Lock up your mothers - Shane Interview
The nice boys from Westlife have already sold out three shows here in May and this week they announced another concert in Auckland. Rebecca Barry talks to founding member Shane Filan about their journey from boy band to man band.
Shane Filan has been in Westlife for so long he can’t remember not being in Westlife. Actually it's been 10 years, and after the band's New Zealand tour in May they'll return to Ireland for a special celebratory gig.
In that time Filan and band mates Nicky Byrne, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan have outlasted the majority of their former boy band contemporaries, and the notion that boy bands are strictly the stuff of the 90s. They've even outlasted the world's biggest girl band, the Spice Girls, recently lambasting their rivals' reunion as evidence they're "living in the past".
They've also maintained a healthy level of self-esteem in an industry that loves to poke fun, or pap their private lives in the tabloids.
These days it seems silly referring to them as a boy band. Now in their late 20s with families at home (Filan has a 2-year-old daughter; Byrne has twin sons) they're more of a man band.
"I don't care what we're called. We're not a girl group anyway. People have different names for us, some I won't mention on the phone."
So how on earth does a former five-piece, now four-piece from Sligo and Dublin, who sing sentimental originals and covers, stay relevant in a music industry that spits 'em out faster than you can say chart topping single?
Anyone who has seen their music videos or album covers - particularly World of our own in which they're glad in black leather pants - will know their good looks are as groomed as they come. Their first big hit in 1999 was the sappy crappy Flying Without Wings.
Yet their pulling power is undeniable. They've sold more than 36 million albums worldwide. Their ninth and most recent, Back home, featuring their cover of Michael Buble's Home, debuted at number one in Britain, has reached gold sales status in New Zealand, and sold 1.3 million copies worldwide. The New Zealand Tour Edition of their greatest hits went gold after three weeks. They've had 14 number one singles and, despite their dubious creative talents, have won Record of the Year award in Britain four times. The 4000 tickets for the band's Wellington concert sold out in three hours.
The secret to their success is that they are "100 per cent businessmen". "One decision can be so important. The wrong decision can be detrimental to your career so you've got to be kind of careful and clever with every decision you make. We do it as a business but we don't treat it like a business. We get up every day, we go to work, and at the beginning of every year, when you're thinking about what kind of album you want to do, it all starts off from there.”
"Then you've just got to make sure it's done right and promote it right. Obviously we have our ideas, the record company have their ideas; we've always got to meet in the middle and make everybody happy. "For us it's not all about profits. We've also got to try and enjoy what we do, love what we do and be proud of the songs."
He defends their decision to sing cover songs by pointing out that it's not easy to find decent original songs.
It hasn't always been Westlife making the decisions. They started out as a six-piece boy band called IOU, and at their first gig, attracted the attention of pop manager Louis Walsh, who took they group under his wing. After a line-up shuffle that saw Brian McFadden and Byrne join and three original members cast aside, they newly formed Westlife signed to Simon Cowell's RCA Records. Boyzone's Ronan Keating came on board to co-manage the group with Walsh.
But most of the big decisions are left to Cowell.
"He's been right a lot of the times and obviously one of the reasons we're still here is good decisions over the years."
Touring, however, is Westlife's business. Free from the commercial pressures of selling records, it's up to the boys to decide how they present themselves on stage, what they sing and how they might make tours special. It's not just market forces keeping the band together. Perhaps 10 years of singing love songs has kept them, well in love with each other?
"A lot of people love a love song" says Filan, who's the first to admit there's nothing complicated about their lyrics. "I think it about us understanding each other and having respect for each other. There's no hidden agendas."
It hasn't always been that way.
Filan recalls their darkest days when, five years ago, McFadden announced he was leaving. "That was a big shock to us because we literally did not expect it. It just happened, overnight really. We knew he was unhappy for a couple of months. We thought it must be his personal life or something else. We talked but he never mentioned he wanted to leave. Brian was always funny. You never knew what he was thinking half the time. Then one day he said, 'I want to go.' We thought he was punking us, like MTV Punk'd. We were looking around the room for cameras. It was so weird. We were like 'Why would you want to leave Westlife?'"
They later discovered McFadden was having marriage problems (he separated from his wife Kerry Katona soon afterwards). The band were reeling with just 19 days until their next big tour "So we had no time to sit back and cry and worry about it", says Filan. They decided against replacing him.
Any suggestion that Filan might one day fly the coop is dismissed with horror. "We all say we don't ever want to split up, there's no reason why we should. It's never been a dream of mine to go solo. I've always dreamed of being in a band. I'd rather do it with people I get along with and have that camaraderie on stage.”
"It's not just about money for me. If it ended tomorrow I probably wouldn’t do anything to be honest. It's pretty hard to beat Westlife's success."
And they've had enough of that not to worry what their critics think. Filan doesn't live in a bubble, though, and says he knows "a lot of bands out there don’t like Westlife" and he doesn’t care. "The fans are the only people we really care about. We're making albums for people who buy our music and like our voices."
After Dublin, where they'll play at the 80,000 capacity Croke Park stadium, there are plans to give those voices a rest for a while. They'll take a year out without releasing an album but will press on with a book and start looking for new producers and songwriters in the US.
Some of them might even come from left-field. Whether it's intended as an ironic collaboration or not, underground dance act Hot Chip are among those rumored to want to work with them.
"If they write a great song and produce it really well, why not?" says Filan. "We're not going to change the Westlife style. We'll always be into ballads. But we're not going to close any doors."
Source: Spin_nelly for typing it up / Time Out Magazine