IT’S going to be a really epic rock show,’ says Matt Willis of his forthcoming arena tour with comeback punk popsters Busted.
‘They’re all standing venues. I hate it when you have seats in front of you, and we’ve changed the lighting and stage set up to make it feel like a festival indoors.
‘We’re playing longer than before too. We usually do an hour and 20 minutes but we’ve added eight new songs. If you’re a Busted fan and like a specific song you’re probably going to hear it. We only have four albums of material and we’re playing a f***ing lot of it.’
The band, who notched up hits in the early noughties including What I Go To School For, Crashed The Wedding, Air Hostess and Thunderbirds Are Go, made a return to form at the end of last year with their fourth studio album, Halfway There.
After splitting unexpectedly at the height of their success in 2005, when Charlie Simpson decided to leave, the group reformed in 2016 and released moody synth album Night Driver. Halfway There sees them rediscover the upbeat pop-rock which earned them a devoted fan following.
‘I loved Night Driver but it was weird and different,’ says Matt, 35. ‘It’s not what you wanted if you were a Busted fan. We made a self-indulgent album. Halfway There was a definite decision to make Busted Busted again. The fans had the reunion they never thought would happen but hadn’t got their band back doing what they loved their band for — and I wanted to make that Busted album.’
After lengthy creative debates where they tried to work out what direction to go in, Matt, Charlie and third member James Bourne wrote single Nineties and fell upon a winning formula.
‘We then realised we can write a Busted style record and make it sound f***ing great,’ says Matt, who has three children with his TV presenter wife, Emma Willis.
‘In the past we sometimes felt we hadn’t done the songs justice or had been turned into a band we didn’t intend to be,’ he says. ‘We were called a boy band which seemed mental to us. We wanted to be the British Blink 182 but found ourselves on at festivals after Gareth Gates. We thought we must have made a wrong turn somewhere.
‘No one’s controlling us anymore and telling us how to be seen or marketed. We can be the band we always wanted to be. This album is us mending some wrongs from the past.’
The album has been a big success and there’s now a string of arena shows on the horizon — but is there any lingering resentment towards Charlie? ‘No, not any more,’ says Matt. ‘Charlie was really down and unhappy about being in Busted at the end. It was a miserable time. He wanted to be respected by his peers and he wasn’t and it was devastating for him.
‘I’d go to gigs and sometimes get s**t from other people. If I went to see a band some guy might shout something and it would p*** me off. I’d think, “I know more about this band than you do.” But then I’d think that I’ve just bought a house at 19 years of age so f**k you, I’m alright. But that wasn’t how Charlie felt… I understood why he wanted to leave and thought it was probably a good idea before he had a meltdown.
‘A couple of years afterwards I released a solo album that didn’t work. I resented Busted splitting up then. But time goes by and you lose that feeling. And then suddenly things happen again which you didn’t expect,’ says Matt, referring to the reunion. ‘Life is turning out to be full of surprises, which is wicked.’
As the tour and album attest, Busted still have the fans who originally propelled them to the top of the charts. What does Matt think their enduring appeal is?
‘The essence of Busted is Matt, James and Charlie and without one of us it wouldn’t work,’ he says. ‘We’ve tried to do things outside Busted and, to be fair, none of them have had the commercial success we’ve had together. For some reason people dig it — and I love being on stage in Busted. I love all of it. It’s a great life and a great job and I want to keep on doing the right things to make our fans keep on coming to see us live.’
■ Halfway There is out now. Busted’s UK arena tour starts at SSE Hydro, Glasgow on March 23, myticket.co.uk/artists/busted