McFly "This time, we wanted to have like a clear direction, clear vision, and clear sound. We did this giant mood board and wrote all the words about what McFly meant to us or what this album was meant to represent and sound like. One of the most common words we wrote was 'guitars.' That was a big turning point for us. We are a band that loves making music, but specifically, we're a rock band, and we haven't made the most of that."
Alice Gee | 12/06/2023
Getting McFly in a room, not once but twice for our Issue 12 cover, is a significant win for me and my younger self. With her in mind, the nostalgia is real, with the band needing no introduction. As I set up for our podcast episode in their London studio, it's quite the space, about 5 times my London flat. Having created a home away from home in COVID, it's the base they call home in terms of their music. I initially delve into the world that is McFly with Danny, Dougie, and Harry, with Tom catching up with me over the phone before in person a few weeks later on ourshoot. In the live room, as we shoot their inside feature, the band has their backs to one another, playing a montage of melodies as we shoot them on their home territory. Every now and again, silence breaks out as they wait for the music to drop, perfectly in sync. They laugh and thrive taking the mick out of one another, if not perfectly on point. It's incredibly polished, as I wonder how well you have to know one another to predict each other's next moves practically blindfolded. Post the grand tour of the studio, which I can confirm is epic, I learn about the role it's had to play in making their new and 7th album, 'Power to Play.' Already I can tell the importance of this album. In their words, it's the album they've dreamed of making. Music that is authentically them. As I get comfy, mic in hand, they tell me how they are alive they feel as a group and individuals, possibly the most alive they've ever felt making an album. They really are as lovely as their reputation, just even funnier. What I love about McFly is no matter how much life has changed for the band, with families, and new career avenues in tow, the band has been through it all but as one family. The love for one another is so apparent that even on shoot, I can confirm they still make each other laugh like it's the first time. In fact, I'm yet to see imagery from a shoot where there aren't so many smiles. It's like they are laughing for the first time all over again.
A: Being here in the studio with you is so lovely. It's huge!
Harry: It's our sanctuary. It's amazing for us to have this safe space. It's been our base for the past two and a half years. And it's where we made the album. We've captured something here that's really special. It's given us the time to almost have our own apartment again and hang out together.
Danny: With COVID shutting everything down, we wanted to rent the big live room and the owner said they would be closing the whole thing down, so we took on the whole building. So we've got the live room and built this studio we're sitting in now. And upstairs, we've got a big space which is our meeting space. So all our equipment's here. It's the dream to rehearse and record here. It's amazing.
Dougie: I Literally live here. Never go home. It only needs a shower. It's the only thing that stops me sometimes when we're doing late nights and early mornings.
A: I love it, plus I'm really nosy. I love the memorabilia upstairs (and in the bathroom). I'm impressed by how it's so neat everywhere!
Harry: When we first lived together, my room was disgusting.
A:. I've watched your documentary. I've seen it all.
Danny: Dougie's room was the smoking room. God, your bedroom was so hot. It was like walking into the Bahamas.
Harry: Danny had a walk-in wardrobe and his studio. He and Tom were in the band when they got the house, so Tom had first dibs, including a balcony.
A: Everyone crammed into one smoking room. I watched the documentary, and we all know what it's like at that age when you move in somewhere. I'm a clean freak, so mine was never like that. But a lot of my friends, you needed a tetanus shot after entering their room.
Harry: We had a cleaner. Someone came in and cooked, not that we really ate the meals. Someone from management must have been worried that we weren't getting the proper nutrition.
Dougie: Nobody cleaned up after themselves. So if something got dumped there in the middle of the room, that's where it lived forever.
A: You were living the best life. For young guys, in the charts, creating music, living your dream, I understand the last thing you'd do is clean.
Dougie: It's different here with the studio and with cleanliness. We get annoyed if anyone's been in here and left crumbs.
A: That's fair enough. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't going near anything because I'm like a bull in a china shop. But it's a nice setup. So it's an exciting time. You've got new music coming out. Having had such success over the years, I wanted to discuss creating the new album and finding its sound.
