Brian McFadden’s career has taken many twists and turns across the past 14 years. From one fifth of Irish boyband Westlife to solo star, a foray into the dancier side of the music spectrum and a step into reality television, it seems that no matter which direction his career has headed, Brian’s never strayed too far from the public eye.
Now almost ten years after the release of his debut solo album ‘Irish Son’, it appears the singer has come full ‘Irish’ circle, with the release of his new album ‘The Irish Connection’.
We caught up with the singer last week to chat about the new covers collection, which he fondly describes as his “labour of love”.
“I’m very excited,” he begins. “I started it in August and I finished it in three weeks! It was finished back in September and it’s just been sitting there waiting to go. But I had to go back to the UK to do the Ronan tour and I wasn’t going to be here, so we moved the release back to March,” he says.
Though he finds it difficult to believe that next year will mark the tenth anniversary of the release of his debut solo effort, we ask Brian that given the common thread between his solo debut and the new project, was there some weird ‘Irish’ conspiracy going on that we were unaware of.
“Well it’s weirder for the English, because in the UK I’ve only had ‘Irish Son’ released – I’ve never released another album there,” he says. “They’ve only had ‘Irish Son’ and now they’ve got ‘The Irish Connection’, they’re going to think I’m some crazy patriot or something like that.
“It was never the right time to go back to the UK, because I would have had to have gone back for a long time to promote and the opportunity just wasn’t there for me to do it. And the want wasn’t there either, because I was enjoying starting from scratch here in Australia, releasing albums and doing television… I was really enjoying my career here.
“Things change though – and with Ronan asking me to go on tour with him and this album… And with the Westlife boys breaking up this year as well – it just all kind of seemed like it was the right time to go back and give it a go, you know?”
Westlife, the boyband that gave Brian his first big musical break, disbanded late last year after more than 13 years, a string of No.1 chart successes and millions of albums and singles sales. Their demise has afforded the singer the luxury of being able to add some of their back catalogue hits to his live repertoire.
“Now that Westlife have broken up, it’s almost like I can get the entitlement to sing those songs back again,” Brian explains. Before, because the boys were still out touring and playing together, it felt a bit weird. But it’s nice now to be able to do it and acknowledge the Westlife side of things instead of me feeling like I’m singing their songs. I kind of reclaimed my rights to the songs when they broke up. We’re all now just former members of Westlife.”
Brian also professes his love (it’s a mutual one) for Westlife’s 1999 UK No.1 smash ‘Flying Without Wings’.
“I’m doing that everywhere now. Even if I’m only doing three or four songs in a set, I’ll put that in.. It’s my favourite song to sing,” he reveals.
For the past three years, Brian has been a regular on our TV screens alongside Dannii Minogue and Kyle Sandilands as part of the judging panel on the evergreen ratings hit ‘Australia’s Got Talent’. It was dropped by the Seven Network at the end of last year, but will be resurrected by Channel 9 later this year. Brian tells us he had mixed feelings about its demise and the loss of his position on a high-rating programme.
“I was sad that they (Channel 7) decided to drop it, but then I didn’t mind when I found out that Channel 9 had picked it up,” he admits. “I didn’t want the actual brand to stop, because it’s a great show. I’d had enough, to be honest with you. Three years was a long time and I’d got to the stage where I’d become a TV person, whereas music’s where my heart is. So this (the show ending) has given me the chance to go back to the UK, put out the album, tour again.
“I’m touring with Ronan, then I’m doing my own tour. I’m going to be gigging around the world for the rest of this year and that’s the one thing I love the most. I can do that again now because I don’t have any other commitments outside of my music.”
And music is where Brian is now focussing all his energy. ‘The Irish Connection’ represents a love letter of sorts to his homeland, some of its most iconic performers and their songs. The collection includes covers of tracks made famous by the likes of Damien Rice, The Cranberries – and even Enya – along with collaborations with some of his country’s finest. The choices as to which tracks to take on, Brian tells us, came relatively easily.
“I had most of the songs chosen in my head before I even started,” he admits. “Especially the older songs like ‘Black Is The Colour’ and ‘No Frontiers’ . They were instantly top of the list. Then the rest just filled in the gaps with the obvious. I wanted to have a U2 song – and not an obvious U2 song – and then obviously I wanted to have some modern Irish people to fill in the gaps too. Damien Rice, Snow Patrol… so when I sat down as a project, it was really quite easy. It’s not too hard to find amazing Irish songs because there are so many and they’re so diverse.
