Interview: Blue stars Anthony Costa & Simon Webbe break down the creation & roll out of the bands EPIC new album, “Heart & Soul”

Interview: Blue stars Anthony Costa & Simon Webbe break down the creation & roll out of the bands EPIC new album, “Heart & Soul”

With the release of their sixth studio album “Heart & Soul”, noughties music megastars Blue look set to reclaim their place as one of the U.K.’s biggest, and best pop bands!

Made up of 10 sophisticated, perfectly packaged tracks, the record serves as a celebration of everything that made the group both special, and successful during their heyday, whilst also offering exciting insight into the evolution of their effortlessly captivating, and timeless soulful sound.

Blue x Heart & Soul

Having first burst onto the scene back in the spring of 2001, following the release of their debut single “All Rise”, the boys from Blue enjoyed four phenomenally successful years together – achieving 4 U.K. No.1 albums, releasing 15 Top 10 singles and embarking on 3 headline tours before going on hiatus in 2005 to pursue individual solo projects. It would be 6 years before the boys would reunite, this time as representatives of the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2011, before going on to tour extensively and release two further albums.

Following the announcement of their 20th Anniversary Heart & Soul Tour in December 2021, rumours began to swirl that Anthony, Duncan, Lee and Simon were heading back into the studio to work on new material with the hopes of making yet another spectacular comeback! Despite remaining coy on the subject in public, behind the scenes the quartet had already begun working with a plethora of new producers, writing and recording tracks for what was to become their 6th studio album.

Five months on from sharing the news that they were heading back out on tour, the boys stormed their way onto streaming playlists and radio airwaves once again with the unveiling of their 24th single “Haven’t Found You Yet” – a rousing and contemporary pop anthem, that following its first week of release, was immediately added to the A List at BBC Radio 2, before going onto become one of the most played songs on U.K. radio! Subsequent single releases “Dance With Me”, “Magnetic”, and “Heart & Soul”, teased fans with further insight as to what they can expect to hear on the album, whilst a host of hilariously executed, social media posts and comedy skits of the lads acting up in a variety of different scenarios, provided a much needed reminder of the unique and charismatic charm that first made them stars at the turn of the millennium.

With their energies aligned, and collective focus fixed firmly on the future, we caught up with band members Anthony Costa and Simon Webbe at their record company headquarters in central London, to talk about the creation and subsequent roll out of what looks set to be one of the defining pop albums of 2022…

Today’s the day, “Heart & Soul” is finally out! What’s the vibe like in the Blue camp right now?

Simon: We’re happy man! We’re happy, and we’re very excited! For us, this day, this moment of finally putting the album out feels like it’s been a long time coming, because we’ve actually been sitting on these songs for about two years now, but obviously because of the pandemic we had to change the majority of our original plans, and all of our releases dates. So now we’re here, and it’s out we just can’t wait for our fans to hear it, and we’re intrigued to see what they think…

As the years pass by, and the more albums you release, do your feelings change in the run up to launching a new project?

Anthony: I think we feel less pressure in the sense that nowadays we’re way more secure within ourselves as people, and also with what we stand for as a group, but when it comes to the music itself, and releasing new material… I don’t know, I think we’ll always question it right up until the moment it comes out (laughs). You can’t help but almost second guess yourself and be like: “is it good enough? Will people like it? Will everyone connect with it the same way they did the first three Blue albums?” There’s a lot that we question! But the beauty of being in a group is that you always have someone there to share those thoughts and nerves with, so if one of us is feeling particularly anxious about something, the other three will lift them up and reassure them that it’s going to be ok! 

S: I had my alarm set for 11:59pm last night to watch that streaming link go live, and I can’t lie, I was NERVOUS! But it’s out there now, so what’s the point in worrying? We’ve worked really hard to get to this point, so it’s important that we enjoy

If we were to roll back the clock to the very beginning of this whole creative process, and specifically the day when the four of you as friends and bandmates sat down and made the decision to re-group and record another Blue album – what did that conversation sound like? We know you’d been to a writing camp in Sweden, did that experience spur you on to really do this, or is it an idea that’s been bubblin’ under the surface for a while now?

A: No, it was more a case of our 20th anniversary was coming up and we kind of felt like everyone else had celebrated theirs, so why shouldn’t we celebrate ours? From there the story sort of goes that because we had this rare two weeks off in the January, we decided to go to a writing camp in Sweden with the attitude of “let’s just see what happens…” Cutting a long story short (laughs) we all worked with a bunch of different producers, and wrote a load of new songs, and by the end of it I had this track called “Haven’t Found You Yet” which I played to the boys and they were like: “this is it, this is the song that proves we really need to do this again!” So we sort of used it as both the basis and benchmark for the album, and said that any songs we wrote from there on out, either had to be on a level, or better than that one. 

