Interview | Markus Feehily talks gay pop stars, internalised homophobia and new single 'Sanctuary'

Earlier this week, we released an exclusive look at the Markus Feehily’s new single ‘Sanctuary’ and we absolutely loved the stripped-down electro-backing and rousing gospel choir, not to mention the heart wrenching film clip exploring gay love in London. As the third single to be lifted from Markus’ debut album Fire, the former Attitude cover star sat down with us to chat about the track, his inspiration behind it, and his forthcoming UK tour supporting Wet Wet Wet throughout February and March. You’ve released the video for ‘Sanctuary’ this week – what can you tell us about the song and the inspiration behind the video? It's about two guys falling in love. But one is not out and continues to date girls to keep people off the scent and it ends up hurting his boyfriend. The situation becomes more and more complex and difficult for both and essentially they up in in an unbearable situation. The end result is that a good thing, love, is lost because a man is too afraid to be true to himself because of what friends or family or society might think if he just followed his heart. It’s a sad love story. What does the song mean to you personally? Musically, I have always wanted to include my Celtic and Irish roots, but historically A&R just whacked a tin whistle or a uilleann pipe in there. I feel that's been overdone and a bit of a stereotype. I wanted to incorporate the Irish thing in a modern and cooler way so I sampled a Clannad song called ‘The Theme from Harry's Game’, and put a sort of hip hop beat over it, which was an idea inspired by ‘Ready Or Not’ when The Fugees sampled Enya. There’s some brilliant acting in the video – were you ever tempted to star in it yourself? No, I wanted to extract myself from this video and make it about the story. It’s a very common situation and I'm hoping many will relate to it. It showcases internalised homophobia and while things have progressed in certain countries and communities, in some places it's still not ok to be gay. markus3 The video includes a love triangle between two men and a woman – is including gay themes in your work something you’re striving for now you’re a solo artist?  It's not so much of a love triangle as the guy doesn't even fancy the girl - she's just more of a cover up. He meets her in public on front of their friends and that keeps all the questions and suspicions at bay. I don't think that just because I'm gay all my videos need gay characters. This one was a no-brainier though, because it's not about generic love but rather a very specific subject. Did you ever feel constrained in that respect during your time in Westlife? Westlife was more about us in our videos performing straight down the lense to our fans. Plus the singles weren't written by us or about our lives, so it's just a different thing really.   You’re touring with Wet Wet Wet in the spring – are you looking forward to getting back on the road? Have you got any surprises planned for your set? I can't bloody wait! It's been a while since I've played arenas and we have a great crew going on tour and we will try our best to raise the roof! Your music and image have certainly taken on more of an edge over the last couple of years – have you enjoyed that freedom to explore your image creatively? Well I have enjoyed being completely free to do whatever I want musically for sure, I was ready for that for quite some time. I’m already excited to get back in the studio. But the most important thing is that it's not fake, it's the real me, I couldn't fake it as a solo artist even if I tried!   ‘Sanctuary’ is a very raw, emotional record, as is Fire as an album about love and break-ups. Does that material still feel cathartic, or now does it drag up the past every time you sing it? Once I got it out of my system in the studio whilst writing and recording the songs the hard part was over. Sometimes I'd meet the co-writers for the first time in the actual session we wrote the songs in, so I'd often I'd find myself nearly crying in front of complete strangers; just pouring my guts out to them. markus4 How do you feel about the music industry’s attitude to gay artists in 2016? Do you envy stars like Sam Smith and Olly Alexander, who have been able to start their careers out and proud from the off? I wish I came out sooner but you know what, I can't change the past. I can only look forward. I think it's amazing what's happening currently, but there's still a lot of hesitation behind the scenes. One particular manager I met, who manages some of the most famous in the business, told me my biggest hurdle will be that I'm gay. Obviously I didn't call him back. Living the life of a pop star and in the middle of an album campaign, is there much time to focus on love and your personal life? Yes, loads to be honest, I'm my own boss now and I know what my priorities are. I know that one can work their arse off and still have plenty of time for the boyfriend! Have you been pleased by the reception to the record? What are you working on going forward? I'm really, really happy with the feedback. It's been so positive. People were almost shocked at times with the music, but that's kind of something I thought would happen, as I've always known I have this other side to me that was very different to Westlife. Right now, I'm doing a lot of thinking about what comes next - there's so much I want to do so I suppose we'll have to catch up in a few months and I'll tell you then! Markus' debut album Fire is out now. You can watch the video for ‘Sanctuary’ below: More stories: Will Young to join Attitude’s mental health panel at Student Pride Davey Wavey wants young gay guys to show some ‘f**king respect’