Perhaps best known for breaking free from the boy band Busted, Charlie Simpson has been one of the few artists to successfully make the transition from mainstream popstar to talented musician. Alongside friends and fellow bandmates Alex Westaway, Dan Haigh and Omar Abidi, the once distant dream of a career in rock became a reality for Charlie with the formation of Fightstar in 2003.
The band recently celebrated their ten-year anniversary with a sell out concert in London, leading to the band adding additional dates in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. Here the Glasgow Guardian catches up with the band backstage to talk about future plans and what to expect from Fightstar over the coming year.
Surrounded by remote controlled flying helicopters, Xbox handsets and a mass of empty crisp packets, we take a seat backstage opposite three out of the four Fightstar members, Charlie, Dan and Alex.
So how was Birmingham? (The first destination of the tour)
Charlie: It was really good, yeah. It was really, really good. We were dusting off the cobwebs. We got into Glasgow this morning on the bus, probably about 9am in the morning so we’ve kind of slept all day.
How are you liking Glasgow then?
Charlie: Lovin’ Glasgow.
Have you been before?
Charlie: Yeah, loads. We’ve not been for a while, not for about five years, but we’ve played at the Barrowlands quite a few times.
You guys are based in London, right?
Charlie: Yeah. Well I live there, these guys used to.
(Charlie forgets something and ambles across the room.)
Dan: Yeah. Then we had kids. And then the little kiddies need space, so we moved for the benefit of the children.
(3 out of the 4 band members are married, and Charlie has a kid on the way.)
(Charlie returns back to the interview)
Charlie: Right! I’m ready now. Sorry about that.
Alex: So this is for the student newspaper then?
The Glasgow Guardian, yeah.
So we’re just going to do one for Fightstar too, and then we’ll review the gig later tonight too.
Dan: (Laughing) Be kind, be kind!
We’ll try! So how does it feel to be back on tour?
Charlie: It feels good man. It’s weird because it has been like five years, um, since we’ve toured as a band together.
Alex: It doesn’t feel like a day has gone by.
Dan: Do you have any very, very good friends, and it doesn’t matter how long the time is that you spend apart, and then you can immediately walk back into that room and connect like that? *snaps his fingers* It’s exactly like that.
Charlie: Yeah yeah, it was like it was just yesterday we were touring. But it’s just kind of getting used to the environment again and playing again. We haven’t had that much time to practice because we’ve just had a lot going on. Last year was our first kind of anniversary show, and that was probably- actually definitely- the best show we’ve ever performed. So that got us really raring to go out and do the sort of more reasonable shows. Glasgow is actually one of my favourite places to play in the UK, and I love this venue (O2 ABC) It’s prime for a good night!
Dan: And lets not forget the giant disco ball.
Charlie: And we bought toy helicopters today so we’re in an extra good mood!
Is that just a gift to yourself?
Charlie: Yeah I bought Dan’s son one for a Christmas present and basically I was really jealous. (The band start laughing and reminiscing) So yeah we ran out to Maplin and got four ‘copters. (Jokingly) We’re going to fly them around the crowd.
They’ll definitely get stolen. And then sold. It is Glasgow!
(The band laugh and agree)
How did you guys all meet?
Charlie: It was…online dating.
Not tinder then?!
(The band laugh)
Charlie: I met Alex through his sister. She was living with my ex-girlfriend, and I met him at the house one day. We were at a dinner party, we had a bit of wine, Al and I cracked out the guitars and um, just started jamming songs. Al was just about to move down to London and I had a spare room in my house, and I just said come and live with me, so Al moved in with me and then I met Omar.
(On cue, the door swings open and the fourth member, Omar, walks in.)
We all just bonded over music. Al went to school with Dan.
Dan: I’d known Omar for about a year.
Why did you choose Fightstar as a name?
Charlie: Um, it was a really tough one. We had come up with loads of different names. It was basically an amalgamation of two names. I came up with the name ‘A time to fight,’ and Dan had the name ‘Even Star,’ Then Al said they’re both shite and we’re not using either! (the boys all laugh.) And so we just blended them and got fightstar.
Al: A lot of band names don’t make sense
Charlie: I think band names find their own style.
Al: Yeah they just worked.
Charlie: Like the Smashing Pumpkins. That’s just the most ridiculous name.
Omar: The coolest name is QUEEN! Such an awesome name.
So as a band, what kind of music influences you now but also when you were kids?
