“I’m not chasing Number Ones anymore. I just want to be happy being me…” - hmv.com talks to John Newman
For a man who has yet to reach his 30th birthday, John Newman has been through an awful lot.
There’s been plenty of good stuff, two big-selling albums, hit collaborations with Calvin Harris and Rudimental and ‘Love Me Again’, a single with sales in the many millions and over 700 million views on YouTube.
But, sadly, some serious lows too. He has twice been diagnosed with brain tumours, undergoing surgery in 2012 and again in 2016, while in the last two years, he's been in intense therapy after suffering from a series of issues with his mental health.
Having just completed a successful UK tour, we spoke to him about working his way back to songwriting and his plans for a new album in 2020...
How’s your 2019 been? Are you starting to build up towards an album again?
“Me getting ill came at a very bad time. I was out of the game while the music industry went through a big change. Right now, I’m still getting my feet back on the floor and enjoying being creative. I’m falling back in love with the process of making music. I’ve restarted everything. This new phase is the way I always wanted my career to be.”
How is that different from what you were doing before?
“I definitely felt insecure. I was covering up by wearing my suit and having this big quiff. I’m closer now to 10-year-old me, just being excited again. Loving working again.”
How have the shows been going?
“Amazing. I always try and give 150% when I play live. You have to give everything, people pay a lot of money and save up for tickets. I know I used to. It was a bit of a shock at first, getting back into touring. You meet so many people and it’s a hugely emotional experience. People telling you every night that you’ve changed their life. Every night is a massive comedown.”
You’ve said you were looking to change your approach, is it less about chasing hits now?
“The second you start looking for a sound, it doesn’t exist. When I think back to writing ‘Love Me Again’ and the songs from that time, I’d just tipped a large bucket of inspiration on the floor and that’s what I ended up with. I’ve been looking for new inspiration. I’m 29 now, I’m not a kid, you can’t pretend it’s the same. I don’t want to replicate what I’ve done in the past or what anybody else has done. It’s about finding a sound that’s comfortable for me. I’m not chasing Number Ones anymore. I just want to be happy being me.”
Are you working with some different people?
“I’m in with Steve Mac at the moment. He’s done a lot of Ed Sheeran’s stuff and he’s working on my next single. I’ve played it to Ed and he really likes it, which is a nice seal of approval. My label have promised that it’ll get a big push and it really feels like it’s what I’ve been working towards. I think it’s time to start working towards an album, but I want to see how the next single goes.”
You’ve been known for being prolific with your songwriting. Can you see yourself working differently? Might you write fewer songs and focus on them a little bit more?
“Totally. I’ve started doing that. I’m a businessman. I run a chauffeur company, I help design motorcars and I’ve got my own publishing company. I’m an entrepreneur and I need to be busy. So, when I do go in the studio, I need to be going in the studio to do something that could change my life. I used to really burn out in the studio and I don’t anymore. I use the studio to deliver inspiration.”
Are you listening to different stuff?
“You’d be stupid not to. I’m not listening to last week’s Number One and trying to replicate it. I kept trying to do that and it sent me into a depression. I’d never do it. I can’t make music like Little Mix. I’d stopped listening to the music I grew up loving and I’d just be studying the songs that came out every Friday. I’ve turned off commercial radio now, it was making me jealous and bitter. I’ve gone back to classics and turned away from thinking of everything in business terms.”
Do you have a timescale for a record? Or are you content to collect songs until you feel ready?
“I’m a man that times how long my tea bag’s in the mug. Everything’s calculated. We’re on step two of the Wembley dream. Stage one was about getting out there again. Getting in a campervan and seeing the whites of people’s eyes again. Stage two is going up a level, more touring and more music. Stage three will be the record.”