“It’s so much harder to stand out now, because the standard of songwriting so high, you can’t fake it..” – hmv.com talks to Aston Merrygold
As he releases his debut single ‘Get Stupid’ (which you can buy here and hear below), we sit down with Aston Merrygold to find out about life after JLS, his debut album Showstopper and why he ended up writing 300 songs…
When did you start thinking about a solo career? Because JLS took a while to wind down, so you had some time to think about what you wanted to do next?
“Yeah, it wasn’t done overnight, but once the decision was made I schooled myself into the mindset of ‘If it’s meant to happen. By the end of the very last concert, I’d already started writing, but I still had the buzz, the drive, I knew I still wanted to do this on a daily basis.”
So you were well down the track by the time JLS finally split up?
“I’d started writing, but more for the sake of just writing. I didn’t know what I’d do, whether I’d end up doing writing sessions with other people or whatever, but by the end I knew I’d miss the buzz of performing too much. I had to keep going.”
How did you go about getting started? By the end JLS must have had a big machine around it with producers, writers, etc, did you have to start building your own?
“I did, but the nice thing about being in the band for that long I know and am friends with lots of amazing songwriters. JLS gave me great connections and at the start it was just friends helping me out. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
How many songs did you come up while you were writing for the album?
“I reckon it was close to 300 by the end. A lot of songs, a lot of genres, a lot of different ideas, some were the same song, just with different bits. Some were great and some are definitely never going to see the light of day.”
When did you settle on a sound you were happy with?
“There was a lot of experimenting and a lot of trying different sounds and seeing what worked. I’d try lots of things and see what the right fit was for me. I went back to what I was listening to growing up, it’s so much harder to stand out now, because the standard of songwriting so high, you can’t fake it.”
Are the songs on Showstopper from across your two years of writing?
“Really from right across. I’ve gone back to a few of them, I’ve gone back to plenty of them, reworked them and re-edited them. The first batch were very JLS and I had to move away from that.”
Did you have to force yourself out of that mindset?
“Definitely. I tried to not do it straight away, because I could, I could have walked straight from JLS into a new label and got straight on with it, but I knew I needed time and any album I’d have made would have just sounder like JLS.”
Were you worried people might forget about you? Two years is a long time in pop music…
“Absolutely. It was a real worry. It was performing too, being locked in the studio for that length of time, I was missing it and feeling like I was getting rusty, but I knew I was building something worthwhile.”
You’ve gone with a new label, was there the option to stay within the same operation that looked after JLS?
“Definitely, but sometimes you need new blood, a new perspective and people to challenge you. It took fans a little while to get over it not being JLS, but they seem to be loving the single and adjusting really well.”
How did you find it being just you in the studio? Was it very different to being one of four?
“We never really had four of us in the studio, we’d either break up into pairs or one of us would go in with a co-writer. But there was always a lot of compromise, now all it’s about is if I sound good. It took me a while to get over that mindset, but I learnt quickly to be more decisive. When it’s just down to you, you have to have that. I feel like JLS has got me ready for this.”
What kind of album is it lyrically? Do you feel like the shackles have been taken off?
“Lyrically, it’s very visual, very me, stuff I’ve grown up watching, things I’ve taken in, telling stories and it’s very honest. I never felt like we couldn’t talk about anything in JLS, but we knew who was listening to our music and that’s how we always looked to it.”
What’s your plan to take it out live?
“That’s the most fun thing, it’s all geared around the live show. I’ve put a band together, backing vocalists, dancers, the whole thing.”
Were there performers you look to for inspiration?
“Loads. I go right back to the early years, guys like Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, just real showmen, right up to modern day, Usher, Chris Brown, Justin Timberlake, guys who known how to work a crowd and create a killer vibe. That’s what I want.”
How have you found talking about the JLS split? Because it was almost too polite…
“There’s no drama. There’ll be no TV shows in 20 year’s time when someone walks in the room and you’ve not seen them since. None of that rubbish. Everyone was round at my house last week, just for dinner and a couple of drinks.”
How are things now between you?
“It’s like when you’re at school, you see your mates every single day, then you go to university and you don’t see each other every day, it’s not because there’s anything bad, you’ve got other things.”
Are the other guys doing what you predicted they would do?
“Yes and no for all of them. I thought they’d all stay in music, but I don’t think anyone really knew what they wanted to do, me included. It was nice to have some time away.”
Did you ever think you might just need to step away from music entirely afterwards? Just to have a break?
“Music was never the problem, but I did need time off. I went to LA for three months, I did do a couple of sessions, but I just needed to clear my head. I think that break was more time off than I’d had in the whole time I was in JLS. It was nice to reflect and look on those huge moments.”
Are you missing the camaraderie you get from being in a band?
“I miss that more than anything. I have to be on all the time and there’s less messing about. Before in the cars, in the buses, everywhere, it was just banter 24/7, always respectful, but always banter.”
What are the main things you know to do and not to do from your time in JLS?
“To do, enjoy it. Not to do, not take things in and understand them. With JLS we played to thousands of people, we played with the Jackson 5, we did huge shows and it just went by, on to the next thing, I know now you have to take in those moments.”
Are you determined to enjoy it more this time? Because with JLS it went straight from nothing to arenas…
“I never saw the rise of JLS, we were locked away in that house, then we came out and we were straight into big tours. I’m enjoying watching the house being built now.”