Omar: For me, The Prodigy is a massive inspiration. It was all about the amalgamation of heavy electronic. And just power! They fused the whole rock n roll thing, not from the earlier stuff, but the seminal stuff for me was the album ‘The Fat of The Land’ and that was like Rock and Dance really just taken to the next level. There were a few bands who did it before them but they really brought it to the foreground.
Charlie: I always had a really mixed eclectic taste. I listened to a lot of the stuff my dad would listen to, like Jackson Browne. Then I was listening to like Guns and Roses, and they were the first band that got me into rock music. And then Nirvana!
Alex: Death metal is very common ground for all of us.
Charlie: Death metal for you was like everything I liked about music, combined into one band. We all find common ground in there.
Dan: Now it’s getting even weirder though isn’t it? We listen to a lot of eighties.
Charlie: Yeah man, I just LOVE Bruce Hornsby.
Dan: Kate Bush.
Alex: I just love a good melody really.
Charlie: That’s very well said actually, because I don’t really care where it comes from. Like Calvin Harris, ‘We Found Love’ was an absolutely bangin’ tune. I don’t really care to be honest, I just like good music.
Dan: Yeah it comes with age. Because when you’re young its like more scene. What you’re into defines you and who you are, but I think that as you get older the walls come down and you no longer need things like that to define you.
Charlie: Yeah that’s true, that is true man…
Dan: So now it’s more just a question of what’s good, not what you’re about.
Do you keep an eye out for upcoming artists then?
Omar: Charlie’s the one for that; he’s got a really good ear for that.
Charlie: I am getting better. I went through a phase of being like ‘uh, it’s just too much hassle.’ Because it does take time. Most people just rely on the radio and stuff. But to really find stuff, you know you have to go out and find it. Yeah but it’s important I think to just keep an eye on what’s going on.
Dan: What the kids are listening to.
How do you feel about music now compared to when you started? Obviously you’ve been in the industry for quite a while.
Omar: But you know so many people say to me ‘Oh what you do is so awesome! It’s so cool!’ But the risk is when you’ve been in it for so long you can go the other way. We are just SO extremely lucky to be able to do what we do. It’s so many people’s dreams to do what we have done, and what we will hopefully continue to do. But there are so many elements of the music business that make it difficult. It’s a constant uphill struggle. To strive to create what you really -in your heart – believe is what you want to put out there, is something that you find a lot of barriers against. But ultimately, you can’t really ask for anything more. You go out on that stage and you see all those people, and they’re there, they’re there for you. It kind of makes all the bullshit worth the wait.
Charlie: The music has just changed so much. When I first came into the industry, there was no Facebook, no twitter, no YouTube, no Instagram. And so the landscape of how music is received has just changed so much. I think that’s just changed how it all works now. There’s no barrier, there’s no veil between you and the fan base anymore.
Omar: That in itself is such a hard thing to get your head around from our perspective.
Charlie: The music industry I came into was just so different. So it’s just weird getting your head around that. But I think it’s great having all the tools. I just wish I could be 15 again, and have at my disposal what kids do now. I mean the fact that I can music on my iphone now?! We were just speaking about this the other day. I used to use a four-track recorder, on tape! And that’s all you could possibly record on.
Omar: (Laughing) You’d be recording these tapes, trying not to mess it up.
Charlie: Now kids in bands they just have so much cool stuff to be able to use to reach out to their fan bases. You know, ten or fifteen years ago you had to be playing a gig somewhere, in some town, and you’d just have to rely on the hope that there would be some scout there. If you didn’t have that, then nothing would happen. You had to be discovered. But now you can make that happen for yourself. And I think that’s a really cool thing.
So do you rely on Twitter as a band?
Alex: Not as Fightstar we haven’t really used it. Five years ago we only just started, so that’s been five years of not really doing much on Twitter and so we only have a few followers. But we’re doing it now throughout tour.
Charlie: I did rely on utilizing it a lot with my solo stuff, but we’re starting to do it.
Omar: We haven’t toured in so long. Since then the difference in Charlie with his social media interaction is like, a whole world apart. Before it was ‘I don’t get Twitter, I don’t get any of it’ and now Charlie’s like ‘I’m just tweeting this I’m just tweeting that, Instagramming that’ and it’s just like, awesome!
So you all just got back together, what are your goals for the future?
