For The Wanted, absence definitely made the heart grow fonder.
"I think I speak on behalf of everyone, in the time away from it, it gave me time to reflect and appreciate what we'd achieved and how good our music actually was," said Max George, who along with Siva Kaneswaran, Jay McGuiness, Tom Parker and Nathan Sykes made up the platinum-selling group behind such songs as "Glad You Came" and "We Own the Night" before they disbanded in 2014. "Because at the time we were doing it, it was so packed in that we didn't get to really appreciate how much we enjoyed each other's company or how good our music was because...like, every day, it was all a bit mad."
Added Parker, who said earlier this month that his condition was stable since being diagnosed with stage four brain cancer last year, "It took us around the world and it was chaos—but it was beautifully chaotic. But then, by the end of it, it got a little grating on all of us, it was quite physically and emotionally demanding. And just that time away has given the perspective to go, 'You know what? What we created was beautiful.'"
All five members of The Wanted sat down for an Oct. 19 Zoom interview with E! News to talk about reuniting in the wake of Parker's cancer battle, what they've learned in their seven-plus years apart and what they're planning next.
And, naturally, they had a few laughs in the process.
"Even when we were under so much pressure and we'll be squabbling and whatever was going on, we always had fun, we're always very down to earth," McGuiness, 31, said.
"Was it fun when I put a laxative in your drink?" Parker, 33, asked.
At which point McGuiness reminded him that, while some blokes are blood brothers, they'd always be "piss brothers."
"And there's your exclusive!" chimed in Sykes, 28.
"But really," McGuiness continued, on a more serious note, "time helps a lot. And all of our perspective has changed. We are grateful, we're the boy band that walk into the room and are, like, 'I'm just happy to be here.' Back in the day, Max has said this a few times, we wanted a number-one after number-one because we'd had that, and we felt terrible when we didn't get that. And when five young men have that sort of ambition, it can get really tense."
But, he added, he thinks he and his mates have proven that they can let bygones be bygones and just enjoy each other's company now.
Especially since, just a year ago, it was unclear how much time was left to see each other, let alone perform together again or get in the studio.
Reuniting was something they had discussed over the last couple of years, George, 33, shared, "and I think in a certain way we were all missing it at certain points in our life, but obviously had our own stuff going on."
Then, in October 2020, Parker publicly revealed he had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and his condition was terminal. Also that month, he and wife Kelsey welcomed their second child together, son Bodhi joining big sister Aurelia, who was born in June 2019.
"Obviously we were all there to jump to his support," George recalled, "and then we kind of started talking to each other as a group after that."
Fittingly, The Wanted made an emotional return to the stage last month at the Stand Up To Cancer benefit Parker put together at London's Royal Albert Hall, part of the singer's journey that was chronicled in the Channel 4 documentary special Inside My Head, which premiered in the U.K. earlier this month.
"There was a moment where I thought I was going to break down and have a meltdown," Parker admitted, "but the boys just comforted me...It was just an emotional night all around, even for the whole day and stuff. And just walking into the venue—we had never played the Royal Albert Hall before, when we played all around the world."
"There's just something beautifully special about it," he shared.
The other members of the group have all been supportive of Parker's activism, McGuiness noting that, despite the U.K.'s National Health Service, which foots the bill for chemotherapy and other cancer treatments, the government wasn't devoting a surplus of resources to tackling glioblastoma, the rare but deadly form of cancer his mate is fighting.
"So it's people like Tom, taking that journey and basically exposing their stories, generating interest," McGuiness said, "those sorts of people will make change. And that's the way that hopefully our government will respond to this and hopefully Tom will literally change the British health care system, which is an incredible thing. And if Tom doesn't do it, then, you know, who will?"
At the same time, Parker understandably invites the distraction—and built-in therapeutic benefits—that jumping back into making music with The Wanted has provided.
"It's quite nice going to work, because I get to take my mind off it and just have fun," he said.
George said the reunion was "just a natural thing to do, and then the conversations happened about new music and signing with a record label, and luckily enough we've managed to do that." The Manchester native cowrote their new single, "Rule the World," with Ari Leff, the American writer-producer known professionally as Lauv, and the group has been recording both in the U.K. and Los Angeles.
He knows it's been awhile, "but it feels like we haven't been away," George said. "Like, it literally feels like it was yesterday."
But, Sykes added, "It's so much more calm, because we don't worry about [outside feedback] too much, we kind of just have our own little group chat that we're like, 'Boys, what do you think?' And it's 'Yeah, we think this' or 'No, we're not too sure on that.' And we're kind of completely unified and it's really exciting."
Dare we say, The Wanted knows what it wants?
"I think coming back, we're solid in knowing what we love and what we like to do creatively and have a vision, personally and as a group, of what we want to achieve," observed Kaneswaran, the group's only Dublin-born member, who released his debut solo single "Breathe In" in 2019. "And I think that's solidified over the years until we got to here."
"We all knew what we wanted," the 32-year-old said, "we all know what we feel, and the whole period away I think humbled us all in a way."
Now, a greatest hits album is in the works, and so is a tour.
However, their impressive songbook aside, McGuiness said, "I think the most important thing to know about the tour is that I've tried to suggest that we go vegetarian and Max was not happy about this. Siva and Nathan are up for it being maybe even vegan! We're trying to be The Wanted Conscientious 2021 but Max is still there with his beef and whole milk."
They all laughed. "At least I don't put oat milk in my cereal," George charged, unwittingly firing up a hot topic, with Sykes on defense ("Hey, it's nice") and Parker insisting "it deserves to be in the bin forever."
George suggested people only pretended to like it and preferred regular milk, to which Sykes replied, "I wouldn't, I'm very intolerant."
Parker quipped, "Why does this not surprise me?" Sykes explained that, "Naturally, most humans are dairy intolerant," prompting McGuiness to crack, "I mean, naturally most humans are alcohol intolerant and it doesn't stop any of us." More laughing ensued.
Their brotherly bond was perhaps most palpable, though, when McGuiness broke out his Strictly Come Dancing trophy from 2015 to troll George, who competed on the popular U.K. series last year but only made it to week four.
McGuiness noted that he was at his mum's house. "I don't just have that with me at all times," he insisted as he gave the mirror ball a few loving strokes. Parker teased, "Max, that's what a winner looks like."
Looking into the camera, George said, "You know how we were saying we all like each other? It was all lies."
They also each gave a quick thought about what they might have done if they hadn't ended up making music for a living: Kaneswaran was studying biotechnology at university, "so you would have seen me probably in a lab coat humming tunes to myself, looking at different kinds of bacteria." McGuiness "definitely would have tried" theater but "probably would have never succeeded and gone into manual labor." Sykes was only 16 when he joined The Wanted, but "might have gone into theater. Me and Jay on stage playing off each other." George "probably would have had a real go at football." And Parker was "not very good" at sales ("I think I was too honest") and knew early on he "wanted to do music in some capacity, just didn't really know what that entailed."
But they all concluded that they ended up doing exactly what they were meant to do.
"We've got a tour coming up, and a new album," Parker said, "and we apologize for all this stuff you just listened to."
Most Wanted: The Greatest Hits is due out Friday, Nov. 12.