Nathan Sykes - The Wanted (Interview)
British and Irish boy band The Wanted are arguably the biggest boy band on the planet right now. The past few weeks have seen the group go from strength to strength, securing the highest ever chart position for a British boy band in the Billboard charts with Glad You Came, and appearing on a run of top American TV shows including American Idol, The Voice and Jay Leno. They've even been Punk'd by Odd Future star Tyler, the Creator.
How does it feel for such experiences, alien to most of us, to be part of everyday life? Nathan Sykes, the band's youngest member, talks to Craig Stevens about life in The Wanted.
So Nathan, how are you feeling right now?
I feel great. I feel slightly jetlagged and also slightly hungover from the most ridiculous 19th birthday party anyone could ever imagine. And I'm very glad that I'm back in England, legally drinking alcohol.
Just a couple of years ago, The Wanted were performing in front of a couple of hundred people at a time in schools and nightclubs and now, you have a Top 3 single in the US Billboard charts, and you've performed on prime-time American TV multiple times, in front of millions of viewers. Does it feel as though everything's been moving really fast or has the progression felt quite natural?
A bit of both, really. I think we've gone about it the right way, like any other band would. We started with school tours and club gigs, and we got absolutely terrorised at a few of them. And we were horrendous on our first TV spot. But then we were lucky enough to get another TV spot, and we started to get better. We've been lucky enough to get a break out in America and I think the people that have been backing us out there have been awesome, and we've fortunate that they've given us the opportunity. But you can say that, on the other hand, it's gone mental pretty quickly. To think that two years ago, we were playing a club gig to under 14s to about 15 kids. If I remember rightly, it was in Brighton and there was no-one even on the floor, because there were so few of them that they all got up on stage. But yeah, it's gone pretty mental.
What do you think was the big break? What was the defining moment when things started to change?
Well, after that gig in Brighton, literally the next day, we played Wembley Stadium. And we came up through the stage 30 seconds too early...that was the longest 30 seconds of my life! I thought we were getting booed, but afterwards, I found out that people were just saying "Whoooooo? Who the hell is this?!" It was so awkward. But that's when people start paying attention and then [debut single] All Time Low went to number 1 in the UK. I think that was due to the school tours though, because the press didn't really give a damn. They were like "Who is this band that have just come out of nowhere?" But I think that was the turning point - doing a gig to 15 people one day and 72,000 the next.
When was the last time you had a real "pinch me" moment, thinking about how far you've come? Do you have them regularly, or do they just come along every so often?
I think my 19th birthday, two days ago, was a weird, "pinch me" moment. I found myself really feeling sorry for myself, because I was telling myself I was going to have the most awful birthday, I was supposed to be spending it on a plane. But then I found out that we were actually spending it at the Playboy mansion. It was great! We met Hugh Hefner, and that was a real "pinch me" moment. And yeah, he didn't have a clue who we were!
Is it hard being the youngest member in the group? Are there ever times when it becomes an issue?
Drinking at the Playboy Mansion was one of them! Yeah, I nearly got thrown out of there... Drinking in America is quite a big issue for me, especially as they're so strict. But it is weird. When I was 16, when I first got in the band, Tom was 21. And it's easier now, for a 19 year-old to be mates with a 24 year-old than it was for a 16 year-old to be mates with a 21 year-old. Especially because I had to wait two years to go out and start socialising with them. Obviously, when you put a group of lads together, usually, the way they get to know each other is through drinking. And I was the one that was set aside, still doing homework and coursework, trying to get back to school when we weren't working. So it was really difficult for me at times. But I feel that the lads have been part of my life growing up and part of my personality reflects that.
You must have had dreams when you were younger of what it must be like to be in a boy band, or be a successful music artist. In what ways is the reality most different to what you expected?
I think that, when we were younger, none of us in the band could have thought of anything worse than being in a boy band. You look back at boy bands that were around in the 90s and you think "eurgh". Which I'm sure people still do now. But I think we've got a lot more control than we thought we would have. We do a lot more song-writing than we thought we would. And on the other side of it, maybe 10% is the good bit. Obviously, not all of it's fun, there's a lot of hand-shaking, being very friendly and pretty much begging people to play your records. And a lot of that the public don't see. They just see the press stories, and the rumours. And us stumbling out of nightclubs most nights of the week very drunk. But yeah, only maybe 10% of it is the good bit. You expect it all to be full of celebrity lifestyle when really, it's not.
You say that 10% of it is good...what are the biggest perks of being in a boy band?
Free drink, fit girls! It's really great, I've got to be honest! But obviously, some people will find different experiences more rewarding than others. Some of us, when we're in different riders, we're like "This is amazing!". And when we do certain venues, and stuff like that. I think everyone finds their own little perks.
You mentioned the songwriting earlier. Chasing the Sun, your new single, was co-written by Example. Did you get to meet him and are you a fan?
Yeah, we're all fans. His is a really good album, we stick it on in the car all the time. He's a good guy. When we first met him, we were thinking "Is he going to absolutely terrorise us, or is he going to be alright?" And he tried terrorising us, but then we replied with the simple response of "You look like that guy off Emmerdale", which I think he was pretty devastated about! But then he went "Actually, you guys are alright". No, he's a good guy, and we're really fortunate to have someone like him write a track for us.
And you've written some of the tracks on the first and second albums. Do you get more enjoyment out of performing the songs where you've helped to write them?