S: It kind of g’d us up didn’t it? And made us all really excited about the idea of working on a new Blue album… but then the pandemic hit!

How challenging was it working, and recording during all of the national lockdowns? The social restrictions and rules placed upon us must have made things pretty tricky at times…

A: Yeah, it was weird! This is the first album we’ve done where we’ve not all really been together in the studio at the same time, which was a shame because when we’re writing and recording we love bouncing ideas off each other, that’s when we create some of our best work. But really, it was fine, we know how lucky we were to still be able to work and do what we love, so we can’t really complain… it was challenging though. 

S: It was pretty mad wasn’t it? Like if you think about it, the entertainment business was the last industry (after the pandemic) to really open up again, so we did really have to place things on pause for a minute, which was frustrating for us, and also for a lot of other people in the business too. But we persevered, and here we are!

A: Do you remember the day I rocked up at the studio just as Boris announced the new tier system, and I had to turn right back around and go straight home because where I lived at the time was in tier 4 or something?! Basically the worst of all the tiers… isn’t it mad to think back on that time and what it was like for everybody? Respect to the NHS, and all of front line workers and key works, truly – what would we have done without them? They all made it possible for us all to keep going.

Blue – Haven’t Found You Yet (Official Music Video)

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You launched this new chapter of Blue with what we believe to be one of the best pop records of the last five years – “Haven’t Found You Yet”, which has gone down a storm with both critics and fans! Anthony, as you previously said, this was a song you brought to the table, so to see it be so well received must just make you feel on top of the world!

A: I was blown away by the response, and I 100% appreciated everybody’s kind messages and feedback but… I think if I’m being totally honest, I was more nervous playing the song for the boys for the first time than I was the day it was actually released! (Laughs) I remember I was SO nervous to play it to them! Simon had had to leave and go home, so it was just me, Lee and Duncan, and so I hit play and I’m there watching them both out of the corner of my eye to see if they’re smiling or at least tapping their feet to the beat, desperately trying to gauge whether they liked it or not! Thankfully they did, but man was I scared (laughs). Then of course I had to play it to Si, which again made me really nervous because he’s an incredible songwriter and has made some wicked tunes! Thankfully he loved it too, and was texting me saying: “right, when can I get in the studio and record it?” But to go back to your question, yeah I was really, really happy that the fans and everyone seem to love the song as much as we do… in fact we did a gig a few weeks ago with Tom Grennan, and he comes up to us like “I love you guys, that new track you’ve just put out is a banging tune!” I was well happy to hear that!

You’ve talked before about always wanting to make sure that any new music you make is in-keeping, and befitting of the legacy you created with your first three albums. With that in mind, we love how the roll-out of the “Heart & Soul” campaign seems to mirror aspects of the “All Rise” era… right out of the gate you hit us hard with this fresh, anthemic pop sound, then teased us with a funky remake of a classic 90s/00s R&B banger, and then come the VOCALS! and you get us all up in our feelings with a tender, heartfelt ballad moment. Please answer us this, have we got too much time on our hands and are we overthinking things, or was this a conscious decision on your part to give a little nod to the past?

A: You’re spot on there! You are absolutely spot on mate, well done (laughs).

S: Yeah, you’ve got it! It was a very clever decision to sort of mirror the beginning of our career in that way, and the person responsible for us doing that is Hugh Goldsmith who we’re now working with again. Hugh was the head of our record label back in the day, so he oversaw our first three albums, which were, thanks to him and the fans, huge successes. He’s got an incredible ear, and an amazing vision for us as a band, so we love that’s he back in the fold. So as you say each of the first three singles we’ve put out from the album, mirror what we did during the “All Rise” era, so “Haven’t Found You Yet” is “All Rise”, “Dance For Me” is “Too Close” and “Magnetic” is “If You Come Back”.

As songwriters and lyricists, you’ve each played a part in writing or co-writing some of your biggest hits, from “One Love” to “I Can”, “Guilty” to “Breathe Easy”, as a result they serve as snapshots of moments in time and offer insight into what you were going through, and feeling during those specific times in your lives. In 2022 how do you go about creating art that’s reflective of your reality now, but still remain true to the essence and DNA of what a Blue song is?

