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Interview: Neil Primrose and Andy Dunlop of Travis

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It was a warm enough day to forgo inside restrictions, and chat outside with Andy Dunlop and Neil Primrose from the band, Travis. The wind, at times lost its ability to control itself, trying its best to upstage the interview. Maybe it felt the need to audition as an unconventional instrument for the rest of their tour. Regardless, it was a pleasure stealing some of their time before their show at The Gothic Theater in Englewood, Colorado. I was feeling like a superhero to my sister, who has admired Travis since their beginnings, and couldn’t contain her excitement that I’d be sharing time with two of the members.

Where were you before today? What city did you come from?

Dunlop: Salt Lake City. We haven’t played there for 11 years. The last time we played there was the first time we came to America, so we didn’t know what to expect. It was great. Good night.

Have you been to Denver before?

Primrose: Yeah, a couple of times.

Dunlop: A theater last time as well. The last time we were here, we were at Red Rocks (Morrison, CO) to see Neil Young.

How are you as fans? Who do you get excited about?

Primrose: Usually, most of the stuff we go out and see, we are big fans of. What we like and we know what we like. We often get impressed. It’s good to see other music. If you’re in a band and touring, it’s a refreshment to see someone else doing it.

Do you find you are critical of what you see?

Primrose: You know it happens where you think there’s always something you can do better but you just make the best of what you got and put on the best show.

Dunlop: There’s things–like anytime you see a show–there’s things you don’t like. But I think you try and switch off from seeing the technical aspects of it. You just want to enjoy it. Doing music, you’ve really got to try hard not to spoil the music because once you know all the tricks–once you know how all the magic tricks are done–you still have to go and see magic tricks to suspend disbelief and just enjoy it.

That’s a great way to put it. What is the lineage of Travis? Where does the name come from?

Dunlop: Travis was from Paris, Texas (1984 film directed by Wim Wenders). A lot of people thought it was from (the movie) Taxi Driver but the character in Paris, Texas was where we took the name from (Travis Henderson played by Harry Dean Stanton). One, we liked the name and two, it was a cool character. He doesn’t say anything for the first half of the film. He’s real quiet and then once he starts talking he can’t stop. We were quiet for so long just getting together, getting ready becoming a band.

Primrose: We’re a big fan of movies as well. Cinema is quite an important influence on us. Music and cinema.

You were in Son of Rambow. What was that experience like?

Dunlop: It was a long, long day. I mean, you know it from doing videos that it takes a long time to shoot a very little amount of film. We’d done a video with [film director] Garth (for their song, “Driftwood”), who directed it. We were teachers and he thought it’d be nice to get us dressed up the same as in the video. So, it was kind of nice. It was a long day sitting about. Everyone had to smoke because it was meant to be the ’70’s I think. Meant to be authentic sort of teachers room. All the teachers in those days smoked, so there were lots of fake cigarettes and things like that. Stage cigarettes.

Have you watched the film?

Dunlop: Yeah, we’ve seen it once it came out. It’s a great film. As you can tell, it was done by someone who means it.

Just thinking about your “Driftwood” video, which is so beautifully shot. What is the process like for creating a concept?

Dunlop: You put a song out there and you get people to make treatments for you. It’s kind of weird because you can take a song in any direction. We’ve had ones that are funny. We’ve had ones that are serious.

Primrose: We’ve had a couple of shit ones as well.

It’s the illustrations for a song, right?

Dunlop: “Driftwood” was great. It was really quite fun to do as well. There were a few that were fun. But there were some that were a bit torturous. So it wasn’t great. (Laughs)

You are known for your eclectic covers of songs. From AC/DC to Britney Spears. Do you have a process of choosing what songs you want to cover?

Primrose: It usually happens by accident. Either we listen to something on the bus and think, this will be great to play. With Britney, it was a total accident. Fran (Healy, lead singer of Travis) had learned the chords just because he was fascinated by the cyclical nature of the song. It’s the same chords that just go again and again and again. Then the vocalization changes a little bit. So it’s kind of like, when you play it at a different level with an acoustic guitar it was actually a really good song. You know, I think some people stop listening because it’s pop music. But you know, these songs are written just as beautiful as any other songs.

You have collaborated with a number of artists. Can you give a backstory on how any of those collisions came about?

Dunlop: There’s never been any sort of master plan, thinking oh, we’ve got to work with them. You just tend to bump into people and think, it would be great to do something together. Like, Nigel Godrich, we just bumped into him at a benefit. We are big, massive fans of all his work and we just said, we’d like to work with you.

