The James Blunt album cycle machine has whirred into motion once more as the musician clocks in for his fourth three-yearly studio album release - Moon Landing - boosted in a timely fashion by lead single Bonfire Heart’s Top 10 chart position.
Since his debut album Back To Bedlam was released in 2004, Blunt has had three Top 5 UK albums and won countless awards - including two Brits and two Ivors - as well as earning five Grammy nominations. The singer/songwriter has also impacted across the globe, selling some 17 million albums and 20 million singles worldwide and his last tour took in territories as far as South East Asia as well as Eastern Europe, Russia and Kazakhstan.
“We’ve partnered with James for more than nine years, during which time he’s enjoyed a phenomenally successful international career,” said Mark Mitchell, general manager, Atlantic Records UK. “The impressive sales figures and numerous awards he’s achieved speak for themselves.
“Moon Landing is undoubtedly his strongest work to date with multiple single options. Together with his management, Todd Interland and the team at Rocket, and working closely with our global affiliates, we’ve devised a bespoke, full-service campaign tailored to drive engagement from existing and new fanbases over eighteen months, both in the UK and around the world.”
Talking to Music Week, Blunt seems to be in a relaxed mood about the expectations for his forthcoming, romantically-inspired, ‘back-to-basics’ LP. But then with an already accomplished career, an all-star roll call of producers and writers (including recent No.1 artist Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic) on board for the latest LP and a confident lead single straight out of the blocks, why worry?
Blunt tells of following an extensive touring stint with ‘laundry time’ in Ibiza, working with phenomenal musicians “who really do do pop”, and hooking up with his high-profile roster-mates at Rocket.
So what have you been up to since the last album was released? There were reports that you’ve been living up in Ibiza…
I put an album out three years ago and for two years I was on tour, slogging around North America and South America - which is amazing - South Africa, all of Europe, Australia, South East Asia and then Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia, and got as far as Kazakhstan. It was an amazing experience.
Then, after two years of touring I might have taken a little bit of time in Ibiza just to wash my clothes, obviously. And then I went back into the studio, for what has really been about a year, making Moon Landing.
You worked with producers Tom Rothrock (Beck, Moby, Foo Fighters) and Martin Terefe (KT Tunstall, Martha Wainwright, Jason Mraz) on Moon Landing - who steered the ship during the recording process?
It’s my album and I really wanted to make it stand the way I like it. It’s a terrible thing to say… the notion of commercial success I don’t think is necessarily that relevant. I’m in a really lucky position... so I really wanted to make it an album that I love.
Also, you can’t second guess an audience. One of the things about dealing with Tom Rothrock... I’ve got this microphone and I sort of sing to an imaginary audience without being able to see their faces and therefore not really ever connecting. So we had these discussions and I tried to sing on a more personal level to [Rothrock] with that glass panel between us, or effectively using it as a mirror and being more honest as singer. So I’ve made an album very much for myself.
They are great producers but their greatness is also about not trying to force me to sound like them - it doesn’t sound like a Martin Terefe or Tom Rothrock production. These guys have a feel about getting what it is from the artist.
Very much from Tom’s perspective, his whole history is with people like Elliott Smith, Beck and Badly Drawn Boy. He’s this producer of indie artists of which I was when I started, signed to Custard Records. Back To Bedlam was an independent album that we made. Then it had You’re Beautiful on it, which took it from being independent to this dirty word, ‘mainstream’.
What we’ve gone and done is record this album in the same way we did Back To Bedlam. It’s gone back to being kind of independently recorded without using bells and whistles but being very personal in that way. And, as I said in my press release, this is the album I would have recorded if Back To Bedlam hadn’t sold in the way that it had.
You’ve got a host of incredible co-writers on Moon Landing. How did you get everyone on board?
Most of the guys I had some experience of working with before. I wrote Blue On Blue with Steve McEwan who wrote an amazing song One Of The Brightest Stars on my second album. He’s got a great sense of musicianship and musicality.
Steve Robson I worked extensively with on my last album. Then Steve Mac, I think I approached him through Wayne Hector who is a writing friend of mine - Wayne and I have worked with each other for a long time.
I really enjoy working with people in that kind of field because it’s kind of unexpected. These guys really do do pop and aim their stuff at a much younger audience, but at the core of our business - no matter where your wares might sell - you still have to be a musician, these kind of phenomenal musicians. So working with all of them is a great pleasure and we see what we come up with in the end.
