Sixteen singles, five top ten albums, millions of record sales and reams of adoring fans have defined McFly as one of the most successful UK bands of all time.
Six years on from their teenage debut, Tom, Harry, Dougie and Danny returned this summer backed by the release of Nowhere To Run, a thirty minute, vampire inspired, raunchy film featuring their new grown-up-heart-throb look and their new sound formed with US super-producer Dallas Austin.
All this takes place on their Super-City website, funded by the band themselves, the site aims to take the band-to-fan relationship further than ever before; the more fans interact with the site, the more they recieve; music, chats with the band, VIP entrances to gigs and more.
I Like Music caught up with all four boys for a grown-up conversation about the music industry, the pressures of fame, writing pop songs and the music they like.
“I Like Music because… it’s a better version of speaking.” TOM, MCFLY
“I Like Music because… movies would be rubbish without it.” HARRY, MCFLY
“I Like Music because… it makes me do things in an over-excited way that I wouldn’t normally do every day.” DANNY, MCFLY
“I Like Music because… it’s changed my life.” DOUGIE, MCFLY
ILM: The trailer for your short film Nowhere Left To Run is great! You launched the trailer before we’d even heard your new single, a rather interesting decision…How would you describe your approach to the pop world this time around?
Tom: About two years ago we took a step back. We’d recorded about ten songs that we decided to scrap. We wanted to really push ourselves on this album, not just with the music but with everything; the image, the artwork, the videos. Every aspect of McFly. So when it came to making the video, we didn’t just want to do a normal music video. We wanted to push ourselves and do something a bit more innovative. So we decided to make this thirty minute short movie! Our songs are the soundtrack, and we perform in it…
Harry: And we try and act!
Tom: Yeah! But we’re not trying to take ourselves too seriously as actors. It was more just something that was kind of fun and a bit different for our fans.
ILM: It looks like a Hollywood production!
Tom: I know! We saw the trailer for the first time with all the fans as well. We didn’t see it beforehand, so that was awesome!
ILM: Tell us about the new Super City website…
Tom: It launches in October and it’s something we’ve been building for about 18 months now. It started with quite a simple idea and then it just escalated. We’ve never really been happy with our websites; they’ve always been a bit crap. So this time we really wanted to step it up and do something completely different.
ILM: You’ve built something for the fans?
Tom: It’s genuinely built 100% for our fans as a way for us to give something back to them. It’s basically a place where all our fans from all over the world can come together and interact with each other and with us. I don’t think any band can interact with their fans like we’re going to be able to on the new site…
ILM: And the more they interact with McFly and the site, the more they get back?
Harry: Yeah! Obviously the music is the main thing, but we’re going to be providing constant content for the fans. We’ll be doing weekly web-chats with them and letting them be involved in decisions that we make.
Tom: That’s the thing that all our fans will really care about. They’ll get the music for free and the option to be the first to buy the tickets. We’re also going to give the most dedicated fans their own VIP entrance at venues and stuff. Things like that, where they’ll be rewarded in real life as well. But those are the easy things to do. It’s the things that other bands don’t do like asking them what set list they want us to play or what single we should release next that’s exciting.
ILM: You’re allowing your fans a lot of access. Celebrities used to retain an air of mystery…
Dougie: It’s the complete opposite now isn’t it?
Harry: Right back to the Beatles, when that level of celebrity first happened there was just the music and TV.
Tom: It was the fact that they were untouchable that resulted in such a craze around them. That kind of approach doesn’t work anymore. You can’t just give fans music and a video. There’s so much more available to them now and you’ve got to live up to that.
ILM: It’s better that you do that rather than have someone else do it unofficially…
Tom: Exactly, and that was kind of the rationale behind the Super City site. When it comes to things like music leaking we’d rather just do it ourselves. The only reason that songs leak is because fans are excited about it and want it, so why not give it to them. On the new site we can control it ourselves and give it to the people that want it the most.
Dougie: A lot of people ask us where we’re hoping to chart and stuff, but for us the important thing is how many people come to see us on our tours. I think everything has to change, and not just for us but for every band in general.
