Mark Westlife interview
Questions: Peter Robinson
Answers: Mark from Westlife (obviously)
Hello, Mark. This must be the end of a day of various interviews.
Yeah, we’ve just been doing group interviews where everyone butts in front of everyone and all that kind of stuff, so it’s nice to have a quiet room by myself now. Everyone’s off doing solo interviews and I got stuck with Popjustice… Oh, I mean Popjustice got stuck with me. (Awkward laugh)
It must be quite exciting to come back with a new album to talk about in interviews but there must also be a point, probably about two interviews into your first major day of press, when you think, ‘fucking hell, have I got to do this all over again?’
Um… Yeah. To be honest, I think I’ve got something exciting to talk about now, and that in the past hasn’t always been the case. Before that you knew it all already before you even got to the interview, but now it’s kind of, well, it really is a fresh sort of start for us. I mean I’m excited in these interviews more than I would have been because I’ve just got more to talk about.
That’s a very Noel Gallagher-esque approach to the ‘new album’ interview: “the last album was shit, the new one’s amazing though”.
Hahaha, yeah. Our new album is genuinely a move in a certain direction. I mean, it’s definitely not the predictable same old thing, covers or whatever. You know, I’m talking to Popjustice, I might as well be real. You know I’m not here to kind of fluff the edges or whatever, you know.
Obviously the first single is a cover, which you’ve had a bit of flack for…
You know, it is a cover and… Would we have preferred a brand new original song to be our first single that Simon [Cowell] loved and thought he could launch an album off? Yes. Um… That wasn’t exactly the case you know. We love this single, we genuinely do, and if you heard some of the suggestions that were put to us before this, well, you’d kind of understand why we’ve done this and why this is kind of a relief. There were many songs which I would be even scared to mention, you know, that were suggested to us which we turned down. There were many cover versions and many original songs that were either terrible or we would’ve been sort of trying to do a cover version of one of the best songs of all time that you’d just never touch.
What was the worst cover idea that was put to you?
There was loads of stuff through the years, like ‘You Are Not Alone’ by Michael Jackson…
And now of course that’s the X Factor finalists’ single.
Yeah, so Simon’s basically convinced somebody to do it, and it wasn’t us! Put it this way: there’s been times over the years where they’ve suggested stuff and we literally have gone ‘right, okay, don’t even go there…’ But then there’s other times when we have to find a reason. With Simon we don’t want to just go ‘no’ or whatever, we try and give him a reason, and sometimes it is a bit harder to give a reason why not to do it. And sometimes there’s a song where there is no reason not to cover them, you know.
Of course in the time you’ve been around, cover versions have become very cool. Jo Whiley built a very credible radio feature around cover versions and now you can’t move for people covering each others’ tunes, usually quite badly. Westlife set the trend Mark.
(Laughs) I think it’s just become the thing to talk about with Westlife, you know, ‘cover, whatever, blah blah blah’. I think, hopefully, if anyone actually genuinely wants to have an opinion, they’ll just give us the benefit and listen to our album before they make their minds up on it. So people can just listen to it and then after that, then if they wanna say “oh boring old predictable Westlife,” fine, but I’d just ask them to listen to the album first, because we’re just starting fresh.
If you had infinite time, a different record label and a different sort of ‘machine’ around you , what would be the album that you’d ideally make? If you didn’t have a fanbase to please, what would you want to do?
Well right now, honestly, we’ve gone through the full circle of what we feel. Sometimes we’ve felt more rebellious and gone, you know, ‘fuck you, label, we’re not doing that, we’ll do whatever we want’. I think we’ve realised after ten or eleven years that the most important thing is that everybody in the equation is on the same page, because if that doesn’t happen, then one of the kind of triangle of ourselves, management and the label loses interest, and without three people behind it, it never kind of reaches its full potential, so this time around, it’s the first time ever apart from probably our first album that everybody has felt the exact same about the album. Simon texted me when I was driving my car through Central London, and of course I pulled over to read the text because I’m very safety conscious and all that. But I literally nearly died, because Simon texted me and said ‘oh my god, guys, I have to tell you – hats off, your album is amazing. Your instincts were right, you’ve followed your instincts and you’ve really come out on top and this is the best album that we’ve ever made together’. And I practically shed a tear I was so happy, because I already knew I was happy with it and the rest of the boys were, and Louis was – but to find out that Simon was happy with it was like the final piece of the jigsaw. And it meant that, you know what, if this album flops then we’ve given it our best shot and everyone’s been fully behind it, so we can’t use the excuse of ‘the label weren’t really behind it fully’ or whatever.
What’s on the album then?
There’s a song that I’m really proud of myself which I wrote with Shaznay Lewis and Chris Braide called ‘Reach Out’ that I’m very, very proud of because I’ve always strived to write but I’ve always been a bit scared because it can be quite frowned upon sometimes, especially in the past for us to even mention the word ‘write’. I kind of went off and did it in my own time and then once I had a good demo, I brought it to the label and they liked it… I did it that way instead of going in and meeting them and saying ‘do you mind if I write and could you put me in with someone?’.
What’s the song about?
Um…well it’s kind of… I wrote it about something personal actually and I don’t really want to say what it is. But it’s just that kind of thing when someone’s in trouble and they’re not really saying anything about it. It’s quite a straightforward sentiment really. There’s also a song called ‘Shadows’ that we’ve done with Ryan Tedder that was written by him and AJ from the Backstreet Boys which is quite R&B vocally…
Does the chorus go “shadows, shadows, shadows” in a Ryan Tedder-esque kind of way.
