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The Last Word: Travis’ Fran Healy

Travis’s lead singer on living in Los Angeles — the inspiration behind the band’s forthcoming album L.A. Times — streetfights with strangers and the unifying power of music   

By Nick Reilly

Fran Healy (Picture: Steve Gullick)

This album, L.A. Times, is about your experiences of being based in LA. How’s it been navigating life there as a British person with an outside perspective?  

LA is like the coal miner’s canary of the world. It’s like a pressure point. If America was someone’s body, it would be where the physiotherapist would go, “Does that hurt?” because you’ve got everything going on there. A homeless crisis that you would never believe in a million years. Why can’t the richest country in the world not spend all their money on defences and help the people?  

The racism is crazy too, and so is climate change. I’ve got footage of the road where I’d take my son to school, it’s the 405 Freeway, and the whole place was on fire a few years ago! It looked like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. It’s a very interesting place to be if you’re a sensitive person like me because, for music, all of those things are like little tea leaves, and then, you know, you pour your hot water in, and it comes out as a cup of tea — and in this case it’s this album.  

And a place where sausage dogs can almost bite your hand off, as you found out…  

Oh man, yeah. I’ve had fights with dogs, fights on the streets with crazy guys. One guy told me to get out of my car and, of course, he didn’t know I’m from Glasgow. So, I got out of my car, shouted, “Come on, then!” and he did the scariest single thing that any person has ever done in a fight. He went over to his mate and took his shoes off. Look, I’m a black belt; I can handle myself, but as soon as he did that I was like, ‘Oh no, he’s an extreme fighter. He’s gonna fucking kill me!’ But I ended up taking my shades off, and then the guy just went from, like, a million degrees to normal and sort of like, “Well, just don’t do that again!” It was very cool. 

As for the sausage dog, I almost lost my guitar hand, but I got it back, thank God. [Healy’s hand was mauled by a dog he had picked up to stop it from being run over after a car crash.] I’ve been left with this Harry Potter-looking scar though. The doctor who did the operation was amazing.  

Where’s the most unexpected place you’ve heard Travis being played?  

I was at a karaoke bar in LA, but I didn’t realise it had that [song] until the night went on and I decided to get up and do ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me?’ because no one would know who I was. I did, and it was so good! I noticed a couple of people at the bar turning around and thinking, ‘He’s really in tune for an amateur performer.’  

What’s the one thing that still keeps you motivated and excited after all this time? 

A song — that’s it. Trying to write a song and then giving it a bit of time to see if it has a pulse and coming back to it later to see if that pulse has turned into a bit of a heartbeat. I really believe that everyone can write songs, and I feel it’s just a matter of patience. Maybe I speak in analogies too much, but look, a song is like one of those little tea lights that’s trying to keep a light going in a room and you have to do your best to preserve it. You get in the studio and you have to preserve this thing as best as you can and keep it as close to the original feeling it gave you, or the warmth it gave you, until it’s coming out of a speaker in someone’s car or someone comes up to you after a gig and tells you, “That song saved my life.” I absolutely love that, and I know every person in a band lives for that.  

Has there been a particularly memorable instance where a fan has told you how much your music meant to them? 

There’s been countless, but I really remember this one time in Edinburgh, and a guy came through to the backstage and he was with his daughter. She was maybe 13, and he was in his fifties or forties. He became very emotional as soon as he started talking, and he was saying how he and his daughter had never quite bonded, and he felt quite a distance between them until our band came along and he really liked our band and the daughter really liked our band. They came to the show together and enjoyed it together. That’s the best thing ever, and that’s what music is good at: bringing people together. It’s quite the unifier.  

Is there one place you’d still love to play? 

Rock in Rio. Have you seen the size of the crowds there?!

Travis’ tenth album L.A. Times arrives on July 12 and you can pre-order it here. Their UK tour kicks off in December and you can buy tickets for that here.