There couldn’t have been a better start for John Newman on the charts.
The singer from the Yorkshire Dales burst onto the scene in 2013 with the number one smash Love Me Again, and the hits just kept coming. Collaborations with Rudimental and Calvin Harris scored huge summer number ones, with these tunes leading to a summer soundtrack anthem with Sigala and Nile Rodgers.
Then, it all slowed down. After being hospitalised for a brain tumour for the second time in 2016, John admitted that nobody was picking up the phone anymore. And the chase for hits led to the star battling with depression as he craved instant and constant success.
‘It was the first time I’d been properly mentally challenged in my life, the 29-year-old told Metro.co.uk. ‘My success had always been increasing – I’d been doing gigs in the town I grew up in, then in Leeds, then in London. Then I had a number one, then Calvin Harris was ringing up. When it went downhill and I went into really choppy waters, was when people were looking into longevity and were like “c’mon John, it’s nearly summer, let’s get that single out” – and when it wasn’t hitting the mark, that literally started ripping my heart out and sending me, like, “what the f*** do I do?”
‘If music is sending me mentally unwell, I was really struggling. It’s that thing of when you’ve been bullied growing up – everyone loves you and then when you’re starting to be forgotten, you’re like “who the f*** am I, what do I do now?” When you get that area, you turn to other people, but those people just want you to keep making those hits. Every interview I did, people wanted to talk about other stuff – so, Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris’s relationship, you must know about that, or how’s your brain tumour doing? I couldn’t breathe.’
John continued: ‘So after that, I was like I either keep doing music this way, and it keeps declining, and I keep going deeper into depression, or I stop and I go live my life somewhere else, I don’t need to live in London. Or the third option was I go see somebody, I deal with this, and I make music that expresses myself and get my heart out and love every second and not give a s*** about the formula like I used to. So I decided to go for that option.
‘If that doesn’t work, I’ll go live on a farm, because I’m not going back to that, I’m not going back to trying to score a goal from the other end of the pitch.’
After releasing two solo singles in three years, John – who married his longtime girlfriend Nana last August – dropped his song Feelings back in March. And while it was unmistakably John, the singer isn’t wasting his time and energy on trying to create ‘the hits’ anymore.
‘I was just tired of following this whole Spotify, you’ve got to have a big chorus, you’ve got to be upbeat for radio, do this, do this. I’m gonna use 100% of my brain rather than 2%,’ he said. ‘I just want to be happy, so when I do come to my last days, I don’t sit there and think “f***ing hell, that was a waste”. I just want to make the music I love again and start putting it out there. I’m so strongly passionate now, I want to release music that makes me feel good and not just keep trying to get a hit. A hit’s not a hit until it’s been a hit – did anyone think Lewis Capaldi [Someone You Loved] was going to be a hit before it was a hit?
‘I don’t know many times I’ve sent over a ballad and people have said, you just have to make sure it’s that upbeat soul house with that one repeated line. I’m like, why don’t I just release a remix of Love Me Again, then, and everyone’s like “perfect, that’ll do it”. But when I was doing Love Me Again, they were like “we’re thinking more drum ’n’ bass with a catchy hook”. It’s gotta come from the artist to break the mould, the only way you can do that is by expressing yourself fully and connecting with people and making the music you love. And then everyone will be chasing you ten minutes down the road. Instead of trying to chase them, it’s better to get ahead of the game and then everyone will want to be a part of it.’
John continued: ‘You look at the era of 90s girlbands and boybands, there’s always a wave of sound – the EDM period, another wave of sound, that Love Me Again stormed right in the middle of. At the moment, we’re having a bit of grime moment, but then there’s all the music that’s gone a bit trappy and people are doing crap choruses to be honest – then Lewis Capaldi comes steaming through the middle.
‘People get so tired and worn out of the formula when it’s been done for years, then what you get through is just great songs, because people just want to listen to great songs. I created my own path and released what made me feel good, whatever was on the radio then. Then I slipped into listening to the radio too much and worrying about what they wanted on the radio.’
Along with a new attitude to music comes a new attitude to touring. John is embarking on a UK tour – the Out Of The Blue tour – which sees him shunning bigger venues for intimate stages, in a return to connecting with the fans and the music.
John explained: ‘My career’s kind of been like, write some tunes, try and hit one across the field into the top right hand corner, and if that doesn’t work, shut up shop and try again next year. And I was like, I’m just getting so bored. I just needed a change. I came up with the idea myself, and everyone was like, “you’re just going to play small venues?” But I am so excited to connect with people again and meet all these amazing people and just have a great time and be a musician again.
‘It’s just about being real. Some shows, people expect just hits, wall to wall hits, play the hits, play the hits, play the hits. And I don’t think it’s the right idea right now. Yes, I will play my hits, but I also think it’s an amazing opportunity for me to stand on stage and be like, yeah, this went to number one, it’s actually about this subject.
‘People relate in a different way when you’re in a small venue, playing the guitar or the piano. Some people are like, “Wow, John Newman, what’s he doing in small venues?” I’m like, oh my god, get out of your f***ing bubble. Go and do some shows and find your love for it.’
For more info on John’s tour, visit his official website.
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