Interview: The Godfathers of guitar pop: now McBusted roll with rock royalty

The Godfathers of guitar pop: now McBusted roll with rock royalty

While 5 Seconds of Summer spent 2014 on the cover of rock magazines, McBusted enlist Mark Hoppus and Rivers Cuomo to prove the blurring of the lines between pop and alternative is nothing new.

Imagine if 2002 had been like 2014. Busted standing proud on the cover of the biggest rock magazines, packing out poster specials and sending the sparkly unicorns of MySpace into raptures. Or in 2004, finding McFly’s ‘Room on the 3rd Floor’ beating Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ in the end of year charts. Over the past twelve months, 5 Seconds of Summer have blurred lines more than ever, but outside of the spotlight of the media glare, not so much has changed.

While the constituent parts of McBusted may never have been taken seriously as bands-with-guitars, their influence on those that were is huge. Like a gateway drug to power chords, today’s rock scene is scattered with those who (not so) secretly first were hooked in by the Blink-182 homage of ‘Air Hostess’. If being influential is about sending minds spinning down the rabbit hole to deeper, darker places, Busted and McFly might well make your favourite bands look positively hermit-like in comparison.

“I think for those teenagers back then,” drummer Harry Judd reminisces, “the most exciting thing about Busted back in the day was that you suddenly had girls who, for the past twenty years, had been into Westlife, Five, Blue, N*sync - five guys who stand with microphones, are good with a key change and do dance moves – and suddenly that whole audience was listening to Matt and James and Charlie playing guitars.”

“They were suddenly into guitars,” pipes up James Bourne from one side of the long conference table the band are sat around. Six people is a lot to get around one table. “That was the most exciting thing about ten years ago.” He laughs, “record companies started rethinking their whole models!” 

“When we came out, we’d play these radio shows and we’d have our guitars and the fact that we had them, and the fact that our music stood for what it was, was such a big statement.”

“Before McBusted came out last year,” Judd concludes, “it was boy bands again.” He’s right. Thanks to the likes of biggest-band-in-the-world One Direction, mostly, the pop gears seem to have shifted back a decade. “You know, you had your traditional five-piece, four-piece singing boy bands and we were like, ‘We’ve got another shot at this’.”

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The Godfathers of guitar pop: now McBusted roll with rock royalty

“Certain people we know just like a certain style of music and that’s the way they like it and everything else is shit. It’s obviously not shit!”

Matt Willis

Still somewhat stuck with the old ‘pop curse’ of their other outfits - it may seem silly but it’s something they’ve learned to accept. With shifting musical climates and broadening horizons, it could be argued that the lines of pop and alternative are as blurred as they’re ever going to be – Taylor Swift is an alternative icon while the afore mentioned 5 Seconds of Summer are a fully-fledged rock band in some eyes - but for a band like McBusted, it just doesn’t matter anymore.

“The majority of people don’t give a shit,” Matt Willis adds to the conversation of the word ‘pop’ specifically, “but targeted audiences really give a shit. Certain people we know just like a certain style of music and that’s the way they like it and everything else is shit. It’s obviously not shit! It’s fucking great pop music, but that’s just the way they see it. That’s always going to be the way.”

“I think you see it and you hear it sometimes,” Judd continues, on the subject of naysayers, “but I don’t think we really care as much.” 

“I don’t think it’s our world anymore,” Willis says. “We gave a shit a little bit in Busted…” 

“That’s the reason Charlie left,” throws in Bourne, referencing their 2004 split from former member Charlie Simpson. “We cared a little bit about that stuff,” Willis goes further, “but I regret caring so much.”

“The word ‘cool’ should never come into it.”

Harry Judd

Love them or loathe them, it’s been a surreal ride for McBusted. We all know the story by now. A supergroup born out of two bands who – some could argue at least – saw their strongest years back in the mid-noughties, their union was another welcome nostalgia kick, but with a bit of a difference. 

When it was announced that the remaining two members of Busted, Bourne and Willis, were to join forces with their honorary brothers-in-arms McFly, it was a big deal for most people around the age of 25. After a surprise first appearance at McFly’s Royal Albert Hall show in 2013, their first big news came in the form of an eleven-show arena tour, which soon became a thirty-odd date, two-month long jaunt around some of the UK’s biggest venues, playing some of each band’s most loved hits. They then went on to headline Hyde Park. It became more than just another band reunion.

