James Arthur is back with a brand-new album ‘It’ll All Make Sense In The End’.The fourth studio offering from the former ‘X Factor’ winner follows on from 2019’s ‘You’. Here, James talks about his latest music and how lockdown gave him time to reflect on his life and his career.He also talks about his fractured upbringing, path to stardom, life as a musician, his aspirations to go into acting and more…You can also book tickets to see James live at Plymouth Pavilions on March 6th.
So James, you have a new album coming out and you must be excited to be able to sing live again?
I love performing, I can’t wait. I’m extremely excited about it. I’m sure it’s going to reinvigorate me and the atmosphere is going to be incredible. I’m just really looking forward to that. I can’t wait to get back out on tour. We’ve got a lot of exciting announcements coming up around touring so yeah, that’s kind of what I’m focussing on at the moment.
What age did you first get into music?
Well, it depends what you mean by getting into music. I was mad about music for as long as I can remember. I was always singing. It wasn’t until I was about 14/15 that I learnt how to play an instrument and started to pick up the guitar. I wanted to be in an indie rock band at that time. I was massively into Nirvana, Oasis, The Libertines – a lot of kind of indie rock music. I was a bit of a rebel. I wanted to be a rock star, a front man of a band. So I started writing songs seriously about that age, at 13, 14, 15.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Middlesbrough and I grew up in a town called Redcar. I lived on Redcar Lane until I was about two or three and then I moved to another part of Redcar until I was about nine. And then my mum re-married, we moved out to the Middle East for a couple of years and then they got divorced and we moved back to Redcar. I moved to a place called Saltburn when I was about 18/19 and that’s where I was until I entered ‘The X Factor’ at the age of 23, I think it was. And then the rest is history, I’ve been in London ever since.
"I was massively into Nirvana, Oasis, The Libertines – a lot of kind of indie rock music. I was a bit of a rebel. I wanted to be a rock star, a front man of a band. So I started writing songs seriously about that age, at 13, 14, 15."
Was music for you partly therapeutic with your parents breaking up? Moving out to the middle-east and them back to the UK?
Er yeah, I think I was probably like a lot of teenagers that come from a broken home. There was always a lot of drama and arguments going on. Yeah, I guess it was, I guess it was a way for me to channel frustration, probably.
You of course won ‘The X Factor’ final but it sounds like your life had been quite tough to that point?
Well, I certainly, again, I’m sure people have had it a lot worse than me. But it was the classic like family falling apart, I ended up in foster care when I was 14, 15, the formative years of my life. I was kind of going to school and nobody knew about it. Yeah, it was tough. And I kind of lived on my own from leaving foster care really. So from the age of 16,17, I was fending for myself. So it was tough. I didn’t have much money, couldn’t really hold down a job. Music was all that I wanted to do. It was my only way of sort of making a buck. So I kind of put everything into that. Of course, it’s difficult for any aspiring musician/artist trying to break through and do it professionally, let alone someone like myself who come from a very working class, insignificant north-eastern town in England. Yeah, it was a struggle and ‘X Factor’ kind of was my last resort in a way. In answer to your question, yeah up until that point, you know, winning ‘The X Factor’ final, yeah it was a struggle, I’d say.
And it sounds like 'The X Factor' was extremely stressful for you, you had a panic attacks etc?
Yeah, I do think it was an environment that was really different for me. As I said, I was kind of from an obscure place, working class town, never really been around showbiz or anything like that. So yeah, going from being on my own and living in a bedsit, which has been well-documented before, yeah, it was just a bit of a shock to the system, I think. Naturally, I didn’t expect to go as far as I did and all of a sudden I’m performing to millions of people every Saturday night. Everyone’s got their opinion on you. I probably hadn’t addressed a lot of trauma that I’d been through previously going into that whole thing and I didn’t know what to expect. It was a bit of a shock to the system. All of a sudden, you’re in the spotlight, coming from obscurity to being in the spotlight, and it’s a weird thing to have to adapt to.
And the feeling of winning itself, did you think you'd win?
Right up until the last couple of weeks I didn’t know and then I got quite confident. It was myself and Ella Henderson, who is obviously doing really well now in the music industry, we were in the bottom two together. At the time it was a bit of a shock to the viewers because we were two of the so-called favourites, especially Ella, she was a real front runner from day one. And the fact that we were in the bottom two together was a bit shocking. And she went home and then I kind of felt like, ‘I must be up there now, I’ve got a chance of being up there.’ So I think it was then that I really wanted to win and I kind of went for it. But Jahmene obviously was a big favourite as well and I ended up being in the final with him. I guess it was like it could go either way in my head. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion. It could have gone either way I think.
And then of course you have some hit singles and then there are some controversies. Did you think, 'Here I go again' type of thing?
Yeah, I mean I just think I wasn’t really probably prepared for what was coming. Winning the ‘X Factor’ was a wild thing. I was a bit rough around the edges, I come from a real place and I’m not perfect in any way, shape or form. And I learnt some important lessons the hard way, I suppose. I was kind of shooting my mouth of here and there and you can’t really do that, especially when you come from a show like ‘The X Factor’ and people have voted for you. You’re almost a bit like judged by a different standard to other pop stars or rappers or whatever because the public feel as though they have a little bit of ownership over you probably – and quite rightly. I wouldn’t be here without the people who voted for me on the show. So there’s a weird thing where you’re almost like a bit of a politician, you’ve got to be squeaky clean, and of course that’s just not me. I said the odd thing that got me in trouble, I lost my record deal. And in a way, that’s me in a nutshell, I do have a tendency to self-sabotage when things are going well – it’s just the way I am. And that’s what happened. Of course, I’ve grown from all of that stuff and I realise that some of the things I did were childish and irresponsible. Now being in my 30s I look back and I think I was a kid. I was 23, 23, so still a young lad.
