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An interview with a pop band called Busted
They're back (again)
Hello to you,
People sometimes say things, don’t they, like, “oh yes, I’ve been doing such-and-such for this many years and I’ve got the scars to prove it”, and actually there aren’t any scars at all and the whole thing is a big lie. In the case of my glittering music journalism career I do have one scar to show for it all: on my right knee, following an evening in 2004 when, to cut a long story short, Matt from Busted landed on me.
I chatted with Busted quite a lot back in the day. Interviews included:
What I think might have been their first ever interview, for their press bio. £300, thank you very much.
An interview in which every question I asked them was a question Martin Bashir had asked Michael Jackson.
A load of interviews for an ‘on the road’ book covering their second arena tour, during which I ACCIDENTALLY prompted Matt to throw a television out of a hotel room window.
So when it turned out Busted were announcing a 20th anniversary arena tour, and an accompanying album containing ‘reimagined’ versions of their greatest hits, another interview seemed in order.
We had to do it over Zoom because I’m not 26 any more and have adult responsibilities, but on the plus side at least it didn’t end with me getting my knee smashed in.
So you’re back. Again, with the same songs… But redone?
Charlie: Same songs, but redone in a way that’s going to be very delightful for fans. Because it has extra goodness in the fact that we’re adding some friends of ours, some people we admire, some bands we grew up with—
James: Like Simple Plan! It’s fucking cool to get them.
Charlie: And All Time Low! A lot of bands involved are fans of us… We’re fans of them, they’re fans of us, it’s a mutual lovefest.
Matt: It is.
Do you think there’s anyone on the album who doesn’t like you, but just said yes anyway?
James: No, they all said no. We could do a fun list of all the people who said no, if you want. You could call it They Said No.
I would love a list of everyone who said no.
James: Leona Lewis! She said no, that was rude. Er… (Somewhere in the room, a member of the Busted team has apparently begun waving their arms around.) Do you know what, I would love to carry on. But I won’t.
Charlie: James, you’re two sentences away from being cancelled.
Matt: We’re going to have to be media trained again.
Is Thunderbirds Are Go [the best Busted single] on this new album?
Charlie: Yes it is, and we’re doing it with McFly.
McFly! That’s a real ‘get’! How did you get them on the album?
Charlie: We really thought we’d never do anything with them.
James: Whenever we’ve asked to do anything in the past it’s always been really hard to get them to say to yes. We just got lucky this time.
I don’t know why I immediately went to Thunderbirds Are Go, a song from the soundtrack of a film nobody remembers.
Charlie: The problem was, it was a terrible film.
James We were promised quite a lot by that movie, and the only thing to be successful from it was our song.
Charlie: It was an amazing cast! Bill Paxton! Ben Kingsley! I mean to be fair my son watched it the other day and actually quite liked it, but considering what it could have been, it never quite lived up. But our song became a Goliath! It was Number One!
Matt: We didn’t play it for years. When we got back together we were like: “We’re not playing Thunderbirds.” Now we fucking love playing Thunderbirds.
Charlie: Our fans love it. Also it’s one of Richard Osman’s favourite ever film soundtracks.
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James, I remember you first played that to me off a CD-R in your hotel room, while you were on tour—
Charlie: Was that the night Matt threw a TV out of the window?
We might come back to that Charlie, but—
James: I remember that, and I remember you giving me a CD of Justin Timberlake’s Like I Love You before it came out, do you remember that?
I remember the Justin Timberlake song James but I absolutely do not remember distributing unreleased music. Absolutely not. Although you also gave me a CD, which I didn’t give back, of unreleased songs by The Location…
James: Yes! Wow. Yes.
Matt: Who were The Location?
James: They were Cheiron, after they changed their name. I went there in 2003 or 2004, and I was so stoked to be there. It was when Savan [Kotecha] had just become a songwriter, and one of the first songs I wrote there was with Savan. It got cut by Nick Jonas before he was in The Jonas Brothers. And I got this Location CD, with all the songs all the Swedish songwriters had written.
Matt: Just to clarify, at that point Nick Jonas was already a brother of the Jonas, but had yet to form a band of that name with those brothers.