Charlie: We’re hoping to put out new music this year. That is the plan. We’ve got a few ideas coming along. We don’t really want to put too much pressure on ourselves but that is the plan, as of… well five minutes ago.
(The band smirk)
Alex: We’ll do a couple of festivals hopefully in the summer and get a song out for then.
What festivals are you doing?
Charlie: We’re not allowed to say yet.
Any Scottish ones?
Charlie: Maybe, we’re not allowed to confirm anything yet.
Alex: We’re trying to, we’ve played T in the Park before and that was awesome.
So how did you all get into music? Was it always going to be your career path?
Alex: It was always a dream and it always seemed quite out of reach that I would ever have a career in music. It was just a bit of luck, really when we got together and managed to do something that produced good songs.
Omar: I think for me I was always going to be involved professionally in music whether behind the scenes or on the stage, because from a young age I was drumming. As soon as I got to an age where I was like ‘drumming’s a dream, I’d love to do that,’ I needed to think of an actual way of being a professional in the industry. I started doing engineering and production, so that lead to other avenues for me. No matter what I do, if I’m not on stage anymore or not in a band anymore, I’ll still be involved with music.
Charlie: Yes, I’d always wanted to be in music!
(The band laugh)
I was seven when I got my first guitar. I did want to be a fireman from the age of about three and five.
Omar: You’d have made a good fireman, dude!
Alex: It made me realize you can do something if you work hard enough and are focused enough. Countless friends of mine, they saw it as: Al did it, so I can do what I want to do. Hopefully I inspired a couple of my friends to see that it’s possible.
So are your friends and family quite supportive of your careers?
Alex: Yeah, we’re really lucky. All of our parents have been really supportive. Cause’ there have been some pretty dark times when you’ve needed some guidance, especially when you’re young and naïve to the world.
I think when you’re young and your parents let you do something very out of the norm it takes a lot of belief on their part.
As a band, how do you find getting recognized a lot?
Charlie: To be honest, it only really happens with a certain age group. I’ll be aware of who I think will recognise me, usually younger people. It’s fine as long as people are polite about it. I don’t like it when people treat you like public property.
Dan: We’re not really that kind of band, for us it’s about being creative.
So what do you think makes you different from other modern rock bands?
Omar: We’re geeks, we’re all a bunch of geeks. I really don’t know.
Dan: We have quite diverse interests. Everyone slots into their role as far as who is good at what, and the more time we spend together clarifies that even further. So maybe it’s our ability to blend together. There isn’t too much clashing of heads.
So Charlie, we have to ask, is there any chance of you joining Busted for a reunion?
Charlie attempts to side-step the question
Charlie: Well, I speak to Matt and James quite a lot now. My whole attitude towards that has changed a lot over the years. I’ve had distance from it now and when I first started I really wanted to get away from all of that. Now I look back and it’s all-good, I’ve grown up a lot since then.
So having been in a boy band yourself, how do you feel looking at bands like One Direction?
Charlie: They’re worth about 400 million pounds each! (Band laughs and agrees). I think with bands like that you can’t knock them; they’re doing their thing, man. Who is anyone to slag them off? They’re doing what they’re doing very well. I do think pop music at the moment is in a good place. I think Ed Sheeran is really good.
Omar: Lately I’m quite out of the loop when it comes to pop stuff; I’m not so interested in the whole pop market.
Charlie: But a lot more people seem to be writing their own stuff, which is good.
Omar: Yeah, from artist to fan there’s a lot less of a machine involved.
Charlie: I’d like it to go back to what it was like in the sixties. The golden age of pop music! Pop music was so good in the sixties.
Omar: When someone had an idea, they’d go to a dude who owned a record company and then send it out to distributers.
Charlie: I’d like to see pop music return to that golden age.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Charlie: Just use all the tools at your disposal. You could literally be playing in front of a thousand people, without having a record company a manager. You can do that yourself. Ed Sheeran is a great example; he created his own fan base.
Omar: Don’t aspire to be a musician. Just do it. There’s a classic quote in a very funny program called ‘Phone Shop.’ ‘If man say him a ting, then him a ting’.
And with that, our interview with Fightstar reaches a close. The band talks with nostalgia about the music that has passed, but with a boyish excitement about what lies ahead. Their ease with one another and their tendency to finish each other’s sentences is reflective of the kind of friendship that withstands a 10-year career in the music industry. Keep an eye out for Fightstar updates by checking out their page on Facebook or twitter.