||This article may contain excessive or improper use of non-free material. (September 2012)|
Frontman Charlie Simpson (left) and bassist Dan Haigh (right) in 2010.
|Origin||London, United Kingdom|
|Genres||Post-hardcore, alternative rock, alternative metal, symphonic rock|
|Labels||PIAS, Gut, Island, Trustkill, Deep Elm|
|Associated acts||Busted, Gunship|
Fightstar are a British alternative rock band from London, formed in 2003. The band's line-up comprises lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Charlie Simpson, guitarist and vocalist Alex Westaway, bassist Dan Haigh and drummer Omar Abidi. Although generally considered a post-hardcore band, Fightstar are also known to implement metal, progressive and acoustic elements into the band's sound. During the band's initial emergence, they were faced with much scepticism due to Simpson's former pop career. However, they began to receive positive reactions to early live shows and their debut EP, They Liked You Better When You Were Dead (2005) was a critical success. Since then, their three studio albums have obtained top 40 chartings and critical praise. Fightstar's debut album, Grand Unification (2006) was regarded as "one of the best British rock albums of the past decade" by Kerrang! editor Paul Brannigan.
The band went onto receive nominations at the Kerrang! Awards for "Best British Band", before releasing second album, One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours (2007). The following year a compilation album including b-sides and rarities titled, Alternate Endings (2008) was released. The band then self funded and co-produced third album, Be Human (2009), which heavily featured orchestral and choral elements. It became their highest charting album after peaking at number twenty in the UK Albums Chart. The band announced an extended hiatus in 2010, allowing its members to concentrate on other projects, including Simpson's solo album. They are expecting to regroup in the near future to begin work on new material.
During 2003, when Charlie Simpson was still an active member of pop band Busted, he met fellow songwriter-guitarist Alex Westaway and drummer Omar Abidi at a party. He was by this stage becoming increasingly frustrated by the music he was performing in Busted and stated he had "all of this creativity pent up inside and I just needed to vent it somewhere, and I was writing a lot of songs but I couldn't play them, because I didn't have anyone to play them with". Abidi had been completing a sound engineering diploma at college, whilst guitarist Alex Westaway had recently moved down to London after dropping out of university. Future bassist Dan Haigh was also based in London working for a game development company.
During the aforementioned party, an impromptu jam session took place. Simpson, Westaway and Abidi played Rage Against the Machine's song "Killing in the Name" on loop, and agreed to attend a gig a few days later. After the show, they went back to Simpson's flat and began performing on guitars and a v-drum kit, which led to their first song being written, titled "Too Much Punch". Westaway later invited school friend, Haigh, to practise with the band and soon began booking regular rehearsal sessions together. Simpson's time spent with Fightstar reportedly began to cause tensions within Busted, amplified when Fightstar announced a 14-date UK tour. Simpson announced to the pop trio's manager on 24 December 2004 over a phone call that he was leaving the band to focus on Fightstar full-time, citing that he wanted to do something his "heart was in". On 13 January 2005, Busted's record label announced a press conference was to be held at the Soho Hotel in London the following day. The next day, the 14th, it was then announced that Busted were splitting up after Simpson's departure weeks before.
They Liked You Better When You Were Dead EP (2004—2005)
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Following Simpson's decision to focus on Fightstar full-time, the band entered Criterion Studios in London with producer Mark Williams to begin tracking. The EP, comprising nine tracks on the extended mini-album version, was written in six months while Westaway and Simpson lived together. Recording sessions were often interrupted as during this period Simpson was in the middle of a sold-out stint of Wembley shows with Busted. The song "Mono", named in honour of the Japanese band of the same name, was recorded during a thunderstorm. Shortly before the track's heavy finale, it's possible to hear the sound of Simpson screaming in the rain after he ran outside, unaware the studio's room mics were capturing his antics.
