Back at the turn of the Millennium Busted were Britain’s biggest boy band, notching up four Number One singles, two million-selling albums and a pair of Brit Awards before singer and guitarist Charlie Simpson left to concentrate on his alternative rock group Fightstar.
A decade later they’ve reunited with a radically different, 80s-influenced electronic sound that’s more reflective of their thirty-something tastes, and an image that’s a far cry from their pogoing pop punk past.
Having been steadfastly opposed to a reunion for many years, Simpson admits he took a little persuading by his former bandmates James Bourne and Matt Willis before deciding to restart Busted.
“We hadn’t really been in the same room for about eight years and they came round to my house a couple of years ago and told me that they wanted to do something again with the band and I said at the time it wasn’t right for me,” he says.
“But we just hung out all that afternoon and I don’t know, it just sparked something which changed what I think I imagined Busted would be in the future in my mind.”
While they waited for Simpson to come round to their idea Bourne and Willis went off and formed a short-lived supergroup with members of McFly, but eventually, by 2015, the three members of Busted had recommenced writing songs together.
“We went into the studio [in Philadelphia] and just had a week writing and it just felt very different to what I imagined it would feel like,” says Simpson. “I think that our creative visions were far more aligned than they were ten years ago.”
Quickly finding musical common ground certainly helped. “It was the strangest thing,” Simpson says. “I thought that would have taken longest but it was right there straight away, which was brilliant.”
By early 2016 the trio felt ready to record a new album and headed for a studio in Los Angeles to work with producer John Fields (Jimmy Eat World, All Time Low, Pink).
Simpson says they didn’t start with a specific template, only that “we knew that we wanted it to sound different to anything we’d done before”.
“The only thing we knew is what we didn’t want,” he continues. “We knew that we didn’t want to make a record that would be reminiscent of ten years ago. How the music took form was very natural – we just got into a room, set the instruments up and we started playing around.
“The main thing was, regardless of the sonics involved, we just wanted to write some good pop songs. We wanted to write timeless pop songs that would sound as current hopefully in ten years as they do now. So I think we just had an idea in our heads of what we wanted, we weren’t sure how we were going to achieve it and the only way we knew that was to get into the studio and start playing the instruments.”
Jetting out to pastures new also aided the creative process, Simpson feels. “We just wanted to get out of London because when you’re there you’re at home and you have a lot of distractions that you might not think will necessarily distract you but they’re just things that will take you out of the mindset of making a record. You just feel when you’re making a record that you need to be fully immersed in it.
“We’re already talking about making the next record and I think we’ll do the same again, we’ll go somewhere and just be there so we’re fully focused on the job at hand.”
The first song they wrote for Night Driver was called Easy and was based on “an idea that James had a while ago”.
“But the first song that we wrote afresh with all three of us was Without It,” Simpson says. “When we wrote that song it definitely felt like ‘we should carry on down this direction, sonically this feels right’. I guess that was the template song for the rest of the record.”
John Fields’ no-nonsense approach in the studio did come as a surprise. “I found that utterly bizarre and so uncomfortable,” Simpson says. “I’m used to making records where you go in there, you spend a couple of days tuning drums let alone playing drums, everything is methodical. With John he’s so fast, he’s like ‘Get in there, do the vocals’ and I’d do what I thought was a placeholder vocal and he was like ‘That’s brilliant’ and everything I did he was just pushing me to do it.
“What was amazing was I figured out in retrospect he wasn’t doing it so I rushed or try and gloss over it or not make it as good as it could be, he was just trying to get the natural essence of a performance which often happens first. The first time you sing something you might have a bit of magic there that you won’t get if you’ve done it ten times. It was just a very different way of working that I really appreciate now and I hear the results of.”
Busted’s first comeback tour, in May last year, certainly wasn’t low key; instead they played arenas. Simpson says it was “a big call” but the sold-out shows proved demand was there. “We were told they were pretty confident to sell them but we were playing a lot of old songs,” the singer concedes.
Their shows this month are in more modest sized venues, and will feature songs from Night Driver. “What’s exciting is this is the first sort of tour of the new era where we’re going to play a lot of songs off the new record and we’re going back to some of the venues we first played, so it feels like the start of a new chapter now, that we’re building back up.”
Simpson says fans have reacted positively to Busted’s mature sound.
“It’s been a lot to adapt to. As an old Busted fan or as someone that knew about Busted and wasn’t necessarily into them it’s a big departure in sound, a big change, but the general feeling has been very warm.
“We’re very proud of this record. I think this is by far the best record we’ve ever done as Busted. I can’t wait for people to hear it and get into it.”
He feels the band have developed as performers in their ten years apart. “I think we’ve just honed our craft,” he says. “I think the older you get the better you get. I think we’re better song writers than we were, we’re better players, better singers. Experience gives you more time to really hone your craft.”
There is perhaps less jumping around on stage, however. “We were 17 back then and full of energy; we’re now in our thirties with kids and all sorts so it’s a slightly different vibe,” Simpson says.
Busted play at O2 Academy Leeds on February 21. For details visit http://www.busted.com/