“This is Westlife 2.0…” - Nicky Byrne talks hmv.com through Westlife’s reunion and new album Spectrum
When Westlife split back in 2012, the career statistics they left behind were pretty staggering. 26 Top 10 hits, 14 Number Ones, 11 Top Five LPs, seven Number One albums and album sales of over 44 million.
So, when they reunited last year, there was an open question throughout their sold-out, 51-date arena tour, would there be new music? Nothing could touch their earlier statistics and did the Irish foursome still have something to say in 2019?
In the end, they decided they did and return with new album Spectrum today (November 15th).
Overseen by super-producer Steve Mac, who wrote for the band throughout their earlier career, the LP also features four tracks written by Ed Sheeran as well as contributions from James Bay and OneRepublic mainman Ryan Tedder.
Spectrum arrives in stores today and we spoke to the band’s Nicky Byrne about how and why they did it...
When did you decide that Westlife’s reunion would also include a new album?
“We’ve all made new careers for ourselves in the years in between. I’ve been doing my radio show, the others have been doing their own solo careers or focusing on family life. We’re all busy. We knew there were rumours and I think we all felt like there were a discussion to be had. We needed to get in a room together and sees the whites of each other’s eyes. I think all we needed to be committed to this. But it’s not like we could just meet in a restaurant in Dublin, you know? The internet would explode.”
So where did you meet?
“In my kitchen. We had a lot to talk about. If we were going to get back together, how were we going to do it? Was this going to be a smash and grab? Were we going to tour the a**e of it and then disappear again? Did we want to make new music? Did we need a new record deal? And where did Westlife sit in today’s music? Music has changed so much in the time we’d been aware and it wasn’t a given that we had a role to fill."
"I always look at the big bands, at U2, at Coldplay, at Take That and ask ‘How we do we compare?. You need to deliver top, top quality in everything you’re doing and I wanted to know if we could do that.”
How was the discussion? Were you all on the same page? Had you kept in touch over the years?
“I’d had all the boys on my show over the years, so we weren’t not talking, but I wouldn’t say we were in touch either. Normally it was when they had something to sell, so they were always busy. In those years, inevitably, everyone’s families have grown and there’s more to think about. But, as soon as we met up, we were swapping stories and cracking jokes in no time. When you do and go through so much together, it creates a bond that’s hard to break. Westlife were always closer than most boybands.”
What makes you say that?
“Most boybands are put together. That’s their nature. But Kian, Mark and Shane knew each other from school. They arrived with more of a bond than the boys in Blue or Take That or One Direction did, they were just put together. That doesn’t make you any more relevant now though, you need a reason to keep going.”
How did you approach collecting songs for the record? Were there writers you were interested in working with?
“I’d read that Ed Sheeran had grown up a Westlife fan and when I heard that, the first thing I thought was ‘We need to get him writing for us’. He’s worked a lot with Steve Mac and Steve Mac wrote for us, right from the start of our career and gave us some of our biggest hits. I spoke to Steve about Ed and he told that not only was he interested, but they’d already been writing songs and I was over the moon.”
What was the first track he gave you?
“It was ‘Better Man’. I loved it, it’s a classic old school ballad with a modern twist. We were really known for our ballads at the height of our career and it was great to re-discover that. We were all very conscious that these new songs had to match what we’ve done already. Tracks like ‘World Of Our Own’ and ‘Flying Without Wings’, songs that feel timeless, they had to be up there.”
You went looking for the best writers then?
“We’ve got Steve Mac in charge, Ed Sheeran has given us four songs, all the first four singles, then you got James Bay and Ryan Tedder working with us too. I looked at Coldplay and I really wanted us to be the boyband version of them. We know we’ve got a big fanbase, but we’ve grown up and so have our fans, you need to acknowledge that, you can’t pretend to be the same person you are in your 20’s.”
Did you record many songs for the album?
“Not really, no. We worked on the album a lot and over a long time and we were still working on it up until about two months ago. We ended up recording 13 or 14. We thought we might record 30 or 40 and then work it down, but we were so confident about the songs we didn’t need to. We got Ed Sheeran, that was a massive win. He’s the biggest songwriter on the planet and he has a real soft spot for us. That was such a boost.”
When did you decide on Spectrum for the album title?
“This is Westlife 2.0. It’s a phrase we use a lot. It means we don’t accept second best and we don’t settle for anything. We want our music to be colourful and we want it to be accessible to everybody; We’re older now and we’ve got more control over our careers. We used to do exactly what we were told to do."
"We recorded what we were told to record and if the label wanted us to go on TV head to foot in white Gucci, we’d do it. We’ve grown up now, we’ve come back with fresh eyes and fresh perspective. Those eight years gave us a lot more confidence and we want more control.”
You’re signed to Universal now, how’s the new label set up going?
“It’s been brilliant. We made it very clear to them that they weren’t signing the same Westlife, they were signing adults now and it was going to be much more of a partnership. I’m not talking down Sony and Simon Cowell, we’d be nothing without them, but it was time to do something else.”
You talked earlier about wanting to make sure you and your bandmates were committed to the band, does that mean you’ll want to be back in the studio soon?
“I can’t see a new album coming any time soon, certainly we won’t work at the pace we used to. 13 albums in 14 years! No way.”
That was a ferocious pace…
“Boybands have to do that. There’s no way around that. Someone is always coming to take your spot. Kids grow up and you lose them. Teenagers can be massive Westlife fans one day and the next they hate them. You have to keep working and winning new fans.”
But lots of your fans have followed you, you’re playing football stadiums...
“It’s not just young girls anymore. I used to joke at our shows ‘Hands up if you’ve been dragged along’ and you’d get a good chunk of fellas with their hands up and a big cheer. Now, I think we’ve moved into the next level, our shows are beyond the music, they’re spectacles. You have to give people a great night out and leave them with their mouths open.”
Westlife’s new album Spectrum is out now in hmv stores.