“It was the best reaction of the whole night, and I’m thinking ‘what the hell is going on with this?!’…”
As a former member of Westlife, Shane Filan enjoyed plenty of success with a band that sold upwards of 50 million albums and scored 14 chart-topping singles in the UK, but since their split he’s been striking out on his own and this week he releases his third solo album, Love Always.
With the album landing on the shelves in stores today, we caught up with Shane to talk about life after Westlife, getting fans to contribute song ideas for his new album, and how his biggest hit to date took off in China without his knowledge…
So this is your third solo album now, how are you finding life as a solo artist, compared to being in a band like Westlife?
“You know what? It’s fun, I’m really getting used to it now a lot. I think the first album when I was obviously starting out was a big culture shock to me, being on your own and the enormity of making every decision, everything seemed so important. It was more serious, if that’s the right way to put it, whereas in Westlife you’re in this kind of boyband and it’s all madness and fun, everything is crazy. So it was kind of like I had to get thrown in the deep end and learn how to swim, but I think I’ve done that now.
“Actually, looking back on it now, I’m doing a TV show tonight in Kerry in Ireland called the Rose of Tralee, which is a big kind of pageant kind of thing, a huge TV show in Ireland and it was the first TV show I ever did as a solo artist four years ago, so it’s been one of those weird looking back days! But it’s been a great four years, I’m happy to be on my third album.”
Your last two albums have been original material, this one is mostly covers – why did you decide to go down that route for this album?
“I just thought it was time to do one like that, myself and Louis (Walsh, Filan’s manager) have talked about it for a while, he’d always said ‘look, I’d love you to do a love songs album at some point’ and I’d said ‘absolutely, I think I should when the time is right’, but I thought I should start off with trying to find myself to a a certain degree as a solo artist first and see where that goes. So I just thought it was the right time to do it, we obviously did a lot of different covers in Westlife as well and I think it works for my audience. I love singing great songs, if I write it, great, if not, it doesn’t really bother me, I just want to sing great songs that people enjoy. I’m a singer, that’s what I do, it’s great to sing songs like this, there’s lots of amazing tunes, some of my favourites growing up and lots of memories, it’s nice to be doing it, I’m really enjoying doing them with the band.”
How did you go about choosing which songs to record? I understand you asked fans for suggestions, how many of those were used?
“Actually it was only one, ‘Eternal Flame’. I thought it was a good idea to ask the fans what they’d like to hear me sing, I mean they’re the ones that are going to buying it and listening to it, so we asked them all and one of the things that popped up was ‘Eternal Flame’, and I just thought ‘oh my God, what a great idea’. It was something that I never would have thought of, it was obviously a world famous hit for The Bangles but it was a really big memory for me growing up as well, it had one of the first music videos I remember watching being a kid and I used to love hearing her voice singing it.
“There were couple of songs that ended up on the album which the fans did suggest, but I’d already picked, like ‘Heaven’ by Bryan Adams, that was one we’d picked out early days. It’s hard to pick the right songs, there’s loads that I’ve forgotten or left out, but then again if I ever do an album like this again then they can go on volume two! For the rest of the songs we all got together, the label and everybody made suggestions and came up with ideas, but for me there were some like ‘Heaven’ that had to be on there. ‘This I Promise You’ was a song I loved, but then there were other ones I never would have thought of like ‘Eternal Flame’ and ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ the Crowded House song, that was Louis’ suggestion.”
Were there any of the covers that you felt a bit daunted by taking on?
“Yeah, I’ll be honest, taking on ‘Heaven’ was probably the most daunting for me because Bryan Adams is my favourite singer, doing any song of his would be daunting, but I’m not trying to change it, it’s perfect the way it is, but I’m making a tribute to one of my favourite singers and favourite songs, so it’s one of those things, you’ve just got to do what you do. I did it slightly differently, it’s lot more stripped back, just piano and vocals.”
Were there any suggestions that made you think ‘nah, no way’?
“Yeah, a lot of fans actually asked me to cover Westlife songs, haha! Honestly, you wouldn’t believe the amount of requests to re-record things like ‘Swear it Again’ and I’m thinking: ‘but… but I’ve already recorded them. I was in the band!’ It was funny, they just wanted to hear different versions, but no, I haven’t recorded any Westlife songs for this unfortunately.”
Did you get any weird ones, things well outside your usual scope? Like hip-hop or death metal tunes?
“No, none of that, I mean there were a lot of rock songs like ‘Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith, but there are some songs that I think you just don’t do, you know? You don’t do the Titanic song, you don’t do ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’, there are certain songs you just don’t go near. Like, I wanted to do a Bryan Adams song, but I wouldn’t do ‘Everything I Do, I Do It For You’, I just wouldn’t touch that, but there’s other songs you can do and make a nice version of it.”
There are three original songs on there too, one of which being ‘Beautiful in White’ – we understand this has become a bit of a surprise hit in Asia, how did that come about?