I’m actually trying to think what the chorus is like for a second. (Incomprehensible humming) Actually it’s only got ‘shadows’ once, it’s not like ‘Halo’ or anything like that. We have another song called ‘Where We Are’ that we’ve done with Ryan that is a bit more like that ‘Halo’ kind of beat and everything.
You said at the start of this interview that you’re more into this album than you’ve been with past albums.
Absolutely. Basically the kind of final piece of the jigsaw is when you’re on the stage, and it’s the whole thing about believing in what you’re singing – I don’t mean like you’ve written the lyrics and it’s about a personal experience, but I mean believing that it’s good and standing there being proud of it, like performing ‘What About Now’ on The X Factor in front of 15 million people I was proud of that song. I was able to sing properly because I was proud and happy with it.
When were you last proud of an album? Let’s not forget your masterpiece, the rat pack covers album ‘Allow Us To Be Frank’.
Let’s forget that actually. (Laughs) That was a weird time in our career, really. I’m not making excuses for it, but Brian had just left. We kind of didn’t know what to do… Even when Brian was still in the band, people didn’t know what to do with us! But Brian had just left, everyone was a bit like ‘well this can’t be some kind of mediocre pop album’, and you know Robbie [Williams] had just gone out with his and when we heard the idea first, we were just like ‘well Robbie’s just done this, why don’t we just come up with our own little twist instead of doing something like that?’ We eventually bought into it and I have to say as a singer I enjoyed the experience of recording the album, but obviously you have to promote for six months and then you tour and stuff, so by the end of the tour we were ready to put that one behind us.
Alright, so that one was shit. ‘Back Home’, was that quite a good one? I’ve lost track.
I think ‘Back Home’ was kind of the beginning of this new album in a way. We’d been quite wary because Simon was starting to have huge success in America and we didn’t want Simon to turn around and go ‘they’re crazy, I don’t really know what they’re doing, they’re all mad in the head. They’re trying to be something they’re not.’ So it was a case of gradually, slowly but surely… It was the first time in a while that we’d done something that wasn’t predictable.
And how do you move forward from this, because even if this has given you a bit of renewed energy and excitement and you enjoy promoting it, you must be a bit bored of this now. But it is too late to do anything else? Are you stuck in Westlife forever?
Well I’ll always be a member of Westlife. Something that I learned in the time off was that I really do love Westlife and I need it in my life to be happy because it’s very much part of who I am and ten years later, it’s like… You know, as you said, you’re so far into it that it’s always going to be a part of me. And I am very proud of it. But part of the motivation to make the best pop album ever was: if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to do even one more album, let’s do it right, let’s not just wheel them out every year. We’re moving forwards, hopefully the next album will be even better, do you know what I mean? It’s just step by step, you can’t get there straight away, you have to take things one step at a time. I don’t believe in black and white like you have to be solo or you have to be in the band. On the year off, I’d done a lot of writing… I’d done a song with a guy called Steve Anderson who works with Kylie a lot — I’m quite good friends with him because he MD’d our live tour a few times and stuff like that. I did a song with him literally for the laugh, we said ‘let’s try it for the laugh,’ it’s called ‘Talk Me Down’ and I just put a vocal on it – and it ended up on the album. My point is… Well actually, I can’t remember what my point was now. (Laughs)
What’s the worst song on the new album?
The worst song? Um… I’m just trying to think of what I think would be the worst song… (Extended silence) It would be a lot easier for me to answer this from previous albums. Um, I think the song that would be least likely to be a single would be a song called ‘Sound Of A Broken Heart’ but that’s just because I think the other ones are just better than it. When you’re this connected to something it’s hard – you’d need a stranger to say, ‘alright, that’s shit, that’s shit, and that’s shit’…
You need to be at a distance, don’t you, sometimes, to see how shit something actually is.
Yeah, I don’t believe anything on the album is shit, but I’ve just put all my heart and soul into it. But I don’t know. Maybe that’s for someone else to decide. I’m not going to say it’s the best album of all time, I’m just saying that we’ve tried to make the best album we could, and we haven’t done a lot of covers and it’s not all predictable, so if this doesn’t make people happy then maybe we just never will.
You know what you should say to the haters? Just say to them, ‘hey, whatever.’
(Laughs) Well maybe not, Simon Cowell wouldn’t say that. He wouldn’t like us to say that. We’re supposed to say ‘Mandy’.
Let’s be fair, he did have a point — ‘Hey, Whatever’ was something of a low point.
Yeah, it was us trying to um, sort of, we didn’t know how to fight back and we just kind of went ‘bleaaaagh’. Now we’re kind of a bit more mature about things and we’ve learnt a bit more, but back then it was almost like a cry for help.
It seems Westlife have now got to a point where it’s not really worth people using their energy disliking you, in the same way that it’s not really worth your energy trying to please them. After over a decade you’re not going to suddenly become Vampire Weekend just because people complain about you doing nice ballads quite a lot, and nor do you really want to.
I know, it’s strange! Twelve years later and people still have a problem, and I’m like, well, you’re never going to like us. You know, you’re a fucking electronica fan or a house fan. You know what I mean? It’s like, you’re never going to like Westlife, you know, so…
So fuck off.
Yeah, so whatever! Stop annoying me about it, go and tell someone who gives a shit.
Westlife.com is a website where you are able to find more information about Mark and his bandmates and their comings and goings.