Travis front man Fran Healy closes his eyes and takes a deep, intoxicating drag on a cigarette as he ponders the initial recording sessions for "The Invisible Band," due June 12 from Independiente/Epi

Travis front man Fran Healy closes his eyes and takes a deep, intoxicating drag on a cigarette as he ponders the initial recording sessions for "The Invisible Band," due June 12 from Independiente/Epic. Apparently, it was rough going at first.

"Nothing was gelling," he says, exhaling smoke and anxiously twiddling his fingers as he mentally relives the tension of that period. "It was quite frustrating, and even a bit frightening."

But during one afternoon in the Los Angeles studio where the Scottish band -- which also consists of Neil Primrose (drums), Andy Dunlop (guitar), and Dougie Payne (bass) -- cut the project with producer Nigel Godrich, something shifted.

"We'd felt somewhat drained by the experience so far," Healy recalls. "But we got up and started to play one more time before giving up for the day, and we hit a groove. It's unexplainable. I just remember closing my eyes and feeling the pressure to be the grand rock stars we'd supposedly become break. We just started banging out tunes like the four mates we've always been. We played so hard and so intensely that day, I swear the walls shook."

From that point, "The Invisible Band," the follow-up to 1999's international smash "The Man Who" (which spawned the widely praised "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?," among several other singles), began to take shape. Along the way, Healy says, Travis was re-energized and recovered from nearly two years of non-stop touring.

"Recording in Los Angeles eliminated most outside distractions. We were forced to pull in the ranks and focus on each other and the music in a way we hadn't while we were on the road. That turned out to be healthy for us as a band."

It also put to rest persistent rumors that Healy was itchy to defect from the lineup to go solo.

"Musically, I don't function well outside of this band, so the idea of going solo is absurd," he asserts. "To me, the satisfaction of making music is heightened by the act of taking a song that you've been nurturing alone and then watching it come to life in the hands of people you trust."

Healy adds that "The Invisible Band," which was captured in the studio live with minimal overdubbing, "could never have taken such fine form" had he recorded it alone. "In the safety of a band, you're free to dig deeper and to be more intimate. I may have written the songs, but this album is the product of a band."

Working within the safe confines of Travis has allowed Healy to craft an intelligent collection of songs that sharpens the band's guitar-rich pop/rock sound. "These songs are more clearly drawn," he notes. "The songs intended to be singles are more simple and direct, while the rest are more complex and intricately layered. It's a nice balance."

"The Invisible Band" opens with "Sing," a sweet, simple love song that effectively contrasts atmospheric production with nimble electric guitar lines and vibrant banjo picking.

"First of all, I love the idea of having the word 'sing' repeated in the chorus of a song -- it's just so silly," Healy says, adding that the tune derives its emotional weight from the idea that "feeling free enough to cut loose and sing in front of someone you love is an indication of extraordinary intimacy and trust."

"Sing" is a solid first single from a set that also includes "Dear Diary," a delicate acoustic ballad in which Healy offers such prayerful whispers as, "What is wrong with me? I'm fine between the lines."

"The words are taken from my actual diary, which I've always treated as an invisible confidant and companion," he admits. "I remember sitting down on the floor of the studio one night, pulling lines from various pages and realizing that I was writing a song that was seemingly so small and simple -- and yet it was so revealing of myself."

Among the many other standouts on "The Invisible Band" are "Indefinitely," a waltz-like ballad that underscores such lines as "Time exists just on your wrist, so don't panic" with lush strings; "Flowers in the Window," an unapologetically upbeat love song; and "Side," an obvious single replete with an infectious melody and insightful words that, Healy says, examine "how we always think that there's something better for us out there, without realizing that what we truly have -- life -- is something that we all share. Hence, we are all standing on the same side as each other."

To promote the new album, Travis will evenly divide its time between the U.S. and Europe, with concert dates throughout much of the summer. Already confirmed is the opening slot on Dido's stateside trek in June and early July, as well as top slots at August's Reading, Leeds, and Glasgow Green festivals in the U.K. A headlining world tour for the band is being eyed for late summer/early fall.

Travis has been on the road performing and promoting "The Invisible Band" in various international territories since early April. Among the more high-profile gigs was top billing for the Heineken Green Energy Festival in Dublin earlier this month.

A spate of worldwide TV appearances has been locked in, including a spot on "Top of the Pops" in the U.K. and on "Late Night With David Letterman" in the U.S. Adding to the band's TV profile is the circulation of a videoclip for "Sing," directed by the team of Dayton-Ferris (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis). The clip is a hot European item that has just been added to VH1's playlist in the States.

All of this activity nicely supplements the campaign for "Sing," which in late April was sent to modern rock and triple-A formats in the U.S. and all formats throughout the U.K. and continental Europe. On May 28, the single will be issued to U.K. retail, sporting the original non-album B-side cuts "Beautiful," "You Don't Know What I'm Like," "Ring Out the Bell," and a cover of Queen's "Killer Queen." At this point, "Sing" will be a promo-only cut in the U.S.-a strategic move that will likely stoke retail interest here.

While all of the activity suits Healy quite well, he insists that nothing matters more than being able to sit down at the end of the day and "feel pride about a job well done with a band that has a lot of heart and soul. That may sound cliche, but it's the truth. I love reaching loads of people, but I couldn't enjoy success without feeling good about what we're doing. For me, the two absolutely have to go hand in hand."