“I look at Ed Sheeran and he’s got stadiums worldwide. I want that…” - hmv.com talks to John Newman
As he releases his new album Revolve, we sat down with John Newman to chat about working with the men behind some of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits, getting Idris Elba to open his album and why he’s got arenas in his sights...
Your new album Revolve is out today, how long have you had it finished for?
“Quite recently, which is good because I feel like I’m releasing fresh music. I’m starting to get a bit tired of it already, but I like to move on really quickly, by the time you’ve written it, recorded it, produced it, mixed it, mastered it, it’s like going over and over. It does still feel fresh to me though, I wanted a punchy sound, it’s different to the first record.”
When did you start work on the album?
“About two weeks after I finished the first record, it was a song called ‘All My Heart’, I don’t think the first album had come out yet, I’m constantly writing, constantly looking on how to move my career and what direction to go in.”
How many songs did you end up with?
“(Turns to his manager) How many songs are on the album? 12? Yeah we wrote 12…”
“I throw songs away. I find it stupid to waste time like that, I chuck them away all the time, I had such a strong vision of what this record to be that I was really strict. I do it single by single, track by track, it’s like building a playlist.”
When did you decide on what your vision for the record would be?
“Very early on. I’m bringing a book on the same day as the album and there are sketches in there of logos and concepts before I’d go out to Los Angeles to start on it. I think it comes from being a mechanic, loving the bodywork of cars, albums are 99% preparation, you have to know what the final product will be. You never get that perfect thing, you’re always finding problems with it, my next album is my favourite album, it’ll always be like that.”
You’ve got some big producers on the record, guys like Greg Kurstin and Jack Splash, did you target them? Or were they suggested to you?
“There was a lot of targeting. I really wanted to work with Paul Jackson Jnr, the guitarist, who played on a lot of Michael Jackson’s albums, Jerry Hey , who was Michael Jackson’s brass arranger, Greg Kurstin, Jack Splash, I targeted them and they were all incredible to work with. It’s not a Cee-Lo project, I’m not sending people out to the bahamas on writing camps, I don’t want to be the boy about town who will work with anyone."
How do you find collaborating? It must be hard for someone with such a strong vision…
“It’s why we work so hard to get the right people. Greg would sit back and be my wall and I’d throw everything at him. It takes me a lot longer to do things by myself, you need someone there to keep you on your toes, I do the research, the producers do the execution.”
How did you wind up with Idris Elba providing the intro for the album?
“I wanted something to do the album justice and have something I was proud of on the tracklisting. It’s a short story and it nails the concept that ‘Revolve’ comes from me noticing the cycles in time and how the world turns, how music and fashion go in circles and I wanted someone to make it motivational. I talked to Will Smith about it, he said yes, but I didn’t get anything back and I decided it might be a bit bigger than my boots. Idris is a very humble person, he’s British, a Londoner and he nailed it.”
How do you think you’ve grown as a lyricist since your debut album?
“I captured some quite amazing on the first album, my melodies weren’t as strong or hooky, but there’s a naivety and I’m not sure if the lyrics are as good this time. The first album is really dark, it was all about splitting up with this girl and not being able to leave this house, or if I ever did getting pissed out of my face, there are lots of devils and demons on the album.”
How does that compare with the new album?
“The first album goes from positive to negative and this one starts negative and goes back to positive. It’s all about meeting this girl in Los Angeles, she used to suffer from sleep paralysis and so there were a lot of sleepless nights and it’s about how we came through that. As it turned out we didn’t last that long, but I got a record out of it.”
What can you tell us about your live show? Big plans?
“I always like to go big. I want it to be a massive performance and to go from big to small within the show. I hate low points in sets, I’d do a sad, slow number and then make the next one explode. I’ve designed my new stage set, it’s very slick and all white and we’ve got more pyro.”
What kind of venues are you looking at?
“There are talks of arenas next year in the UK next year. I look at Ed Sheeran and he’s got stadiums worldwide. I want that. I want to get to a point where I can do what I want creatively and where there’s always money to go back into making the show bigger. I want to go mental and have huge shows. I just love gigs. I’m starting up a band at the moment. I’ve written a couple of tunes that are pretty guitar-based and very mental. We’re going to turn up with some amps and go skizzing around London pubs. I love gigs.”
Sounds like fun...
“I might start DJing again soon too. I miss that. I’m ready to get fully back into doing everything at once. Gigging next year will be very full on.”
John Newman’s new album Revolve is out now. He will sign copies in three hmv stores, click here for full details.