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fter greeting us at his front door, Feehily immediately offers us tea, which he then leaves
the house to go and buy! Ten minutes later, hes back, with two steaming builders brews and half-a-dozen huge choc-chip cookies. I begin picking his brain on his new direction. Hes just finished a three-gig mini tour, beginning at The Scala in Kings Cross, and finishing in Glasgow.
The idea of having new fans and breaking new territories is very exciting, and Ive had a little of that already with my new material, plus the fans I already have from the Westlife days, Feehily explains, planting himself in an armchair by the window. I briefly scan the property, spying an electric blue acoustic guitar, and a baby grand, slam bang in the middle of the living quarters.
That was a gift, he smiles, as I observe some quirky sketches propped up where you would normally find sheet music. I ask him about them. I started drawing back in the Westlife days during meetings that went on a while, you know? I tend to start with the big eyes, and go from there!
I suggest that its a ballsy move, coming out of something so successful, and heading in a seriously different musical
Mark Feehily was at the forefront of one of the worlds most successful boy bands, Westlife. Thirteen albums in twelve years is a hell of an effort, and in that time, the five-piece also toured the world over: Europe, America, Asia, Australia, you name it, they cracked it (or should that be craicd?). Today, Feehily is in the process of making his first solo record, due out later in the year, and his debut single, Love Is A Drug, will hit the shelves (well, iTunes libraries) on April 19. Its seriously removed from the Westlife material: an upbeat, soulful sound with a rock solid vocal per-formance, and its already been A-Listed on Radio 2. Headliner arrives in South West London to join Feehily and Becky Pell, who mixed monitors for Westlife for many years, and is now riding the faders for his new musical venture.
direction. Feehily plays it down a little, and replies:
For a long time, we were following a lot of rules, and there was a formula; and coming away from any formula or rule book, being completely free to express yourself as an artist, means you have no limits, so I guess thats kinda cool. Labels these days are becoming increasingly safe, and the idea of taking someone from Westlife and not playing it safe would scare the majority of people away, so I am with Kobalt Label Services (Google kobaltmusic.com) which is effectively like having my own label: I am the creative director and the A&R person, and I am doing it completely by myself, which is the complete opposite to Westlife. Its just something I felt ready to do.
THE COMFORT ZONEI ask Feehily how it was, taking to the stage for the first time as a solo artist?
Well, singing for an hour completely by myself with nobody to take the second verse and no breaks was a little alien to me [smiles], and Id never tested my voice to that point live, but
Ive been in studio sessions before doing vocals for six or seven hours non-stop, so it put me at ease to some extent, he says. Once I started, I took to it like a duck to water, and I honestly didnt expect myself to! [laughs] I thought I would be really awkward, because it could have fallen on its arse, basically; and I was also worried I would forget the lyrics, but nothing like that happened, and if I did, whatever, theyre new songs, and people dont know them yet, anyway!
A refreshing attitude for a bloke thats been in the limelight almost non-stop for the best part of half his life. So its about creating a new identity, in a way?
Exactly. These three gigs were like showcases to release a bit of the pressure I felt over the last six months, where people were like, where the hell are you, what you doin, like? you know? I wanted to give people a taster of where things were going, and I invited people from the industry,
so they knew what to expect
from the new album. Westlife
ran its own live ship, and I definitely
would never paint myself as a puppet that just turned up, but none of us were as big as the music Westlife made. I would never change that, but now its different.
RIGHT HAND WOMANOne constant throughout
Feehilys career is his strong working relationship with his monitor engineer, Becky Pell. She rode the faders at monitors for years with Westlife, and was first to get the call when Feehily decided to pull the solo career trigger.
The new music has quite a different feel [to the Westlife
material]. Weve got three lovely gospel sounding backing singers on stage, so its certainly different to mix than a Westlife show, Becky explains. I grab another cookie. There are different things to deal with acoustically, because were in theatres, not arenas, and in this environment, one and the next are never really the same.
Feehily and Becky met through Steve Anderson, now the MD for Marks live gigs, and his main writing partner and producer.
Once you find someone that knows exactly what you want it to sound like in your in-ear monitors, it wipes out all your worries before you go on stage, Feehily insists. There were times, pre-Becky, when wed go on an entire tour and forget about the performance, because of a massive barrier between us and the audience, because we just couldnt hear ourselves. I found myself projecting into next year! But Becky knows exactly what I want, and how to get it, so I am able to deliver the performances consistently. When we met, we just clicked; she is fantastic at what she does, and we have a constant communication.
Console-wise, Becky works on anything
or werent so great, but thats what blues and soul music has always been about, and thats what Ive always been drawn to as a singer.
I ask Feehily if anything particularly comical ever happened while on the road. He pauses for thought, then throws this little Spinal Tap-esque gem at me:
We were set in these globes that were up in the roof; the globes come down, and land on the stage. For four out of the five band members, the globes came down, and we all got out, then halfway through the song, were all like, where the fuck is Shane? I remember looking up and there he is in his globe, singing in the rafters, spotlight still on him, too. When things go so wrong, sometimes you just have to laugh about it them!
So how does Feehily measure success today, then, after such a roller-coaster of a career?
Thats the thing... For a long time, it was about album sales and chart success, but now its on my own terms. I wont be disappointed if I dont have the best ever chart position or record sales, as thats not whats driving me at all, he assures me. I believe him. Its something Ive wanted to do for a long time, and after the positive reaction to those few gigs I just did, everything is a bonus from here on in. Hopefully when the album comes out, therell be enough fans that love it to allow me to go on tour. The real magic is, it multiplies it fifty times over that I have written the songs and people still like them. In this industry, any pop acts that get big are constantly reminded that they could be replaced in the morning, but this is about me now, so you can cross off all those different excuses. Its now purely about my own abilities, so well have to see how it goes!
by DiGiCo, and for Feehily, she is on an SD9.
I see my role as basically creating as comfortable an audio environment as possible for Mark, so he can forget about everything else, and deliver a great performance, she explains. I give him just enough [in his in-ears] to hear his timing and pitching, and take out everything that might distract him from his singing. The increased clarity is particularly noticeable when running [the SD9] at 96kHz, and gain structure is always key for me, as Mark is on a radio mic and in-ears, so there are variable gain settings involved on the mic itself, as well as the IEM transmitter.
Getting that right means he gets plenty of himself with the big dynamic range of his voice without distortion when he goes into fifth gear. Theres no compression or reverb, and Im not having to EQ a great deal on the console at all; its just a little boost at around 2.5k, and I roll off a little low-end.
THE ROAD AHEADBefore I ask my next question, Feehily announces that Becky is the ultimate enabler, and they both laugh.
She really is, though, he continues. She enables me to go on the stage, perform, and not think about whether I sound good or not, because I can hear every last tiny detail. I will go from something really intimate, to a belting vocal, and it feels just the same.
Seeing you at fairly close quarters, singing songs youve written yourself, the emotion on your face, adds Becky. And your body language... I was very much, wow, he is absolutely feeling these songs. I know you put your heart into the Westlife stuff too, but... Does that make sense?
Yeah, totally. All the Westlife material was quite happy, and now Im sharing my personal feelings with rooms full of strangers, replies Feehily, with a smile. I now feel a real connection with the audience, because they feel the honesty. These are my own songs, which often lean towards situations in my life that arent
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