|"It was the first time I'd recorded anything that I loved. I was 18 and we were just kids having fun. It was the most innocent record because we weren't thinking about how it might be received at all. We just wanted to record some songs. There were no limitations: we were just doing it for ourselves. It was such a fun time. We didn't have a care in the world."|
|— Charlie Simpson describing the recording of They Liked You Better When You Were Dead.|
They Liked You Better When You Were Dead was released on 28 February 2005, following a rapid promotional tour of the UK. The release proved popular enough to warrant a reprinting on 23 March 2005. Alex Westaway, the bands lead guitarist and co-lyricist drew the artwork based on Edward Norton for the inlay of the booklet, as the record was inspired by author Chuck Palahniuk and the film adaptation Fight Club. "Palahniuk's Laughter" (named in reference to Palahniuk) enjoyed heavy rotation on music video channels and spent many weeks in charts based on video and radio requests. The track was originally entitled "Out Swimming in the Flood", but was renamed after the 2004 tsunami. The UK version contained five tracks (including a sixth hidden track), meaning the record was ineligible for the UK Singles Chart. The EP was released the following year in North America as an extended mini-album through Deep Elm Records. The release was met with praise from critics, despite many being initially sceptical due to Simpson's former pop career with Busted. British rock publication, Kerrang! wrote" They Liked You Better When You Were Dead delivers. Articulate rage, barbed guitars and epic choruses recall the likes of Thursday or Brand New. Simpson and Westaway play like they have been in the same band for years, weaving intricate soundscapes and dark passages of crushing noise. Stunning post-hardcore." Sputnikmusic writer Adam Knott opined that the EP was "one of the most surprising first impressions I've ever heard". He also added that, "To say that Fightstar's debut showed promise or potential would be a disservice – They Liked You Better When You Were Dead is in and of itself a release well worthy of a place on any discerning music-lover's bedroom shelf."
Grand Unification (2005—2006)
Sample of "Sleep Well Tonight". The song has been descriped as a good example of Fightstar's musical dynamics. Blending "thoroughly heavy metal sections" with "widescreen rock."
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After the release and promotion of They Liked You Better When You Were Dead, the band were approached by their management with regards to whom they wanted to produce their debut full length. They requested Colin Richardson, and although initially sceptical about their chances, Richardson agreed to collaborate after demos had been sent to the producer. The band explained, "As a producer, how he makes everything sound, the sound craft of what he does in the genre is so perfect. The production alone blows your fucking mind, never mind the music. We sent him the demos and our EP, and he got back to us in like a week. It's a dream come true for us."
The band entered studios in west London and Surrey with Richardson during October 2005. Richardson, who had previously produced albums for the likes of Funeral for a Friend, Machine Head and Fear Factory, was particularly meticulous during pre-production, taking five days just tuning the drums. However once recording had started, he praised the band for being "very focused" and that there was a "real buzz because nobody knows what to expect." The band themselves referred to the sessions as "tone quests", detailing that they had been experimenting with the different amps they had available, including those borrowed from friends. Bassist Dan Haigh explained, "We're currently on a mission to get the heaviest possible guitar sounds. We've got amps that were featured on records by Carcass, Arch Enemy and SikTh, so there's a wealth of metal history right there for us to tap into."
The band have stated that when entering recording, they did not want to produce a "typical post-hardcore record." Frontman and co-lyricist, Charlie Simpson explained that, "There's a post-rock instrumental intro and a piano-led song. It flies through all these different sounds, but it's still in keeping with our style." Simpson also explained that the band enjoy a shift in dynamics, often going from a heavy and aggressive style to soft and quiet passages during the same song. Describing the evolution in sound from the their debut EP, the band stated that Grand Unification is a lot "grander", both in terms of songs and production. Second lyricist and lead guitarist, Alex Westaway spoke of the "dark" tone amongst many of the songs; "We really tried to veer away from the whole emo thing. It’s too easy to write in that vein and now there are too many bands doing it badly. Our songs became darker. We’re always trying to find the beauty of darkness. There’s something fascinating about shaping shadows." The band decided to re-record three tracks that featured on their debut EP, those being, "Hazy Eyes", "Lost Like Tears in Rain", and "Mono". Upon completion of recording in December, Simpson stated, "We're so happy with what were doing. No matter how people perceive it when it comes out, we'll still be very proud and that's the most important thing." Richardson was also "immensely proud" of the completed record, adding, "It's records like these that will go a long way to putting the British scene back on the map. There's not a single weak song on it, and you can't say that about too many records these days. It's an album that will stand the test of time."
