interview

McFly: ‘There was always more to us than a boyband’

The pop-punkers have come a long way since they sent teenage hearts aflutter in the mid-2000s. Now in their thirties, they talk to Olivia Petter about their long-awaited reunion and owing it all to group therapy

Sunday 26 July 2020 16:26 BST
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'We didn’t know what we were doing and we just kind of fell into this hiatus'
'We didn’t know what we were doing and we just kind of fell into this hiatus'

McFly were once so famous that they starred in a Hollywood film with Lindsay Lohan. Just My Luck, released in 2006, was a fluffy romcom about a woman who loses her good fortune to a struggling music manager after a chance encounter. There was magic, mystery and in the middle of it all there was a teenage British boy band with earnest smiles and dodgy haircuts.

“It was the most surreal time of all of our lives,” says lead singer and guitarist Danny Jones, now 34. The filming itself sounds ludicrous. “They sprayed something to make me look really sweaty,” remembers co-frontman Tom Fletcher, 35. “But there was no context. There was no reason for me to be so sweaty.” But it got worse, says drummer Harry Judd, 34. “We were sporting one of our least desirable looks in that film,” he laughs. “There we were with a platform to be a really big band in America, but we looked horrific. We had mullets!”

Mullets or not, McFly were already a really big band in the UK. By 2005, they’d had two number one songs (“5 Colours in Her Hair” and “Obviously”) and had become the youngest ever group to have a debut album top the charts, a title previously held by The Beatles. Later that year, they won Best British Pop Act at the Brit Awards. And, while they never cracked the US, by the release of their fifth album in 2010 they had sold more than 10 million records worldwide. Like their pals Busted, McFly were pop-punk trailblazers, trading in jangly riffs, adolescent themes and a modicum of charm. Their “I-bunked-off-boarding-school-to-play-my-guitar” aesthetic – the straightened hair, the checked shirts and some inexplicably long sideburns – turned them into teen heartthrobs.

It would be easy to dismiss McFly as just another manufactured boy band. But if that were true, they wouldn’t still be here, 16 years after their debut single, preparing to release new album Young Dumb Thrills and talking to me on Zoom. “There was always more to us than a boy band,” says Judd, keen to differentiate McFly from the other Noughties groups. These, as he puts it, comprised “a few good looking guys that could sing” and whose chart success was down to the songwriters they worked with. “We write the songs, we play the music, everything comes directly from us,” he adds. “And so there’s more of an investment from a fan in a band like us.”

Despite their still-dedicated fanbase, McFly have had some testing times. In 2013, they formed a supergroup with their friends, Busted. Together, with James Bourne and Matt Willis (lead singer Charlie Simpson chose to focus on his solo career), they were McBusted. Their arena tour was hugely successful but their self-titled debut album did not compare to the success of either band’s solo material. Then, in November 2015, to everyone’s surprise, Simpson confirmed he would be rejoining Busted, even though he’d said that being in the band was like “torture”. Consequently, Bourne and Willis confirmed that McBusted would part ways.

“None of us ever thought that would happen,” Fletcher says of Busted’s reunion. “We didn’t ever think Charlie would come back. We were really happy for them.” But as Busted patched things up, McFly fell apart. “We didn’t know what we were doing and we just kind of fell into this hiatus,” recalls Fletcher. There were no dramatic arguments, but life got in the way. Fletcher wrote a book, bassist Dougie Poynter moved to LA, Judd and Jones both had children. “Seeing Busted come back together and do these big tours, we were like, ‘How has this happened to us?” says Fletcher. Because of their tight knit friendships, they saw themselves as “the unbreakable band”. “And so to be the ones that weren’t touring or speaking to each other regularly, it was like we were living in this parallel universe,” Fletcher adds.

That friendship is plain to see: the rapport between all four band members is electric and endearing. Throughout our chat, they jibe one another with the hearty bonhomie of people who’ve known each other for years. Like when Judd teases Jones for being less famous than the rest of them – “what was that like, mate?” Each plays a different role in the dynamic: Jones is jack the lad, Judd is the joker, Fletcher, the thinker. As for 32-year-old Poynter – who spends most of the time staring out of the window or stroking his cat – I assume he’s the quiet one.

