Best Life: Brian McFadden on his lucky second chance

Published in The Music Network


From boy band phenomenon, stadium filler and tabloid fodder, through to dad, immigrant and rising pop star. Brian McFadden has experienced all the trappings of fame and fortune. Now at 30 years of age, the Irish singer is going through his own personal renaissance, as Lars Brandle discovers.

When asked to choose his three biggest career highlights, Brian McFadden is quick off the mark. Right up there is the first time he played to 80,000 fans at an open-air stadium, standing alongside his former Westlife bandmates. And there was the time he performed for and met the late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Both are extraordinary moments, the kind you could dine off for the rest of time. And to round-out the highlight reel perhaps the first million dollar cheque, or the inaugural world tour?

Nope. McFadden instead recalls the time his single Just Say So (featuring Kevin Rudolph) topped the Australian singles chart.

“I never thought in the twilight of my career, if you will, that I’d ever get back to that. I thought my days of getting No. 1s was in the past,” he tells TMN. “It meant more to me than any other No. 1 I’ve ever had.”

That McFadden ranks Australian chart success alongside an audience with the Pontiff and those early tastes of the “big league” shows just how far he’s come. The lad from Dublin is a changed man. He’s now at home in a new country, he’s got business on his mind and his musical output is a world away from his pop fare with Westlife.

On his latest effort, McFadden has turned away from the generic pop-ballad-with-key-change formula and ventured down a more synthetic route. One new track he’s road-testing introduces a rap, performed by Marvin Priest. McFadden knows he’s not getting any younger, and pop music shows little respect for the aged.

“I’m probably the oldest pop artist out there at the moment,” McFadden muses. “If you take away rock bands and established artists like Elton John and you just consider pop music — people like Justin Bieber, or even Gaga, who is an older artist — there’s probably no-one older than me doing it at the moment.”

When TMN calls, McFadden’s voice is swamped in an aural haze of beats and synths. He’s in the studio, laying down tracks with US-born Rob Conley, his collaborator on the Wall of Soundz album. His third solo set spawned Just Say So, the top-20 hit Chemical Rush, and airplay smash Mistakes, a duet with his fiance Delta Goodrem. However, Wall of Soundz debuted at a disappointing No. 27 on the ARIA Albums Chart in May, well-down on the No. 5 opening of his 2008 sophomore solo album Set In Stone.

“I’m not happy at all about that, but we’re in a singles market,” he admits. “We sold 150,000 copies of the single and when the album came out people just went to iTunes and clicked on You Say So. Our plan had always been at the end of Wall of Soundz to have released every single song on the album as a single.” The set will be repackaged for the Australian market with three new songs, including a Mark Endert remix of Mistakes, and should get a staggered international release later this year through Universal’s machine.

McFadden is currently in L.A. — his other home – which will serve as the launch pad for promo excursions in support of the album release there. Australia, however, is the artist’s proper home. “I wanted to come here and start from scratch, where there’s no baggage,” he explains. “Here, I had to start from the very beginning and try to win over a fanbase.” It was a humbling experience, he admits, to go from playing Dublin’s Croke Park to performing at Rooty Hill RSL.

“I love working here and making music here. Songwriting-wise, Ireland is a very hard place to be inspired. Band like U2, Cranberries, The Script, they leave the country to make their albums.” There’s little he misses of the Emerald Isle, expect for the two beloved daughters he left behind – the “hardest sacrifice” he’s had to make.

Financially, heading Down Under has also proved a sacrifice on the wallet. “The reward is nowhere near what it used to be. If you could have had that level of success, landing a No. 1 single five years ago in the UK you’re talking in the millions you’re making. It’s just not like that anymore,” he notes. “Australia is my base, but you have to spread your wings, try America, Europe and Asia.”

Westlife was one of Europe’s biggest ever boy-bands, and the best-selling male group to come from Ireland who’s not called U2. With McFadden on side, Westlife enjoyed more than 30 million album sales, and landed 12 No. 1 singles in the UK. He left in 2004, but “loved every second” of the experience, he recounts.

“We were five kids from Ireland at the same age, with the same interests and we had nothing. We hadn’t even been on holidays outside Ireland. Then all of a sudden we were flying first-class to Japan, Australia, going all over the world staying in the best hotels, getting to play arenas. We never even got a chance to understand how big it had got so quick. It was almost like a seven-year party – we just got pissed the whole time, had loads of fun and enjoyed everything that happened.” Would he emulate Robbie Williams and reunite with the band it all happened with? “I would definitely like to get back with the (Westlife) boys and do a show,” says McFadden. “A greatest-hits show perhaps.”

What McFadden doesn’t reminisce about is the British tabloid press. McFadden couldn’t stay out of the Red Tops. If it wasn’t a headline about the Irishman’s weight-gain, it was another salacious tale about former Atomic Kitten member Kerry Katona, the mother of McFadden’s kids.

“They never write positive things about me in the UK. And when I got to No. 1 here, it wasn’t even mentioned in the UK press. Maybe (Brits) thrive on pain, or their sense of humour is about watching people hurt. I grew up with it; it’s the same in Ireland.”

The Australian press hasn’t all be kind to McFadden. Celebrity columnist Ros Reines dumped a pile on the Irishman, recently labelling him a “misogynist” and “womanhater” in a Daily Telegraph article entitled, Brian McFadden is an Absolute Dork. He shrugs it off. “If you only had one person writing shit like that about you in the UK, you’d be laughing,” he explains. “Over there, you’d have five or six people each day taking half a story and twisting it in the papers.”

As much as McFadden can live incognito Down Under, there’s no question that his relationship with Delta Goodrem is a “will they or won’t they” headline just waiting to be published. “Everyone keeps asking us. And, yes, the wedding is definitely on the cards,” he says, clearly not for the first time. “We’re so busy at the moment. It takes a year to organize a wedding.”

McFadden has kept himself occupied with a stint as a judge on Australia’s Got Talent, a role in which he found himself cast as the tough guy. Now with the reality TV show’s season over, McFadden is turning his sights to Fantum Records, a new pop label he’s established with Conley under the Universal Music umbrella.

“I’m 30 now. This is probably my last shot of getting back there,” says McFadden. “Maybe turning 30 is the new beginning.”

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