“I think one of the first things I remember us saying was that the word ‘cool’ should never come into it,” offers up Judd. “We were like, ‘Let’s just do it’.”

It wasn’t just about a tour anymore, this was something bigger. Having seen firsthand exactly who was coming to their shows and realising this wasn’t just about letting some now-20 year olds get drunk and sing along to ‘What I Go To School For’ for old time’s sake, they wanted to give something back, something a bit more tangible than a night of the hits.

“That was why we wanted to make the album,” Judd explains. “We realised it wasn’t just about nostalgia, it was about the young people. You never know with these things; sometimes it’s out of your hands. You make an album and it’s completely out of your hands and that’s just how it goes, but we felt like we needed to do more than just a tour. It just felt so fun and exciting and you know, we’re still young and there’s a lot of things for us to do, whether it’s as a band, or McFly, or these guys” - he gestures towards Bourne and Willis - “and their own career. It was like, ‘Let’s just keep going.’”

The Godfathers of guitar pop: now McBusted roll with rock royalty

“It was clear how we were gonna make the album, what it needed to be and what we wanted it to be. We didn’t need to go away and experiment.”

Tom Fletcher

Thanks to time, or quite possibly the lack thereof, their debut album had to come together quickly. Luckily, with the energy of the tour still buzzing through their veins, the songs came easily enough. “It was always important to find the identity of McBusted,” McFly guitarist Danny Jones joins in. “The time that we’d had on stage led towards what we put into the album.”

“I think a lot of the time when we’re writing for McFly,” the band’s other guitarist Tom Fletcher suggests, “there’s a lot of working out what you want to do. You write some songs, you find that’s not really right. There’s a process of finding out exactly what direction you want to go in and then how you want to make the album, whereas with McBusted it was clear how we were gonna make the album, what it needed to be and what we wanted it to be. It was just a case of us getting our heads down and doing it; we didn’t need to go away and experiment.” 

“For this album,” Judd explains, “we each split off to do certain songs. The test was that when we first played the song that we had, it was whether we were all instantly smiling and hearing the chorus and being a bit like, ‘Yeah!’ These are fun songs to listen to, lyrically and musically. With McFly, maybe at times we got quite deep about what was what whereas this was more like, ‘Let’s put a big load of energy into this.’”

“It was definitely a snapshot of a moment,” James sums up. Harry finishes his sentence for him. “We just didn’t have time to think.”

It wasn’t just an opportunity for the band to throw a bit of caution to the wind either: it gave the six-piece the excuse to hark back to their earlier influences. “What I think was really exciting,” offers up Jones, on the creation of ‘McBusted’, “is that we went back to looking at who had really influenced us in the early days; the Blink-182s, the Sum 41s. There wasn’t any being caught up in whether this was gonna be played here or there, we just made an album that six dudes having a laugh wanted to make.”

“We got amazing people involved as well,” Bourne chips in, of their collaborators. Take a glance at the album’s tracklisting, and all is not quite as expected. Amongst the list of guests is Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus. “Having Mark singing on a song on the album, that’s a dream come true.” Betcha didn’t see that one coming.

“The Mark thing was just a coincidence,” explains Judd. “Dougie had met him earlier in the year and become friends with him.” “He’s totally the nicest dude in the world,” continues bassist Dougie Poynter, “and he writes the same way as we do, just with acoustic guitars. He has fun lyrical ideas so it was just an awesome time. Hearing him sing, as well, on the song is incredible.”

Hoppus isn’t the only guest; All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo are also among the ranks. It’s like a who’s who of pop punk royalty. “Steve Robson, the guy who produced the album,” says Judd, “is friends with Alex from All Time Low and he was over so we decided to write with him. The Weezer connection was actually a couple of years ago; some of the McFly guys wrote with Rivers which was a buzz at the time, so when we were making this, we realised that that song would fit perfectly onto this album. Those are three of our favourite songs on the album.”

“Making this album put a bit of fun back into music,” adds Danny enthusiastically, “because there’s so much out there that is pretty serious.” “It was nice to have people go, ‘You can work with these guys’ and we could be like, ‘Okay, yeah’,” Harry confirms. “It felt like the good old days. It felt like we did our bit. There was unfinished business as well, I think, for Matt and James so hopefully this is their therapy.”

McBusted’s self-titled debut album is out now via Island Records. 

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