Travis, the boy with no name and “The Boy With No Name”

Billboard — Travis is a band that likes its mystery, which is the first of two reasons that singer Fran Healy named the Brit-rockers’ fifth album “The Boy With No Name.” The second is that the record is named for his new son, who, for nearly a month, quite literally had no name.

“Not for about three or four weeks (after he was born),” Healy said. “At some point I sent an e-mail to a friend with a photograph and I called it ‘The Boy With No Name.’ Months later, I was looking for another e-mail, and I saw that one, and I thought, ‘Brilliant!'”

In addition to sounding cool, Healy said, the title of the record, due May 8 via Epic, fit into an accidental style the band has developed. “With ‘The Man Who’ and “The Invisible Band,’ (our titles) have this mysterious aspect to them. We like the anonymity of it anyway. We quite like to be small in the artwork, and just hide in the music.”

Coldplay may be the face of sweeping, swooning British rock over here, but Travis predated Mr. Paltrow and company by a good four years and, in essence, helped make the world quite safe for the arrival of grand, verdant British rock with a heavy emphasis on thick melody, frequent piano and a tendency to write choruses that sound fantastic over deeply emotional scenes on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Travis’ debut, “Good Feeling,” was released in 1997, and the breakthrough “The Man Who” came out in 1999; press materials enjoy pointing out that “The Man Who” was purchased by one in eight British households. For his part, it should also be noted that Chris Martin said earlier this year that Travis more or less invented Coldplay.

But as his band prepares to make a grand re-entry into the sprawling and lucrative British music scene, Healy seems unusually calm and readied. “The pages of the diary are filled with equal amounts of trepidation and excitement,” said Healy from his London home, the titular son (eventually named Clay) making cameos in the background.

In fact, The Real Boy With No Name appeared during a four-year gap between the new record and its predecessor, 2003’s “12 Memories.” Healy said the hiatus was absolutely, entirely by design. “It just felt that sometimes one has to go away into the wilderness to find oneself again, the whole 40-days-and-40-nights thing,” he said. “It’s been a brilliant time for us. We’ve all had a lot of life to do. Babies were made, and we got to wake up in the same bed every day for a while.”

The band didn’t stay dormant during that downtime; they began screwing around in the studio on “Boy” material, first with Brian Eno, then with co-producer Nigel Godrich. They didn’t keep up the strictest of schedules. “Two weeks in the studio, three months off, two weeks in, four months off,” said Healy of the leisurely pace suited the band’s ambitions. “The most important thing is that we’ve had time to wrestle with the songs we’d written. The best test you could ever give a song is coming back to it a year after you’ve recorded it, and finding that it’s still fresh.” The sessions were fruitful, too — the band ended up with around 40 tracks, some of which they’re keeping in pocket for the next record.

“It was very unusual,” Healy admits. “The only time you have that in your career is just before you get a record deal. But if you’re a proper songwriting band, it’s wise, if you can, to chill out and have a sabbatical and recharge your batteries. Songs are the currency of the business, and if you write your own songs, it can take a long while. I think everyone needs to take a break,” he said, adding with a laugh, “Britney really needs to take a break!”

Whatever the reasons — the time off, the baby, the recharge — the vibe is tangible. Where “12 Memories” was darker, “The Boy With No Name” is a, sunnier proposition that, while hardly rewriting the Travis playbook, includes some Iggy Pop bounce (“Selfish Jean,” which is not about Richard Dawkins), a dedication to Healy’s son (“My Eyes”) and an appropriately airborne first single (“Closer”).

Healy said that such relative optimism wasn’t by design, but just the next step in his songwriting process. “All of our records are really good ways to sort of mark my life. ‘The Man Who’ was a breakup record, back when I was getting chucked by my girlfriend. ‘Invisible Band’ was more finding someone new, a new love in my life. ’12 Memories’ was a dark affair, cleaning out the closet. So I guess maybe this one’s connected to a new beginning,” he said, adding with a laugh, “But there’s always a slight dark cloud on the horizon, isn’t there? Every silver lining has a cloud.”

About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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