Harry: We had a big break from recording. We made our fifth album in 2010, a greatest hits in 2012, and another in 2013. But then McBusted happened, so we didn't release that album. We toured with McBusted for two or three years. Then when that finished, we had a two or three-year break before returning and doing some shows. That's when we were like, let's make an album called Young Dumb Thrills. That was 2020/2021, and it had some excellent songs on there. But for me, it felt like a mishmash of pieces we had just recorded. That album didn't really know what it was. So when we came back to record another album, post-COVID, and we had the studio, it was great as there were no time pressures. We teamed up again with Jason Perry, and from day one had some songs floating about to which he was just like, this is boring. So we had this moment where he asked what we love about McFly, and it all kept coming back to the same thing: Live music and how we come across live. It's all about guitars, guitar solos, drums, and getting kids excited about playing instruments and having fun. Not taking ourselves too seriously, but taking the music seriously. It was about simplifying things that allowed the creative process to flow naturally.
Straightaway, Tom came out the next day and had this song called "Where Did All the Guitars Go?". And that was it. We then got a guy named Steve Patel involved. He had a natural vibe in the room but is also a great guitarist and writer. So between us five and Jason, we made this album, in which Danny produced about four or five of the songs as well. It's a very career-defining album. In fact, it's my favourite McFly album ever. We finally have an album where this band knows who they are. It's fun but heavier than anything we've done before. It's awesome.
Tom: This is our second album since we had a four-year hiatus. We did a bunch of writing the first time, not knowing what the album would be. Because we were so excited, we didn't plan what the album would sound like. But this time, we wanted to have like a clear direction, clear vision, and clear sound. We did this giant mood board and wrote all the words about what McFly meant to us or what this album was meant to represent and sound like. One of the most common words we wrote was 'guitars.' That was a big turning point for us. We are a band that loves making music, but specifically, we're a rock band, and we haven't made the most of that. For a long time, we were always overthinking music trends, chasing what's covered, and worrying about how you can get played on radio or playlists. This time we decided, let's not worry about any of that rubbish. Let's write an awesome album that kids will want to go and play air guitar to in their bedrooms. That's how it started. We want them to catch that bug of how awesome guitars are from a young age. And if you can inspire them at a young age, it will change their lives. We just wanted to write an album that would make it hard not to pick up a guitar.
Danny: As Harry said, it's a switch in focus in terms of identity. And what was most impactful is that the best moments in this band have been when we've played live. We had the best time looking over, seeing our mates, seeing the crowd, putting the work in, and showing off what we could do. That's the core. That's the beauty of this band. That focus went into the album. How do we recreate that on an album? Rather than thinking about how do we sell this album? Instead of how is it commercial. What will it be like on the radio? This time it was about who was going to be inspired by it? That was the focus.
A: Not only have you found your identity and where you want to be, but the pressures from when you were younger and setting out seem to be gone.
Harry: For us, we're lucky. We are an established band, so we're fortunate to have our fan base. It's not like we're a new artist with the pressures of TikTok like you mentioned. Don't get me wrong, it's a great way for people to get their music out there, but if you have a viral moment on TikTok, you must follow it up. I imagine basing your whole music career around trying to blow up on TikTok is a pretty depressing thought. So to young artists, don't make that your focus. Even just releasing one song seems rare, foreign, and strange to us because the album is a collection of music representing you as a band in that period, not just one song. It also depends on what's important to you. Is getting streamed millions of times vital to you, or is selling out a show important? Because I know a lot of artists that can get millions of streams but can't sell out a show. It doesn't make any sense to us. I'm sure it will, eventually. When you create something, you never know whether it will be successful. We don't know whether our songs will be a hit. We are putting out the best work out there we can. It's the same with this album. How can we curate a tour setlist? What would this sound like if we only had this music to play live? It's all down to a spec. I feel sorry for artists who don't have people to rely on, like, for example, like us and having each other. We can create this space and environment that allows us to flourish, be creative, and make this album. We're so lucky to have that. That's what we wanted to put out there as well. This is a space that we want to celebrate.
Tom: 100%. I feel like most bands start with the freedom of not conforming to your own sound as a band and what people expect from you. We're not chasing anything. We are just purely about the process of writing something exciting for ourselves. Going back to that was such a refreshing experience for all of us. We did talk about other bands doing this or that, but it takes work to get your head out of that mindset of the shifting culture. But once we locked ourselves away and once we understood the brief that we gave ourselves, it was easy.
Harry: I think young artists would find it so much more therapeutic to find their sound and then create an album. As Danny said, we can't sit around like we have done in the past, thinking, right? What's going to be here. It's still hard for us. Still, certain radio stations won't play us. We can get on big TV shows, but they also want to hear about old hits. They're often like, well, you can play your new song if you play a bit of your old song. So there are compromises along the way, and the gatekeepers to that world aren't as interested in McFly music. They're more interested in the story and the nostalgia. So there are challenges for every artist. But for us, I think that was why we're like, you know what, fuck it, let's focus on making the album we want to make because it doesn't make a difference anyway.
