Think you know Busted? Think again. The teen-targeted punk pop band you remember – the band that blasted to fame with their debut single ‘What I Go To School For’ in 2002 and notched up four Number One singles and over five million sales of their two albums ‘Busted’ and ‘A Present For Everyone’ by singing ultra-catchy emo pop songs about school, wedding crashers, Thunderbirds and triple-breasted mermaids from the year 3000 – are long gone. They broke up back in 2005, and they’re damn glad they did.
“At the time we split it was the right thing to do,” says bassist Matt Willis. “We would’ve ended up falling out with each other.”
“We would’ve driven it into the ground,” agrees guitarist Charlie. “It ended amicably and we left it in a place where, if we ever were to come back together we could, because we didn’t ruin our friendships.”
That Busted were a teen guitar sensation that exploded from the post-millennial emo pop firmament and imploded just as quickly in a tangle of diverging ambitions, Charlie leaving to pursue his harder rock interests in Fightstar. The Busted that convene today are a decade more mature and, musically and personally, far removed from the spike-haired punk pop trio of old. A fact which hit home one afternoon in the summer of 2012, when Matt and guitarist James Bourne approached Charlie to “double check” that he was still as vehement about not wanting to reform as he had been, very publically, ever since the split.
“Where I was at at the end of Busted was very different to where Matt and James were,” Charlie says. “Then James came round to my house a bunch of times and we talked about the music we were listening to. A lot of the stuff that James had on his iPod was stuff I was listening to as well. I had Bruce Hornsby And The Range’s ‘The Way It is’ on repeat for months and James was like ‘I’ve been listening to that record as well!’ I was really surprised that there was that middle ground.
“When we started hanging out together again, all three of us had changed hugely. The two people in the band that I left were different people to the people I was sitting with, musically different people. They’d gone on a journey themselves, as I had. It was a new template. The faintest of lights turned on, I started thinking ‘maybe something’s different here’.”
Initially Charlie was still reluctant to rejoin, and by the time he started making positive noises about a reunion Matt and James had already signed up to a collaborative album and world tour with McFly as McBusted. “Charlie’s door was ajar, which was the biggest shock to us,” says Matt. “McBusted was so much fun, but nagging away in the back of our minds was the thought that we’d had an amber light from Charlie.”
So it wasn’t until April 2015 that the trio were able to sequester themselves in a Philadelphia studio owned by one of James’ friends, away from fan and media attention, to find out if they really were on the same page once more. The page they found themselves on was synthetic, cultivated, neon-lit and timeless. It was the glossy LA noir aesthetic of Winding Refn’s Drive and the sound of classic 80’s Juno-60 synths, The Goonies soundtrack, Bruce Hornsby, Phil Collins, Chicago and Hall & Oates. But shot through with modern pop and EDM elements, and their innate knack for a melodic thunderbolt.
“We are a product of that time,” Charlie says, “but we wanted to take those influences and rejuvenate it into something that feels fresh.”
“As soon as we started making music it became very apparent that we all wanted to make exactly the same thing,” Matt grins. “That’s what made it so easy. Once James got on the Juno-60 we were like, ‘this is the sound of our record, this is exactly the kind of record I wanna make’.”
“The last thing we wanted to do was try to recreate what we used to have,” says James. “It belongs to that time. All real artists evolve, all real artists try things, it’s unnatural not to.”
Emerging excited from this water-testing session with a new song called ‘Easy’ in the bag, the Busted reunion was sealed. Over four weeks in December 2015 and January 2016, the band hit the studio in LA with Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Eat World producer John Fields, taking no material in with them yet writing and recording a new song virtually every day. “The song ‘Night Driver’, for instance, we went in at eleven in the morning, it was finished by eight in the evening, fully recorded,” Charlie says. “We’d get in, we’d have instruments set up, and we’d write pretty much a song a day. In the morning of a session we might go through five different ideas, and we’d only carry on with one we all like.”
“If someone says ‘I’m not feeling this’ we throw it out,” says James. “Writing new songs is not something we’ve ever struggled with.” Fields’ no-rehearsals recording approach also sped the project along. “One time Charlie was singing a vocal and said ‘so are we gonna do this properly later?’,” James recalls. “John was like ‘no, that was the recording – we don’t make demos here, we make records.’ We were having the best time in the studio, we didn’t disagree on anything.”
Keen to road-test the new tunes and reacquaint themselves with the Busted faithful, they announced a 13-date arena tour which, considering Charlie’s numerous oaths not to return to the band, they called the Pigs Can Fly Tour. The first 100,000 tickets sold out in an hour, five extra dates were added, Bustedmania was back with a vengeance. “To not have done anything for ten years and go straight back to arenas was mind-blowing,” says Matt. “I thought we should’ve done a theatre tour, but they were the best shows of my life. It was a very humbling experience to see fans cared so much.”
They made a point of opening the comeback shows with a new song called ‘Coming Home’, a song with strong hints of The Naked & Famous and La Roux that reminisces about the wide-eyed highs and homesick lows of travelling the world during their first incarnation. “It’s going out on a journey and coming back, the age-old tale,” says Charlie. “Coming Home is a nice summary of the journey of the band, and opening with a new song was a statement of intent moving forward.” “We didn’t want this to be a nostalgic thing,” Matt agrees, “we wanted to show we’re here to stay.”
One more recording session in Minneapolis in June added two more songs and the album, entitled ‘Night Driver’, was ready; a bright and vibrant 21st Century update of those classic 80’s records they loved, tackling far more mature themes than they ever could before. The retro-modernist synth rock of ‘New York’ captures the displaced melancholy of wandering a city at dawn without the partner you once shared it with. ‘Kids With Computers’ and ‘I Will Break Your Heart’ confront the hopelessness of relationships doomed from the start. And both the sizzling Daft Punk disco track ‘On What You’re On’ and the more Cyndi Lauper ‘Out Of Our Minds’ are liberally scattered with references to lost weekends, prescription drugs and all-round high times.
“Everyone of a certain age has had those kind of nights that lead into the morning,” Matt says. “Even if you’re not into naughty things you can still relate to what that scene is. For instance ‘On What You’re On’ isn’t saying ‘I wanna be on drugs’, it’s more saying ‘I wanna be in your world, in your head’.
“On this record we’re older, we’ve had completely different experiences than what we’d have been talking about ten years ago,” says Charlie. “It’s an authentic reflection of who we are today. I personally can’t wait for this record to come out because there’s still so many questions in people’s heads about why I’m doing this, so I can’t wait to give them the record and go ‘that’s why!’.”
Though stylistically unrecognisable and far darker around the edges, ‘Night Driver’ is still the vivid hook riot you’d expect from Busted, as vivacious in their early thirties as they were in their teens, and the band are itching to present it to the world. Are they confident they’ll win over a new generation? “It’ll come as a surprise because the record is so different-sounding, but people will understand that ten years have gone by.” Charlie says. “It’s great to have the nostalgia of those old songs, but there’s a big change coming and we want people to embrace it. We want to bring old and new fans alike on this journey with us, because I genuinely think our new record is brilliant.”
Think you know Busted? Listen again.