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Almost Fashionable, a portrait of the moment: interview with Fran Healy

By: Francisco Alanís @sopitas
Francisco Alanís ‘Sopitas’ is a very lucky guy. Lover of music, sports and popular culture. With 20 years of experience in various media, you can currently listen to him in Así Las Cosas in W Radio and of course, read it in Sopitas.com.

Formed in 1990 in Scotland by Fran Healy, Andy Dunlop, Dougie Payne and Neil Primrose, Travis is one of the most important British rock bands with the most impact today. After releasing eight albums since 1997, their leader and vocalist Fran Healy decided to have a second foray into the cinema directing a documentary of his band: Almost Fashionable, a Film about Travis (2018), which will be released in Mexico at the 16th Morelia International Film Festival (FICM).

In an interview with Francisco Alanis, founder and director of Sopitas.com, for FICM, Fran Healy talks about the importance of portraying the moments so that they last, the critics and how the idea of looking for a music journalist who was not a fan of Travis to give life to the documentary.

Almost Fashionable, un retrato del momento: entrevista a Fran Healy

Almost Fashionable, a portrait of the moment: interview with Fran Healy.

Francisco Alanis: Why would you want to make a movie about Travis right now?

Fran Healy: Like I said at the beginning of the documentary, we’ve been together for twenty… twenty… a long long long long time. And in 2016, we were having this really funny –it was like a renaissance. We’re bringing out a record, we brought out everything at once: this album, we made a movie with it. We always get on really well but, it felt like we were getting on really, really well and I thought it would be nice to take a picture of us. Because you have to make a record of things that are special. At the time, I’d been getting more into filmmaking and I had a really great director of photography. I had an amazing editor. I’ve got a good team. I’ve got my band, which is Travis, but I’ve also got this other band that I put together that is amazing. Especially the editor, Sarah Iben, who is just incredibly talented. There were sometimes a bunch of reasons but mostly to take a picture of the band. I think it’s important, when something’s special, to record it. To make a recording of it.

FA: When did you decide that the best way to talk about the band was with Wyndham Wallace?

FH: Well, I met Wyndham in Berlin many years ago. A couple of years before we made this. The first thing he said to me when he met me was, “Hi, aren’t you that guy from that band Travis?” I said, yes. He’s like, “Well, I’m not a fan of your band. I just wanted to tell you that straight off the bat.” I thought that was quite a funny way to open a conversation. He was an acquaintance, I knew he wasn’t a fan, and I thought it would be a nice angle to make it more interesting for the story to be told from that perspective rather than the perspective of someone who is a fan. And I think some who is not a fan… I think you get a much funnier film because it’s a discovery. Cause I think that there must be something wrong with you if you don’t like Travis.

I was looking forward to his journey, you know, his arc. Because as soon as you get to know the band and actually look at it for more than five minutes you realize, “Oh my God! This isn’t what I thought it was”. Cause, I knew he had this kind of received wisdom as it were, about the band and yeah, it was kind of a calculated risk, but I think it made for a much more interesting documentary to bring someone who was, cynical, shall we say?

FA: It’s like a music appreciation documentary. There’s this line at the end of the documentary where Wyndham says something about, “I’ve trying to be a critic for so long, that I forgot to be a fan.” And nowadays when everybody has a way to express their opinion through social media, I think most of all, we forgot to enjoy the things.

FH: Yeah, yeah. Everyone’s got an opinion. Now. I think critics or any job you do in the arts, if you are only outside of it, to begin with, and then you’re on the other side of the fence, whether it’s as a band, or as an actor, or a director, or journalist, a critic, when you go to the other side, when it becomes your job, then it becomes this other thing. You see behind the screen and you know all the tricks and you know everything and so it’s hard not to lose a little bit of your wonder and your awe. But I think, for Wyndham I think, it was a really, quite a big moment for him. Because I think critics really, maybe more and more than bands, maybe are fans. A lot of critics, I think, maybe wanted to be in a band and didn’t get a chance to. Their bands didn’t get a record deal and they are just so determined to be part of the fabric of the music industry that. “Oh, then I’ll write about it!” And then they start writing about it and then they stop being fans.