Danny: It's a shame, in a way, we're not in a great position to be where we are in terms of being right on the line of commercial, but function-wise, we are like any other band in the world. I've always said this before: we try to be clever and think, right, well, we're not getting played on the radio, so what can we do? We'll go and play this album out there or team up with this guy. But when we played that song live, it was completely different. People preferred the version we did live anyway. My point of the story, which I still need to remember, is we can't be chasing streams, either. You just got to do what's authentic and feels right for you as a band.
A: It's nice to have absolute clarity. Clarity seems to be a real priority for you.
Danny: Going back to what I was trying to say before, I got utterly brain fucked. When we try to go on the radio, people think they know what McFly is. So this time, I was like, why don't you give them a plain white record and don't tell them who it is, and see what they think of that? Chris Moyles did it and played it to his team on radio X, who loved it before figuring out who it was.
Dougie: And then he threw up. And Chris, he's been sacked (jokingly).
A: It's like no strings attached. It's just about the music. It must be refreshing, especially in a world where it's not always about that. How much have you fallen and are you still in love with touring?
Danny: We've gotten to go to places like Japan or Brazil. And we're perceived as a completely different band.
A: That comes down to the debate of identity versus values because identity changes, and your core values stay the same. How has your identity changed over the years?
Harry: I feel grateful to have joined the band when I was 17 because I don't think you will find your identity in your late 20s.
A: So it feels like a pinch-me moment. It must be nice to go back on tour as well.
Harry: Literally catering. Not having to cook and do the washing up.
Danny: I enjoy our hangtime going out for dinners. It's still really exciting.
A: Picking somewhere to perform in the UK, where'd you go for?
Dougie: There's always a guaranteed awesome crowd in Glasgow. They are always rowdy. Even if it's on a Tuesday night or something.
Harry: For me, outside the UK, Brazil is amazing. Or a hardcore fan base like in Japan.
Tom: The weird thing about the band is when we are touring, I don't feel like I'm having to be social when I'm with the other guys. I always enjoy their company. It's a different kind of feeling. A different relationship.
Harry: I find it hard to connect until you're in a show, and you can see people, and you're in it yourself feeling something. It means a lot, but it's hard to understand until you meet fans face to face, and they can talk to you on a level, so that's a really rewarding experience.
Dougie: The older I get, the more I appreciate it. On the last arena tour, there was a section where Danny and Tom played acoustically. Seeing that side of the stage, I remember thinking fucking hell, we can still do this.
A: How's it coming off the stage into that momentum and adrenalin. How has it been being able to turn to one another and have those candid conversations?
Harry: We've all been through stuff at different stages as well.
Tom: It's something that we don't take for granted. We've been through our share of ups and downs over the years, so we know it's the best job in the world. Getting out of bed and going into the studio to make music with your mates as a job can't get any better.
Danny: I'll never forget the time we spoke about our anxiety attacks. We were about 19 or something. We talked about it, and Dougie was like, "Do you get the feeling that you're just gonna die." The ringing in your ears. Panicking, heart rate of 250, cold sweats.
A: Sometimes, the best thing is to talk about it. When you're together with others, it always feels slightly less dysfunctional.
Harry: When you're going through it, it doesn't matter what people say; it's a very lonely experience. Very, very frightening, and incredibly lonely. But then, when you come around on the other side, it's tough to connect with those feelings. I crack on and tell myself I'm 100%, and I'm great. You can forget that episode. So I must remind myself to be sensitive to other people and think they might be going through something. It can be hard to connect with it, even though I've been through it. It's the most frightening thing. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. For me, it's worse than any physical problems I've ever had. So it's always giving people those kinds of allowance, I guess it's about taking a step back and thinking maybe they're going through something.
Danny: I've learned how to control it better now. To enjoy where I am and be present. That is a massive part of why I used to forget my lyrics. I don't forget them as much now because I can control my brain. There's once or twice when I'm tired, and I feel a bit weird. But yeah, it becomes a fear of the feeling as I don't want that feeling again.
Harry: I think, particularly now having children is where this knowledge of mental health becomes a real asset, looking at how I can help my children, trying to encourage them through certain parts of life and avoiding things, things that I did in my early days of the band that definitely contributed to anxiety and mental health problems. I encourage my children to avoid certain paths because, like anything in life, often, something that feels like the most fun is a synthetic kind of fun.
