WITH their seemingly never-ending stream of hits in the late Nineties and early Noughties, Travis were one of the biggest bands in Europe.
Festivals all over the continent were defined by crowds singing along to the likes of Why Does It Always Rain On Me and Driftwood, while the albums from which those songs came, 1999’s The Man Who and 2001’s The Invisible Band, sold almost four million copies between them.
In the pre-Coldplay world, Travis were kings. A few more albums followed, then - suddenly - nothing. The group who’d named their third album The Invisible Band, because they felt their songs were famous, not them, disappeared without fanfare.
As they prepare to return to the Capital - they play the Picture House on Lothian Road, on Saturday - frontman Fran Healy explains, “We toured the last record, An Ode To J Smith, for two years, and then all went our separate ways. We did it so we could hang out with our families and our kids.”
He points out that since he, Andy Dunlop and Neil Primrose formed Travis in 1990 (bassist Dougie Payne joined in 1994), they’d spent virtually every day together.
“It’s like you become a quarter of yourself, or take on a quarter of the other three’s personalities,” he recalls.
“These past two-and-a-half years, we all caught up with ourselves, so when we did come back together, we needed to get to know each other again.
“We had to spend time catching up with the people we hadn’t been able to become when we were in the band together.”
A lot has changed since An Ode To J Smith. Healy and his family moved to Berlin, and all four band members are now proud parents.
“When we formed,” says Healy, “we’d all been to art school, apart from Neil, but we all knew each other. We had lots in common and were very close. Now we’re all fathers and that’s given us something else.
“It’s funny to have that length of time with people, where you have art school and being teenagers in common, and then years later you have fatherhood.”
For Healy, much of the break was spent doing nothing but looking after his seven-year-old son, Clay, “being a taxi service”.
Though he did release a solo album in 2010 called Wreckorder and performed a short tour to go with it. “I had the songs and I knew they wouldn’t go on a Travis album,” he says of the venture.
Dunlop, meanwhile, used his time to learn about classical music and musical theory, Primrose continued to race cars (“he just loves driving,” says Healy, adding that the band’s drummer would get a job as a UPS driver if the vans were fast enough).
Meanwhile, Payne looked after his kids and travelled back and forth from Scotland to New York while his wife, actress Kelly Macdonald, filmed the gangster epic Boardwalk Empire.
“None of us saw each other in the time off. We’ve spent so much time together, it’s OK not to. I mean, we’re married to each other, but we’re also married to real people, that we can kiss and hold hands with and stuff,” adds Healy, smiling.
He says they didn’t really sit down to talk about taking a break - it just seemed a natural step.
On stage in London earlier this year, at a tiny gig for their friends, fan club and family, Healy talked of Travis’s extended holiday and said: “What’s the point of being in a band as big as Travis if you can’t have a break? What’s it all for?”
He ruminates on the same theme today, explaining his theories on rock widows and orphans, those left behind when a band goes off to tour the world. He also thanks his family for helping keep his head screwed on, meaning there was never a doubt in his mind what was top of his priority list.
“There’s part of Travis that’s always had our back to the record business, not in a two-fingers up kind of way, but we’ve never been fashionable, so in a sense we can do what we want,” he adds.
While so much has changed since Travis withdrew from the spotlight, Healy reckons some things are exactly the same.
“It feels like it did in 1996, when we were coming to London for the first time to write songs, at the height of Britpop,” he says. “We’d written in quite a solitary place, conserving energy and we were ready to go.
“It’s a bit like that now. We’ve recharged, refuelled, and we’re ready to go again.”
Travis, Picture House, Lothian Road, Saturday, 7pm, returns only.
• Travis are Fran Healy, Andy Dunlop, Dougie Payne and Neil Primrose.
• They formed in 1990, although Payne didn’t join until 1994.
• They released their debut Good Feeling in 1997. The Man Who, often mistaken for their first album, is actually their second and was the UK’s biggest-selling album in 1999.
• Fran Healy’s 2010 solo album, Wreckorder, featured Paul McCartney playing bass on As It Comes.
• The band are named after Harry Dean Stanton’s character Travis Henderson in cult 1984 film Paris, Texas.