James Blunt likes to joke that he wrote “You’re Beautiful,” his Grammy-nominated, worldwide hit, “in two-and-a-half minutes, even though it’s a three-and-a-half minute song.” Later fleshed out in sessions with Sacha Skarbek, who contributed chord ideas for the verses and helped the singer hone the melody and stick to the simple hook, the tune’s “greater than I ever imagined” success took Blunt’s burgeoning indie career mainstream and led to global popularity and three world tours. Blunt hit the road in a completely different way to co-write “Bonfire Heart,” the lead single to his fourth album Moon Landing, with the track’s producer Ryan Tedder.
Tedder, frontman for OneRepublic who is also well known for his writing & production work with Adele, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and others, first worked with Blunt as a co-writer of “Stay The Night,” the lead track from Blunt’s third album, 2010’s Some Kind of Trouble, which reached the Top 30 on the Billboard AC chart.
“Ryan (Tedder) invited me to jump on the OneRepublic tour bus during their European tour, so I got to be a groupie for a while,” Blunt says. “He’s got a lot of energy. We both pick up our guitars and make noise together, it’s kind of that simple. It’s hard to define how we approach our songwriting because it’s a natural process, but the idea for ‘Bonfire Heart” was a universal concept we all related to. No matter where you’re from, not matter your orientation, color or creed, we are all part of the human condition in which everyone needs to connect with other people. We just need someone to light the spark in our bonfire heart.
“We dialed in on the lyrics together and Ryan totally got where I was coming from,” he adds. “We literally wrote it on the tour bus. It was a fun experience all around. I would be in the audience enjoying their concerts while thinking about the lyrics, then go later to the band’s dressing room and let him see my lyrics. He’d whip out his guitar and say, �?Let’s write some more.’ It’s a slightly different experience than working with Sacha on �?You’re Beautiful,’ in which I had all the lyrics done before the songwriting session. Ryan and I worked on everything together, which is the nature of things when two singer/songwriters get together.”
“Bonfire Heart” is shaping up to be another major international hit for the British artist, including reaching the Top 5 on the UK Singles Chart and hitting #1 in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, while also hitting the Top 3 in Australia and Belgium. The “Bonfire Heart” companion video is also proving a smash, earning over six million views and counting at Blunt’s official YouTube channel. It’s shaping up to become Blunt’s biggest worldwide single since “You’re Beautiful,” which sold over three million units in the U.S. and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and AC chart. Driven by that massive success, Blunt’s debut album Back to Bedlam—whose singles included “High” and “Goodbye My Lover”—sold 11 million copies worldwide and was one of the best-selling album of the past decade in the UK.
Described by Blunt as “the album I would have recorded, perhaps, if Back to Bedlam hadn’t sold anything,” the more personal and intimate Moon Landing—executive produced by his Back To Bedlam collaborator Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliot Smith, Foo Fighters) and featuring further production by Robopop, Steve Mac and Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz, KT Tunstall)—has enjoyed a big international launch even prior to its release in the U.S. It enjoyed Top 2 debuts in Germany, Austalia, the UK and Canada, a #1 debut in Switzerland and Top 5 debuts in Ireland and New Zealand.
After recording his second album All The Lost Souls with his touring band, Blunt took great advantage of the opportunities he had to work with other top musicians and in what he calls “fancy, incredible studios.” While he enjoyed the process of making a more upbeat album and using electric guitar on Some Kind of Trouble, he ultimately realized he was getting too far away from his roots, exploring his musical fantasies a bit much and trying to sound like a lot of other musicians. For Moon Landing, he wanted to return to sounding “more like myself.”
“I think it hit me at some point that I was hiding behind some of the musicians I was working with,” Blunt says. “From a songwriting standpoint, I was writing too much for my audience and their expectations, thinking I knew what they wanted to hear instead of focusing on things that I needed to say. But for the new album, rather than worry about the audience, I made it much more personal—realizing of course that doing that on the first album led to an incredible connection with so many people. I wanted to get back to the naivete and innocence again, and to stop hiding behind the production. The best way to return to my indie roots was to go back to working with Tom Rothrock and create a genuine space of writing and recording. With him it was making music for more than just the joy of it – but for the need.”
Blunt found himself alone in the studio most of the time, where he could not worry about what people “out there” would be thinking as he sang through the glass to Tom in the control room. Sometimes when he looked at his reflection in the glass, he believed he was truly looking at the mirror of his soul. “When you can see that,” he says, “you cannot lie to yourself. It’s almost as if I were confronting myself and asking what kind of artist I wanted to be now. I got back to purer modes of expression. I honestly have no regrets about how I made the other two albums. It was fun being in those environments making a lot of cool noise. But once that was through, and now that I’m over the whole pop star trip, I am excited to once again be making music more for myself.
“To me, with the exception of a few songs, Moon Landing sounds lonely and old school. It’s got depth and emotion, and I think it says a lot about my confidence as an artist that I am willing to put everything on the line, weaknesses included. When young songwriters ask me for advice on what makes a great song, my answer is different than it might have been a few years ago. Now, it’s just one that has simple, honest emotion. It doesn’t have to be fantastically deep as long as it’s pure and genuine.”
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+