‘Discovering my own sound was nerve-racking’

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It’s late Monday morning and against the backdrop of outfits that belonged to the Spice Girls and rhinestone headgear that was once worn by Elton John, a gaggle of excited fans are discussing their meeting with former Westlife heartthrob Shane Filan. “He smells so good!” exclaims one, while another mopes, “he agreed to take a picture with me, but his wedding ring is so prominent in it!”
The giddy adoration is something Shane’s used to, and currently in India to promote his first-ever solo EP, Everything to Me, he’s exerting his considerable charm — and talent — to ensure that he replicates some measure of his former success.
“It’s very exciting to be in India, there are lots of fans here. It gives you a confidence boost and you need that when you’re starting out. This is my first single and it’s very early days yet. But I’m glad I’m out here. I want to really get my name out there and get my songs out there,” he says, on the Mumbai leg of his India trip.
His debut album You and Me is up for release this November and his first solo tour scheduled for February 2014, Shane admits that it’s “a busy six months”. And while he’s committed to forging a successful career as a solo artiste, there are times when he misses his
former band mates.
“It still takes a bit of getting used to (performing alone on stage) if I’m honest,” he says. “Sometimes I look around and there’s nobody there. You go up on the stage and there’s one microphone instead of four. It’s something I’m getting used to everyday. But at the end of the day, it’s singing — which is what I love doing.”
After nearly 15 years of being part of one of the most popular boy bands in the world, and selling multiple platinum records, Shane had to go back to the studio and discover what his own sound was. He says, “Discovering my own sound was nerve-racking. I didn’t know what my sound was going to be. I wanted to sing great songs, I wanted to write about stuff that was important to me, stuff that other people could relate to, that was uplifting. And I finally found my ‘sound’. It’s pop, folk and country and a little bit of soul. It’s good pop music and people can relate to it and take something from it, hopefully.”
In launching himself as a solo artiste, Shane was starting from scratch in more ways than one. Even as Westlife performed their farewell tour in 2012, Shane made the headlines when he filed for bankruptcy, with debts of £18
million after a property firm he set up with his brother failed.
“It was very tough,” he says of the time. “My band was ending which was very sad for all of us. After our final concert, we were all hugging each other and crying. And personally and financially… it was a stressful time. But then I realised that the worst had already happened. It’s when you don’t have anything that you realise what is really important. I had no money but I had my wife, I had my children and I had my voice and I said — let’s start again.”
Shane says his wife Gillian’s support has been instrumental in helping him start afresh. “This is my first international trip (as a solo musician) being away from my wife and kids. But it is something I have to get used to and something they have to get used to. I’m all the way here, working as hard as I can to be successful so I can take care of my family. They know that and understand it and Gillian understands that. She tells me, ‘You go sing and I’ll look after everything else’,” Shane says.
Of course, Shane’s launching his solo career at a time when the music industry has changed from the time Westlife ruled the charts. His former band member Brian McFadden (who also releases another solo album this month), has talked about how no one buys records anymore and how important it is to have a presence on social media.
Shane agrees. “Brian’s right, social media has taken over completely. Obviously you have to be involved. MTV is still there, but it’s not as big as it used to be. Instead, YouTube is everything. You release singles now and you’re up against a lot of dance tracks, some big anthems and it’s really hard to make an impact. But to promote your album, you have to have great singles. It’s exciting but also challenging,” he says.
With boy bands seeing a rise, dip and rise again in their popularity — starting with Take That and then the Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, Westlife, N’Sync and finally, One Direction and The Way — Shane says there’ll always be room for good pop music. “It kind of comes in these cycles, every 10 years. One Direction is huge all over the world. It just shows you there are fans out there for boy bands, for girl bands, for every kind of great music.”
And ultimately, great music is what it’s all about for Shane. “It’s incredible to be able to make music that people love, to see the reaction on people’s faces,” he says. “It’s pretty cool.”

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