And I suppose therefore he was also yet to cover, with those brothers, a song called Year 3000.
James: Yes, because that came in 2006. It’s crazy you still have that Location CD, I’d quite like to hear those songs again. There’s great songs on that.
In other news: “I messed my pants when we flew over France.” It only recently occurred to me that this line in Air Hostess is about sperm, isn’t it? I always thought it was about shitting yourself.
Charlie: So many people thought that! But yes, it’s about spunking the monkey. (???)
Matt: A lot of people do message me, saying: “I really never realised how disgusting your lyrics were.”
Charlie: They were ahead of their time.
Matt: Maybe they were very much of their time.
Given all this climate change business, do you think more people should have heeded your warning about living underwater?
Matt: We’re modern-day prophets!
Charlie: WE WARNED EVERYONE! Well, we watched Waterworld with Kevin Costner and we thought: “Hang on, there’s something here.”
James: When all the climate change protests were happening there were passionate teenagers protesting in America, walking around with banners with Year 3000 lyrics on them. It’s kind of mental how far that song, out of all our songs, has travelled.
Do you have any other warnings for future generations?
Matt: No. I don’t have anything.
James: The thing is with that song, it was kind of effortless. We just wrote songs that made us laugh. We were old enough that we had something to say, but young enough for it not to be serious. You stumble across a lot of good things by accident when you’re young friends writing songs for fun. It’s a very different scenario to, down the line, people identifying you as ‘someone who can write songs’ and putting you in a room with someone to try and write songs for other people. When you’re just starting out, and you’re having fun with it, you get the kind of songs you’ll never write again.
It seems like it gets harder for popstars when people start expecting things.
James: Yes, I think it’s good not to expect things. I think the best conditions for songwriting are relaxed, with no real agenda, just purely doing something you love.
Matt: The worst thing you can hear is: “Guys, you still need a first single.”
James: I hate that.
Matt: FUCK OFF!
With pop now, ‘first singles’ have gone out of the window. Because back when you came out, if the first single didn’t go Top 10, you were off the label and that was that. Whereas now, people often just float songs out until one of them somehow, magically and algorithmically, rises to the top.
Charlie: I see that happening! There are artists signed to major labels now and they’re three years in without a hit! When does the time come that they get the chop?
It’s hard to quantify success now but nobody really knows what failure looks like either.
Charlie: Yes! And people are spending a lot of money!
Matt: But it’s not the same level of money that was spent on us, is it.
Charlie: That’s true, I suppose with us they were spending £120,000 on a video.
Matt: And that’s not there any more. So the wager isn’t that big now.
Charlie: So now they’re basing themselves on TikTok follows! But what I find funny is that there’s no emotional connection to a TikTok follow. It’s just a press of the button! The reason we can come back after twenty years and do these tours is that our fans have an emotional connection to what Busted was… And it connected to their lifestyle. Do bands have that now?
James: I think we came at a time when people were able to… Well, people just don’t know where to look, because there’s so much coming at people from so many different angles. We were given a platform that was unbelievable, and it was at a time when people were a lot more receptive to what they were given. Sometimes I think: “What is it about our band?” And then I think about the way I feel about a song I loved growing up, or a film I loved growing up: that’s the thing. People have that feeling with us. It’s about fond memories.
I mean that feeling is nostalgia, isn’t it?
James: Well, yes, that’s the word I was searching for.
Charlie: There’s a word for it James!
Matt: It’s a really fucking powerful thing, nostalgia. People are scared of the word. “Ooh — you’re going to be a nostalgia act.”
James: But right now nostalgia is one of the most valuable currencies there is! We were lucky we got a chance to establish our band at a time when people were receptive. It’s so hard now to cut through. This algorithm thing is real! We used to think about radio when we were writing songs, but now I see people writing songs based on what they think the algorithm will like. What a tragic place to be.
Two minutes is the ideal length for a song now. Which is good, really — we’re all busy people.
Charlie: Fifteen seconds. FIFTEEN SECONDS! That’s what you’ve got until someone clicks onto the next song. That’s what we’ve become.
James: Intros for songs now are toxic when it comes to the success of a song.
Charlie: And you can forget about guitar solos! I mean they’re completely out.