A: Lyrically I’m just inspired by life, and all of the experiences I encounter along the way. I’m not all that keen on writing anything too deep or too personal, because I like for people to be able to relate to our music, and not feel like it’s me whining on about myself (laughs). It’s about finding subject matters and writing about situations that we’ve all been through – so love, loss, heartbreak, sadness, and joy, we can all relate to those things right? On the whole I think overall the music we’ve written on this album is very uplifting and positive, which I think fits how we’re all feeling right now.

How about when you’re writing or selecting songs to record, what are you looking for nowadays? Is it a hook? A Melody? A Lyric? Longevity?

S: All of the above. Our main goal as a band is to make music that people can connect with, but it’s equally important that we feel some sort of rapport with it to, because as an artist you have to love what you’re singing otherwise there’s no point in doing it!

Blue – Magnetic (Packshot Video)

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So let’s get into the album! “Heart & Soul”, 10-tracks, vocals, melodies, harmonies… it’s British pop at its best! You must be so happy with what you’ve created?

A: We’re so happy with it! Honestly, so happy! It’s funny because I’ve not actually listened to it in MONTHS because, and I hate to use the word ‘bored’, but I do get very bored, very easily, so I’m always on the look out for new things to do and new places to go. It’s the same with music, I rinse an album on repeat for weeks and then I want something new to listen to! So because I recognise that about myself, I made a conscious effort to not hammer these songs too much then I can enjoy release week with everyone else (laughs). So I was well excited to listen to it this morning… and I think it’s amazing!

Everything about the record feels very considered and well thought out, from the track-listing to the overall presentation…

S: I love that you say that, thank you! We’ve been across every part of this album, and gone to great lengths to make sure everything about it is the best that it can be! Like you said, the track listing, the presentation of it… we’ve been sitting in our houses at 2 o’clock in the morning listening to it on our headphones to make sure it flows and feels cohesive, and like we’re telling a story not just throwing a selection of songs together for the sake of making up the numbers. But as much as we’re happy with it, there’s always that little bit of doubt and that voice in your head that says: “don’t get too cocky, don’t be too complacent!” because the truth is you never, ever know how the people will respond to what you’re doing.

A: It’s finding that balance isn’t it of being confident, but not too… arrogant, is that the right word? We’re very proud of what we’ve made, and I love every song on the album. In fact I love every song we recorded for the album! It’s been so hard to whittle the track listing down to just 10 tracks – you’ve no idea how brutal it is (laughs). 

S: I know it sounds dramatic, but Anthony’s right, it’s gut wrenching! Like I said, there’s a lot of back and fourth and discussion that goes on between us four, and our team, about which tracks will go on the album and which won’t. Between us, it’s cool, because there are no egos in our band, so if a particular song we’ve worked on doesn’t make the cut, we understand the reasoning and we know it’s nothing personal. Where I really struggle is when it comes to having to maybe disappoint some of our producers or co-writers! We built up a really good rapport and relationship with a lot of these people, we have a fantastic time working with them and we love the music we’ve made, together. So to have to let them know those tracks aren’t going to make it on the album is tough. In the past we had the safety net of things like b-sides or deluxe editions of albums, but in todays world, neither of those things really exist anymore, which is a real shame.

As we’ve already discussed, it’s incredibly important to remain respectful and stay true to your roots. But we’re sure the four of you, more than anyone, understand the importance of evolving and moving with times…

S: Definitely! We don’t ever want to feel stuck in the past or like we’re not like we’re trying to replicate or rehash anything we’ve done in the past. I think we’ve done a good job on this album of making music that feels fresh in 2022, but also feels like it’s not too far removed from what we would have done back in the day. You actually said to us in our last interview we did with you that one of the reason you liked “Haven’t Found You Yet” was because it didn’t feel like we were trading off of the nostalgia of our name, and I really liked that, because we’re very much a band that’s looking towards the future. We keep our ears to the ground of what’s happening, and we love a lot of the new artists coming up, but we stay in our lane and focus on doing what we do best.

To that point of being aware of current artists – how was it working with MNEK and Shift K3Y?

S: I’ll be totally honest with you, and tell you that I didn’t really know much about them! It was Duncan who introduced me to MNEK’s music… which by the way I really love, I think he’s cool. 

A: They were both really cool. It was a nice and chilled experience and we enjoyed working with them.