And, of course, if social media etc. Bad back then, it's probably 100 times worse these days?
Oh yeah. I just keep my mouth shut now [laughs]. Just keep my mouth shut, go about my business.
So you've been busy working on the album during lockdown, but it must have been a hard time for you as you were single again right? So were you on your own for lockdown?
That’s not the case, especially when I was writing the album. Yeah, I don’t really want to make too much of it because people take things… I’ve never been one to talk about my personal relationships. I wasn’t alone during lockdown, I was with my girlfriend then.
The title for the album 'It'll all make sense in the end' - What does that mean for you?
Well, I think what it means to me is that I was basically, just before we went into the lockdown, I hit a bit of a wall both mentally and physically. I had a really hectic touring schedule at the start of 2020 and I wasn’t healthy and I went into a European tour and I had to cancel a couple of shows in because I fell down with a gall bladder infection. I had to go into surgery and get it removed and stuff. My mental health wasn’t too good, I was quite stressed out, I think. And I didn’t know whether I wanted to do music anymore. I didn’t know whether I wanted to do any of the stuff anymore. I was thinking about wrapping it in. It wasn’t making me happy. I’d sort of lost my love for it all, to be honest. And then I kind of went into obviously yeah, I got the UK arena tour out the way then of course we went into a global pandemic. So yeah, basically did a lot of soul searching, spent a lot of time dealing with demons and things like that. And just started writing songs. And it was clear that I was putting back all of those feelings that I had and processing all of that stuff in this particular series of writing and this music. And the title ‘It’ll All Make Sense in the End’ – I saw it in a comic book actually, I saw the title, and it just resonated with me. Because yeah, I was doing a lot of reflecting, like a lot of people, you know, we were forced to reflect on things and think about what we wanted out of life and all that sort of stuff. And yeah, it’s also what I would say to my younger self. Because in doing a lot of therapy and processing childhood traumas and some of the stuff we talked about earlier, I realised just how much I was setting myself up to fail as a young man and looking back at all the mistakes I’ve made and where it’s led me to and what repercussions those have had. And yeah, it all kind of led me back to this title and it just felt like a cool thing. There’s a lot of cool imagery that goes with it as well, sort of post-apocalyptic stuff. It’s fitting for the time that we’ve been in over the last year because it’s felt a bit like an apocalypse.
You sound more positive now though?
Yeah, I’m trying to do the right thing, trying to stay on the right path. I guess it will all make sense in the end [laughs]. But once I start touring again and get back into that routine and release this album and see how it reacts, I’ll probably reassess again and see whether it’s the sort of path I want to be on. There are plenty of other things I want to do in life like explore acting and some other stuff that might be a lifestyle I’d rather prefer to live than one of being an artist and a musician. Because there are lots of aspects of that that are not necessarily for me because it doesn’t make me happy.
So you haven't ruled out the possibility of stepping away from music in the future?
No, I haven’t. I definitely would consider that, for sure.
What elements of it don't you like?
I mean there’s plenty of things really. I don’t know if I can go into it too much but I like the sort of fundamental things about music, I like performing and I like recording music and I like putting it out to the world and seeing how it reacts and seeing how it affects people. That’s the fun part. But there’s a lot of other stuff in between, you know, you make an album and then you put loads and loads of energy for six months to a year into preparing to release this album, it consumes your entire life. And then you put out a piece of work and you realise you’ve prioritised all that stuff and you’ve sort of sacrificed your personal life at times. It’s like anything, you know? If you put absolutely everything into something and you don’t get out what you put in, it can be deflating, I suppose. And also, I live in London, I made a sacrifice all those years back when I won ‘The X Factor’ to move to London and away from all my friends and family and I do that to pursue a successful music career. I might want to move back home and be closer to my roots. Whilst I want to be successful and be in the charts and all that stuff, I can’t really do that. So as I get a bit older and I think about what I want to do, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. The music industry is very political so it’s not really about how good the music is these days, how good a singer you are, how good of a writer you are – there’s lots of other things you’ve got to be. You’ve got to be on TikTok and all these various things. Maybe I’m a bit too old school to go for the way the music industry is these days.
You may change your mind when you see the buzz on the audiences faces when you're back touring?
Yeah, well that’s the bit that I love. I wish I could just do that but like I said, there’s a lot more to it.
And you might want to settle down and have children in the future?
Exactly yeah. I mean I’m 33 now so definitely have to start thinking about that sort of stuff. I’d love to start a family by the time I’m 35, for sure.
What's your favourite track on the new album and why?
Good question. There’s a few that I really love. But I guess the reason why I’m bringing out ‘Avalanche’, it’s probably a personal favourite. It’s the only track on the album that is like a sort of acoustic vibe, like a traditional acoustic ballad, if you like. It’s got strings and all that kind of stuff. Everything else on the album is quite rock-y and quite a lot of production, whereas this one is quite stripped back. So yeah, I think it stands out on the album because it’s kind of different to everything else.
two tickets to see James Arthur at Plymouth Pavilions on March 6th.
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