Busted – Matt Willis, James Bourne and Charlie Simpson – crash-landed onto the music industry in 2002 with their smash-hit debut single What I Go To School For.
After disbanding in 2005 following Simpson’s departure, the band reunited in 2015 and released new album Night Driver. That album showcased a very different sound for the band and scored them their third Top 15 album.
Now Busted are returning to the sound they’re known for, albeit with a rockier edge, on new album Half Way There, which is released on 1st February. I caught up with the band to talk about the record, discuss the changing landscape of the music industry and find out about their upcoming tour.
Half Way There is a return to the sound you were known as opposed to the newer sound you created on your last album Night Driver. Why did you decide to go back to that sound?
James: We were ready to do that. We weren’t ready to do that on Night Driver, which was just what we wanted to make at the time. We felt we should make an album like this because we haven’t made an album like this since we got back together. We felt we were ready to do it.
It feels like it’s a gift to fans that have followed you from the start…
Charlie: That’s exactly what it is!
There are a couple of songs – All My Friends and It Happens – that feel a bit different. They’re more autobiographical and I guess folksy. Is that perhaps a nod to what is coming in the future or haven’t you got that far yet?
Charlie: I think we’re just taking it step-by-step. This was the right album to make at this time for us. The fans were in our minds really as well. Maybe we’ll make a rap album next… (smiles).
Matt: Night Driver was very much for us. We went into the studio and made what make us happy at that moment in time. We needed to do that because we hadn’t been together for fucking 10 years. To be honest we didn’t want to open up a can of worms creatively so we were like, ‘we all like this, cool let’s just do that’. It made sense at the time and it was fun and we really enjoyed it. This felt like a definite, ‘right, let’s make a record for our fanbase that we also love’. I think that’s definitely what we did.
When you came back together for Night Driver, you’d spent time apart and been working on your different projects so it would have been hard to find a natural common ground musically…
Matt: If I’m honest Busted broke up through creative differences so the idea of coming back and doing what we broke up about it, was probably a bit of a weird idea. I think we were all a bit scared to talk about that at the time so we didn’t open up that.
Charlie: To be honest I was a little bit apprehensive about doing this because of that exact reason. Then I turned it around and thought I can make the album I really want to make, the album I feel like we never could before. That was exciting to actually make a fully fledged pop-punk record with Gil Norton. That excited the shit out of me. I don’t think we could have done that a few years ago because I don’t think the record label wouldn’t have allowed us to go and make that much of a rock record. This I feel is the Busted that always should have been, or always could have been.
The music industry landscape has changed so much since the first time round for you guys. The focus on singles isn’t as intense so has that helped the process?
Charlie: Yeah we didn’t really think about any of that shit…
Matt: I think we did when we first started the album process. We were kind of thinking where does Busted right now? What are we going to do? How are we going to current and be relevant? It didn’t work. We just wrote mundane music. Once we decided we were going to make a Busted record and not give a fuck about that stuff, it really opened us up creatively and we made a record which I think we’re all really proud of.
You’ve worked together for so long now. Was there anything during this process that surprised you about each other?
Matt: James’ guitar solo in Radio surprised me…
James: I surprised myself…
Matt: It’s fucking amazing!
James: I didn’t know I could play guitar like that!
Charlie: Working with Gil (Norton) was incredible. He was the only person for the job.
Matt: I feel we’ve all come out better musicians after working with Gil, especially me. He really pushed me. It was really great to be with someone who has produced some of the best musicians in the world, countless times…
James: And gotten the best out of the best musicians in the world…
Matt: He has a way of getting that out of you. For instance, Nineties, I played that riff thirty six times. (I played it) again and again then we took a break and we came back because he wasn’t getting the right feel. He’s a really amazing producer. I don’t ever want to record again without Gil Norton.
That’s a very strong statement…
Matt: Yeah, I only want to make records with Gil Norton from now on.
You’ve got the tour coming up in March. What can your fans expect?
Charlie: In a way a barebones rock show. It’s not going to be as theatrical as some of the stuff we’ve done before. We want to make it a high impact show. We went to see Blink-182 as a band a year ago and I thought it was cool that…
Matt: There were no bells and whistles…
Charlie: …no bells and whistles, just a fucking great show.
Matt: We were watching it and we said, ‘I just wanna do that.’ I don’t want to have to worry about shooting out of the floor and spaceships descending from the ceiling. How about we just go on stage and play really good music? That sounds cool, let’s do that!
You can break out of the pop mould you were pushed into the first time round. Does that feel quite freeing?
Charlie: It’s great!
Matt: It’s amazing. Literally we make every decision. Everything, rightly or wrongly, comes down to us. We made some mistakes along the way but I still enjoy those mistakes.
