Hello Josh. So from what I gather the general idea is this: Union J! They’re back! They’re a bit more about ‘the music’! There you go! Right?
That is the idea, yes. Hopefully the second album is going to be a real statement that we make about being here to try different music, try different things and hopefully have some more success.
Which is all very well but the big question is what’s going to be happening with your hair during this album campaign because as you’re no doubt well aware, you do have some of the most beautiful hair, on a man, in pop.
I’m not sure about that.
People talk about ‘difficult second album’, but what about the difficult second haircut? To be fair Emeli Sandé will have exactly the same problem.
Well my hairdresser was talking to me the other day about this, and he did say that what we’re going to do is step it up for the second album. I said, “I have no idea — you’re the expert.” And he likes the idea of a kind of rockabilly thing. So… Maybe that will be the second haircut. A bit of a curl in the middle.
LIKE ALEX TURNER OUT OF THE ARCTIC MONKEYS?
Maybe, but maybe not as Alex Turnerish. A bit more Josh Cuthbert, you know? I don’t even know what Josh Cuthbert means, but whatever it does mean, that.
We’ll come closer to defining what Josh Cuthbert means later on in the interview but for the time being, please discuss your new single for readers who may not have heard it yet. You've got about thirty seconds.
Okay. Well obviously the World Cup is currently kicking off and the song — in a weird way — has a bit of a World Cup feel to it. It’s got some chanty “oh”s, it’s a feelgood song. It’s a summery song. It’s funny how a lot of songs in the summer don’t sound very summery, isn’t it? Hopefully people will enjoy listening to it with their roofs down in the summer.
You specifically mean people in cars, right?
You don’t want people having the roofs removed from their houses.
No. Although I’m sure all the roofing people, and the loft insulation people, will love me for suggesting that people take their roofs off.
Have you gone into business with a load of builders, meaning that you get a cut of all their fees?
Yes. We’ll earn a fortune. We’ll probably earn more than we do from music sales!
It’s important to find innovative new revenue streams.
Times are tough — you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
Most songs sound like at least one other song. What would you say your single sound like?
Don’t laugh but it sounds like ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ from The Lion King. The chants are very similar to that. But in terms of another band or another style, and I was saying this to the head of our label the other day, but do you remember Keane? The band Keane? If you can imagine what Keane were like ten years before they came out, so when they were our age, that’s what it sounds like.
I think Keane were actually about your age when they came out.
Really? I didn’t know that. They must have just looked a bit older.
Is your new single as good as the current 5 Seconds Of Summer single which is, let’s face it, amazing?
I definitely think it stands up to some of the stuff those guys have done, yes.
On the landscape of pop as it stands, where and what are Union J?
Well with the exception of George we don’t play instruments so therefore we’re more of a stereotypical boyband than some of the others out there now…
How about ‘classic boyband’?
Yes. Yes that’s the way to describe it. We’re a classic boyband trying to have the success that a lot of the other classic boybands have in the past. That’s the best way of describing where we are.
You mentioned the head of your label earlier. And just to recap on what’s been going on: you came out. You released an album. It was a modest success, shall we say?
It wasn’t a multi-platinum behemoth, it wasn’t a complete fiasco, it just came out, some people bought it, they liked it, you got dropped anyway, but now you have a new label and things are fine. Is that correct?
That’s correct, except we didn’t get dropped from the label. After the first album sort of happened, we sat down with our management and Sony and talked about the best step forward, and we all decided that the best step forward was to move from RCA to Epic. Basically because they’ve got an international vision for us that perhaps we didn’t have before. And Epic have already put us with some great writers and producers who we’ve been so lucky to work with, and it’s a match made in Heaven so far.
And RCA were just like “okay, fair enough, see ya”?
Well we had a great working relationship with RCA, and we’re thankful to them for giving us the first opportunity to release music because without them we wouldn’t have released an album. So we have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude towards RCA, but sometimes things just don’t work out.
Re these great writers and producers. Are they really great, or is it just whoever’s around?
We went to LA a week or so ago to work with Diane Warren, and you can’t get much more successful than Diane Warren.
Well there’s Ryan Tedder.
Yep. And we’ve got a record off him as well.
Yes, we’ve put the vocals down. We hope it will make the album — we’re working on the overall sound of the record now and it’s down to decisions made by the label in the next few months. But yes, we’ve been working with incredible writers and producers.
Surely if you’ve got a decent Ryan Tedder song you don’t go “ooh, is the album going to be cohesive”, you go “bugger cohesion, let’s whack in some Tedder”?
Well yes. We’ve got the song, we’ve recorded it…
What’s it called?
I’m not allowed to say.
That would actually be a goodish name for a song.
It would! But yes, obviously a Ryan Tedder song is a Ryan Tedder song and they’re all incredibly well written, so we’d be silly to let a Ryan Tedder song slip. If it has a different sound to the rest of the record, it can easily be tweaked.
A little tweak of the nipples.
EXACTLY. Just like that. Nice and firm. (???)
Imagine Ryan Tedder has one of those nice Bisley filing cabinets with six drawers in it. Songs of varying quality divided between the drawers. Top Drawer, Bottom Drawer, four in between. Which of the drawers did he have your song in?
I’m going to go for nearer the top than the bottom. We’re yet to hear it back with our vocals on. Fingers crossed we’ve done a great song justice and that when the song comes back it sounds like something from that top metal drawer with the star on it.
Do you think in general Union J are more top than bottom?
I think we’ve got some unfinished business. We’d love this second album to be more successful — we’re bang on in the middle at the moment. We had a successful first year, not just with records but with merchandise and things like that.