Grand Unification is a concept album, which is influenced and based upon the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series. The lyrics are loosely based on the personal experiences of lyricists Charlie Simpson and Alex Westaway, but the underlying concept revolves around two people who experience the last few days of life before the end of the world. Westaway has explained that, "Relationships and things we've actually experienced are involved, but the basic concept is about two people who experience the last few days of life as they know it before the world's ended. Neon Genesis and stuff. It's from a manga series called Evangelion, which is about angels that come down from heaven to wipe out human kind. It's related to that same kind of feeling, that only chosen people survive, and the world becomes a better place afterwards."
The single, "Waste a Moment" was written about the 2005 London bombings, which in the context of the album is told from a personal perspective, yet in a surreal setting. The band have admitted though, that the concept was not initially intended. Despite the fact that the track "Lost Like Tears in Rain" was lyrically based around the Evangelion story, the band only realised connections throughout the songs towards the end of recording. Simpson explained that, "It starts with 'To Sleep' and ends with 'Wake Up', so it went in this big cycle. We never intended that to happen until we looked at the album and thought, 'Oh Shit, it works like that'. That's the only way I would have done it. I wouldn't want to sit down and think, 'Let's write a concept record'. I was only happy because it naturally evolved."[not in citation given] All of the albums artwork was based upon the concept, with Haigh stating, "What we're doing is centered around hope and starting again, capturing things that are epic. All the videos, album and single artwork are going to be tied into this." Haigh revealed that he had come across Daniel Conway's artwork after "trawling the internet looking for an artist". Haigh was immediately drawn to Conway because of the cohesion between his work and the albums lyrical and conceptual themes; "We’ve always been a visual band and I think people are going to realise that when they see the artwork. Dan Conway is the guy doing the artwork and he’s monumentally talented. His pictures already described our songs perfectly; it was as though he’d already been drawing them for us.”
The album was released in the UK on 13 March 2006 through Island Records and was preceded by the single releases of "Paint Your Target", "Grand Unification Pt. I", and the aforementioned "Waste a Moment". The album debuted at number twenty eight on the UK Albums Chart, while first single "Paint Your Target" reached number nine in the Singles Chart. In March 2006, they were listed by the US rock magazine Alternative Press as one of the 100 bands to watch for that year. The band also played a slot at the Download Festival at Donington Park Race Track and also headlined the Sunday of Welsh rock music festival The Full Ponty under Biffy Clyro and Funeral for a Friend. Fightstar toured with Funeral for a Friend for three months in 2006 covering such places as Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom. The band released Grand Unification, in North America on 17 April 2007 through Trustkill Records. The release differed from the British and Japanese versions by including the b-side to fourth single "Hazy Eyes", titled "Fight For Us" as a fourteenth track.
One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours (2007—2008)
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After leaving Island Records due to a disagreement over the bands artistic direction, Fightstar signed to an independent label called Institute Records which was a division of Gut Records to release their second album. Charlie Simpson explained that the band and label had come to a "cross road" after that label began pushing the band to create a more "mainstream" record. He supported the bands decision to sign to an indie label, stating, "The great thing about working with independent labels is that they all have a genuine thirst for music which is something that can be lacking in some major label corporations. We feel like they have the bands best interest at heart when it come to artistic decision making." The band recorded One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours in Los Angeles with Matt Wallace, who has also produced albums by Faith No More, Satchel, Deftones and Sugarcult. Simpson also spoke of the bands different recording approach than that of their debut. "It was a very different experience writing this record because we weren't really together in the same room when it was written. I would put down an idea on my home Pro Tools set up and then send it over to the others via email and they would work on it in their home studios. This gave us time on our own, to really focus on the parts we were writing for the songs."