Tom: We’re not taking a huge risk, but I do think we’re being quite brave in doing it.
ILM: There’s a noticeable change in the new McFly sound. How would you describe the decision and process behind that change?
Tom: It all started with our trip to Australia. We went there aiming to record our fifth album. We weren’t really thinking about it too much. We had ten songs but only two sounded really different. They were the ones that really excited us and inspired the change. It made sense to start recording all over again with those two as the starting point. A couple of the people high up at Universal heard those demos and got really excited! They got in touch to say they’d love to get back involved with us and then they suggested Dallas to us.
ILM: What was it like working with such a big, American producer?
Tom: It was amazing, we were referencing all these artists like Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, all of whom Dallas has worked with. It was intimidating at first, but an amazing experience to work with someone like that. We clicked straight away. I think he was excited by the fact that we had so many ideas and that we were being really open minded and open to ideas.
Danny: I think he may be used to working for artists and not with them, so when we arrived with all these half-formed ideas it was new for everyone. We’d never really written with anyone else before. It was exciting and nerve-wracking.
Dougie: Well it was an experiment really. We could have got there and decided that it really wasn’t working, but actually it did. He just took our ideas and helped us take them to a new place.
ILM: How would you describe the normal McFly writing process?
Danny: It changes every time!
Tom: This whole album’s been a completely different experience. Generally we do it quite traditionally by going to each other’s houses and writing in our little music rooms, or in the studio. We sit at a piano or with a guitar and just write from start to finish really.
Danny: We normally have them finished and then go into the studio for how ever many weeks it takes.
Tom: We have a few weeks in pre-production just going over the parts and then we go and record. That’s how we’ve done all of our albums up to this one. This time it was almost the opposite. When you start writing with Dallas, or Taio Cruz – who we did a few songs with – they work backwards to what we usually do. You go into the studio and start recording.
Harry: It’s sort of silent, and then someone goes “how about that synth bit?” If it’s cool you start to loop it, and then you get a melody and write a lyric for it. You’re actually writing while you’re recording, so there isn’t a song there, but by the end of the session there’s this new song recorded! It’s a bizarre way of working. I didn’t like it at first because it felt really odd. The temptation is to go away and think about it for a while, and then come up with a melody, but the proof’s in the pudding. It works and you get some great songs out of it.
Danny: We’ve got some recorded footage from that session. It’s funny how the melodies you start with are completely different to what you end up with. It’s going to be really cool on the new site to let all those things out…!
ILM: You’ve grown up since your early pop days! How much do you consider what your fans want when making your music? Do you write consciously for them?
Tom: The hope that people are going to like something is always in the back of your mind, but you have to make the album for yourselves.
Harry: When we were in the studio with Dallas and songs like Party Girl came about, we were like “hmm, this is really different.” We were aware that a lot of our fans love our punky-pop side, but you just have to put that to one side. Fans that are taken back by the new sound will hopefully hear on the new album that it’s a mixture between the old and the new. It’s a progression.
Tom: You’re never going to please everyone, no matter what kind of album you release. Our last album, Radio:ACTIVE, was the most rocky album we’d ever done, and then you run the risk of alienating the fans who prefer the poppy end of things. But our fans are incredibly loyal to us, and I think they’ll always give us the benefit of the doubt.
Harry: This album is based around really strong pop songs. Live it’s definitely going to have a punkier, rockier element to it that those fans will love.
ILM: Have you started working on the live show?
Dougie: Yeah, we started on that as soon as we got back from recording.
ILM: What can we expect from it?
Tom: It’s going to be awesome! For our last album the live show was really intense, energetic and rocky. We want the new show to have that element but also we want it to be really slick and sound amazing.
Harry: I love doing the big arenas when you can put on a bit more of a show…
Dougie: We’ve always wanted to have magic involved in there somewhere. Next time we’d really like a structured show.
Danny: We want it to be like an experience the whole way through, from the moment you get there.
ILM: What have been some of your best moments playing live?
Dougie: The best one for me was when we were playing at Wembley. We were playing Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now during the encore, and when it got to the solo we took it down and started to build it up and then Brian May came up through a trap-door in the stage and played the solo! The whole of Wembley just went mad. It was the biggest buzz ever. We got so excited to have an absolute hero like that on stage with us.
