Busted talk ahead of Birmingham arena show
We catch Matt Willis at his best. The Busted rock star is enjoying his first day back at school and we’re the first interview in line as he sets about promoting the band’s forthcoming tour.
He’s chipper, after a six-week break from the rigours of rock’n’roll stardom. He’s feeling lean and fit. There’s plenty of excitement about his band’s forthcoming new album – their fourth – and soon-to-take-place arena tour, which visits Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena on March 29.
His band are on the cusp of having one of the best years of their lives. At the age of 30-something, they’re increasingly comfortable in their own skin, they know how to handle the ups and downs of success and they’re grateful that Busted is not just a going concern but an increasingly-successful part of their lives – 18 years after it began.
The band are looking forward to the release of their new album Half Way There, which was recorded last year and put in the can before a lengthy winter break.
Matt’s delighted and pleased that the record seems to be getting a good reaction. Today, he’s firing on all cylinders. “Things seem to have been going well. This is our first day back, we had a long break over Christmas and New Year, breaking at the end of November to get a good bit of time off.”
The band had announced their tour then put out a song called Nineties.
“It was just a fan release so they could have an early listen to what the album was going to be like. The response was really positive. We released another single today, Radio, and were in at BBC Radio 2 earlier today to give it the first play on the Ken Bruce show.”
The Ken Bruce show. How times change. Back in the day, Busted would have been bounding into Radio One, literally the newest and youngest kids on the block. These days they’re looking forward to time with veteran OAP broadcaster Ken ‘Popmaster’ Bruce.
But that’s become part of their lot. Busted is big business and the band runs like a well-oiled machine. Gigs are booked a long way in advance and campaigns are mapped out with military precision.
Willis adds: “You hope you’ve never left any stone unturned. This is a fan-based record. It’s purely for the fans. The tour will also be for the Busted fan base. It’s a really targeted thing. We know who we are and we know what our fan base want.
“We look at this as a bonus. I still can’t believe I’m in a band. I’m 35 and still in the same band I was in when I was 16. We really appreciate it. Having the time apart makes this time special and gives you perspective on what’s important. This is something we didn’t expect. But that doesn’t mean we don’t take the music seriously.”
Busted have grown-up without growing old with their fourth album Half Way There. It finds the trio returning to their hyperactive pop-punk sound for the first time since 2003’s all-conquering, multi-platinum album A Present For Everyone’.
James Bourne, Charlie Simpson and Matt Willis approached the new album with a simple goal in mind: “How do we make the ultimate Busted album?”
They spent a year working on the album. They wrote more material than ever, much of it at Bourne’s apartment in north London where they spent so much time together back when they first started the band. They constantly revisited each idea to make the album as strong as it could possibly be, and also had the opportunity to work with their dream producer Gil Norton, the man behind classic albums from Foo Fighters and Pixies.
The result is an album that expands upon Busted’s trajectory the first time around. It’s a rush of melody and effervescent riffs as they blend huge arena-filling choruses with the classic pop-punk sound of Blink 182 and New Found Glory. Lyrically it’s often reflective and nostalgic (Reunion, All My Friends and a mini Busted autobiography in the shape of It Happens), but there are some fantastical flights of fancy too in the shape of Shipwrecked In Atlantis and a tribute to Elon Musk in Race To Mars.
Nineties is one of the tracks which will claim a place alongside other Busted favourites such as Year 3000 and Crashed The Wedding. Opening in low-key fashion, the track erupts into life by taking us back to the era of Smashing Pumpkins and Macaulay Culkin and the carefree “days of ditching school to watch The Goonies.” The track features a co-writing credit for their old friend Dougie Poynter of McFly.
“I cannot wait for fans to hear this record and to be able to talk to them on social media about it,” says Willis. “I just have a feeling that they’re going to love it.”
“If I was a Busted fan, I’d listen to this record and feel like I got my band back,” agrees Bourne.
Simpson adds: “It still has humorous elements and we’re still having a lot of fun, but we have some very poignant songs too. Our fans grew up with us so they’ll be able to relate to them too.”
Half Way There is Busted’s fourth album and their second after returning with Night Driver in 2016. The title is a play on the reference in their huge hit Year 3000 to the band releasing their seventh album. Now they’re halfway to achieving precisely that, and far ahead of schedule. Capturing the band’s larger-than-life personalities, the album cover was conceptualised and shot by Rankin.
The album captures the boys at a mature stage of their life. They’ve adapted to being stars and have found a way to enjoy the quiet times in between tours, while still getting their kicks on the road.