Prior to the albums release, Kerrang! described the sound in comparison to Grand Unification as "more refined", becoming at the same time "heavier, yet more melodic." The band echoed this sentiment by stating, "It kind of takes off from where the last one started, I guess, but we took the heavier stuff we were doing and made it a lot heavier, and then we took the kind of more chilled out stuff and, I guess, made it more sound-scapey." Lyrically, the album is more "personal" than its predecessor. While Grand Unification was conceptual, aiming to "make the lyrics depict scenes that were as wide and as epic as possible", One Day Son was based upon themes such as global warming, war and in particular the end of Simpson's seven-year relationship prior to recording.
|"I'd just come out of a seven-year relationship when the lyrics were being written so that gives that a big theme on what's being talked about, but then in general I guess global warming has had an influence on the record; the wars going on at the moment has had an influence – just the general state of play with our human society. The album title is kind of derived from everything we do now is going to have consequences on our kids' generations, so it's kind of taking responsibility."|
|— Charlie Simpson describing the themes found on One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours.|
To promote the album, the band initially released the free downloadable single, "99" in May 2007. The track, written about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, was made available on the bands microsite along with a music video. First official single, "We Apologise for Nothing" was released in September, a week prior to the album and reached number one on the UK Independent Chart and number sixty three on UK Singles Chart. Third single, "Deathcar" helped create history by acting as the first official release in the UK on the new VinylDisc format. The song, inspired by a harrowing documentary on Chinese human meat wagons, coupled with the end of Simpson's relationship, produced a low-fi music video which cost just £500. The VinylDisc single reached number ninety two on the UK Singles Chart, whilst also debuting at number two on both the Indie and Rock Chart. Fourth single, "Floods" was released the following March. The band wrote the song about the growing concern around global warming upon viewing Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth. They also performed BBC Radio 1 live sessions on this single campaign for Colin Murray and Dan P Carter. The band went on a 10 date UK tour during May with support from London four piece Brigade and unsigned Essex band We Are The Ocean already confirmed. The tour included a date at Carling Academy Islington on 29 May, and at the Leeds Slam Dunk Festival on 25 May.
The last single from the album was titled "I Am The Message". It was released on 16 June 2008 as a double A side single with the other side being the bands cover of "Waitin' for a Superman", which was recorded for the Colin Murray Show on Radio 1. This was the band's first single to be added to the Radio 1 playlist.
Alternate Endings (2008)
Then, at Download festival 2008, the band told press they would be returning to the studio in August to start recording their next album due for early 2009 and that they already have at least four songs demoed. The album’s name was confirmed as Be Human. The band recorded a cover of "Fear of the Dark" for an Iron Maiden cover CD called Maiden Heaven: A Tribute to Iron Maiden, featuring various artists, which was given away with the 16 July issue of Kerrang! magazine.
Due to Gut Records going into administration at the end of 2008, Fightstar decided to put out their new album Be Human on their own, in a joint venture with their management company Raw Power on a label called Search and Destroy. The new record was distributed through PIAS Records. In an interview Charlie Simpson said "This was something that we had always wanted to do and figured this would be the perfect time to do it. It is an exciting prospect to be able to own the rights to our own record with the music industry changing at such a rapid pace, I think it's something that more bands will be looking to do in the future."
Be Human (2008—2010)
Sample of "War Machine" from Be Human. An example of the albums "grandiose intentions", the song features heavy strings and choir vocals to create "an ethereal conflict."
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Fightstar released their first single from the new album Be Human, "The English Way", on 3 November 2008 and it reached number 1 in the UK rock chart. The video was played on Kerrang! and Scuzz T.V. stations and also reached number 1 on the MTV2 top 10. The album was co-produced by the band along with Carl Bown, in Bown's state of the art Chesterfield based studio; Treehouse Studios. In interviews leading up to the album release, the band commented that the new record would be "quite different" from their previous releases. Charlie Simpson stated they wanted to experiment with more of a "rock opera" sound including full strings and choir. However, he also pointed out that although it may be different, it will remain Fightstar and still include their trademark dark and heavy elements.
