INTERVIEW: Fightstar

With the success of rockers Fightstar, former boy band star Charlie Simpson hasn't looked back

"EXCUSE me, can we just keep to questions about Fightstar, please?"

Oops.

It seems me delving into Charlie Simpson's boy band past isn't going down too well with his publicist, and I hastily murmur my apologies in fear of the interview being brought to an abrupt end.

Simpson, for his part, seems largely unconcerned.

"It's a whole different thing," he says, when asked to compare his experiences as frontman of rock band Fightstar to those with the multi-million selling pop trio Busted, which disintegrated on his departure in 2005.

"Busted was just a fun job at the time, it was pop music, but it wasn't satisfying my musical hunger.

"I said to myself when we started Fightstar, 'I really don't care if we're playing to 50 people for 10 years.'

"If financial gain had anything to do with it I would have stayed with Busted. But now I feel totally fulfilled."

In spite of the cynics' expectations, Fightstar have proved a critical and commercial success. They play a one-off show at Leeds Rio's on February 13.

"Leeds is one of our favourite cities to play," Simpson enthuses. "Lots of my friends went to uni there, so I always go out and party with them afterwards."

The band – completed by Alex Westaway on guitar and vocals, bassist Dan Haigh, and drummer Omar Abidi – have just finished mixing third album Be Human, ready for release on April 13.

"I'm so excited about it man, it's a new direction. There's some stuff on there people won't expect, I'm really happy with it as a body of work.

"The main progression is that for the first time we've managed to use a 16-piece orchestra.

"We went to Air Studios, where they've done loads of great films soundtracks – Pirates of The Carribean, Batman – in a huge converted cathedral.

"We worked with Audrey Riley, who's done stuff with Muse and Foo Fighters, and I remember reading about her doing a Funeral For a Friend album – Tales Don't Tell Themselves.

"It was great to bring that element, that classical side, into it. It adds so much."

Despite the stigma of being involved with Busted, Fightstar's opening releases were largely greeted with warmth by the rock press.

Kerrang! magazine has been particularly helpful to the band from the start, giving a four-star rating to debut EP They Liked You Better When You Were Dead.

For its part, the five-track mini-album was a magnificent statement of intent – 25 minutes of eloquently judged distortion-and-delay guitar sounds, quiet-loud serenity and destruction, inventive structure, and an impressive take on the scream/sing vocal interface.

Pitched halfway between the intense melodic fervour of Thursday and the brash emo of Taking Back Sunday, it presented Fightstar as a British rival to the East Coast alternative rock scene.

Still, Kerrang! editor Paul Brannigan's description of Fightstar's debut album Grand Unification as "one of the best British rock albums of the last decade" was a brave one.

"That was unbelievable," Charlie says. "A friend read that out at my 21st birthday, in the speech. We've been really well supported by them, all the team at Kerrang!, and Rock Sound, too.

"The kids that are into this kind of music – cause it's kind of a niche scene in this country – these magazines are basically their bibles, they take so much from them."

Fightstar grew out of a shared love of some of the most innovative and evolutionary heavy rock bands of the last few years – Deftones and Thrice principle among them.

But it's the badly underrated 21st century post-rock scene, where only really Sigur Rs have touched on mainstream success, from which Simpson first names the band's biggest influences.

Bands like Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, and, crucially, Mono, after whom Fightstar named one of their most awe-inspiring tracks to date – a slowly-building, six-minute epic featured on both their first two releases, and a decent indication for how Be Human might sound.

"Yeah, with Mono that ending has a filmic quality," Simpson says. "Big, delayed guitars. For the new album we've tried to bring more of that even into the heavier songs."

Fightstar are a rarity in popular music, echoing Radiohead in the sense that their recorded sounds are just one part of the artistic whole they aim to present.

"A lot of bands I know leave the other creative stuff – sleeve artwork, videos – to other people. But everything we do comes straight from us."

Simpson names Damocles his favourite track on Be Human, as it gave him the best chance to broaden his musicianship.

"Omar broke his wrist halfway through recording, so I did half the drumming – it was a whole new challenge. I trained myself up, and I was so pleased with the way it came out."

Abidi, it seems, is somewhat accident-prone, as Simpson relates in a rather unusual tour 'war story'.

"Omar got into a bit of a disagreement at a service station, and this guy just came out of the queue and lost it, swung at him.

"He got his tooth smashed out by a one-armed man!"

Check out the band here