Singer on a mission to connect

By Paula Yeoman

Intensity and honesty rules for James Blunt, says Paula Yeoman.

James Blunt likes to share his quirky sense of humour with his Twitter followers.
James Blunt likes to share his quirky sense of humour with his Twitter followers.

James Blunt is often painted as one of the most divisive characters in music. You either hate him with every fibre in your body or you've loved him with a passion since 2004 when the former soldier went topless and shoeless in the snow in the video for his breakthrough smash hit, You're Beautiful.

But put that directly to the British singer-songwriter and you will get a short, sharp serve. "The divisiveness is completely exaggerated because I meet masses of people who say, 'I like some of your songs, but I don't feel massively strong about it'," he says. "There are lots of people in a much greyer area. It's amped up by media because these tag lines are easy to use."

Blunt's willingness to speak his mind is refreshing. It's what makes him such a hit on Twitter, where he frequently responds to "hate mail" with laugh-out-loud humour.

And he makes no secret of the fact that pleasing fans was the furthest from his mind when making his latest album Moon Landing, which brings him on tour to New Zealand next month.

Blunt says he found it difficult to make the songs connect with an audience when he first entered the studio.

But it was his pal Tom Rothrock, who also produced his debut Back To Bedlam, who reminded him why he was there.

"He said, 'Look, if you're having that problem, why don't you sing to me mate.' So I did. And that's kind of how we found that intensity and honesty. I really didn't try to please an audience because I don't think that's very satisfying or genuine. Thinking of words you might like to hear isn't nearly as important as words I need to say."

He name-checks another good friend, Ryan Tedder, with whom he co-wrote his latest hit Bonfire Heart, and who helped him get a fresh perspective on performing live.

"I'd just finished a tour and I called him up and said, 'Hey Ryan where are you in the world? He was on tour with One Republic and he invited me on the tour bus."

Blunt travelled through Europe with the band "being a groupie". During gigs, he circled the crowd watching audiences not dissimilar to his own; in the very same venues he himself had not long played.

"It was the first chance I'd really had to go on tour and to be in an audience and to reflect on it that way. I suppose that's why we wrote Bonfire Heart. It didn't matter where in the world we were, there was a need to connect with each other. And so the lyrics are that simple - 'People like us; we don't need that much, just the spark in our bonfire hearts."

James Blunt performs at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington on May 27 and at the Civic in Auckland on May 28. Moon Landing is out now.

- Herald on Sunday

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