“Obviously I wasn’t going to do a Westlife song because I’m already singing it live, so I think I’ve covered Westlife – and Ronan being on the album covers Boyzone. So take them out of the equation and you’ve probably got the most successful Irish acts of all time on there. And the only act that’s not – I actually started it one day and it just didn’t feel comfortable and I scrapped it – is The Corrs. When you look at that list, they’re pretty much the only ones that aren’t on the album that probably should be, but the song just wasn’t feeling right,” he admits.
“They’re on the b-side,” he laughs.
In the midst of the more mainstream chart hits, Brian bravely takes on ‘Only Time’ by Enya. Not an easy artist to cover, for certain, but he does an admirable job, layering the vocals to attain a more familiar sound.
“I changed things about slightly to make it easier to record and hopefully to make it a little different and I thought if I’m going to do it, the only way to get that haunting sound is if I do the layered vocal thing. That ‘Fun.’ or ‘Mumford and Sons’ kind of feel. And the same with Damien Rice. His music’s so bare – it’s just acoustic and it left a lot of room to be able to play around with it.”
‘The Irish Connection’ features a trio of guest vocalists. One is Ronan Keating, who duets on U2’s ‘All I Want Is You’. Sinead O’Connor also appears, but not on her smash cover of the Prince classic ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, itself a feature on the album. We ask Brian whether the temptation was there to have Sinead guest on it instead of ‘Black Is The Colour’.
“She actually offered to sing backing vocals on ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and I said ‘no’. I just wanted to keep it simple. I was really happy with ‘Black Is The Colour’ and actually it was only when we went ahead with ‘Black Is The Colour’ that I decided to do ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. I was questioning whether to sing with Sinead… even singing a Sinead song. Even though it’s a Prince song, her version of it is still seen as one of the best ever Irish songs,” he says.
Brian also teams up with Aslan lead singer Christy Dignam on Aslan’s own track ‘Crazy World’.
“I covered the song and the guy who was engineering the vocals in the studio in Dublin was working on their new album at the same time and he told Christy,” Brian explains. “Christy said he’d love to do some vocals on it, so he came over to the studio and we ended up just doing it as a duet.”
After toying with his sound over the past few years – delving into the dancier side of pop via songs like ‘Just Say So’, ‘Twisted’ (remixed by The Potbelleez) and ‘Chemical Rush’ – this album sees Brian move back towards the more traditional side of pop. And he tells us this style is something his fans can expect more of in the future.
“Oh 100%. My new original album is almost like me trying to make original versions of this album,” he reveals. “The sound, the songs… I’m going back to my roots to be honest with you. It was a very experimental time doing ‘Just Say So’ and stuff like that, but going back on the road and being on the tour, I know which songs I like singing the best, which sound the best and feel the best and they’re the Westlife tracks and the original material of the early albums.
“‘Wrap My Arms’ is a good template of what it is. It mightn’t even be as rocky as that. I played a lot of electric guitar on that record and I’ll probably tone that down a little. I think the production of ‘The Irish Connection’ is going to be a lot closer in sound to where I’m going to go.”
As for switching off the “new original album” project and switching on for ‘The Irish Connection’, Brian tells us the ability to shuttle between jobs is a skill that he’s perfected while working with his long-time writing partner Robert Conley.
“We do it every day,” he admits. “We have different artists in every day, so we could go from working with an R&B female one day to working with a country male the next. So for us, taking my project and completely changing it is no problem. We just imagine me as a different artist – that’s all we have to do. We’re quite used to flipping and changing every day.
“Sometimes we can even do two sessions in the one day. We have done it where in the morning we were working on a rap song over big beats and synths and in the afternoon we worked with Adam Eckersley who’s a great Australian country singer doing some rock country. At the end of the day, they’re just songs and it all comes down to how you produce them.”
The original album on hold for now, the present is all about ‘The Irish Connection’. The project is Brian tipping his hat to his homeland, to the wondrous musical gifts it’s bestowed upon the world, to the connections he’s made and to the inspiration it’s provided to him throughout the years.
And with the many and varied experiences that ‘Irish Connection’ has afforded him throughout his long and successful career, we can safely say that Mister McFadden is one very lucky man.
Brian’s new album ‘The Irish Connection’ is available in-store and online now.
He’s currently supporting Ronan Keating on his current Australian tour on the following dates;
March 07 : Brisbane (Riverstage)
March 09 : Penrith (Evans Theatre)
March 10 : Gold Coast (Jupiter’s Hotel & Casino)
March 12 : Perth (Crown Perth Theatre)