Fran Healy [lead vocals, guitar, piano, banjo]
Dougie Payne [bass, backing vocals]
Andy Dunlop [lead guitar, banjo, backing vocals]
Neil Primrose [drums]
By Pete Paphides
“There’s a song on our record called Butterflies. And that’s really how I think about songwriting. These things are floating around. And you have to be very quiet, and be very quick, and be very respectful. You catch them, you look at them for a little while, and then you set them free again. And that’s the whole point of songs. That’s the point of songwriting.”
At the centre of the relationship between a songwriter and their songs sits a paradox that can never be resolved. There are songs that you work hard to get right, but more often than not the ones which make the strongest connection are the ones for which you never feel you can take responsibility. They merely fluttered into your life, just long enough for you to record them for posterity and give them a name. Twenty-five years since the four members of Travis – Fran Healy, Andy Dunlop, Dougie Payne, Neil Primrose – first set foot in a Glaswegian rehearsal room, frontman Fran has been steadfast in his pursuit of that simple euphoria that takes hold when you alight upon an unclaimed melody.
It doesn’t get especially easier, but once you’ve got the appetite for it, you never lose the hunger. At various points along the trajectory between then and now, Travis have sold millions of albums (just under three million of The Man Who in the UK alone); they’ve been the subject of an award-winning feature length documentary (Almost Fashionable) and Fran has elicited acclaim from Paul McCartney, Elton John and Graham Nash – all songwriters whose ability to divine a timeless melody out of thin air has sustained them through the decades.
When Fran Healy says that these songs “have a pulse”, I only need to hear them to know exactly what he means. Some albums have a presence which extends beyond the sum of their constituent parts. And so, it’s not surprising to learn that the sessions for this record, at RAK Studios in North-West London as 2019 turned into 2020 proceeded at a brisk tempo. ’10 Songs’ is an album that holds you in its own emotional microclimate at the outset and keeps you there. I can say the same thing about a lot of my favourite albums. Perhaps you can too.
It’s also a grown-up record. It’s a grown-up record in the way that mid-life records by Paul Simon, ABBA and Fleetwood Mac once sounded to me when I was some way off reaching that point in my own life.
’10 Songs’ is a record about the way life comes at love and what love does to weather those challenges. “This is no rehearsal/This is the take,” sings Fran at the beginning of Waving At The Window, over an insistent piano hook, “Promises you once kept/Are going to break
No creative action is truly accidental and I would suggest that the act of calling your ninth album ’10 Songs’ is an acknowledgement – if only to yourself – that every track on this album carries an even load. No passengers here. Nowhere to hide. “I write songs in an antiquated way,” explains their creator, “Sitting at the bottom of the bed, ‘pouring my simple sorrow to the sound hole and my knee’, as Joni Mitchell put it.” As a songwriter based in L.A., Fran Healy doesn’t need anyone to tell him this is no longer how it’s done. It’s far from uncommon for the credits on successful modern pop songs to feature upwards of ten writers. Hits by committee. “It’s fine,” notes Fran, “Personally though, I’ll take ten songs written by one person over one song written by ten people. And if I feel that way, then surely someone else must do too.”