Let’s Break The Ice, why are we drinking Guinness?
Guinness is known as mother’s milk. It’s pretty much our national drink in Ireland. You don’t normally drink it from a bottle – it’s usually served from the tap but seeing as though we are not in Ireland, we will go with a bottle.
I want to start at the beginning, was there someone in your life who encouraged you to sing?
No not really. I come from a very big family – my mom has 11 brothers and sisters and my dad has 14 and between all of them, it was only really my myself and my sister that sang. I started singing from a very young age- probably 3 or 4 years old. The first thing I ever did was sing the Bear Necessities from Jungle book at a competition and I won an Easter egg. That was the first time I ever became a professional singer- singing for a prize.
You started your own band as a teenager called “Cartel” and then ended up meeting Louis Walsh – how did that come about?
It’s a long story but basically I was doing Cartel with two of my friends and we were singing at really small gigs around town. In Ireland, you have to have a manager to make it, so I reached out to Louis Walsh to manage Cartel. He had just signed IOU which later on ended up being Westlife and was looking for new members for the group. He wasn’t interested in managing my band but he was interested in me and asked me to audition for him.
What was that audition process like?
Well it wasn’t just one audition – it was a few. Both Nicky and I auditioned for another massive group on the same day. Louis came to that audition and then picked his 40 favorites from that to audition for Westlife. I went in the following week, auditioned and got asked to be a part of Westlife.
I bet you couldn’t have imaged how big Westlife would become?
Well I think when Louis Walsh took over and signed Westlife we knew we were going to be something, because pretty much anything Louis touched turned to gold. And then when we signed with Simon Cowell we knew (even before we had a song out) that it wouldn’t get any bigger than that. So we had Louis as a Manager and then Simon Cowell jumped on board – we knew this was not going to be a one off thing and there was potential to be really big.
How did you deal with the sudden on set of fame at such a young age?
We didn’t really have time to think about it to be honest – we were on the road, making records, touring and travelling. By the time the first album was out and a success we were already onto the second album. And when we were touring that then we were already making the third. It wasn’t until I left, that I took a step back and realised it was all pretty crazy. You don’t really get a chance to understand what is going on when you are in the middle of it. It’s like a fighter- a fighter doesn’t normally remember what happened in the fight until afterwards.
You decided to go solo- has it brought you the fulfillment you were after and what were some of the challenges of going from Westlife to a solo career.
To be honest, I never left to go solo, I left because the bands schedule was just ridiculous.- we were gone for 6 years straight with pretty much no time off at all. Everyone else around me was going to college and starting their lives and I was pretty much wrapping up my career in the band. It didn’t give me the joy it had in the beginning – it became more of a work thing – a job and it should never have been that. The first few years were the most exciting thing you could ever imagine, You would wake up in the morning and get so excited because you never knew what was going to happen.
One of your biggest hits- Real To Me – written by yourself and Guy Chambers – the song did so well, tell me about it?
It was such a big surprise. My manger came to me at the time and asked if I would work with Guy Chambers and I said no because I didn’t want to be painted with the Robbie Bush – he had worked a lot with Robbie Williams. He didn’t’ want to work with me either but in the end we decided to meet for coffee. I walked into his studio, we clicked straight away and ended up writing “Real To Me” within the hour that I was there. I walked out, gave it to my manager, he put it on in the car and said “we’ve got our first single”. You don’t get many songs like that where everyone who hears it says that’s a game changer and everyone who listens to it, connects with it. That was really nice for me.
You have recently been on Dancing On Ice – what was that experience like both mentally and physically?
I had an absolute blast! It was so exciting to get new songs and new costumes every week. As a singer- I don’t get nervous going on stage because I have done it so many times before. So, it was nice doing Dancing On Ice because sometimes I would be so nervous I would have butterflies in my stomach and would even be shaking. Even though it doesn’t feel nice at the time- it is quite exciting. I like to fancy myself as a bit of a dancer but when you put ice skates on your feet, it doesn’t matter how much rhythm you have, whatever you tell your body to do, it’s just going to do the opposite. It was a great experience.
Let’s talk about your new album – Otis – where did your inspiration for the album come from?
Well obviously all the songs are Otis Redding songs. I’ve wanted to do a soul album for a long long time but because I come from a pop background, I had to do it gradually. I’m a massive fan of Otis Redding and have a lot of respect for his music – he is one of the greats.
What do you want people to take away from listening to the album?
Just take the album with you, that will do! I’m not trying to prove anything with this album, it was just something that I wanted to do. I’ve had over 20 years of making records and it kind of gets to a stage where you stop thinking about what everyone else wants and sometimes you just gotta make a record that you want. I hope people like it – I don’t think it’s too far from what I have already done – it still has a pop feel. I just hope people like it.
If you could Break The Ice with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?
I’d like to have a drink with Elvis Presely – he was quite wild as a youngster so I think we would have a lot of fun. It would have to be more than one though. I’d like to have a weekend in Vegas with Elvis
Videography: Cors Media
Photography: Jack Lewis Williams
Talent: Brian McFadden
Host: Kendal Olivia Barrett
Location: The Boundary Project