Travis - Biography
Travis proved that nice, simple melodies have a place in alternative and mainstream circles. There were many Brit-pop groups on the scene in the late 1990’s, but few of those bands have had the staying power or possessed a frontman with the same sweetness and pathos as Travis singer, songwriter, and guitarist Fran Healy.
The band was formed in 1990 in Glasgow, Scotland by the Martyn brothers, who would leave the project in 1996. Geoff and Chris Martyn, who played keyboards and bass, respectively, originally named the group Running Red and brought in their friends guitarist Andy Dunlop and drummer Neil Primrose. After changing their name to Glass Onion (after the Beatles’ song) and losing their original vocalist, Primrose invited art student Fran Healy to audition for the spot. Healy was welcomed in as an official member in fall of 1991. In 1993, they self-released The Glass Onion EP in a limited run of 500 copies. Shortly after the release of The Glass Onion, they changed their name to Travis. The band caught their first big break when the producer Niko Bolas (Neil Young, Warren Zevon) heard Travis on Radio Scotland. Bolas took the group under his wing and made them a tighter, more convincingly realized band.
The departure of the Martyn brothers was mostly Healy's doing. After his grandfather passed away, Healy spent a week in solitude contemplating the future of Travis, which was more or less his band by now. Healy fired the Martyns and added Dougie Payne, his friend from art school, as the new bassist. Payne had little musical background, but he practiced the bass a great deal after Healy recruited him and was ready to go within a few weeks. The band relocated to London in 1996 and self-released an EP called All I Wanna Do Is Rock, which came out that fall.
The following year, recordings of the band found their way to Andy MacDonald, who used to run Go! Discs Records and was now the head of Independiente Records. MacDonald signed the band and they released their debut full-length album just months later, having completed recording in a matter of days with U2's go-to guy Steve Lillywhite. Good Feeling (1997 Epic) remains the band's most rock-oriented album to date. Strong points of the release include “All I Wanna Do is Rock,” “U16 Girls,” “Tied to the 90's,” and “Happy,” all of which scored positions on the UK charts. The album found itself in the Top 10 on the UK charts and eventually achieved Gold status, but it did not stay on the charts for long. Good Feeling was not a heavily promoted release and so it soon fell in popularity. However, critical reviews were strong and Travis earned the vocalized appreciation of Oasis' lead guitarist Noel Gallagher.
Travis quickly got back into the studio…or rather studios, as they recorded in six different locations to make their second album. They hired producer Nigel Godrich, who had recently earned a great deal of credibility for his work on Radiohead's The Bends (1995 Capitol) and OK Computer (1997 Capitol). After six months of work, The Man Who (1999 Epic) was released in 1999. The album was drastically quieter than the first, without a single straight- up rock song in the mix. The ballad “Why Does it Always Rain on Me?” was a massive hit on both sides of the pond, charting at number ten in the UK and number 35 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks. The album produced three other UK chart topping songs as well. Some mourned the loss of the band they knew on Good Feeling, but this change in style ultimately fared much better for Travis as the LP went Platinum in the UK no less than six times. It was nominated by Select Magazine for album of the year, and many other magazines ranked it in the top ten that year.
Travis spent most of 2000 touring as the supporting act for Oasis, and headlined some of their own gigs in the United States. The next year, they released The Invisible Band (2001 Sony) right before the band went on tour with British singer/songwriter Dido. Again produced by Godrich, The Invisible Band doesn't stray at all from the formula they embraced on their second album. However they did add a banjo to the mix this time around and gave a twangy grace to such songs as the album’s first single “Sing,” which charted at number 37 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and number three on the UK charts. The album showed a remarkable leap in the US charts from their last showing, reaching number 39 on the Billboard 200.
The future of the band seemed highly uncertain after Primrose suffered a near-fatal accident. While on tour in France, he dove into a shallow pool and broke his neck. Having almost lost their drummer, the group considered disbanding. However, the quick and full recovery of Primrose incited them to stick it out and they were soon back in the studio. In 2003, Tchad Blake (Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Al Green) produced Travis’ fourth album, 12 Memories (2003 Epic). This was the darkest offering Travis had put out yet, and it was certainly a turn-off for many fans. Sure, their last two records had their somber moments, but 12 Memories was overflowing with them. The lyrical content was steeped in war, domestic abuse, and, of course, broken hearts. Travis was no longer pop music's ambassadors to America (that had become Coldplay's job), but 12 Memories still had a decent showing on the US charts, peaking at number 41 on the Billboard 200. The album charted at number three on the UK charts.
In 2004, a greatest hits compilation called Singles (2004 Epic) arrived, celebrating seven years of hits for Travis. The collection also contains two new songs, "Walking in the Sun" and "The Distance.”
In 2007, the band reunited with producer Godrich for The Boy with No Name (2007 Sony). It had been nearly four years since any new material had come out, but one wouldn’t notice the time gap while listening to the new album. The sound of The Boy with No Name is very similar in style to The Man Who and The Invisible Band, with even some of the perkier traces of 12 Memories. The album earned the band mixed reviews, but they received their customary chart success. The songs on their fifth album sound as though they are played by a reinvigorated band, proof that Travis is enjoying being Travis. The Boy with No Name eventually became their second album to go Gold.
Just a year later in 2008, they released Ode to J. Smith (2008 Red Phone Box/Fontana) on their own label Red Phone Box, having split from Independiente. The album charted at number 20 in the UK and earned a place at number 28 on Q Magazine’s Readers' Best Albums of 2008. In 2010 lead singer Fran healy released his first solo record, entitled Wreckorder.