Ronan Keating strides into the room, is all smiles as he says a big hello to all the Singapore journalists present. There’s a short pause before the interview starts; Keating peers out at The Float at Marina Bay from the room, where he quizzes a minder on the SM Town concert last Friday.
And certainly, Korean pop isn’t far from everyone’s minds. During the interview, Keating recounts how he met PSY in-person: “We had PSY come on X Factor a few weeks ago. He’s brilliant. The energy that he brought to his performance, it was an eye-opener, it was so good.”
Soon to embark on a world tour next year, Keating made to a visit to Singapore to promote his newest album, Fires; his first original record in six years. A straight-up pop album, the singer said he wanted to “give a sense of optimism” with his newest release.
But don’t expect a “confessional” album; the Irish singer admits that Fires “is not autobiographical. I did that on purpose because of where I was, what happened.” Keating admits that the “album has helped me to focus on something. My life has changed dramatically in the last few years, that’s a new life for me now.”
While it’s referred to obliquely in this interview, the singer does seem contrite on the “mess up” he made; the affair that had led to his divorce to Yvonne Keating this April. He reiterates during this interview, about how he “didn’t want to hurt anyone anymore, I’ve caused enough pain. So on purpose, I didn’t write about anybody (on the album).”
But at this point in time, Keating happily shares that “life is wonderful, I feel lucky, I feel blessed and back on my feet again and back with this record.”
Here, the Irish singer chats with us about latest album, his role on The X Factor and how “being a good dad” is so important to him right now.
“A new lease of life” with Fires
“It took me six years to figure out what I wanted to do musically, who I was as an artist,” says Keating.
“Then 18 months ago, a light bulb went off. I made my decision: I was going to go back to my roots and make a pop record. And it happened very easily then, once I’ve made my decision.”
“So it’s just pop music,” the singer says simply. “Just turn the radio on and sing along … You’re reliving your youth again, through pop music.”
For Keating, creating this album was also therapeutic: “I needed optimism, I needed hope. When you’ve caused a lot of pain and hurt in people’s lives, you know that, you feel you’re at rock bottom, you feel pretty worthless. You need hope, optimism to get you out of those “holes”. It was friendship that definitely got me through it.”
“People were there for me when I needed help, when I was at my lowest, so I hope that this album can do the same for them.”
The title track, “Fires” is also Keating’s way of saying “thank you” to his “real friends, for sticking and standing by me. Even in the face of shame.”
His most personal track on Fires
Keating singles out “Easy Now My Dear” as a track that had the most personal resonance to him. “(It’s) about finding solace in your life and I think we should all find a little bit of that,” muses Keating. “I do. I needed to and I did.”
On growing older
Keating is amazed (and amused) by how he’d watched his fans “grow up”. “It’s funny, I have seen that,” grins the star.
“These people, these guys and girls grow up, they’ve stood beside me, asked for autographs when I was sixteen. And here they are, singing along with their kids, it’s incredible. I feel very lucky that they’ve stayed that loyal, that they’ve stuck with me through thick and thin.”
Thinking back to his earlier years, the singer admitted that he “was so silly” back then, after releasing his first pop album. He harks back to how he “tried to think too deeply about the record, about where I was going, taking myself too seriously. I didn’t want to be a boy band member.”
“But that was what you do as a kid. You battle with these demons, (the need for) credibility and respect.”
To Keating, Fires is now “ the best record I’ve ever made.”
“I just got back to what’s real, I guess, back to making pop music. To just enjoy it.”
And Keating does agree that he “has the best job in the world”; he still loves “getting up on stage and performing and travelling around, meeting people, singing the songs, watching people sing them back to you.”
A possible Boyzone comeback tour?
In 20 years, he’s transitioned from the lead singer of Boyzone to a solo artiste; and back again to Boyzone, as the band celebrates their 20th anniversary next year.
“We’re going to mark that anniversary, we don’t know exactly how, whether it’s a new record, or a world tour,” shares Keating. “Maybe looking at the old stuff and remastering and singing it again would be a good start. Then looking at duets with other artistes, that might be a cool concept.”
Harking back to the Korean wave, Keating muses about how Boyzone may even “do a collaboration with some K-pop (group), maybe PSY, who knows, that will be great.”
The new boy bands in town
“I love the fact that boy bands are back, girl bands are back,” enthuses Keating. “I think music goes in cycles, we had all the female solo artistes, Adele, Katy Perry … There was definitely a female solo movement and it feels like it’s coming back to boy bands, girl bands’ time now.”
“We’ve got the biggest band One Direction, The Wanted, The Collective (that he mentored for The X Factor Season 3) … It’s a fun time for pop. Pop is about having fun, fun with music. And I love that.”
On being a reality TV judge
With conclusion of third season on the Australian edition of The X Factor, the Irish singer shared how his role as judge enabled him “to step back and look at my career, outside, from someone else’s point of view.”
“As a judge on The X Factor, you feel like a one-man record company,” says Keating. “You’re picking the songs, the outfits, you’re marketing, the sales team, you’re everything in one team. That’s helped me greatly with my career.”
His hopes of climbing Mount Everest
When it comes to his dream of scaling Mount Everest, Keating gets quite excited: “I am banging on doors to try to make that happen.”
“You have no idea how difficult it is to put a team together and how expensive. It’s the huge insurance risks,” explains Keating.
“But I would like to think by 2014, that will be something that I’ll be seriously in the middle of making it happen. Anyone out there in Singapore who has a lot of money and wants to climb Mount Everest … Give me a shout, I’ll do it with ya.”
His kids are his top priority
The conversation turns back to his kids time and time again; Keating shares how his top priority now is to “be a good dad, I’m trying my best.”
“It will be great to be back in Europe, to be close to the kids,” admits the singer. “It’s hard being so far from them. It’s a 23 hour flight from Dublin to Sydney, it’s hard on the kids. I miss them a lot.”
He adds that he would “like to be remembered for being a good dad. A good man. (And) make people happy with my music, that will be nice.”
Ronan Keating’s Fires is now out in stores.