So it’s surprising to hear that even as recently as a year ago, a reunion was not looking likely. “It was a possibility that McFly would never happen again,” Fletcher says. Then they went to therapy. “It’s really interesting,” he continues, “because there’s not really anything the therapist is doing, they’re just giving you an environment where you can talk.” And so they did. “We’ve learned how to balance the friendship, the professional relationship and the creative relationship,” says Jones. “That’s why bands are so special, because you get to work with each other but then you’ve got to challenge each other. Trying to balance all that, that’s the hardest thing that I think we had to learn.”

Now, four years after the dissolution of McBusted, McFly are the ones making a comeback. It kicked off in September last year with a performance at London’s O2 arena. The gig sold out in minutes. An arena tour was announced along with a new album; but both were postponed due to the pandemic. “Obviously things haven’t panned out as we thought this year,” says Judd. “But we didn’t want to let that stop anything.” Fletcher adds: “We just thought, we’re not going to let anything get in the way of this time. We can’t wait any longer.”

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And so they’re also releasing a sixth album, their first new material in a decade, out later this summer, with the first single “Happiness” out this Thursday. It has the buoyancy of vintage McFly, but the lyrics are more reflective. “Asking for help for my own mental health,” sings Fletcher on one song, “Tonight Is The Night”, which The Independent has previewed. In 2014, he spoke out about his struggles with depression, writing in an open letter: “It’s as if happy doesn’t exist. The storm becomes your new normal.” Is that song intended to help fans going through similar issues? “I never think about the message I’m putting across in a song,” he says, avoiding the question. “So it’s interesting now being able to look back at the lyrics and see what it is that we were all feeling and going through.”

Tom Fletcher, Danny Jones and Dougie Poynter of McFly perform in 2007

Judd interjects. “A lot of taboos have been broken in the last few years,” he explains. “I think whenever any of us have spoken about mental health, it’s amazing the impact it has on our fans. Everyone has mental health, whether it’s good or bad, so I think it’s a very good thing to talk about it openly if you want to.”

An underlying theme in the new songs is that of growing up and staying grounded, which makes sense given the four bandmates were teenagers when they started making music. Now, all of them bar Poynter have kids. “A lot of the new songs are about experiences we had when we were younger,” Fletcher explains. “With ‘Special’ [from the upcoming album], it’s like you’re singing it to yourself. We’ve lived a really unique life for the last 17 years. It’s a strange kind of responsibility being in the public eye and having people who follow you and admire you.”

When McFly started out, social media as we know it was a mere blip in the cultural zeitgeist. The lack of smartphones, Instagram and Twitter allowed the band a degree of privacy they would not be granted today. “I think we had a really nice level of fame,” says Fletcher. “The majority of people were really kind to us. It’s a strange experience, but I feel like we’ve managed to come out the other side in pretty good shape.” That’s not to say they got off lightly. When I ask if they can remember any jarring headlines from their heyday, chortles erupt among all four men. “Something about your socks, Danny?” jokes Judd. It turns out that a woman Jones had slept with sold a story to the press, claiming he’d kept his socks on during sex.

“You know what was funny though, when you showed me the article, I didn’t recognise her,” Jones confesses.

“I was 17 years old, I didn’t know about stuff like that at that age,” says Jones.

“What, about taking your socks off?” adds Judd.

Jones replies: “Yeah, I didn’t know that you had to.”

Despite being hounded by the tabloids from time to time, all four bandmates insist they were never “mega famous”. Not like the bands that followed them, at least. Did McFly’s success pave the way for the other, shall we say “mega famous”, boy bands that followed, like One Direction? “Well that would be a good line wouldn’t it, Olivia?” taunts Judd, bringing his hands into quotation marks before saying mockingly: “We paved the way for One Direction.” This elicits laughter from the other three. Even so, it’s not such an outlandish suggestion: McFly went on to co-write several songs for One Direction and supported them on tour as McBusted. Fletcher says Niall Horan was a fan. “When we first met Niall, he started singing ‘Obviously’ at us,” he recalls. “I didn’t know where to look. We were like, ‘Yep, that’s our song!’”

They might not admit to being pioneers of the contemporary British boy band but the bond that that rare position creates is clear to see, even over a video chat. “The band is the thing that unites us,” says Fletcher, resolutely. “We have this shared experience that no one else has.” He pauses. “It’s ours, only ours. And it’s really special.”

McFly’s new single ‘Happiness’ is released on Thursday 30 July. Their album ‘Young Dumb Thrills’ will be released on 13 November

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