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Travis interview

| May 30, 2007 | 0 Comments

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It was something new, all right. Bravely, boldly, with no sound-system assistance, Healy began to strum and sing “Flowers In The Window,” one of the optimistic Travis chestnuts featured on the recent Singles showcase. And there was silence in the hall — dead, hear-a-pin-drop silence. Fans watched reverently, almost awestruck as their hero commanded that huge, echoey hall on willpower and talent alone. And then went wild with applause when he succeeded. It was truly a remarkable moment, a brief glimpse of a star stripping away all his techno-trappngs and simply communicating with his listenership. But Healy wasn’t finished with his experiments.

Appearing: July 21 at Vic Theatre in Chicago.

For the show-closing signature anthem “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?,” he carefully instructed everyone to pogo, bounce straight up and down on cue for the track’s crescendo. They happily obliged. A sight that — when viewed from the nightclub’s balcony — appeared quite surreal, indeed. Like a giant jellyfish undulating just beneath the waves.

“Hey — I just wanted to have a little fun with the folks,” Healy explains afterward, holding court in his upstairs dressing room. “I knew I was taking some chances, but I think it actually worked.” But Travis folks, he added, have come to expect something different from the group, a more elevated artistic take on traditional Britpop — a movement the 12-year-old group rode to prominence and later outlasted. Backstage with him is his longtime interview/songwriting sidekick, bassist Dougie Payne, whose wife — the brilliant Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald — was along for the West Coast ride. The couple keeps to itself, leaving Healy alone again, naturally, to discuss the latest Travis treatise, The Boy With No Name, on Epic. But before he gets to that, there are a few older issues he wants to tackle first. Namely, their last Gothically-grim studio set, ’03’s daunting 12 Memories.

Yes, the 33-year-old Healy admits, with the sing-song Boy, “We’re back to doing the Travis thing that people know us for — being very heartfelt and warm.” And he’s feeling happier than ever; a year ago, he and wife Nora became proud parents of a baby boy, Clay, spurring adoring new anthems like “My Eyes.” The politics that once overwhelmed his life — and recent songwriting — have faded into insignificance, to the point where he now believes “any more of your Live-8s and your la-la-las won’t have any effect on people — it’s time for someone, somewhere, a great leader to come along and shake everything up and make it change. And it has to be political, because pop stars can only do so much. And more than that, people can only do so much.”

But how did the artist arrive at this greater clarity? Therein hangs the tortured tale. Before the recording of 12 Memories — and sinister singles like the abuse-themed “Re-Offender” and the anti-war “Beautiful Occupation” — Healy remembers feeling down. “I mean really down,” he clarifies. “So all those songs reflect a really dark period of my life, the band’s life, and they also echoed the dark period the world was having at that point. And I love that record because of that.” Still, as a document, there was much about it that he simply couldn’t disclose at the time.

“As in, 12 Memories was about going into therapy,” the frontman explains. “I didn’t ever mention it at the time, but 12 Memories was the therapy sessions — it was private. I was feeling really bad, and I had three months of therapy because I didn’t wanna take any drugs to get myself out of feeling bad. So I went about 10 times to this hypnotherapist, and you went back and fixed your memories. So that’s where the title of the album came from, and each song on it is a reference to a certain memory I wanted to address. It was a concept record, but a concept which I wasn’t particularly comfortable talking about. But having done that,” he sighs, “I feel much more purged.”

Did the therapist give Healy skills he could continue to use throughout his life? “She did,” he says. “But I’m very boring, kinda working-class about it. I will confide in everyone — I’m the biggest blab. But my thing about going into therapy was, What if I fix what’s wrong with me and I can’t write songs anymore, because I’ve fixed the thing that makes me write songs? And I was 29-years old, feeling really shitty, and we were living in the shadow of the world falling to bits. And these songs were coming out of me that were pretty dark. And people might’ve thought that we were one thing, but every album of Travis is always about that moment. So this was an album of all dark moments and not a lot of sunshine.”

Helping to part those pendulous clouds, of course, was fatherhood. “I was always afraid of becoming a dad because my own father was such a casualty, and he’s now dead — my father died a year ago,” reports Healy, with an almost clinical coldness. For years, he’d been estranged from his parent (the subject of “Re-Offender”). Ergo, he says he literally felt nothing when he got the news. “I hadn’t seen my dad for ages, and it made me feel sad simply because he was my father, and you should feel sad. But I was more upset about the fact that I didn’t have a relationship to feel sad about, ya know? So when Clay was born, he was like an angel — he’s a beautiful little guy, really cool and calm. And when music gets played, he gets very serious, he doesn’t bop around. I’m dancing around, doing all this stuff, and he just sits there, not moving, not even twitching. Music makes him focus.”

In advance, friends warned Healy how fatherhood would change his life, give him a whole new roster of grown-up responsiblities — not exactly the ideal situation for a perpetually adolescent rock ‘n’ roller. “But when I had my child, I realized that I’d been a father already for 10 years,” he counters, pausing before unleashing the punch line. “In this band! I mean, just looking after Dougie alone is serious business, with his nappy-changing and all that stuff. But it did make me realize I’d been a dad.” He runs a hand through his short brown hair, now slightly greying at the temples. “I’ve got my salt-and-pepper happening there, but it feels good, man. I feel older and wiser.”

— Tom Lanham

To find out how much wiser, grab the June issue of Illinois Entertainer, available throughout Chicagoland.

Category: Features, Monthly

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