The documentary is about us, sure, but it is also a very pleasant look to the critics. I think they get a really bad stick, you know? Critics. Because it’s like, “yeah whatever”. Especially now because of Twitter. Everyone’s a critic and journalists are getting really pummeled so I think, if anything, it makes critics look good.

FA: When you showed the making of a band in its early years and, I wonder, how difficult was it for you to get all the material and of course, to select what could work and what should be left out of the documentary.

FH: The most important person in this whole documentary was the editor. You know, when you make a documentary… I think when you’re making a film, as I’m learning as I go, I mean this is the second sort of big thing that I’ve made in, you know, film-wise. And every single time the editor is the person who is like Nigel Godrich. It’s the person who has the final cut, you know? He has the final smoke. The director has the final say but the engineer, the person who makes it sound the way it sounds or move the way it moves, aim to tell us the story and then, as a director you sit and you say, “No, that’s not quite right” or, “This is maybe a bit too..” or “We need to try something else”, but the editor is the person who sits there every single day for a year and a half and starts with nothing and puts it all together from eighty hours of footage. And there’s a lot to choose from, so eighty hours down to one hour. It’s like, wow! And that’s why it takes so long. So yeah, we were all lucky enough to have recorded a ton of stuff, you know? Home videos right when we started. And we were… Yeah, it was hard to choose what we wanted to use but I think in the end it became obvious because you have to eventually, you begin to let the story emerges from the footage. It starts… In the beginning, it’s very hard but as soon as you start to get the story then it starts to be easier to say, “Oh, we need this” or “We need that.” The thing that was hardest of all, from my perspective, cause it’s a very small production. Literally, it’s me and an editor doing everything, was all of the actual production work. You know? The calling of the BBC and saying, “I need that piece of footage”, and “Can you get me that piece of footage?” “How do I choose that?” And it’s like, it’s lots of money and then you have to negotiate. And then, “No, we don’t negotiate with the BBC.” Oh, right. Okay. So, I guess I’ll have to pay you. Like, every single tiny piece of footage had to be negotiated and I like, I am shit doing that. I’m good at it now but my god, it takes a long time to source even like photographs. Even if it’s on the screen for two seconds. You know, there’s artwork for Radiohead and Oasis and, and flashes up for literally, two seconds -had to pay for that!

FA: Is there any particular video that surprised you or that reminded you of a special moment or a special place?

FH: Yeah, it’s actually when we’re in Abbey Road and we didn’t use this particular piece of film, it’s not in the documentary, but it’s part of that few days that we spent in Abbey Road, and it’s the moment where our record company guy, Andy Macdonald, set up everything. We were in Abbey Road, but we were in Studio B, we weren’t in The Beatles room, and so he organized us to be in the Beatles room and there’s a really nice piece of footage of us: me and Dougie, walking into Abbey Road, like smoking cigarettes. It’s so funny like we are smoking in Abbey Road before all the smoking bans. We were smoking like chimneys, walking up being all like rock stars, trying to be cool, and then we go into the room that we thought we were in, and we’re in the corridor, cause he’s filming, the guy’s filming us in the corridor, and he’s like, “No, no it’s this way.” And we go across and walk into this other room and we’re like, oh. And there’s a window in the corner and we walk over, inspect it, and he’s filming us. And then the penny drops that we’re in the Beatles room. We’re in the control room and the live room where The Beatles recorded and its, a reaction. We go from trying to be all cool rock stars to just being like twelve years old and going, “Oh my God!” It’s very funny. Pretty cool.

FA: And I can imagine that when you saw the documentary for the first time after it was finished, I am sure that there must be a special feeling to see all you’ve achieved as a band, all the work. To see that your music is still relevant for a lot of people around the world. 

