Pop-rock band Busted are back with their second album since reforming a couple of years ago. They talk to Lucy Mapstone about how they wanted to create an album that felt truly “Busted”, why they are feeling uninspired by current chart music, and how they are determined to finally knock The Greatest Showman off the number one spot.
Busted’s Matt Willis is not impressed with the current state of the music charts.
He’s particularly agitated by the potential threat one piece of work poses to the band’s new album Half Way There.
“That Greatest Showman album, oh my God,” he says, lightly seething over a conference call.
“If that knocks us off number one, I’m going to be so annoyed. Can you put a message out? On February 1, stop buying The Greatest Showman, for one week, so ours can get to number one, please?”
In a room at their record label’s London office with his bandmates Charlie Simpson and James Bourne, he adds over the phoneline: “Busted have never had a number one album.
Back in the early Noughties, the pop-rock group did manage to notch up a handful of number one singles, including Crashed The Wedding and You Said No.
But not one of their three albums have managed to strike number one gold, although the first two, Busted and A Present For Everyone, both peaked at a very respectable number two in 2002 and 2003.
Not that the lack of number ones really had any impact on their success or level of fame – the group were, and are still, very well-known – thanks to their pumping out of infectious, catchy, punk-pop singles about fancying teachers (What I Go To School For) and travelling to a bizarre future filled with triple-breasted women (Year 3000), and their feisty yet fun, accessible persona.
Not to mention their split more than 10 years ago, the catalyst of which was Simpson’s swift exit to pastures new with heavier post-hardcore band Fightstar, leaving Willis and Bourne no choice but to call it a day.
So this, their fourth album and their second since reforming in 2016, is Busted’s chance to finally hit the chart summit.
“Let’s start a campaign!” Simpson bellows from a distant part of the office they’re in, matching Willis’ dedication to the downfall of The Greatest Showman once and for all.
It could prove quite the task to knock the film soundtrack from the number one spot – it has clung on for 28 non-consecutive weeks since its release in December 2017 at time of publication.
Its ongoing success is largely down to streams and downloads, but there’s something about it that is clearly gripping the nation, above and beyond what the rest of the modern charts have to offer.
“We need Nirvana now more than ever,” Willis insists. “You need a guitar band to come out and change the world.
“I listen to the radio, I don’t connect with anything. I don’t wanna be an old moaning man, but I really don’t.
“I listen to Radio 1, and I’m like, ‘What is all this stuff?’. I’m not living in the past, I’m just not excited by the future.”
In agreement, Bourne pitches in: “When you have music with instruments that are played by people, there’s a feeling you can’t really get from when you process stuff on computers.
“It’s all electronic. You lose the human feel that music has.
“The further back in time you go, the more music sounds like music.”
Getting that human feel back is a big priority to Busted and, while their 2016 record Night Driver erred on the alternative pop, synthy side of things, Half Way There marks a sort-of return to the sound that made them famous way back when but in a more mature way.
“What we did with Night Driver, I was really excited about, so that kind of made sense,” says Simpson.
“But this record, although it’s kind of going back to the original sound, it’s a much more grown-up rock sound.
“If we could have made this record 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have left the band. Maybe we’d have gone on hiatus to do other projects, but this was the vision that aligns all three of us.
“I feel like we’ve been able to create the band that I always wanted the band to be.”
It’s no secret that Simpson grew tired of the way the band was viewed back in their hey-day.
To the real rock music folk, they were kind of a joke. Many thought they belonged in the pop arena, despite their undeniable talents as songwriters and musicians.
They weren’t the same as the slew of manufactured pop bands of the time, but unfortunately they were put into that category. And that’s why Simpson left.
“Splitting up when we did was the absolute most important thing we ever could have done,” he insists.
“Had we not split up, we probably would have risked our friendships, because I was pretty miserable.
“Not because of Matt and James, but because I didn’t like where the band was or how it was perceived – and I think it would have harmed our friendship, we would have dragged it into the ground. It would have been a horrible ending.
“So putting the friendship on ice, preserving the friendship, but going to do our own things creatively and then coming back, allowed us to do this now.”
The trio bunkered down at Bourne’s London flat, where they spent time together in their earlier days, to create the new record. It was produced by Gil Norton, who has worked with the likes of the Foo Fighters and the Pixies.
The album is typically Busted, with songs including nostalgic ode Nineties, a track about Elon Musk called Race To Mars, and the autobiographical It Happens.
“We wrote everything on acoustic guitars, which is how we used to write songs,” reveals Simpson.
The album is “quite hard-hitting” in parts, but has a lighter side to it too, he says.
As important as it was for Willis, Simpson and Bourne to create music they all loved, and that set them slightly apart from their younger days, the main message is clear: they wanted to create a record that was for the average Busted fan.
Willis explains: “When we were trying to make the next album, we probably scrapped around two or three albums’ worth of material.
“We were trying to work out what Busted was in 2018, 2019. We were trying to work out, who are we?
“Are we relevant? Is this album gonna fit on the radio?”
He said that after making some “pretty bad decisions” about the music, they just went:
“Let’s just make a Busted record, because we are Busted.
“We wrote a song called Nineties that really changed the trajectory of the album, and then it all kind of happened.”
“We just made a Busted album. And that’s what Half Way There is.
“This is an album for the fans.”
Half Way There by Busted is available from February 1.