The band supported Feeder for the first part of their UK tour, which started on 21 October 2008. Drummer Jason Bowld from the British alternative rock band Pitchshifter, had filled in for drummer Omar Abidi on their UK tour, while he recovered from a broken wrist. Abidi returned to touring with the band early in 2009. Due to Abidi's hand injury, Simpson filled in to play drums on six tracks for the new album. Abidi wrote the drum parts and oversaw Simpson's parts; he would later liken the situation to a director instructing "a really good actor". Damocles, the album's most aggressive track, was recorded "in tandem", with Abidi handling the pedals and snare whilst Simpson played the rest.
Next single, "Mercury Summer", was released on 6 April 2009, as announced on their MySpace page on 2 February 2009. Tracks include; Mercury Summer, Athea, We Left Tracks Of Fire, Mercury Summer (Acoustic) and Mercury Summer (Nero vs. Ohms remix) which was half produced by Abidi. Athea being a b-side to the physical CD and We Left Tracks Of Fire a b-side on the 7" Vinyl, all available to purchase online at various online stores and websites. Later that week on 4 February, they announced a 12-date UK tour with support from In Case of Fire and Laruso. The video for "Mercury Summer" debuted on their MySpace page on 25 February.
The reception for the single was extremely positive, with the song reaching the A List on the Radio 1 Playlist and remaining there for 4 weeks. It was also received well after the band featured on BBC2 music show Sound. "Mercury Summer" was also added to the daytime playlist at XFM Radio and was picked for Ian Camfield's Record of The Week. Emma Scott and Kerrang Radio station also made "Mercury Summer" her Record of The Week.
On 7 April 2009 the NME website announced that Fightstar were to perform at the Download Festival. Then on 26 May 2009, it was announced by the official website that Fightstar will also be playing the main stage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals.
On 9 April 2009 the final album version of "Colours Bleed To Red" was played on the Colin Murray show. Murray said about the previous single "Mercury Summer" "It's only when you hear it in the context of the album that it makes total sense.' 'It's actually a little bit more experimental while at the same time being a bit mainstream" he also said that Be Human is "Quintessential Fightstar with all these new parts to it. Very impressed with it indeed." It was then rumoured that, Be Human, would be re-released in late 2009 and it is believed the new, deluxe version could contain four or five new songs. One of the new songs could be a cover version of Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield," which the band performed informally earlier in the year in the BBC Radio1 Live Lounge. The cover was met with great approval and Sparks herself said on radio that she was a fan of Fightstar and believed they should cover the song.
On 12 October the band posted pictures on their Myspace site from their latest music video shoot for new song "A City on Fire". The song subsequently was played for the first time during Fearne Cotton's show on Radio 1 on 19 October and the official video premiered on the bands MySpace on 24 October, which was directed by Sitcom Soldiers. The single was released as a digital download on 20 December, peaking at number 116 on the UK Singles Chart, and number four and number ten on the UK Rock and Indie charts respectively. The band have since released the deluxe edition of Be Human on 1 March 2010.
Hiatus and solo projects (2010–present)
The band have since announced they are "taking some time off" for the remainder of 2010/11 to work on separate projects before regrouping in 2012 to begin writing a new record. Westaway and Haigh are working on a music project titled 'Gunship'. This is an entity focused on making music for film with an album also in production. They are also completing post production on a film project with Philip Koch of Lucas Film. Westaway and Haigh have also completed the score for Grzegorz Jonkajtys short film The 3rd Letter along with Audrey Riley. The film has picked up several awards from various film festivals across the world. Simpson has been working on a solo album. He released his EP, When We Were Lions, through Pledge Music, an organisation that helps artists raise money to record music from their fans. His full debut album, Young Pilgrim, was released in August 2011.[dated info] Simpson has stated Fightstar will record an album again, but he plans to record a second solo album first, while Westaway and Haigh work on their Gunship project.