FH: Yeah, absolutely. I think when you are in a band you are sort of, you just want to write. I always wanted to write songs that meant something to me, and then, if you get lucky you get to have it as your job. Then if you are a little bit luckier, people get to hear you on the radio. And if you are really lucky. Like really, really lucky, a lot of people get to hear it on the radio, not just in your country but all over the world. And that happened to us over like three records, yeah, definitely, or four records, we had a very, very huge exposure and these songs really touched a lot of people. And this doesn’t happen. One out of 100 bands get that amazing thing happens. So, I was humbled by it, massively. And I am really, I’m so relieved that the songs are still good, that they still stand up. They still work. And it’s a testament to this thing that I say in the documentary about telling the truth. If your songs, or whatever it is you do, are the truth, then they’ll last forever. It’s like a flame that never goes out. And stuff that’s not the truth, it’s just like a candle. It blows out when even the slightest wind happens. You know, the winds of time blow out and it’s gone and someone else lights it again and it’s a different candle, it’s a different thing. But if you’re telling the truth, it never goes out. It just it’s the same and it’s the same truth. Truth is only one thing. I mean I could go on about this forever, I find it so fascinating, how the truth has longevity. So, it totally humbled me when I watched it back. To see what the band has done and also to hear what people, especially people in Mexico, say about the band. You know, the things that the fans say about the band let me connect with them. Obviously, we couldn’t put everything in but it’s just really nice to hear people speaking and they get it, you know? It’s like. They get it more than we do. We’re in the band. I’ve got to say, some of the clips of the fans are fantastic. The girl who’s asked about what member of Travis would you take out to dinner she’s going hmmm, and her boyfriend is like, “Hey! Your boyfriend is here.”

FA: And how does it feel to come back to Mexico to premiere the documentary at the Morelia Film Festival?

FH: Oh my god, it’s a pretty nice job to have. I’m really excited. Always coming back to Mexico is like a thrill. I think this is more exciting for me because I don’t have to sing. One of the things when you come to Mexico, or any country if you are in a band, the only thing that gets in the way is like, “Oh fuck, I’m going to have to sing. And really, I’ve got to watch my voice, I’ve got to be careful.” I can come and all I have to do is talk.

FA: How did you find about the festival? I mean, it’s one of the most important festivals in Latin America, but how did you get in touch with them?

FH: Well, because we filmed un Mexico. The film is set here so we researched, it was pure research and I think it didn’t take long before we found the festival and we approached them, and we sent the film, and they accepted. There are so many festivals, not only in Mexico but all over the place. I mean, I thought there were too many music festivals but there are so many film festivals. But yeah, Morelia’s is, my god, it’s super cool. And it’s such an honor to be a part of it.

FA: And if you had to pick one or two or three of your favorite documentaries about music, what would they be?

FH: The one I would definitely say would be the Martin Scorsese The Band film, The Last Waltz (1978). It’s a really brilliant film, great interviews. Again, it’s this thing where if that film didn’t exist I may not be in a band. That film helped me, galvanized this feeling of “Oh my Godín, I want to be that band!”. So that film is incredible.

I think that when I was twelve or thirteen, maybe a little bit older, I watched the U2: Rattle and Hum (1988, dir. Phil Joanou). We watched it, me and my mates would watch it like, actually all the time. We’d go over to my friend’s house and put it on and just watch it and I must have watched that film maybe twenty, thirty times over a very short period of time so its stuck in my head. Everyone said, there was a feeling from U2 and from the world in general that film was a bit of a failure, and I was like “What?! It’s a great film.” And again, it’s a record. It’s catching a band at a certain moment and it never changes it’s like, that’s the U2 that I think everyone from my generation remembers.

And I recently saw a film about Rush. It’s a really, really great documentary about Rush. Mostly because the footage is so extensive. It’s like, even the moment where they start the band is in film. It’s in their kitchen and their dad is filming and one of them says to the other one, “Maybe we should start a band.” I’m not a massive fan of Rush but it made me go, “Wow, I like this band. This is a great group.”