You have been a band for a number of years. Six studio albums. There is quite a lot of history there. What is the next direction you’d like to turn to? Have you reached your peak?

Dunlop: Not at all. You’d give up if you thought that. You’d stop. You’ve got to keep it interesting?

How?

Dunlop: Changing it. Changing the way you do things. Changing the way you listen to things or approach things. The last record came to us really quickly. It was two weeks in the studio because the album before that took a long time.

How would you say the sound of this album differs from your first or previous ones?

Dunlop: It’s always changing. It’s like looking to my mother, and say has my face changed? You just grow from day to day. It’s taking a picture of you in a certain time.

Two weeks seems like such a short amount of time to record an entire album.

Primrose: At the time, we were having such a good time that every day was productive and great fun. When it was done, we said, all right, okay. That may not be the new direction we’re going in but we’ve discovered that after going through that process, spending years making albums, we’ve come together. We get better and tighter. We like tape. We’ve done the computer thing that bands still do, and yeah, it’s a useful tool, but the performance of the sound of tape is far superior when you get it right and that’s what we really enjoy.

Dunlop: And typically it only takes 30 minutes to record an album. I think what happens is radio says it’s got to sound like this or that and then someone has to spend hours making it sound a certain way.

I’m always curious what comes first, the lyrics or the instrumentation?

Dunlop: It all comes together. Sometimes there will be snippets of things, sometimes a couple of chords. Sometimes it comes out as words or you say something and think, no. it can come from anywhere and I think if you try and tie it down too much then you paint yourself into a corner. You’ve got to leave as many doors open as possible to let ideas come out. As soon as you say, this is the way I work, you’ve got one door shut off. Inspiration is pretty random, it’s not like you’ve got a button to press and then you’re inspired.

That’s true. Any odd places that you’ve found some of that inspiration?

Dunlop: We recorded the fourth album in the west coast of Scotland in the most deserted place you’ve ever seen. It was the most inspirational place to be.

Primrose: Yeah, it was beautiful. But then, at the same time, I don’t think we’d do that again. If something comes along, that’s the road you go down. To go back to something you’ve done before can be disappointing.

Dunlop: As you say, keep it interesting. We record in rooms; we record in studios. If you did it the same every time, you’d probably end up with the same result. It’d be boring for us, it’d be boring for other people. There will always be people who say, oh, why doesn’t your new album sound like The Man Who? If we kept trying to make that, it would be useless. It would be pointless. So, you’ve got to keep it interesting.

Which you do. Do you have a favorite fan story? You’ll be playing live in a few hours, which is the best way to connect.

Dunlop: We’ve seen a few tattoos in our time.

Oh, really?

Dunlop: Yeah, especially Americans.

We are very dedicated people.

Dunlop: Yeah. So, quite a few tattoos. For them, it’s a passion as much as it is for us.

Do you get close to the fans?

Dunlop: Yeah, we all read our message board and things like that. Last night, people were out standing in the rain. So yeah, you do your stuff and it’s nice to touch base with people. They go and tell you what it means to them. Sometimes, it can be really touching. There’s a lot of people who have told us very touching things about the songs helping them through something.

That’s a great thing to hear. To feel the impact of your words and music.

Dunlop: We get so emotionally involved in making it that it’s kind of hard to distance yourself from what it might mean to someone else. I can’t listen to a Travis song the way someone else could. For me, I’m sort of caught up in the process.

Makes sense. You hear the memories or moments of the creation process.

Dunlop: As an artist, you tend to look at whatever you’re doing from one hundred and eighty degrees because you’re behind it, making it. And then as soon as you put it in front of an audience, it becomes 360 degrees because they’re looking at it from another side. And it gives you a different perspective on it. As soon as you play it in front of someone, you start to look at it from their side and that’s invaluable.

Do you have a favorite thing here about being the States?

Dunlop: It’s been long drives. It’s great to see the roads. It’s so different. You go from one state to another and it’s completely different. You can’t treat it like a separate country. It’s like saying Europe is a single country. There are so many different places. Touring America doesn’t feel like touring one country.

Is there a city that you’re fond of?

Primrose: I really like–recently in the past few years–Chicago. I like Portland.

Dunlop: Austin’s always good.

Primose: Austin’s good, yeah. We’ve not really done much of Louisiana and Tennessee. Nashville. We’d love to spend time there. Record there, maybe.

Dunlop: Upstate New York is where we did our first album and that was great.

Primrose: We’ve done west coast, east coast. We’ve done that a lot and we know it very well. So, it’s nice when you go somewhere different.

by Aimee Herman

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