In an interview with Digital spy in December 2012, Charlie Simpson confirmed his current plans to finish writing and record a 2nd solo album in February 2013. Following an intended US release and tour in the summer of 2013 in support of this new solo record, he then plans for Fightstar to reunite and begin writing for the band's fourth album.
Musical style and influences
Fightstar's sound is widely referred to as "post-hardcore", incorporating a style that is "equal parts melody and menace". Their music has also been labelled by other publications as "alternative rock", "Busted on steroids" and "emo" (despite the band distancing themselves from the label). Kerrang! magazine have stated the band draw equal influences from genres such as post-rock, heavy metal and hardcore punk. Charlie Simpson has echoed this sentiment by describing the band's musical aim as trying to "combine the light and dark shades, to make something utterly brutal and really heavy, and on the other side have something really delicate and beautiful. The fusion of those things is what Fightstar does."
Commenting on debut EP, They Liked You Better When You Were Dead (2005), Allmusic wrote, "Vocalists Al Westaway and Charlie Simpson utilize a distinct sound that reaches total catharsis. Train-like guitar work also adds strength to the record, creating drama and tension in the key moments." Josh Barr, journalist for American music websize Aversion, described the EP as containing, "passionate musicianship that's equal parts serenading melody and jarring punch, these blokes unleash a welcome roundhouse kick to the face of overly sensitive emo rock, triggering crying fits and bloodying scarves".
Lyrically, the band claim that they aim to avoid writing in an "emo" fashion. Grand Unification was centred around the theme of the apocalypse, while subsequent work has varied thematically from patriotism (The English Way) to knife crime (Damocles). Fightstar have also drawn on influences from books (most notably those of Chuck Palahniuk), films and comics- the Neon Genesis Evangelion series have provided inspiration for several of the group's songs.
In his review of the band's debut album, Grand Unification (2006), Vik Bansal of MusicOMH spoke of the bands varied dynamics; "Where others are happy to be one-dimensional, Fightstar are not content unless a song moves fluidly through seemingly incongruous but ultimately coherent moods and musical dynamics. The interspersion of thoroughly heavy metal sections within the otherwise widescreen rock of 'Grand Unification Pt I' and 'Sleep Well Tonight' encapsulates this perfectly". The band's second album, One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours (2007) was viewed as a "harder effort" than their debut, containing a "thrilling mixture of alt. rock and post-hardcore". Q magazine wrote that, "the intricate instrumental passages, multi-tracked vocal harmonies and pounding riffs hint at Muse-scale ambition and intellect". The Sun also described the albums sound as, "heavier, slicker and as focused as ever, tracks such as '99' and 'We Apologise For Nothing' embrace an epic, panoramic sound that sweeps you off your feet. It’s aggressive but emotive, with heaps of melody among the huge riffs."
Third album, Be Human (2009), heavily implemented choral and orchestral elements. Emma Johnston of Kerrang! emphasised this in her review by stating, "Fightstar throw as many orchestral and choral flourishes at their muscular, solemnly heavy rock as it could take without drowning". AbsolutePunk writer Anton Djamoos also opined that the album contains a "certain symphonic quality", that is "a departure from the general body of work we've seen in the past. They break from their own norm with several orchestral elements to make the album sound more full and let the music hit even harder".
The band have said they are influenced by a wide variety of music, particularly film scores, and have named artists such as Nirvana, Deftones, Radiohead, Silverchair, Pantera, Mono, Explosions in the Sky, The Cure, and Jeff Buckley as major inspirations. Abidi has declared Deftones the band he would most like to perform with "If I got to play with (them), that'd be it, you could stick a fork in me.
- Charlie Simpson – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards
- Alex Westaway – lead guitar, co-lead vocals
- Dan Haigh – bass guitar
- Omar Abidi – drums, percussion
- They Liked You Better When You Were Dead (2005)
- Grand Unification (2006)
- One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours (2007)
- Alternate Endings (2008)
- Be Human (2009)
- Kerrang! Awards
|2006||Fightstar||Best British Band||Nominated|
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