by Nancy J Price
Admit it: Almost every woman wants to be told that she’s beautiful. Bonus points are given for putting the words into a song. And when such adulation comes from a man who also proclaims, “My life is brilliant”? She’ll probably think she’s got herself a keeper.
Enter James Blunt. This ex-army man is topping the charts worldwide with his first single, “You’re Beautiful,” despite hardly being cut from typical rock star cloth. In fact, it’s a wonder he’s released an album at all — a military career and a musical career would usually be considered a study in contrasts.
But that album, a little thing called Back to Bedlam, made ripples all around the world. One of his first coups was keeping the venerable Rolling Stones from topping the UK charts in mid-2005. His latest achievements include seeing the album go gold stateside, while his single hovers just a breath below number 1 on the US Hot 100 singles chart.
I caught up with the singer/songwriter and took him away from the heady business of climbing the charts for just a few minutes so he could answer these 10 questions for you.
Nancy J Price: You’ve done really well, especially in Britain. Did that success surprise you?
James Blunt: Yeah, totally. This album is very personal to me. My vision was to make one copy of this one album hopefully — this collection of my songs that was in my head. I hadn’t done that, and I really wanted to do that. I connected with enough people that a label would then say, “Now we’ll let you make more albums” — you know, second and subsequent albums. So I wanted to connect with a few people in order to do that, but I really didn’t expect to get away with it, and it’s taken me completely by surprise.
NJP: There are so many artists out there. Why do you think you’ve been able to make it where other artists have failed?
JB: You know, I wouldn’t actually know the answer to that. I don’t know. Maybe my mum just was very good at buying thousands of copies of the album. (laughs) Then again, I don’t know really. I don’t know.
NJP: So how important to you is success in the states? What will that mean — and why does it matter?
JB: Well, I guess I would just like to be able to come here at all, and at least to be able to find an audience here because it’s a fun place and I enjoy it. For that reason alone, it would nice to be able to find an audience — I’d like to come back here and spend time to visit.
My next notion for success here is pretty much not defined by the charts. I think that they’re just not that relevant and are based on an entire competition in music, and I don’t see it as that.
I would like to be able to come here and connect with a few people musically. I think a great example is Cat Power. She’s not a great chart success. But at the same time, musically, I think she is an incredible person, she is an incredible singer/songwriter, and she is an inspiration to me and to many other people, and I can only define her musically as a massive success. If I were to come here or elsewhere in the world and have just a fragment of her musical connection with people, then I’d be very happy with that.
NJP: Do you think musical talent is something people are born with, or is it something that is developed?
JB: I think it varies. I think it’s a skill: It can be developed and taught, and indeed, some people know they have a certain skill, and other people can find it later on in life. It’s kind of hard to define. I wasn’t forced on music, so I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a great education in it.
My mother’s side of my family was fairly musical and they enjoyed singing — they appreciated music and perhaps they made that energy… It’s difficult to see why anyone wouldn’t be able to like feel like saying, “We’ll just give it a go.” I’m sure anyone could write a decent song. Perhaps it’s just too hard for me to see why anyone wouldn’t be able to.
NJP: Your own songs are often very personal. Does it seem surreal to have so much of yourself out there?
JB: Yeah, I guess it is in a way. I’ve always been a very private, reserved person. I’m a classic Brit in that way. I’m not very good at expressing myself, as any of my ex-girlfriends will tell you. So, yeah, then you let them see what is going on inside your mind, and then it’s out there and people can judge it. And what do you do? There’s lots of payback. Lots of people come back to me and say, “I feel the same,” and “I have the same hopes and fears and dreams.” And as a result, you see much good come of that, and life’s not too bad that way… So there’s payback. And of course some people don’t connect at all and say, “There’s not much going on in your mind, is there?” as their response to my songs might be. And, what are you going to do? It’s not going to kill me.
NJP: If your first album didn’t really go anywhere, what would you have done?
JB: Well, I was pretty confident that I would achieve my ambition, and my ambition was to make an album — make a document to capture the songs, because I had them in my head. I felt convinced that some organization or group or label or individual would give me the opportunity to do that. And that’s not asking too much really. You’re asking them for a bit of studio time.
NJP: Did you have a backup plan, or would you have just kept trying?
JB: Well, no — I was just enjoying doing music and was going to carry on as long as I enjoyed it, and having this confidence to make one album. I thought it was really about getting in the position to make subsequent albums, and as long as I was enjoying it I’d carry on, even if one wasn’t a success. That wasn’t really relevant at the time, because I was having fun doing it and appreciating being around other musicians and doing music — that seems far more relevant than being a successful musician. And so I was going keep on doing it until I wasn’t enjoying it any more.
NJP: Speaking of enjoyment, what’s the best thing about being out on the road?
JB: I have to work, so it’s a great way of life — being in the industry. Actually, I wanted to do it for years, and now I’m fully involved in it. Traveling to new places and playing at some incredible venues. Having a relationship with an audience. And at the same time, we get to see these new places and have fun — new towns and cities every day. So it’s a great way of life.
I left home when I was seven years old to go to boarding school in England, so I’m pretty much used to being away from home. There’s not much that’s too hard, though I guess partly the lack of sleep. But that’s a good thing to be worrying about.
NJP: It’s obvious that you love what you do. But what would you say are some of the high points of being a musician?
JB: I guess there are three aspects of being a musician. And all of them have different reasons. Writing songs I enjoy because it’s my full expression. I find it really necessary. It’s my outlet. I enjoy recording because it’s a form of documenting those ideas and archiving them in a way. And then I love doing it live because it’s a form of socializing in a way. There’s the relationship between an audience and the musicians and you’re getting out there and you can play your ideas in front of an audience and you’re feeding off each other… I enjoy all the different aspects of being a musician.
NJP: What other things are really important in your life — apart from music — that help keep you motivated?
JB: What’s becoming increasingly important to me over the last few months are my friends and my family. In the whirlwind that is the current music industry, they’re the people who are most important. They make life what it is. They’re far greater than anything else.
This interview originally appeared on SheKnows.com in February 2006