Harry: It’s great to have someone of that calibre appreciate what we do and see us as a live band worth working with. That meant a lot to us.
Danny: We also did My Generation with Roger Daltrey in the studio. We were rehearsing it for the second time, and we’d just got to the amazing bass solo when Roger walked in and Dougie’s face just dropped. Roger stood over him and was like “go on then!”
Harry: It’s also quite a fast drum part – Keith Moon is obviously a legendary rock drummer – and Roger just stood there looking at me!
Dougie: The South American shows are very intense. And there was that one in Paris that was the sweatiest one we’ve ever done! Whenever you’ve been on the road for a long time, and you’re absolutely knackered, there’ll just be this show in some unexpected venue when you come off stage and just go “wow, that went so well!” If you build it up too much it isn’t as good.
ILM: How does fame affect you?
Dougie: We all keep ourselves to ourselves in everyday life. You do get recognised sometimes.
Danny: We live it up sometimes though!
Dougie: We have moments when we’re out together and we’ve just played a show and obviously then we get recognised more. In day-to-day life none of us crave being in the papers or anything.
ILM: It’s all about the music then?
Danny: Yeah, exactly. We don’t thrive off turning up to screaming fans. We just like getting free X-Box games!
Harry: Being in the press is nice. It’s great being in magazines and stuff because it promotes us as a band, and the celebrity culture bit just comes with that. I don’t think we’re in that much stuff. Dougie probably is because he’s going out with Frankie from the Saturdays, but it doesn’t really affect your life that much does it?
Harry: You still have a normal evening in and do normal things.
Danny: We’ve been away from it for two years, and now that we’re back it brings a tiny bit of anxiety. When I go to the shopping centre I wonder if I might get recognised, but that’s the most it’ll ever affect us. We all keep our feet on the ground.
Harry: Ultimately, we want to be the biggest band in the world. You have to accept what comes with it. I don’t think I’d be able to cope if I was Beckham or something though!
Tom: A lot of people thrive on that though. They’re born to be stars and they have that charisma. That’s often why you get such great artists. Some people want the attention, and others look up to that, which is why the celebrity culture exists. The most important thing is just always to be yourself and be polite. That goes such a long way. You never have any justification for being an arsehole!
Dougie: We’ve never really been about that surly rock-star persona.
Tom: I think that makes people want to be part of McFly. The fact that we’re just being ourselves means that people can relate to us.
ILM: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
Tom: The Beatles will always be a huge one. I’ll always go back to them for amazing melodies. What I find amazing about them is how quickly they evolved. We’ve been a band longer than the Beatles were I think! When you look at their change of direction from their first albums to Abbey Road it’s amazing.They did that in a shorter amount of time than our first album to now. That’s so inspirational for us.
Harry: A lot of my favourite bands haven’t inspired McFly. Bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against The Machine, or Blink 182, Taking Back Sunday and Brand New.
Tom: We’re all quite open minded. We might see someone like Rihanna and be inspired by her stage show. I think we’re quite good at appreciating why people we don’t like are successful.
Danny: My idol is Springsteen. Every time he brings an album out I think “what are you doing?” I don’t like it and won’t listen to it for a few months, and then I hear something on the radio and really like it. It’s almost as if he’s constantly ahead of his time.
ILM: Have you met him?
Danny: I did something really sad! At his Hyde Park show I watched from the side of the stage, and I had one of our DVDs with me with a little note in it saying “this is our band, check us out.” My sister and my mum got a picture with him, and I tried to hand the DVD to him but he said “I can’t take that right now.”
ILM: What are you listening to at the moment?
Harry: Flogging Molly, and me and Tom were listening to a lot of John Williams stuff last night. His song-writing is mental. He changes key without the listener even knowing!
Tom: I’ve been listening to film soundtracks.
Danny: I’m waiting for Bon Iver’s new album. You really start to appreciate how amazing his songs are when you see people doing cover versions of them. I’m also into my dance music at the moment, like Swedish House Mafia and Magnetic Man.