McFly talk to The Mancunion about pop, strings and pseudonyms
Okay, so it was only Harry (drums) and Danny (lead vocals and guitar) – not the fab four. I haven’t listened to McFly for about 5 years, but I did see them in concert when I was 15 and danced and screamed for the whole thing. They’re still big enough to headline the Christmas Lights switch-on at The Trafford Centre, where I was lucky enough to interview them.
After enduring questions from three other girls about what they want for Christmas, I brought the conversation to music. “Now you’ve got your own record label, how much influence do you specifically have over your songs – do you get to decide the orchestration, a violin here, an organ there?” I wanted to know how much they actually contributed to their finished product – I wasn’t expecting them to written every line of music, to have arranged and orchestrated whole songs or even to have produced them.
Harry boasted “yeah we do absolutely everything, 100% and have done since the first ever song written by McFly. When we first started, we were working with producers that have worked with legendary musicians and artists over the years. We were completely out of our depth; didn’t know how the whole process worked. We learnt a lot along the way and took a lot of advice. Songwriting-wise it’s always come 100% from McFly, especially now Danny’s been producing.” “That’s why I’m ill” piped in Danny.
Just to clarify their definition of “absolutely everything” I asked “do you literally write out the string parts though?” Suddenly both of them animatedly corrected themselves – “nah, no, that’s what I was going to say” said Harry. “No, no, that’s far too complex” said Danny. “So you don’t arrange it?” I asked. Harry explained once they’d written a song, they decide the song would lend itself to strings and then they’d meet an orchestrator who would essentially take care of all the part-writing.
Danny said “this is what is amazing about studios, you’ve got a blank canvas and the way you speak to each other like maybe you could do this (he sings) – it’s like different language we speak to Harry, we don’t know the technical terms for fills or anything, but we’ve got this this weird language and I think all of us have got that sort of in us.”
Harry put in “having said that, Danny’s done production too and he’s put string parts on themselves with pads and keys. It was amazing for the second album because we had huge orchestras playing on the album. Orchestration is a whole other world and Simon Howells who we first worked with (the guy who did Jamiroquai) did all the strings. If you took the strings out of ‘It’s All About You,’ that’s what Tom wrote. For us it’s an incredible experience. [To Danny] Remember when Tom was singing with a forty piece orchestra, for us at the age of 18, we were just like wow. It was really cool.”
Feeling that I’d grilled them enough on production, I asked “do you have any guilty music pleasures? Mine is Call Me Maybe, can’t get enough!” Danny replied “the thing is, people often describe us as a guilty pleasure so I think it’s a good thing.” (Phew, good to know you know). But they said their recent guilty pleasures were Taylor Swift, Busted’s first album, One Direction’s first single ‘That’s What Makes You Beautiful’ and Rihanna.
Harry expanded on the appreciation of cheesy music “when we joined McFly at the age of 17, we were at the age when we were trying to be really cool, like playing drums and saying I’m into all these hardcore bands. But as soon as you’re in McFly and you’re writing pop music and you’re in a pop kind of scene, it opens you up to writing more types of music and you can actually admit you love Abba or The Backstreet Boys – like coming out.”
Danny continued “it’s important to be open-minded, especially for song writers, less of this pigeon-holing bollocks. I was stuck in it, coming from Bolton, I thought I was Liam Gallagher playing my guitar when I first got in the band. And then suddenly I was opened up to this huge world where you could appreciate any music – whether or not it’s Abba or Oasis or dance music.”
I think most people would agree that McFly have seen their heyday. But let’s not underestimate that heyday – they were the youngest ever band to have got to no.1 with their debut album. Their last album was a greatest hits, suggesting they’d creative juices were running dry. But Harry proved that wrong – “if you’re a talented songwriter like Danny or Tom, they have the ability to write all sorts of music – McFly is just what we’ve done from an early age. There are songs that we have written and recorded that people wouldn’t believe are done by us, but we wouldn’t release them.”
I couldn’t help but exclaim, “you should release them under a pseudonym!” Harry said “we’ve thought about it.” And Danny says “we should create a band! Imagine if we stuck a song down and give it to a radio and say we don’t know who this is, but it’s awesome, under a random name-” Harry interrupted, saying “mate we talked about that, do you remember.” Somehow I don’t think they’re going to.
Harry went on “it’s interesting these dilemmas, if you go through the songs we’ve got this year, it’s all so different, but do we want to release that? We want to stay true to what we’ve been. That’s the frustrating thing about being in a pop band, because you have full creative control. It’s almost easier to be in a boy band where you get given the song by great songwriters who can churn out album after album. It takes longer these days for us to get music out – we’ve spent a year writing but we’re going away in January because we’re not sure if we’re happy with what we’ve got.”
As the interview came to an end, Danny says “we’re a confused band” and chuckles.