JAMES BLUNT Talks About His Time in Kosovo, Inspiration and Electrifying New Album, Moon Landing and More!
Posted On 06 Mar 2015
Tag: AC/DC, All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, Apollo Edition, Apollo Edition Moon Landing, Artist Interview, Back To Bedlam, Bastille, Beck, BRIT Award, BRITS, Cape Town, Cat Stevens, Chill Out, Chill Out - KLF, David Bowie, Doctors Without Borders, DWB, ELTON JOHN, Fleetwood Mac, Foo Fighters, fun., Goodbye My Lover, Grammy, Help For Heroes, Hozier, Iggy Pop, Imagine Dragons, James Blunt, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Nail, KLF, Kosovo, Macklemore, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Medicines Sans Frontiers, Moby, Moon landing, MTV, Music, music interview, Paul Simon, Smoke Signals, South Africa, South by Southwest Music Festival, Spotify, SXSW, When I Find Love Again, You’re Beautiful, YouTube
Moon Landing is the fourth album by James Blunt. It’s an album about dreams, longing, first love. About looking in the mirror and seeing the boy you were, the man you are – and learning to be comfortable with that, flaws and all. About getting back to basics and rediscovering the power of music to communicate emotion directly and honestly, without too much polish or complication.
‘There’s just something romantic, old-school and lonely about the moon landings,’ he explains. ‘A nostalgic memory of something huge that we can hardly believe we once achieved, and for some sad reason, can’t achieve again – like first love.’
We all think we know about James Blunt, of course. But those who’ve been off-planet, here’s a recap on the story so far. Born in an army hospital in Tidworth, Wiltshire. Educated in Harrow, then Bristol. Signed up for four years in the Army. Ended up serving six, in Canada, Kosovo and then London. Spotted playing at the SXSW, signed up by Linda Perry to her new label Custard. Recorded an album, Back To Bedlam, with Tom Rockrock in LA. Released it to universal indifference. And then the third single, “You’re Beautiful”, came out. The video for the song below has been viewed over 59 million times (and counting) to date.
And so there it was: one big hit, two more albums, three world tours, four number one singles, five Grammy nods (plus two BRITS, two Ivor Novellos and a host of MTV awards), a six-piece band, seven whole years on the road, eight kiss and tells, and then the numbers spiral out of control: nearly 17 million albums and 20 million singles sold worldwide. Plus over 5 million Facebook ‘likes’, 250 million plays on Spotify and an astonishing 257m YouTube views.
What do those figures mean? Some amazing experiences – some youthful excesses. The chance to use his high profile to do some good, supporting charities such as Medicines Sans Frontiers and Help For Heroes (including three foiled attempts to play in Afghanistan for serving soldiers), and to draw attention to the issue of climate change.
But to a lad who picked up a guitar and wrote his first song at 14, wrote his university dissertation on the music industry, took that guitar to the war in Kosovo, and always dreamed of making music, what success has meant, more than anything, is freedom.
‘What it allowed me to do was go on tour with a band. That was absolutely amazing, and so I recorded our second album, All The Lost Souls, with that band, and make a deeper, richer album. Then I recorded the third album, Some Kind Of Trouble, in the UK with lots of musicians and a fancy studio, and enjoyed making a more upbeat album. I picked up an electric guitar and did the kind of songs that I’d heard as a teenager but couldn’t replicate on my acoustic. It was fun playing catch-up, exploring all the things I wanted to do and be – all the other musicians I wanted to sound like.’
But for Moon Landing, he wanted to go back to sounding… like himself. Initial sessions saw him working with a real musician’s producer – Martin Terefe, and these recordings have an undeniable freedom and celebration in their sound. ‘I was playing a lot of ukulele – mainly because it makes me look bigger,’ says James. ‘We got on so well we could easily have done a whole album together and more.’ But then James chose to strip it back further – he went back to LA, staying with his friend Carrie Fisher as he did for the first album (Back To Bedlam was her title suggestion, and the vocals for “Goodbye My Lover” were recorded in her bathroom). He also returned to producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Moby, Foo Fighters) and to working with just the two of them in the studio, occasionally bringing in selected musicians from the Back To Bedlam sessions to fill in where James’ own skills weren’t enough. ‘I’m a useless drummer,’ he says cheerfully. ‘And I didn’t play the bass much, either. But I can find my way round almost anything else.’
The result is a collection of songs that are raw, direct, and emotionally honest. There are songs of searing self-examination (Always Hate Me, The Only One), and others that sound like soundtracks for films not yet made, like Miss America – a song inspired by the tragic death of Whitney Houston, to explore the idea of how fame makes us feel like we know that artist personally. From unabashed declarations of love (the jaunty Postcards, the yearning Blue On Blue), to what must be one of the most tender break-up songs ever, the achingly lovely Face The Sun, Moon Landing is a thing of pure, understated beauty. And, as an introduction, and like all of James Blunt’s best work, the melody for first single ‘Bonfire Heart’ will quickly etch itself into your consciousness, and you’ll soon be humming along to the sweetly reflective verses, and anthemic chorus.
You can never go back to the start, but some things you can rediscover.
‘In my teens, I found freedom in music. It’s a way of dreaming, a way to express who you are to the audience, but just as importantly, to yourself. It has taken me a while to understand it, to feel it again – and start dreaming again.’
Read more in All Access Music writer, Nicole DeRosa‘s Q&A with James below:
Hi James! Where does this interview find you today? What’s on the agenda today besides our interview?
I’m in Jo’burg, South Africa. Today was a travel day from Cape Town to here. I’m going to hunt down some pizza before bed.
For those not as familiar with you and your music, how did you get your start in music? Who or what was the catalyst for you?
I bought a cheap electric guitar and a friend taught me 4 chords.
You released your fourth album, Apollo Edition of Moon Landing last year.
How would you say this album is different that your previous album? What did you learn between albums that you wanted to infuse into this one?
Moon Landing is a special album for me. I went back to Los Angeles to find the man who made my first album, Back To Bedlam, ten years ago. He and I made Moon Landing without fear or judgement – just raw and honest and, we hope, beautiful.
Your latest single is called, “When I Find Love Again,” but I read that your favorite song off the new album is, “Smoke Signals”. What was your inspiration for that song?
“Smoke Signals” is about struggling to communicate with someone close to you. I love the song.
Who are your musical influences, past and present?
Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Elton John, Cat Stevens and Jimmy Nail
What was the first album you bought for yourself?
Chill Out by KLF
I understand you are involved with “Doctors Without Borders” and since then you have been an active supporter of DWB by holding meet-and-greet auctions at many of your concerts. How did you get involved with this wonderful charity?
When I was a Frontline Reconnaisannce Officer in Kosovo, thinking I was doing a tough job, ahead of me, always, would be this amazing group of doctors and their teams giving medical care to the people who suffer most in war- civilians.
Living or dead, who would your dream collaboration be with?
Who is in your current playlist? Any artists, musicians or genres we might be surprised to find in there?
Music I bought recently: AC/DC, Bastille, FUN, Daft Punk, Hozier, Iggy Pop, Imagine Dragons, Macklemore.
What’s on tap next for you, James? What are you most excited about in 2015?
The Moon Landing World Tour goes on until April 2015. Then, I’m going to go home and wash my clothes!
To learn more about JAMES BLUNT, including upcoming tour dates, visit his website HERE .