Speaking to a Scotsman is the colloquial equivalent of an orgasm. Gyrating up and down, impaling syllables with unprecedented inflection, the ancient Scottish brogue packs enough leg-humping innuendo to lure the pipers away from the gates of dawn.
Flippant and welcoming at the same time, Travis guitarist and native Scotsman Andy Dunlop does not comprehend the appeal of his festering cross-Atlantic vernacular. But then again, he's also a happily married man, as he points out on three separate occasions.
Dunlop is the epitome of his band: a nice, down-home, amiable chap from the birthplace of nice chaps. It would take a severely mouthy shithead, a few dozen beers and a really bad day to get any sort of rise out of Dunlop. And if the anemic music business has a surplus of anything, it's shitheads and beer.
Since the hot flash of the British re-invasion in the late '90s, Travis continues to mine its heady musical load. With Blur decomposing in guitarless oblivion (despite a solid, if overlooked 2003 album, Fishtank), The Verve lost to a black acid hole and Oasis still clattering up "Wonderwall"s and kissing the asses of Giants, Britain is rightfully placing a large chunk of its bet on Travis.
Taking their cues from Joni Mitchell folk with impassioned Hendrix guitar rants, Dunlop, singer-guitarist Fran Healy, bassist Dougie Payne and drummer Neil Primrose aren't so much representative of the industry as they are characteristic of its forgone and completely uncultivated zeal.
"I used to dream about this band when I started playing guitar," Dunlop says. "I don't know if you expect it, but you aim for it. When we started this band we just aimed ridiculously high-stupidly high-and thought we could achieve things that we wouldn't normally think.
"And if you aim that high, then hopefully, somewhere along the line, you'll get somewhere. We got somewhere."
Travis formed in Glasgow in 1990 as The Glass Onion and eventually culled the fleeting attention of the press as the New British Darling with its debut album, Good Feeling. Healy rightfully flaunted his wholesale sincerity and soaring songwriting chops. The fauxhawked frontman came across as a rosy-cheeked heartbreaker, only to upturn some graves with the dank gloom and baggy-eyed melody of The Man Who in 1999, which churched up the massive hit "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?"
The Invisible Band, a quieter affair, quickly followed. A hair-thinning tour schedule supported the album at its tail end. While diving into the shallow end of a Belfort, France hotel pool after a few beers, drummer Primrose had an accident. Knocked unconscious and fracturing one of his vertebrae, his fall signaled the end of the band's touring schedule and the beginning of a six-month break for recovery.
"Neil is a miracle of modern science," says Dunlop. "When he had the operation, they put a case in his neck, like titanium or something.... It disappears after a few years, but it's probably still there at the moment. It's amazing ... the guys that operated on him in France had no idea he would recover so quickly. Now we're back to Travis as it should be."
And Travis as it should be is pretty pleasant. Their fourth studio effort, 12 Memories, hit shelves in October and listeners were greeted with a distinctive earnestness that reflects the state of a band after one of its members has been humbled by mortality.
"This album was good because we had some time off before we went in to record," Dunlop sighs. "Being on tour is not real life. You're stuck on a tour bus or you're stuck in a hotel room and it's hard to get too much inspiration from that. You want to hear about life and you want to write about life and you want to be inspired by life, so it was nice this time around to have six months off after Neil's accident for everyone to just sort of calm down and just live a little.
"When you play this one it's quite an in-your-face sort of record. Each time you do another album, it changes with time and it takes on a new life and it has a new character and it changes all the old songs. So it's always nice to come back and reinvent yourself."
With the press clambering desperately to match up the Radioheads to the Coldplays to the Travises of the world, Dunlop says the band wants nothing more than to reinvent themselves into their present, content state in which they can make music for everyone.
"You look at someone like Keith Richards and he's still kicking," Dunlop says. "If I can carry off my whole life playing the guitar like him I'll be happy. Maybe not abuse my body so much, but you've got to crack some eggs to make an omelet, you know?
"Consider them cracked."Travis performs with Jason Falkner at Spreckels Theater, 8 p.m. on Jan. 31. $30. 619-220-8497.