Yes the dolls, and a fragrance and a deal we’ve just done with Claire’s Accessories. So as soon as our music’s success matches our merchandise’s success we’ll be all good.
Do you think the extra cash coming in from your other endeavours made the band more appealing for Epic, in that they might not have taken you on without it?
I think anyone, regardless of how many records they sell, will always be more appealing to a label if they have more money coming in from merchandise. It helped us, I imagine, but they never really spoke to us about that specifically. They basically said, “we see a lot of potential in you — if we give you the right songs and the right platform and put you in with the right producers then the world’s your oyster.”
When they said “we see a lot of potential in you”, was there someone in the corner activating a comedy cash till ‘KERCHING’ sound effect?
There actually was, it was our day-to-do manager. He sits under the table playing sound effects. That’s what he’s employed for — he’s got to do something with his time.
Of the top writers and producers you’ve been working with, who wrote and produced the single?
It’s actually written by guys who haven’t actually done too much, but who are hungry for it.
Which sometimes makes sense, because then you get the top drawer stuff, rather than the two-drawers-down stuff.
Exactly. Actually I was a bit unfair on them — they’ve had some success. It’s a company called Red Triangle, and Josh Wilkinson. They’ve had cuts with 1D and 5 Seconds Of Summer and stuff like that. They’re up and coming, is what I mean. And in a way we are too. And we wanted to go with the song that makes most sense as the first single.
And also, much as we might get excited in interviews like this about who’s written a particular song, people don’t really listen to the radio and go “hm, who wrote that song”. They just think, “was that song amazing, or was it not?”
Yes. If it’s the right song it’s the right song.
It’s interesting that you said you were up and coming, considering the profile you already have.
It’s just a question of keeping our feet on the floor. The first year was great: we had a lot of success with what we did, but this feels like a fresh new start for us. It feels like we’re just beginning now, really. We’re really involved with the A&R decisions and we’ve been writing on the album — we’ve written six or seven songs that might be on the album — so without wanting to take anything away from the first year we had, it feels like a fresh start.
Which is a better attitude than behaving as if you’d definitely made it. Because then you probably would get dropped.
Well yes. We’re very hungry. Particularly myself — I’ve played sports all my life and I’m always competitive in what I do. It’s what drives me on to get up in the morning, do long days and work.
So with that in mind were you disappointed with how the first album did?
No, not at all. The first album could have done better, but it could have done worse. All we can do is make sure we put in 100% effort every single time we leave our front doors as Union J. We’ve never had it easy — X Factor was tough for us when we were in the bottom two those times, for instance. But we got through that, and that’s the mentality we have: we’re fighters. We put in a lot of hard work and, fingers crossed, it’ll pay off.
Do you look back on things not going better with a sense of rage and resentment, or are you more philosophical about it?
We had a year doing what we love doing, as we’re still here today so that’s great. We look back and take the positives and work on the negatives.
What do you consider to be the central tenets of your own, personal philosophy?
I try to do as many things now that I did before I was in Union J. I try to keep up with friends and family, play sports, things like that. Life’s too short not to have fun.
What do the rest of you do once George is tucked up in bed?
He’s probably asleep by about eight, right?
Are you saying that because he looks a bit younger?
Yes, it is a hilarious joke.
Bless him. Well to be honest all I do is play FIFA. That’s literally all I do. It sounds sad but that’s pretty much my life. At the moment my life is dominated by the World Cup and Union J, it’s like being in a relationship with two different people. I need to juggle them and make sure I give each as much attention as I possibly can. And the World Cup only comes round every four years!
A chance in pop comes once in a lifetime Josh.
That probably wasn’t my best answer, was it?
And actually chances in pop do come around more than once, because at one point you were nearly in The Wanted. Are you glad you didn’t end up in the 21st Century’s most charmless boyband?
Do you know what, The Wanted had a really successful career. They released some great songs, they had some success over in America which is easier said than done, and if Union J have the same career as The Wanted then I certainly won’t go to my coffin wishing we’d done better. And we know the boys personally and they’re wicked fellas.
Are they though?
Aren't they a bit ‘hashtag ladbatz’?
Well they’re not your stereotypical boyband but maybe that’s why they worked, and why they had a great fanbase while they were around.
You don’t have an individual Wikipedia page, just an entry on the main Union J one. What do you think this says about your role in the world of pop?
Do you know what, I quite like that. I quite like that we’re just there as Union J. The people who get behind us and get us in the charts and stuff know our individual personalities, but I quite like the idea that we’re on there as a group, it feels like it reflects how we want to work as a team and fight the world together.
Your individual entry on the band’s Wikipedia page says this: “Josh is loud and is known to swear a lot.”
That hasn’t changed since The X Factor. I have no idea why people think I swear a lot.
What’s the best swear word?
I think watching Harry Potter, when Ron says “bloody hell”, is the best swearing. It’s not too offensive, but it gets all the anger out.
Also on your Wikipedia page: “He's also known as the 'Funny One' in Union J.” FUNNY ONE IN INVERTED COMMAS.
(Laughs) Oh dear. One inverted comma would be fine but two seems a bit harsh. The thing is, when we all get tired, I’ll always try to make a joke regardless of whether it’s funny. And people laugh if it’s funny, but they’ll also laugh if it’s really not funny. So, er, it’s win/win, isn’t it?
Well this interview has gone quite well.
It’s gone alright considering I’m driving.
I’m driving up to Nottingham to pick up my car.
Have you stolen a car?
Yes, I’ve nicked a Ford Ka. (Pause) No, it’s a hire car.
Thank goodness. Goodbye!