In 1996, Fran Healy borrowed £600 from his mum to pay for the recording of Travis's very first single. That track, the rousingly self-descriptive "All I Want To Do Is Rock," was released on the band's own label, Red Telephone Box, with a sleeve designed by Healy. Only 750 copies were made, but that was enough to kick-start a career for the four Glaswegian pals which has since reaped numerous hit singles, awards, platinum-selling albums and festival headline slots. Now, twelve years on, the band have made Ode To J Smith, their loudest, edgiest and most arresting record since that formative track. Fittingly, they're revived Red Telephone Box to release it, with Healy once again handling artwork duties. The big difference this time is that, having shifted ten million albums in the intervening period, Mrs Healy's funding was not required. "It's like the clock has done one full rotation," says Healy, the band's ever-affable frontman. "Twelve years on and we've been let loose again." His bandmate, bassist Dougie Payne, agrees: "This whole process has just felt so exciting and rejuvenating." Towards the end of 2007, Travis found themselves back home in London, having spent much of the year performing their sparklingly tuneful fifth album, The Boy With No Name, to thousands of fans across the globe. Now, they had some decisions to make. "That tour was amazing," says Healy. "It definitely felt like we reconnected with our fans after not touring properly for a few years. But then we got back home and we'd come to the end of our record deal and our publishing deal. We were totally free agents." The band had offers on the table, but opted to go their own way. "We decided to gather together all the best people we've worked with and do everything ourselves," says Healy. "Red Telephone Box is very much a cottage industry compared to a big label, but it's given us an enormous amount of freedom and control. All the bands we speak to about it are slightly jealous." But the question of how to release their music wasn't the only big decision facing Travis at the end of 2007. Bass-player Dougie Payne was expecting his first child in March 2008 and the band had committed to giving him several months paternity leave. That meant either waiting until the latter half of 2008 before starting work on their sixth album (and thus face losing the momentum created by the world tour) or attempt to write and record an entire record in the three months before the baby was born. As you'll have gathered, they plumped for the latter option. 'We'd done this thing for BBC Radio 2 where we recorded a song for the 40th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper, with the Beatles' original engineer," explains Healy. "It inspired us massively. We'd spent two years writing our previous record at a leisurely pace, then you realize that in the 60s, bands would write and record an album in a few weeks. We knew we had this three-month window before Dougie's baby, so we thought we'd give it a shot." The band booked two weeks in a recording studio for February 2008 and decamped to a rehearsal studio in west London to write some songs. "We wanted to try out some new sounds and directions," says Healy, "so I bought myself a vintage Fender Jazzmaster and a classic Vox AC30 amp and decided to write the record on an electric guitar. We hadn't done that since our first album. Pretty much all the songs were born from us hammering away in that rehearsal room." "We gave ourselves a lot of freedom with the sound," explains Payne, who co-wrote three of the album's ten songs. "We wanted this record to have some rough edges. I love all our albums, but I think in the past we've maybe been guilty of making really beautiful things that were so smooth you almost slipped off them. You can't say that about this one. We really pushed ourselves. It's like prog-pop; lots happening in about three minutes." The best illustration of that is the glorious "J Smith," which somehow crams a super-catchy melody, several squalling guitar solos, a false ending and a dramatic Latin choir into two and half rocktastic minutes. That song, as the title suggests, became the springboard and ultimately the linchpin for the entire album. Whereas previously Fran's songs were primarily autobiographical, this time ‘round the songs centered more on other characters. "It was a very liberating way of writing and by happy accident produced an almost story-like narrative to the whole album," explains Fran. "In a funny sort of way, I think you can be more honest and open when you write like this," adds Payne. "If you're writing about yourself, you can't help but hide certain things, or protect yourself by showing only certain facets. When you've got the device of a character, you can almost tell more truths." What binds this album together however, aren't its themes but the way in which it was created. "Usually I write a bunch of songs over a year and then we record them and then piece it together. But this album was born out of a rush of creative urgency; a need to make a record, it has to be amazing and it has to be finished by March. Perhaps that's why Ode To J Smith is the most cohesive thing we've ever done. When you move so quickly there is very little time to reflect. You have to be decisive." With the songs written in five weeks, the band headed to London's Rak Studios with producer Emery Dobyns (Antony & The Johnsons, Patti Smith, Battles) to set about recording the album in just 14 days. "We recorded everything on 16 track analog, which is generally considered the pinnacle of recording sound," says Healy. "The only catch is that having only 16 tracks means you must play almost everything live." "We couldn't have done that when we first started," says Payne. "But I think there's a weight and authority to your playing after 12 years together." After exactly a fortnight, the band emerged from Rak having finished recording an album which they're incredibly pleased with. Justifiably so, as Ode To J Smith is the sound of a band re-born, re-inspired and re-energized, yet still delivering the same rollicking melodies and everyman emotions which have won them a place in so many hearts. Payne's son was born just six days after they pressed the "stop" button. "We really pushed ourselves to the limit," says Healy, who subsequently headed to New York with Dobyns to mix Ode To J Smith at Electric Lady Studios. "I think we've made the coolest record of our career." Is it the best? "We won't know until we're done and we're far from done."