Last year Shane Filan became the first member of Westlife to go solo (except for Brian McFadden, obvs) when he released his debut album You and Me
. It charted at number three in his native Ireland and a very creditable number six in the UK, and he's now preparing to head out on his first tour without Kian, Mark and Nicky.
As he releases his memorably-titled new single Knee Deep In My Heart
, I called Shane to find out how he's finding life as a solo artist - and to hear his thoughts on next year's equal marriage referendum in Ireland.
You released your solo album in November - have you been happy with the reaction so far?
Yeah, it's one of those things where you don't know how people are going to react; it was such a big week for me when it was released. It was my first solo album, completely out of the band and my comfort zone, but I was very pleased with the fact that it charted at number six, especially in November. I’m pleased with the reaction to the music: the fans seemed to love it and people in general seem to like the sound. And the new single Knee Deep In My Heart
has given me my biggest airplay so far.
How are you finding life as a solo artist? When you were in Westlife, there was obviously an emphasis on the performance of each single, whereas now you're perhaps more of an album artist. How is it different?
My album was the most important thing. For me now, with singles, I'm not expecting them to chart high at all. The airplay chart is important because it means you know the song is on the radio and people are hearing it. Westlife always struggled on the radio, but in the charts we were very successful. But the type of artist I am now is different to Westlife; it's more country and folky, but still pop music. It's definitely different, but if I can get on the radio and sell albums, it's more important than selling singles. Selling albums and charting high internationally is my number one goal this year. You just want to get a break as an artist and get your music out there, but it's hard because I don't have the machine of Westlife [any more]. Knee Deep In My Heart
has jumped 40 places on the airplay chart in the last week, which is massive. It’s been a great start to the year.
People might think as you were in Westlife you're basically guaranteed solo success.
I’m not guaranteed success at all. Everything is very competitive, because there are all these big artists that you're competing against. You're all competing for the same TV slots; you're all trying to get on the same big show. There are always artists out there that are bigger than you. You've just got to keep plugging away. Patience is a big thing in this industry.
Obviously you've brought a lot of fans over from your days in Westlife, but have you noticed that you attract a different type of fan now as well?
Absolutely. It's funny actually; I'm getting a lot of younger people starting to follow me on Twitter. It's different from Westlife. When we released our Greatest Hits
, we did a survey and 33% of our fanbase was aged 44-63. A lot of them had grown up with us, but also we did attract an older audience. I think a lot of them are still supporting me, but I feel there's definitely a younger audience there too. You want to appeal to as many different ages as possible.
You mentioned your latest single Knee Deep In My Heart: how did you come up with the song and its rather unusual title?
Basically the song is about realising that I fell in love - when I fell in love with my wife Gillian when I was 18. And basically the lyric is a funny twist on realising you're in love. All the songs [on the album] are basically about me falling in love and what was happening with my life at the time. I find it quite therapeutic, writing about stuff that is true. I tried to write about fiction, like a guy and girl breaking up, and it just didn't make sense to me. It was one of those things, the more I told the truth, the easier the songs came to me.
You're heading out on tour next month. How are preparations going?
I am very excited about that! I've started sorting out my production ideas and stage design. I have my set list almost certainly done now, though it probably will change at least 10 times before opening night! It's deciding which Westlife songs to sing and not to sing that is hard. I started off thinking I'd sing three and now I'm at five or six. You kind of can't leave out certain songs and I think the fans will be happy to hear there are a lot of Westlife songs in the set. It's part of their history and my history; it's a huge part of my life.
You did a lot of arena tours with Westlife - how do you think it'll be different performing in smaller venues?
It's my first tour in theatres - to be selling them out is amazing for me at the start of my solo career. When I'm on that stage on my own it's probably going to feel like an arena, or even a stadium! It's a different ball game, because you realise everyone is coming to see you and it's quite humbling; you feel proud that all these people are getting trains and hotel rooms just to come and hear you sing. It's different to the whole Westlife machine, when the arenas felt normal, and of course it's not normal at all. I'm looking forward to being closer to the fans on this tour.
Do you still keep in touch with the other Westlife guys?
We don't really see each other that much really. I saw Mark over Christmas and it was the first time I'd seen him in over a year. It's mad. We all get on very well, but we just haven't seen each other. We're not in the same circles anymore. I’ve not seen Kian for a year and a half. We're all trying to find our feet individually so we just don't see each other. They've called and texted about the album, to wish me luck, though - we all support each other.
So Mark is working on his own solo material too?
Yeah, he was in the studio at Christmas writing away. He has no immediate plans though and I’m not sure what his plan is for this year. I hope be brings out an album though. He's a great singer and I’m really interested to see what he's done.
In Ireland, there is going to be a referendum in Ireland 2015 on the legalisation of same-sex marriage. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think the support is there?
I think it should be, because everyone should have the chance to get married. It's one of those sad things that we live in times where people still disagree with it or governments try to not let it happen. I will be voting for it. I think it's very important. The world is changing, and people's views need to be more relaxed and more educated. Some people never will change, and that's sad for them.
Did Westlife have a big gay following? Did you attract more gay fans after Mark revealed his sexuality?
Yeah, we always knew we had a gay following - and after Mark came out, we saw a lot more guys at our shows. We used to play at G-A-Y every year, and that used to be such fun - the place used to go crazy. I think as time went on we did have a big gay following, which was especially great for Mark. I think he was quite proud of it. I suppose that's why Westlife were so successful: we appealed to young, old, gay, straight. We never got too political or tried to change too much. We just wanted to sing. We had great songwriters, and obviously we were famous for some of the covers we did, which were some of them were the biggest hits we had.
Some people criticised Westlife for recording so many covers. Did that bother you?
It's impossible to come up with world-class songs every year. You just can't do it unless you're very, very lucky. There was a turning point after we released The Love Album
, where we realised what the fans wanted. For us we had the option of doing covers and originals and that’s how we released 12 albums in 14 years.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Are you planning to release any new material?
I don't know, but I'll know in the next few weeks. I want to get back in the studio. I have three or four ideas that I'm really excited about, and I put them in my phone every day. I want to get in the studio and get them down. I’m not sure if I will release a new album this year or next. I definitely have a couple more singles to come from this album before I really start to think about new songs. I have a song off this album called All You Need to Know
, which will hopefully become a single soon. It’s a big ballad and it's my favourite off the album.
Louis Walsh is preparing to launch a new boyband – have you been helped at all with the selection process?
No, not at all. He did the auditions himself; he held them in Ireland and loads of people turned up for it. He's very excited for it, and it'll be later this year when you hear more about it. He wants to take his time and get the right people involved.
Speaking of Louis, he originally said that he wouldn’t be returning to The X Factor this year. Do you think he’ll change his mind?
I think he will come back if he is asked. If Simon comes back, he'll come back. They're very close friends. If I were a betting man, I would say he'll be on the panel. I think you need Louis on the panel. He’s been on the show for ten years for a [email protected]
because people like him. It would be really weird without him.
Shane's new single Knee Deep In My Heart and album You and Me are out now. His tour of the UK and Ireland kicks off at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool on February 20.
Watch the music video for Shane Filan's Knee Deep In My Heart
[youtube height="315" width="560"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZT_1gP8SVM[/youtube]