According to Travis guitarist, Andy Dunlop, making an album is akin to building a bonfire. You can pile on and arrange the kindling wood as artfully as you like, but you still need a spark to ignite it; and with a little luck, you'll get it. Multimillion-selling Scottish quartet Travis has already had a lot of luck in the U.K., scoring three Brit awards and 18 Top 40 hits. But in the U.S., it's been a tougher road to stardom with only two alternative hits: 1999's "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" and 2000's "Sing." Hopefully, after a five-year hiatus, Travis' standing stateside will increase with new album "Where You Stand" and their current U.S. tour.
Download.com caught up with Dunlop about recording music on his iPad over the U.S. tour, how fatherhood permeated the new album, his favorite apps for music- and merrymaking, and why he loathes constant connectivity.
How does it feel to be back in the U.S. for this tour?
It's been a while, but it's great. I love touring the U.S. It's a country built with big, long roads, so we're excited to tour here. When we were younger, we dreamed of coming here someday, and it's still the most jaw-dropping place to tour around because it's so vast and so exciting to tour for any band outside of America.
What have the Travis members been up to over the last five years?
For two-and-a-half years, we stepped away from the band. We went home. We all have kids and families so we spent time with them. When you're in a band, you're with each other all the time, so sometimes you need to just step away from it and go home and be inspired again.
You're now all fathers. Is fatherhood a central theme on the new album?
I feel like you end up writing about the experiences that you have and a lot of this album is about things like becoming fathers, which is a major change to our lives. When you're younger, you don't think of anything except yourself. But all of a sudden there's this new person, so you have new responsibilities and you start looking at everything as a family. You have a small person in front of you who's started a life, so you start thinking about that and being around for them, and someday you're not going to be around for them. And if anything permeated into the record, it's that.
How has the dynamic in the band changed since you've all become fathers?
The dynamic in the band is the same, because when we get together it's the same chemistry that there always was. Because we've known each other since we were young, friendship is the most important thing in the band. What was great about the time away is that we've become individual people again. When you're in a band for that many years, you get mashed together so long that you lose your sense of identity. You lose your sense of personality sometimes. When the band got together, we were four individual people; and in that time away we got that back and were able to bring it to the band.
Singer Fran Healy has since come out about battling depression a decade ago -- a subject explored on 2003's "12 Memories." How did the band overcome that?
If anything, music is the best therapy for these kinds of things. You can get it out through music. It's the best way to deal with it: get it out and talk about it through music. When you're in a band, if anyone feels bad, a problem shared, is a problem halved.
So let's switch gears for a moment. Since there's seemingly no problem that technology can't solve, which devices do you own?
I have all the Mac devices. My MacBook at home only gets switched on for Logic. It exists purely for me to write songs and make music. I don't even go on the Internet. Then I have iPhones and iPads and they're great.
My thing with computers is that I like the technology. I'm not so into the connectivity, which I don't find so many uses for, but the actual instruments are amazing. I love the fact, that while driving over to an interview, I can make music on my iPad just to pass the time away. I think it's a miracle that I can make music on a tiny, little screen. And I've got all the music apps. I've got Keyboard, I've got all the recording apps -- apps to make drum loops. I love the technology and that even on my iPhones I can play keyboards. It's still a magical thing to me that I can do that. We were backstage at a festival and someone started playing something on the keyboard of a laptop and it turned into a whole impromptu jam session on iPhones, iPads, and laptops. It was a really magical moment, because it became this game of what you can do now.
Which apps do you use most?
A great one that I've had for ages is MorphWiz. It's like a little keyboard and you can scan your thumb across it and play the notes between the notes. It's brilliant. I like Thor Polysonic Synthesizer, which is great for little beats and things. And GarageBand on the iPad is brilliant. To drop in an idea, it's brilliant in terms of a sketchbook. For fun, I like the djay app, where you can spin some songs before the shows.
Earlier you said, you're not into the connectivity factor of your devices. So I'm assuming you're not a big social media person?
You know, I'll do it occasionally, but the constant noise is too much. If I've got something to say, I'll tweet it and Twitter is fine, but I just find people blah, blah, blah all the time with nothing to say. If you were standing in front of me and saying that, I wouldn't be interested, so why should I read it here?
Everyone tweets what they're having for breakfast and they think people are interested. Occasionally if I'm going to do something interesting, I'll say it. But some people are constantly connected and I think it's quite dull. I think what you can do with computers is amazing, and that it's brought the world so much, but I don't think the Internet, itself, has pushed us that far forward. Those things can be done without it. It makes it quicker and easier, whereas the computer is not something we could do without. The positives I get from these things are more from what you have on the device than telling people what you had for breakfast.
Being a member of a Scottish band, are you familiar with Scottish apps? Through research I uncovered that some of the top Scottish apps are the heritage-tracing The Scottish Clans, the mic-blowing Air Pipes, and the self-explanatory Scotch Hunter app. Which of these three interests you most?
I'm going for the best scotch. That is the one I would choose. I was at the airport the other day, and there was a guy playing bagpipes, and it was like, "Please be quiet." You have to be at the right place at the right time. When you're in Scotland, you see them everywhere now, and you want to say, "No, please shut up."
With Travis, there was so much success in the U.K., but not as much stateside. Do you predict that the new album will finally break the band in the U.S., in a more major way?
You know what? I don't know, because the thing about being in a band, in Britain, is you need a little bit of luck sometimes. When you make records, it's like building the most beautiful bonfire. You find the best wood and you make it beautiful, assembling it as beautifully as you can. But you need a start and you can't do it, yourself. But once it's going, it's off. In America, maybe that little bit of luck hasn't happened. But it's almost nice being a cult band.
Especially, sitting in a rehearsal, last week, when we were tailoring sets to America, we knew that people who come along know every song of ours, because they're passionate fans and come because they want to be there and love every inch of the band; so you can put in little, obscure tracks and know that they'll know them -- and there's something very special about that. That's another special thing about playing America.
Check out the new video for title track, "Where You Stand," here: