Former boy band Busted are back together, have a new album out and are on a UK tour. Duncan Seaman reports.
Back at the turn of the Millennium Busted were Britain’s biggest boy band, notching up four Number One singles, two million-selling albums and a pair of Brit Awards before singer and guitarist Charlie Simpson left to concentrate on his alternative rock group Fightstar.
A decade later they’ve reunited with a radically different, 80s-influenced electronic sound that’s more reflective of their thirty-something tastes, and an image that’s a far cry from their pop punk past.
Having been steadfastly opposed to a reunion for many years, Simpson admits he took a little persuading by his former bandmates James Bourne and Matt Willis before deciding to restart Busted.
“We hadn’t really been in the same room for about eight years and they came round to my house a couple of years ago and told me that they wanted to do something again with the band and I said at the time it wasn’t right for me,” he says. “But we just hung out all that afternoon and it just sparked something.” While they waited for Simpson to come round to their idea Bourne and Willis went off and formed a short-lived supergroup with members of McFly, but eventually, by 2015, the three members of Busted had recommenced writing songs together.
“We went into the studio and just had a week writing and it felt very different to what I imagined it would feel like,” says Simpson. “I think that our creative visions were far more aligned than they were ten years ago.”
Quickly finding musical common ground certainly helped. “It was the strangest thing,” Simpson says. “I thought that would have taken longest but it was right there straight away, which was brilliant.”
By early 2016 the trio felt ready to record a new album and headed for a studio in Los Angeles to work with producer John Fields.
Simpson says they didn’t start with a specific template, only that “we knew that we wanted it to sound different to anything we’d done before”.
“We knew that we didn’t want to make a record that would be reminiscent of ten years ago. How the music took form was very natural – we just got into a room, set the instruments up and we started playing around. We wanted to write timeless pop songs that would sound as current hopefully in ten years as they do now.” John Fields’ no-nonsense approach in the studio did come as a surprise. “I found that utterly bizarre and so uncomfortable,” Simpson says. “I’m used to making records where you go in there, you spend a couple of days tuning drums let alone playing drums, everything is methodical. With John he’s so fast, he’s like ‘Get in there, do the vocals’ and I’d do what I thought was a placeholder vocal and he was like ‘That’s brilliant’ and everything I did he was just pushing me to do it. What was amazing was I figured out in retrospect, he was just trying to get the natural essence of a performance which often happens first. It was just a very different way of working that I really appreciate now and I hear the results of.”
Busted’s first comeback tour, in May last year, certainly wasn’t low key; instead they played arenas. Simpson says it was “a big call” but the sold-out shows proved demand was there. “We were told they were pretty confident to sell them but we were playing a lot of old songs,” the singer concedes.
Their shows this month are in more modest sized venues, and will feature songs from Night Driver. “What’s exciting is this is the first sort of tour of the new era where we’re going to play a lot of songs off the new record and we’re going back to some of the venues we first played, so it feels like the start of a new chapter now, that we’re building back up.”
Simpson says fans have reacted positively to Busted’s mature sound and he feels the band have developed as performers in their ten years apart.
“I think we’ve just honed our craft,” he says. “I think the older you get the better you get. I think we’re better song writers than we were, we’re better players, better singers. Experience gives you more time to really hone your craft.”
Busted play at O2 Academy Leeds on February 21. For details visit www.busted.com