Willis adds: “The biggest thing I’ve learned about being in a band is to talk about stuff. If you build up resentment internally it just leads to misery. So in all aspects, the more you talk the better. It’s the same as any type of relationship. If there’s something that’s bugging us or in our work that we don’t want to do, we don’t do it. We just put everything out in the open. When Charlie was 19 we broke-up because we hadn’t talked about anything and it had all got too much. Busted had become a money train that was just steaming along but Charlie was miserably unhappy and we didn’t pay attention. Now we do pay attention.”
The gigs give them the chance to let down their hair – what’s left of it.
“We’re trying to make the ultimate Busted show on this tour. We believe we’ve made the perfect Busted album. If a Busted fan wants new music they’re going to be stoked with this album. So for the tour, it’ll be the same. Every song that people want to hear will be played. We won’t be holding anything back for another tour or keeping our powder dry. It’s all guns blazing for us.”
Willis loves being on stage as much as he did when he was a fresh-faced teen experiencing it for the first time. “It still doesn’t get old for us. When fans sing those tunes back at us it’s amazing. I’ve been back on the road with McBusted and Busted for six years and it doesn’t get old. I hear bands not willing to play a certain song because it came out a long time ago but I don’t feel that way. I love the way our music makes people feel. I’m the same myself when I see my favourite bands. When I see Blink 182, I still want to hear all my favourite songs.”
Willis is remarkably humble that the band have reached this station. And perhaps that’s a product of the hiatus that the band took after splitting up in 2005. They didn’t return for more than ten years, giving them to process what had gone before and heal after an unpleasant break. Willis recognises the fact they’re lucky simply to be in the game. “We shouldn’t be doing this anymore. In pop music history, this doesn’t really happen. Especially for someone to come out with new music, it doesn’t happen.
“There’s only really been Take That who’ve done this, so we appreciate the opportunity to keep going. And we also recognise the effort that our fans put in. Going to a gig is expensive. You’ve got to fork out, it’s expensive. So we have to make sure everyone goes away feeling like it’s been their favourite gig. From our perspective, we put as much of the money into making the show as good as possible as we can because we want people to come back. We want people loving our show. We want to keep this going for another 20 years.”
The landscape has changed since Busted emerged in 2000. Back then, there were a small number of festivals while bands mostly did their business in sweaty clubs and the occasional arena. These days, they’re as likely to play Wolverhampton Racecourse as they are the Civic Hall or Birmingham Arena.
“It’s all changed. Back in the day, I didn’t like festivals. I just didn’t like them. It was weird, it was the daylight, I think. I’d stand there and wonder why the lights didn’t go down because the shows would be during the day. It just felt strange. Now festivals are my favourite because you’re playing to music fans and your job is to go out and win them over.
“We did Glastonbury the year before last. We went out there and we did a 3,500 capacity tent and there was 10,000 people there. They had to shut down the field to stop more people coming in. Those fans could have watched anybody but they came to watch us. So we wanted to make ourselves the best band of the festival. I think we achieved that. We didn’t know there were more outside the tent than in it until we came off the stage.”
It’s not just the musical landscape that’s changed over the past two decades. James, Matt and Charlie have also changed as people. They’re better musicians and performers, there are kids and long-term partners.
“When I think back to 2002 when we were on tour, we were just picking up guitars and having a go. We were just kids who were messing around. And then, holy sh-, we ended up in arenas and that was amazing.
“But now we’ve been playing for 20-odd years so we’re a little bit better than that. The music is better, the performance is better and we don’t ramble on about bull- anymore. We don’t talk sh-. We just get to the point and have a great time.”
Family has made a difference. Matt is married to Celebrity Big Brother star Emma, the model best known for her work with Channel 5, BBC, ITV and Heart FM. The former Sutton Coldfield presenter was presented the ITV2 spin-off series I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! NOW! with her husband two years after he’d won the show, beating Myleene Klass and Jason Donovan, despite being a rank 8-1 outsider. The couple have three kids.
“Family makes a massive difference, but then you’d want it to. I wouldn’t want to be doing the same thing as I did when I was 19. If I was still living like that, I’d be dead. It’s a much different lifestyle, especially for me. I don’t want to be on the road as long as I did back then. I would do two years on the road straight through and love it. I would love the hotels, love flights and love not knowing where I was going. Now I want to get things done and get home. It’s not the same for Charlie and James, they’re more into the on-tour lifestyle and party scene.
“There is still a raucous rock’n’roll side to this, it’s just that we no longer have to join in if we don’t want to. Believe me, when you go on tour there’s a little element of naughtiness going on. It’s guys on tour, you know; that thing is always present. The only difference is, I’ve learned when it’s time to go home.”