You need to make those mistakes to understand how to do it better or differently…
Matt: I really feel like it’s all on us. James said it really well the other day. People think of Busted as this pop sell-out group. Actually we make terrible commercial decisions. We could sell out like that (clicks fingers).
James: For a band that’s perceived to be so commercial, we make the worst commercial decisions.
Matt: We just do what we feel is right for us. In the day and age where guitars have fallen off the face of the earth, we make our rockiest album.
James: On our comeback album we change our logo!
Matt: Yeah we changed our logo and made a fucking concept album (laughs). These are terrible commercial decisions!
As we mentioned before the commercial pressure has eased somewhat as you’re not solely focused on hit singles now and streaming has opened up music to a much wider audience. Has that change helped you find a new audience?
Charlie: Well it has and it hasn’t. It’s good and it’s bad. It’s good in that respect (being available to a bigger audience) but it’s bad because it’s harder for musicians in this new world.
James: The thing is when we first came out, breaking America was this big cliched thing in the media because the U.K. was like its own pond. It was like a pond where in the UK you had things like Top of the Pops, CD:UK and the music business was based around these TV shows that were on television every week. You’d go on that TV show and that TV show and that radio show and that equals number one. There was a path to get a number one record. Now the Internet is not territorial, it’s like a big ocean. You have everyone on Spotify competing for the focus of the world. If you cracking it and you’re a UK artist you crack the world just like One Direction did, Ed Sheeran did and Adele did…
Charlie: … and Mumford and Sons…
James: There’s no pond anymore, you’re swimming with the big fish even if you’re in the UK.
Charlie: That’s how K-Pop came to be. It had a direct route to market.
James: Yeah exactly. The platforms you have to break on are a global race, not a regional or national one.
Charlie: What I find funny about it, paradoxically, is that you get these artists with 100 million streams that can’t sell 800 tickets. With us we’re not big in the streaming world but we sell-out Wembley Arena. It’s a funny world we’ve come into. We’re lucky that we have a fully-fledged loyal fan base. My worry with the new thing, even though a lot of it is streaming based, is it’s quite fickle…
James: It’s faceless!
Charlie: The people clicking that button… that replay button is free. When you actually have to pay money to do stuff it’s a different type of loyalty. I would rather be on our side of the fence. I’ve literally seen 100 million streams but an artist can’t sell out KOKO. It doesn’t make sense but it’s because the clicking is free.
Also because most of those streams are built around one track. If you only listen to one track from an artist, you don’t want to see a two hour show…
Charlie: Exactly right! It’s a playlist generation.
I’m from the generation that still buys physical products. I remember buying your first album when I was in London doing work experience. CDs still have a market, vinyl is having a resurgence, although it’s flattened a bit, and cassettes are coming back. How important are physical products to your fans, particularly if you’re not hitting them via streaming as you mentioned earlier?
Charlie: Very important. A percentage of our fan base would definitely be very angry if we didn’t release a physical product. I think we could go further and release box sets. I think the format’s going to change so we may not release albums in the way that we release them. We may just release singles throughout the year, 10 singles, and then at the end you box it up and release physical for a percentage of your fanbase who will buy it, probably 10% and that will be the way it works. There will always be a demand for physical, always.
A lot of artists are bundling now so you can get signed products, vinyl…
James: I’d love to have all of our albums on vinyl. It would be cool to do a box set of all our albums on vinyl.
Charlie: The public thirst for physical is dwindling and I imagine will be completely dry in three years maybe two.
Matt: That’s fucking crazy! I’ve just mastered my vinyl set-up at home. I just got my speakers delivered last week and I was listening to our album yesterday on vinyl and it sounds fucking amazing. There’s something about it which just sounds amazing.
You mentioned earlier that you’re taking things one day at a time at the moment. Do you have any thoughts about the future or are you just going to see what happens?
Matt: We’ve just got plans this year. Then the world is our oyster as they say. I don’t think we try to look too far ahead with anything. At the moment everything’s cool. As soon as you start saying in 2020 it turns a bit fucking mental.
James: I hate when people say, ‘we’re never going to split up, we’re a band forever.’ You have to just see what happens.
That’s normally the sign that they are on the verge of splitting up…
Matt: Yeah! In my house I’ve got a fucking picture frame of us on the front cover of Time Out and it says, ‘we’re not splitting up’. That was just before we split up (laughs).
Busted release Half Way There on Friday 1st February. You can pre-order it now. They embark on a tour in March and you can catch them at the following dates:
23rd – Glasgow, The SSE Hydro
26th – Cardiff, Motorpoint Arena
28th – Manchester, Arena
29th – Birmingham, Resorts World Arena
30th – London, The SSE Arena Wembley