Danny: I've always tried to understand what it is. I think that in my experience, it's always been my body exposing a specific emotion, buried for weeks or trauma that has to come out, whether in the daytime or nighttime. The very old-school style of survival.
Tom: The difficulty with that is in the public eye. People are getting used to sharing stuff when they're comfortable. But in general, I still get it in hindsight. Typically, I feel in a good space and ignore it retrospectively. I have been through a tough time, and it isn't easy to share openly. Especially publicly facing when you're in the middle of a crisis. I've never really openly shared stuff like that before because it's not been on my mind to do that. I shut off social media and public stuff when life is overwhelming and difficult. But again, I'm in a unique situation of having a career in the public eye. So that can sometimes contribute to the pressures that might lead to more difficult moments and periods.
I think I just shut off from wanting to talk to people. When you are talking about it, it's something you're talking about. It's your memory of that moment rather than just the actual experience. I find it interesting when people can openly talk about something they're going through, especially when they're clearly going through a rough time. It's difficult to watch people who are hurt and find it tough. But I'm aware that it can be a gift. Sharing those things is important because they can change your life and help people. The first time I considered getting any mental health help was after watching Stephen Fry's documentary. I only stumbled upon it by chance. It wasn't like I was looking for an answer. I just happened to be having a pretty difficult time. It was on in the background, and I heard him talking about it himself and thought, Oh, my God, he could be talking about me. Literally describing the brain in my head. I just thought, man, I have been sitting here for the last few months, going through a horrendous time. That was a real eye-opener. If he hadn't been brave enough to share his experience, I certainly wouldn't have gone and got healthy. So it's essential to be able to share and talk if they or you are in a place to do that.
A: That's probably the most tricky bit, though. Managing and asking for the right tools to help.
Dougie: Actually committing to doing them and doing whatever it takes to get to that point. In the last two years, I had a massive thing with sleep. I wasn't sleeping; it had this massive knock-on effect with other stuff. So I finally got some of the managing under control, but I'm improving. I'm feeling better. And finally, sleeping.
A: Oh god, sleep is such a key component in coping, I find. When one goes out the window, the other things do for me. What's helped you?
Dougie: Red lights, that's been a big thing. It's pretty sexy too. They're all automatic as well. My place turns into the red light district at 1030. Boom everything goes red.
Danny: There's Doug in the window (as they crack up). I remember someone saying to me once that I probably spend a lot of time as almost a victim of my own environment rather than creating an environment that will help me be a better person. That's massive. Like what Doug says, you can make and choose to create your own environment to help yourself.
Harry: Oh, a good thing I had recently as well is when you're going through something yourself, like, anxiety, irrational thoughts, I always think, what would I be saying to my friend in that scenario. I can give great advice, but talking to yourself like that isn't easy. So many people struggle with these things, like insecurities, but we all do, and it's important to have that kind voice with yourself. So imagine yourself giving advice to a friend and try to listen to that yourself.
Dougie: The adult in me is pretty quiet in looking after the younger inner child in me. He's not very nice at all. He's super critical. So I have to say you don't fucking belong here. But if I stay on it, management-wise, especially meditating, which I find more challenging than exercise, that voice shuts up.
Danny: Everyone's different. It's about finding your thing. It might take some time, and sometimes I've been lost, but it's about learning where to find help. Don't get lost.
Tom: We are like brothers. And we've always had that. It's interesting because we were not like one of these bands that grew up with each other or childhood friends. But that bond, that instant kind of brotherly connection, was so quick to form. It was fascinating. When you put us all together, we gelled musically and creatively. But once we had rapid success, it really united all of us. It gave us that kind of unbreakable kind of brotherhood. Don't get me wrong, we also fight and argue like brothers. But knowing that there's that underlying family connection that we will always have, McFly will always be part of who we are. We are united by that one thing somewhere else in us. The challenge is that in the early days, we were with each other all the time to make those relationships work perfectly, but that can add pressure to your relationships. Now we're not with each other all the time, we all have families, kids, and other passions that we like pursuing, it's like the pressure is almost the opposite of what it was. We all ensure we are on the same page as bandmates and always check in and look after each other.
The brotherhood remains 20 years down the line, and as joy and authenticity remains at the forefront of their passion and drive, McFly continue to thrive.
Words Alice Gee
Photography Aaron Hurley