S: It’s important to work with the new generation of artists coming up! It’s always interesting to learn about their musical tastes and sort of listen to new track through their ears if that makes sense? On a personal level, what I found working with them was that their tastes, and the styles of music they want to make, aren’t that far removed from what we did back in the day, and what we’re still doing now. The track we did we MNEK “Heart & Soul” really reminds me of the kind of music we’d hear when we used to go out raving – that’s what’s cool about that song, because again, it’s totally the same type of track we would have done at the beginning of our career, we’ve just put a modern twist on it so that it sounds more contemporary and in-keeping with what you’re hearing played on the radio today. 

Blue – Heart & Soul (Official Lyric Video)

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This is always a hard question to answer, but do you have any particular favourite songs that you’re most excited for people to hear? 

A: (Laughs) That is a hard one to answer, but I totally get why you ask it because when my favourite artists release new albums, I think the same and I wanna know which tracks they like the best! So on this album, personally I love “Let’s Get Sad” – that’s one of my favourite songs! It’s such different sound for us, I actually feel like The Script could record it for one of their albums – Danny would sound wicked singing that song!

S: I’m a big fan of “Stop”. I like that we close the album with a ballad, and a style of song that lyrically really gets you thinking… 

You mentioned earlier about some of the struggles you faced during the early stages of making the album. On reflection, do you think those hardships and setbacks make this moment even more special?

A: Oh definitely, 100%! Thinking about it now, and as you’ve said we mentioned there were moments when it was hard because of the pandemic and everything, but overall I’ve absolutely loved the whole process of making this album! Everyone we’ve worked with has been amazing and so up for making it the best record it can be, which is great because that’s not always been in the case in the past, and we’ve felt frustrated that people haven’t have been as committed or invested as we would have liked. But that’s cool, that was then, this is now and we’re just excited to be back with what we think is one of our best albums yet!

S: The reason we all wanted to be in a boy band was to sing. And we’ve always sort of had this mantra that the music we make, should be the kind of music we want to listen to. So we do feel a connection with every track on this album and we do really love the record we’ve made – from top to bottom, it feels really special. 

Blue: 20th Anniversary Heart & Soul Tour 2022

Once any band has released an album, the next logical step is to then take it on the road! The 20th Anniversary Heart & Soul Tour kicks off in Cardiff next month – how are you feeling about heading back out on tour?

A: We are honestly so excited! We’re hoping to create a real party atmosphere in the arenas so that everybody leaves at the end of the night feeling like they’ve had the best time ever! We’re gonna be doing all of our hits from back in the day, and then one or two of the new tracks from the “Heart & Soul” album. We don’t wanna go overboard by doing too much of the new material because we know what it’s like to go to a concert and the artist just does all of their new stuff and barely anything from their back catalogue – I get their reasoning but it’s a bit annoying isn’t it?! (Laughs)

S: I can’t wait to get back on stage, I really can’t! In fact I can’t wait to get into rehearsals! I wanna put my phone down and get my brain working again (laughs). We’ve got 5 days to put this show together so we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us…

A: Can I just quickly add that we’ve got B*Witched joining us, who are amazing and bring massive amounts of energy to the stage, and then we also have Megan McKenna coming along, who is a phenomenal talent – I don’t think people are quite ready for this girl! I’ve been chatting to her on and off for a while now about her setlist, she’s got loads of ideas but she’s really sweet and asks for my opinion and input too. She’s a listener, she really listens to the advice people give her which I really respect. We’ve developed quite a nice little friendship, and I’ve enjoyed giving her bits of advice and helping her because I think it’s important to do that. We never had any help did we Si? And I think we could have benefitted from having a bit more guidance from other artists, but… we had each other I guess, and we made it to where we wanted to be so I shouldn’t really complain (laughs). 

Group unity is so important! The two of you, along with Duncan and Lee, are proof that when you’re in a band, things work better when you stick together!

A: The respect, love and friendship we have for and with one another is the reason why our band worked back then, and why it still works now.

S: We’ve been through so much together, and everything we’ve experienced as group has got us to where we are today. When I think back to those early days of playing youth clubs and freshers balls where nobody really cared about us, and all they did was throw bottles on stage at us… it’s so funny!

A: I love that we came up the hard way because it makes us so much more appreciative of our success! If we’d had all of this handed to us on a plate in the beginning of our career then I don’t think we’d still be here today. The blood, sweat and tears that went into making Blue the band people first saw in 2001 was… ah man it was just so exciting!

S: The journey is better than the destination for sure! But just to go back to your point about group unity, as Anthony said, we have huge amounts of respect for one another other as people, but we also have a real appreciation for what we’re each capable of artistically too. Like I said before, there’s no egos in this band, we’re in it together and we want each other to win! 

Blue’s brand new album “Heart & Soul” is available to download and stream now.

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