“Yeah, yeah it’s a really funny story actually. I recorded this song just as a demo, I actually recorded it at Abbey Road, it’s the only song I’ve ever recorded there. It was years ago, about ten years ago now, around the time we were doing ‘You Raise Me Up’. I had producers and songwriter friends phoning me up at the time going ‘look, I’m in London, do you want to pop in and do a demo vocal on this, see what you think?’ and I’d be like ‘yeah sure, whatever’. So anyway I got a call from Savan (Kotecha), this guy based in Sweden, he’s an amazing songwriter, he did loads of stuff for Westlife and he’s written for loads of artists around the world. So he’s in London, he rings me and goes ‘will you come in and demo this for me? I’ve got this song, it’s like a wedding song, I think it’d be perfect for you guys’. So I came in on my own and did the demo, it was put forward to the band when we were doing the next album, and the A&R team were like ‘yeah, it’s a lovely song, but I don’t think it’s right for the band’. And that was it, the last I heard of it was back in about 2006 or whatever it was.
“Then, three years ago, I’m on tour in China, I was in Beijing. I’ll never forget it, I was on stage on the first night of the tour and all the fans kept shouting out the same thing, but I couldn’t make it out. In the end I actually stopped the show and I said to a girl ‘look, what song are you asking for?’ because they kept shouting it all night, and she said ‘Beautiful in White’. I was literally like ‘wait, how do you even know about that?!’ That last time I’d sang that song was once, in a studio like six or seven years ago. So I basically sang the chorus of it, I got the guitarist Ben and said ‘look, play along with me here, I’m just going to start singing, find the chords’. So he started playing with me, and the place just erupted, it was like I was singing ‘Flying Without Wings’ or something. I’m not joking, it was the best reaction of the whole night, and I’m thinking ‘what the hell is going on with this?!’”
So how did you figure out what happened?
“Well, later on Liam my tour manager went on Youtube and found this video with the song that had like 20 million views or something, there were fans that had videos made with their wedding dresses on and this song playing, there were all these different versions of it and I was like ‘this is mental!’ So I started singing it every night, just the chorus, and every time the place would erupt, and eventually I thought ‘I’m going to have to record this song properly!’ So we’ve done a new version and put in on the album. It’s my biggest hit that I never had!”
What about your other new ones? Are you writing these yourself or working with a co-writer?
“I co-write everything, I don’t play an instrument so obviously it’s hard to do it on your own, but yeah I like going in and writing with other people, different musicians and stuff like that. I actually wrote with the same guys, Patrick (Mascall) and Paul (Barry), who I’d written with on the first album, so I went back in with them and they’re part of Metrophonic (production team & studio) where I was recording the rest of the album, so if I wasn’t in there recording a cover I’d be writing something. I wrote three songs for the album, two of them are personal to my life and one of them isn’t, but I think it’s always important for me to keep writing, even though this album is obviously more focussed on the covers, because I love doing it and you just never know when you’re going to go into a studio and come with an absolute scorcher. That’s obviously harder on this album, where they’re sitting beside ‘Heaven’ and ‘Eternal Flame’! But I still wanted to get a few songs on there.”
Which do you enjoy more these days, being in the studio or being on stage?
“Well, I love being in the studio writing, I do love it because you get inspired by all kinds of different people, you go into a studio, someone has a great idea and you start doing it, and when you come out of it sometimes they’re good songs, sometimes they’re not great, but then there some days when you write a really good song and you’re really happy with it. It’s something I never did in Westlife and it’s something that I’ve learned that I’m able to do and I’m quite good at, I get better and better every time we focus on a new album and I learn more and more every time I do it.
“So it is exciting, but compared to being on tour and on stage, that’s the best thing about what I do. It’s amazing when you’re playing in front of fans who’ve bought a ticket to see you, they want to hear you doing all the songs, it’s a nice feeling being up there, it’s a great buzz.”
How long it it take you to put this album together, all in all?
“We did it at Metrophonic studios just outside Surrey and we did it over the space of probably four or five months, going back and forth between there and where I live in Ireland. It was a nice process to make it because there was no real rush, it was just ‘when it’s done, it’s done’, there was no-one going ‘we have to have it out by this date’, because this is my third album in four years, technically, so it’s a nice kind of pace. I don’t want to do one every single year because I want to have time to tour and promote it properly, especially with this one because it seems to be getting a really good reaction, here and in Asia, and that takes time. I mean we’re here in Ireland for two days, we could have filled a week with promo and then I can’t get it all done, so I want to give this album every minute it deserves and then we’ll see where we’re at next year.”
What have you got lined up in terms of a tour for this album?
“I’ve got a UK and Ireland tour kicking off at the end of September, that goes on for about six weeks, then I’ve got a couple of weeks off and then we’re planning lots of different of tour dates in Asia. It’s different to the UK, where it’s back-to-back for weeks, it’s more like I go out there and do five gigs in ten days, then I come home, then we go back over and do another five gigs over ten days. So we’ll keep going over and back, we’ve got gigs booked now for April next year, so it takes us right through to there. It’s probably the most shows I’ll have done on a tour for an album, last year was the first time we got up to 100 shows, which was great, but I could easily be doing close to that by the end of the year by the looks of it. So we’ll see how it goes, we’ll take it a month at a time, but it’s definitely going to be a busy 12 months I reckon.”
You’ve got some signings coming up over the next week at some of our stores too…
“Yeah, I’ve got a few signatures to do next week! But I love doing the signings, there’s always loads of hype around them, you get in there and the fans are all going mental! And I love meeting them, they bring you presents and all this daft stuff, they’re really excited and it’s fun, I like doing them, it’ll be an exciting week. I want to make sure they’re happy and that they like the album, and obviously then you hope the album will be a success too, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Interview with HMV.com in 2017