“We know we can sing. That’s the easy part.”
That’s what Shane Filan said about Westlife, the boyband that helped pave the way for bands of the same genre, and that’s what they’ve been happily doing all these 14 years during which they sold over 44 million records worldwide, 14 of them No. 1 singles in the United Kingdom, making them the only artist with the most consecutive No. 1’s in the UK.
Minus Bryan McFadden who has gone solo, the remaining four Westlife guys — that is, Shane, 32; Kian Egan, 31; Mark Feehily, 31; and Nicky Byrne, at 33 the oldest of the group — are coming for a concert at the Araneta Coliseum next Thursday, Sept. 29, as part-promo for their latest album called Gravity, released locally by Sony Music.
“It’s a really good album,” said Nicky in an exclusive phone Conversation (again, the band agreed to talk only to one Philippine paper, The STAR). “It’s one producer. It’s one sound. Maybe it’s taken us 14 years to get there. But it doesn’t matter. We’re here now.”
And here they will stay, well-entrenched on top and unchallenged by the emergence of other bands.
Before he became a Westlifer, Nicky played professional football and represented Ireland at several underage competitions. He’s married to Georgina Ahern, his childhood sweetheart and they have fraternal twin sons named Jay and Rocco, four years old. Except for Mark, the two other members are married, too, and have kids of their own.
You and the other Westlife guys are coming to the Philippines for a concert on Sept. 29. Welcome back!
“We’re looking forward to it. You know, the Philippines has always been very welcoming to Westlife. Ever since we first went there in 1999, the people there have been so friendly to Westlife and I know that Westlife songs mean a lot to some people there.”
When you were here in 1999, you were new as a group.
“That’s right. We’ve been to the Philippines I think maybe four or five times for promo visits and we’ve done some concert visits. It’s a place that we do like to visit again and again. It’s been too long since we’ve been back, so we’re really looking forward to go back over there and to, you know, sing all our songs for the fans again. It should be very special.”
It has been 14 years since you were organized as a group. How has the Westlife music changed all these years, how did it evolve?
“I think that when you’re in a band like this and you enjoy doing it, you always try to improve the next album and make the songs better. At the same time, you don’t want to change too much because possibly one of the reasons why we’re still around is that we didn’t try and change our music. We’ve stuck to the formula and to what we know how to do best. People seem to like most of the pop songs that we make and that’s very important.”
What about you and the three other guys, how have you changed as persons all these years? I guess the way you look at life has changed a bit. Are you the same persons that you were 14 years ago?
“Well, we’ve certainly grown up. We are family men now. I’ve got children now. The way you look at life does change a little bit as you grow older. This is actually our 14th year, would you believe…I couldn’t believe that we’ve lasted this long.”
Wow, that’s a long time!
“Yeah, it has been a long time! And we’re enjoying every minute of it. We have a greatest-hits album this year and this is why we’re going to the Philippines to sing all the songs on it. We’re inviting all those people who used to be Westlife fans and who are still Westlife fans to come and enjoy the concert with us.”
Oh, I’m sure they will all be there.
“And, you know, something that is also very close to me about the Philippines is that I’m a big fan of Manny Pacquiao.”
Really!?! Nicky Byrne.
“Oh yes, I am! I do a bit of boxing training. I heard that Manny likes to sing, so I hope that he will watch our concert if he’s around. I’m inviting him.”
What was your boxing training for?
“Oh, just for conditioning…just to keep fit.”
Right now (last week during the interview), he’s in the States promoting with Juan Manuel Marquez their return bout on Nov. 12 (Nov. 13 Manila Time) in Las Vegas. I’m sure he’ll be back in time for your concert.
(Addressing Manny) “Come to our concert, Manny! Be our guest!”
Have you heard him sing?
“No, I haven’t. It will be great if he will come to our concert and sing a song or two with us, a Westlife song of course.”
You have two kids. What about the other members (Kian, Mark and Shane)?
“Kian is expecting his first child next January. Shane has three children. Mark doesn’t have any children. He’s not married at the moment.”
Now that you are fathers, how do you look at music? I suppose you sing with a different feeling now.
“Yeah, definitely! Being a father does change your life. Having children is an amazing experience. You look at music differently from the way you did when you were single. It gives you a special feeling singing the same songs with a different feeling. When we go on a world tour, I don’t want to stay away too long because I miss my children.”
Do you sing your kids to sleep at night?
(Laughs) “No, I don’t.”
How do you Westlife guys manage to stay together and stay on top all these years despite the emergence of other groups?
“To be honest, I don’t know. You know, maybe we know what buttons to push or what pushes each other’s buttons. There’s really no magic formula. If there were, we would bottle it and sell it. I think if you want to continue doing something that you love to do, you have to help each other through and do your best to make things easy for everybody. Fourteen years is a long time. We’re coming to Asia now for concerts because you just never know what’s around the corner so we’re looking forward to this tour.”
Do you guys always do things together at work or at play?
“Right now, no. I don’t believe that at this particular moment any member has that plan. That’s not to say that things will not change because in time, maybe each of us will take a break and I’m sure each one of us will want to do his own thing. But as I’ve said, right now, not one of us has any such plan and we are just concentrating on the greatest-hits tour.”
Oh, you’re doing a greatest-hits album. That’s great!
“Yes, it’s coming out in November, after Gravity which came out last year.”
I read somewhere that you guys came to a crossroads last year and the result was the album Gravity. According to the story, you wandered into “uncharted waters.” Was it a “risk” doing that kind of album?
“I don’t think doing the album was a risk. I think what we meant was that, with nobody to compare ourselves to we’re making more and more albums, and we’re in ‘uncharted waters’ where the typical boy band would have maybe three albums and a ‘greatest hits’ one. With us, we did nine albums before doing a ‘greatest hits’ album. Every album we make is new and nobody has ever done it like this before. You know, the Gravity album is a pretty good pop album.”
I’ve listened to the album and the most touching song on it is Too Hard To say Goodbye. There’s an interesting story behind it, about the passing of your father and that of Kian, right?
“Yeah, my dad had a heart attack and died suddenly when he was at work, and Kian’s dad also died within the same year. It was a painful way to end the year. It was quite hard. What we did was go to the studio and write the song. It’s a song that really works. It’s a hard song to do, our special tribute to our dads. We were crying when we did it.”
You helped pave the way for boy bands. You’re grown-up now, you’re fathers now. You have ceased to be a boyband. How would you classify yourselves now?
“Maybe we should call ourselves, hmmmm, the Granddad Band.” (Laughs)
See you at the Araneta Coliseum on Sept. 29. We’d love to listen to you sing the old familiar Westlife songs.
“Yeah, we’ll be singing all our songs — You Raise Me Up, When You’re Looking Like That…all the big songs. We can hardly wait to sing all of them.”
If Manny Pacquiao watched your concert and agreed to do a song with you guys, what song would it be?
“I think You Raise Me Up would be good. That would be a nice one. Or any Westlife song he’d want to do. During the day, I would love to do a bit of boxing training with him and then at night time, he could do a bit of singing with us.”
One trivia question: Your full name is quite long — Nicholas Bernard James Adam McGarry Byrne Jr. Didn’t you have a hard time writing it during grade school?
“Oh, in school I didn’t have to write all that. That’s the name on my birth certificate. For short, you take the first and the last — Nicholas Byrne. My friends call me Nicko and then everybody knows me as Nicky.”
Anything you have to say to your fans down here?
“Oh, please remind everybody to follow me on Twitter. I’ll be keeping everybody updated on what I’m doing.”