “Wow.” And one thing led to another, he was hanging a photography show in Manchester that night, and I went to see him hang the show. And his wife came up and said, “You know if you ask him, he’ll come and sing that with you on stage tonight,” and I’m like, “Ah, no… ” And anyway, I didn’t ask him, and she asked him and he ended up coming on stage and singing that song with me that night. I asked him, “What’s that song about to you?” And he said it’s about Barbra Streisand. And I was like, “What?” He says, “I visited Barbra Streisand, and she was depressed, and she was in bed, and she wasn’t doing anything, and she’d just checked out.” And he wrote this song about being awake but asleep. And I was like, “Oh, well, wow.” I don’t know whether it enhanced or diminished or whatever but it was so different from what it meant to me. It’s a great song.

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