Yeah, I think so. Obviously, we love performing the successful songs and the singles. There's such a buzz off performing Glad You Came and All Time Low, and I didn't write a single lyric on them. Whereas, tracks like Warzone, which Max and I wrote, I really enjoy. There was a song that we all wrote, but we tried it once and it went really weirdly. It was a track called Behind Bars on our first album. It was weird. It was as though there were five opinions thrown into one room. And they were all good ideas, but for five different songs. We were trying to make one song out of five. And so we decided to never ever write together in the same room again!
You've had a phenomenal amount of success in the US recently, as have a lot of other international artists such as Adele, One Direction and Gotye. What do you think has suddenly made the US interested in international artists on such a big scale?
I don't know. One thing we see on Twitter quite a lot is about our accents, which is very complimentary. But I think it's primarily good, catchy radio records that you can listen to when driving in your car and really enjoy. I don't think it makes too much of a difference as to where you're from, but the British in particular are doing really well at the moment. And long may it continue, there are so many good bands out there.
When you first starting performing in the US, you were playing much smaller venues than you would have played in the UK. Do you prefer performing at more intimate gigs or do you get a bigger buzz from larger crowds?
You know, I thought I'd hate it. At the end of last year, we were doing shows to 40,000 people a night. And then the other side of Christmas, we were doing shows to 150 people a night in some venues, if that. But it was really good to get back down to us as a band, on a much smaller stage. I think it made us much tighter as well. On bigger stages and in arenas, it's quite easy to split up and do your own thing on one side of the stage but on a smaller stage, it's much harder work. We'd keep bouncing off each other, often because we can't dance...it's quite embarrassing, if I'm honest... And also, playing smaller venues made us pick up our instruments a lot more, which is good.
Talking of large crowds, you've got a few festivals lined up for the summer, including the incredible T in the Park in Scotland. Do you enjoy playing at festivals, and what kind of a reaction do you get from the crowds, given that festivals are typically more associated with indie and rock music?
We did V Festival last year. And in the tent we were in, the Pop Tent I think they call it, we had the biggest turnout, which was awesome. It was good because, obviously, people hear Glad You Came in a club and most of the time they're pretty drunk whilst in the club and when at a festival, people are usually pretty drunk! So I think a lot of people thought "Right, what's that song I listen to when I'm absolutely off my face? Glad You Came? Right, I'll go and watch them!" But hopefully, other people would also come and watch us and enjoy it a lot more than some people think they would. A lot of people go out of choice, but then there are some people who go "Alright, I'll go and watch them". But hopefully, they walk away having had a great time. At V Festival, I did one of the worst vocals I've ever done in my life. You can find it on YouTube, it's horrendous. Maybe next time, I won't drink as much before going onstage!
Are you going to be on the main stage at T in the Park?
Oh hell, no. We'd get terrorised! I think there is a pop tent and, thankfully, we're going to be in that. I'm looking forward just to going, because the five of us don't sit at home and revise to Backstreet Boys, we do actually listen to decent music. So I'm looking forward to it. I'm not saying that Backstreet Boys aren't decent by the way! I mean, we just don't all go home and sit as a boy band and listen to other boy bands, we have a very diverse taste in music.
And what sort of music are you into?
Personally, I'm not really that fussy, but I do like R&B and Soul. I also listen to The Killers and Coldplay, stuff like that. I don't really care, so long as it's a good tune.
The Wanted have a hugely dedicated online fanbase and social media has undoubtedly played a huge part in helping people become aware of The Wanted. Do you think that social media has made it easier for an artist to become recognised, or do you think it's simply saturated the market with lots of wannabes?
That's a really interesting question. You do get bands that have really worked hard and have sat on their laptops for hours every night. We did that when we first started. We sat on our laptops when we had literally four followers on Twitter, and we would just speak to them for hours, hoping that they would tell their friends to follow us and that their friends would find us the slightest bit interesting. But on the other side, you do get a lot of reality TV people - not to name anyone - but you see people who have got two million followers and you think, "You got all those followers, for doing what exactly?" And some people in the industry we meet get a bit bitter about it, saying "I've only got 40,000 followers and I've been doing this, I've done this, I've done this gig, I've been touring for the last three years and I've worked my arse off, and it hasn't paid off". But everyone is in this industry because they've found their market and they're successful at what they're doing. And good to luck to everyone that is trying.
What do you think is going to be the key to making sure that the Wanted are more than just a one-hit wonder in the US?
Good question. I've been asking myself that for the last three months! It's a lot down to social media. And it's always important to network. We hate going into all these posh clubs and getting champagne delivered when we're next to another "celebrity", or whatever. We find it really cringey. We'd rather go out in Camden or something, in a local pub. But I think networking and social media are a massive part of it. As is spending time with fans when they come to see you outside radio stations, outside gigs, outside hotels. The longer you spend with them, the more they are likely to tell their friends.
Even at the stage you're at, you think that's still important?
Definitely, yeah. Every day for the past month, when we've been out in America, we've been with fans for at least 40 minutes per day outside hotels, just getting to know them. And as much as it's the same people every day, and you start to run out of things to talk about, it's still good. By the end of it, they've told their friends, and their friends have told their friends. And you're gaining a new fanbase. But at the end of the day, a lot of it is down to the music. Because if your songs are terrible, you could spend three hours a day outside talking with fans. If people don't want to listen to the music, they're not going to buy it, you're going to be dropped by your label and you're going to go back to working down the local shop. Mostly, it's about making sure that you have good tunes.
The Wanted's self-titled, debut EP is released in the US on April 24.24 April, 2012 - 08:57 — Craig Stevens