Catching Up With John Newman

2.4.2014

By Alex Panisch

England's rising soul-pop star discusses his U.S. success, crossing the pond & being bearish on the BRITs

Though cracking the American market is one of the most difficult feats for a British artist—or any international artist for that matter—to accomplish, finding lasting Stateside success is the true challenge. Many a bright young pop star returns to Blighty with only a single chart topper. 

John Newman won’t have this problem. You probably first heard the 23-year-old Yorkshire native on Rudimental's smash-hit track, “Feel The Love” and again on the group's follow up, “Not Giving In.” As successful as his collaborations with Rudimental have been, his solo work is what charted high in the United States. His debut single, “Love Me Again,” made it to the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard Top 40, as well as taking the top spot in his native England.

Having recently finished up his first foray in the States, which he kicked off with powerhouse performances on The Today Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon—where he showed of dance moves that could rival Michael Jackson in his prime—we caught up with John and talked about honing his craft, his fans: US vs. UK, and his BRIT award nomination.

Out: What was it like playing your first New York show?

John Newman: Yeah it’s crazy. It’s built up so much coming to America and doing the whole America thing and I walked in here and I’m Top 10 on the album chart. 

What do you think of your American Fans?

I've got such great support from people that thing about Americans is there not... from Britain basically. The British will let your song go to number one as a joke. They will buy your single and think “that will be pretty funny.” But in America, you guys, you see it as art; you've got some of the best talent all the time and the biggest talent ever. In terms of listening to songs, you buy real music and you buy into artists. You are there for the long run because you guys are appreciating it.

What was it like performing on Fallon?

It was crazy.  The Roots are next to me, and then I've got Jimmy, he’s one of my favorite comedians, on the other side. I was really really grateful for the great opportunity in the first place then when we’d actually done it I was like it was mad.

Did you grow up in a musical family?

Yeah, Well kind of. What I know of my dad is he was a musician but he left when I was 6. My mum was kind of a music listener, which sort of benefited me in a different way I guess. It helped me play records when it came for me to DJing. And my brother is a songwriter now and a musician as well. I think the vibe was definitely going around the house and the older we got the more that happened. 

What records did your mom play?

My mom was really into Motown stuff. It was my mum’s songs and you don’t like your mum’s music but at the age of 16 I started to really appreciate it and understand what it was all about.

So Motown was a big influence?

Motown lead me onto Otis Redding and Michael Jackson and then you stumble onto Prince. The first vinyl I ever bought was Jurassic Five. Even American hip hop artists like Jadakiss and 50 cent I was into as a kid. I was even listening to The Red Hot Chili Peppers.Then I would DJ 90s house. Now I really like Adele and Emeli Sandé. 

Do you remember the first time you heard your “Feel the Love” [your hit with Rudimental] on the radio?

Yeah I was in a waiting room. I was suffering from a benign brain tumor and my girlfriend at the time was anxious I'd die. She put the radio on and at that time, in the UK, it was like the hottest record. The first play of it was so incredible. [It] helped to get me through that period because I had a smile on my face the whole time. The Rudimental boys being like the brothers they are helped me through it as well. It came at the right time I guess.

Why did you call the album, Tribute?

I just wanted to say “thank you.” I find myself saying “thank you” way too much on stage. I've got manners I guess and I just wanted to say “thank you” and use a better word and put it on my album. It’s to everybody who’s bought it and everybody that supported me: my team around and all the influences that helped me create a sound naturally and organically and make a record and career out of it. And my family is on there as well. It is literally just basically me saying “thank you.”

Tribute’s about your break up, correct

Yeah, I was going through a bit of a shit time with a girl I was madly in love with. We were living together and it was that period, that horrible time, when everything goes wrong and the whole house is falling apart. Things are disappearing because you went through a breakup and you are moving out and scream. I mean everyone’s had a breakup. 

People say, “for the second album are you going to do another breakup album?” The reason I did a breakup album wasn't to do a break up album, it was because it was what I wanted to break through that at the time.

You must be really psyched to be playing Coachella.

There is no way to say what Coachella is going to be like. It's mad, lots of shows then a huge festival to play...I go there and do my thing, I can't wait.

You’re nominated for two Brit Awards, British Male Solo Artists and British Single. Who do you think you’re biggest competition? 

I'm probably going to have a Brit award next year, this year I'm thankful of being nominated by I don't expect it because the people who are up against in Best [Solo Male Artist] inspire me a lot themselves; they’re great artists, like the Tom Odell, David Bowie, and Jake Bugg as well. Then the single is a free for all, its crazy. There are some huge records in there that I've loved all year round. I’m just really thankful to be nominated and that's fine for me.

You can purchase Tribute here.

Tags: Music
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