Claude Kelly and Ammar [Malik] - I think fired messages to them, saying “Hey let’s do some pop music” [laughs].
You’re represented by Rocket for management - do you think at any point you’ll ever be a featuring artist or have a fellow Rocket artist on a track of yours at all?
It’s a really good idea because it’s a decent roster of people I’m in amongst. In a way, I was thinking just recently we should probably do a Rocket concert, with a whole list… My albums are quite personal, so I haven’t gotten around to [working with other Rocket artists], but it’s a really good line-up of people that Elton [John, co-founder] has amassed – I’m very lucky to be in amongst them.
You’ve been in the biz a while now. You started on an indie, went to a major and went through these big milestones - what are some of the hardest lessons being in the industry has taught you?
I suppose it really is an industry and as a musician I love my art and I really engage with that.
I suppose it’s that thing of when you step out of the studio - having made something you love, having spent so much time just focussed on making something as beautiful and exciting as you can - and then having that battle with those people who see this industry as a commercial industry and that is what they do. It’s a kind of shock to the system.
I have a great management team who can really help me with that but it’s always worth holding on to your sense of what it is you’re in for – the musical side and the art, and stand your ground on that. That is a battle.
Do you find it easier now, after the success of the first album, to fight in that sense or do you just get fewer people battling you?
Well, at the same time, you want things to be visible and you want other people to hear what you’ve done.
Getting people to hear it is the game in this industry and I don’t know the answers and probably neither do the record label or anyone else [laughs], because these things are kind of intangible.
If there was one thing you could change about the music industry what would it be and why?
I don’t know if I would change much, it’s all been pretty amazing along the way.
I suppose the industry is suffering slightly from file-sharing and from the way that’s happening.
If I were to change anything - if I could change anything, which I don’t know if I or anyone can - I definitely think it would be to express the value of music because it is an incredible, special thing.
I don't think it is worth just file-sharing in such a way. People say “Well James, you could tour,” and I can, absolutely. But the producers who I work with can’t, nor the musicians I recorded with in Los Angeles with their families.
This is an industry that needs supporting in that way if we are going to get beautiful music. Sure, you can record it in your bedroom, but Abbey Road is more beautiful, the rooms in there sound more beautiful. If places like that aren’t supported and close down, we lose our heritage - but we lose the future of fantastic music too.
ATLANTIC MARKETING DIRECTOR: ‘On this album we’ve turned a corner with perception.’
Jack Melhuish, Marketing Director, Atlantic Records UK
What are the biggest parts of the promotional campaign for the album coming up?
For Moon Landing we’ve developed a strategic campaign that gives fans more access to James and his incredible music than ever before.
In the UK, the first single Bonfire Heart has enjoyed strong radio support including a 10-week add-on at Heart FM, an interview and session with Chris Evans on his Radio 2 show and a headline performance at the Radio 2 event in Hyde Park in September.
Similarly, we’ve had strong TV promo, including a Graham Norton performance, and there are some biggies still to announce.
We also partnered with Amazon for the Artist Lounge and iTunes are running an exclusive pre-stream, while several major supermarkets have committed to profiling Moon Landing as the Album Of The Week.
For launch, we’ve created an immersive online experience that allows people to explore the making of the album, unseen performances and exclusive interview footage on James’ website.
In addition Dion Singer, SVP, International Artist Development & Marketing, and his team have made some great videos and digital marketing assets for most of the songs on the album that will premiere at steady intervals over the coming months to ensure we have a constant stream of online content for both YouTube and local editorial partners.
It’s a well-rounded and considered campaign across all touch points and one we’ll be working for another year and a half - both in the UK and internationally with Jeremy Marsh, EVP, International Marketing, Warner Music UK.
Have there been any particularly surprising elements that have surfaced along the way so far?
The amount of goodwill and warmth towards James throughout his re-emergence has been wonderful to see. In popular media he’s an act that has polarised opinion in the past, but the reaction to the single and record has been overwhelmingly positive. A big part of that is James’ character - he’s very articulate and funny and that goes a long way with the British public. It genuinely feels like on this album we’ve turned a corner with his perception.
Also, the amount of engagement online for James has pleasantly surprised us.
How big do you think the album could potentially be and do you have particular ambitions for it?
I think the album will captivate fans – old and new. We’ve got big ambitions for Moon Landing, it’s a fantastic collection of great songs, packed with emotion and big hooks, and we’ve also got an absolute banger of a second single to follow.