I suppose that’s at least one benefit.
Charlie: (Laughs) Well anyway, we’re lucky we came out when we did. There’s lots of good things about the new music industry, but I’m very happy we existed when we did.
Would Busted have been a success now? Actually hang on, is this just four old men complaining about modern pop music?
Charlie: IT PROBABLY IS PETE!! BUT THAT’S FINE! FOR FUCK’S SAKE!
Matt: I think Busted would still have succeeded now. I think with social media — although we would have ruined our careers every single day — if we’d had someone looking after our socials I think we would have broken off that. Because we didn’t actually break off radio back then, we broke off TV. So people weren’t just hearing the songs, they were seeing us as well, and I think that’s the good thing about social media: people can buy into you, as well as your music.
James: Also, it’s quite an exciting time for us to be a band again. We’re probably in the best place we’ve been. We’ve got great people around us, we’re back with our original manager again… And I think once we’ve got this ‘20th’ thing out of the way we’re in a place to do some really cool songs. We’ve got some good producers lined up, and the song ideas are all good.
Tell me about a song idea.
James: Well yes, but not now.
If not now, when? When I see you again in another eight years?
Matt: (Laughs) Yes! See you later!
James: Alright. Okay then. I wrote this song. Okay. So I wrote this song after I’d watched a film called The Lost Leonardo, have you seen that? It’s incredible. It’s about (embarks on virtually shot-for-shot description of The Lost Leonardo, seemingly oblivious to the tight time constraints of back-to-back press interview days) — and then this lady goes: “That’s just ridiculous, because I can’t paint like Leonardo.” And when she said that, I thought: “That’s a great lyric.”
Matt: It is a great lyric!
James: So I took that, and got a guitar, and wrote these lyrics: “I can’t paint like Leonardo, I can’t be a cowboy like like John Wayne, can’t sing a ballad like Chicago…” (goes on to basically recite the entire song).
Matt: That’s fucking brilliant!
James: And it’s this enormous country-ish, well not country, but a sort of Eagles-y kind of—
Matt: I LOVE THAT!
James: And I think it’s one of the coolest songs I’ve ever written. Haven’t got any verses yet though.
But for algorithmic reasons mentioned just now, you don’t even need verses!
James: Songs like that happen every single day. I mean, not like that one, because that’s a really good one—
Charlie: The other ones are shit!
James: You have to write shit songs to get to a good one. But it’s a cool song and it came out of nowhere.
Charlie: Anyway, yes, we do want to release new music when the 20th anniversary party is finished.
I saw the teaser video that went out this morning and there’s a bit in it with one of you going: “Not many bands last twenty years.” And I was watching it, thinking: “Well, Busted didn’t last twenty years.”
Charlie: We did, Pete! We’re here now!
But it’s not continuous. That doesn’t count, Charlie.
Charlie: (Over sound of Matt guffawing) I mean potato, potarto...
James: I used to think this about Take That. Like, when Take That came back, it was kind of weird, because I thought: “Now they’ve come back, it makes the time they were gone, seem like they were never gone.” Because… Because the thing is—
Matt: Never forget.
James: —when a band is together, they release music. But they don’t release music all the time. Bands can be together and not be releasing music.
Charlie: Yes! You can only release an album every five years, and still be together.
Matt: (Adopting extreme ‘voice of reason’ tone) We were definitely not together for a period of time. I think that’s fair to say.
I mean, when you get to the stage of calling a press conference…
James: (Pursuing point regardless) You hear the songs on the radio when you’re not a band! Our music has carried when we’ve not been together! So I feel like, basically, it’s twenty years SINCE BUSTED STARTED, and that is a good enough reason to justify a 20th anniversary.
It’s like you’re saying: you can never not be a member of Busted.
James: A little bit, but—
Matt: Well, Charlie tried not to be.
Charlie: (Assorted spluttering)
Matt: You can run but you can’t fucking hide, Charlie Simpson.
James: It’s the paper aeroplane analogy! We let go of a paper aeroplane in 2002. And the paper aeroplane is no longer our plane any more. It’s flying on its own.
Pre-save Loser Kid 2.0 featuring Simple Plan here; the tour pre-sale signup thing is here.