Some may see James Arthur as the most controversial guy on social media, but it was far from that. He’s down to earth and so honest about everything and not to forget confident- he’s more confident now than he’s ever been- he’ll say it how it is but tries not to cause offense. He finds it gratifying playing his music live for people to hear and says it’s rewarding. I had the lovely pleasure to catch up with the talented musician and talk about his new single “ Falling like the stars”, his X-Factor journey and more serious matters like mental health.
What got you into music?
I just heard it from a very young age, my mum is a big music lover and so is my dad. They both played an eclectic variety of music from a young age. I think I just took to it and it would just calm me down or I would enjoy singing to it, it just became a crutch for me very early on. I was a very energetic child; all over the place- my mum tells me certain songs would come on and I would just kind of stop and be immersed in the music.
What type of songs would you say are your favourite to sing or dance along to?
I don’t know if it’s a popular thing to say now, but Michael Jackson was someone I would really remember enjoying when I was younger. My mum played all the greats- David Bowie, Elvis and George Michael. And then my dad played Rock music, Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath, all the great rock bands; I was hearing all of it from a young age.
Who inspired you musically, who stuck out to you- I know you mentioned above?
Kurt Cobain was the one for me, Nirvana was my favourite band when I was younger. My first endeavours in music were Grunge music, I learned ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on acoustic guitar, and I just wanted to be like Kurt. He seemed like a troubled teenager like I was, and he seemed to use music to rebel a little bit, which I loved.
Your new single ‘Falling Like The Stars’, can you give us a little insight into it, what’s the song about? And will we be expecting a new album soon?
You can definitely expect a new album soon and on the new album I’ll be including other people’s concepts, I’ve done a lot talking about myself in recent years I’ve found that quite taxing and the album is like all based on you. I saw the success of one of my previous songs, which was just honest storytelling, very relatable and honest storytelling. It wasn’t necessarily about my life that particular song ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ I talk about having kids and getting married and spending the rest of my life with someone- which is something that’s not happening right now. This song (“Falling Like The Stars’) is sort of an extension of that, I’m delving back into my imagination and taking inspiration from other people as well, stories that I hear and things going on around me, to tell a story. Its almost like ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ part 2 in a way. I Just think that for me right now, is what I wanna give to people; honest storytelling.
What’s your songwriting process like?
A lot of the time melodies come to me in unusual places like when I’m on the toilet or when I’m on an aircraft. Songs generally for me in recent years are born from fiddling around with melodies and then it’s about saying something real to those melodies.
I see you’ve worked with Jamie and Andres; will you be working with other people for your upcoming music?
Yes, of course- every song or album I’ve ever done I’ve worked with phenomenal musicians and producers, which will continue. And in regards to collaborations, I can’t name any that will be on the upcoming album but there are certain people that I would love to work with. The obvious people are others see the ones on top of the game so Drake, I know that’s aiming high and an Eminem collab would be pretty cool too.So your X-Factor journey looked like incredible and stuff because that’s what they only show, the nice parts. It’s a bit similar to social media people show their best parts, would you say the X-Factor was the same behind the cameras/behind the scenes or is that a different story?
Yeah I mean what happens behind the scenes is very different to what you’ll see on TV, you see like…I wouldn’t say a “flawless” production because that’s a pretty difficult thing to achieve but behind the scenes, it’s quite hectic, there’s a lot going on. But it’s also really lovely as well- I had some of my most fond memories on my time at X-Factor, it’s got that camaraderie feel- like everyone is in it together sort of thing is lovely. And all the people that work on the show, they treat you well, they care about your welfare. I had a good time when I did the show. I mean the stress and pressure come from having to get out there and perform in front of millions of people, yes behind the scenes are chaos, as you would imagine, any big production would be.
Watching you on other interviews you mentioned that being on such a big show was a bit too much for you mental health-wise, but as time went of you got used to it- was that because it was something new for you?
You know what, I’m a lad from a little town called Redcar, which is an obscure small insignificant place, and then all of a sudden I’m performing on TV in front of millions of people. Not only that but social media at the time when I was on the show was kicking off- it was at it’s worst- in terms of harsh people would be. And it seemed like people were very active, I mean people are still very active now but X- Factor was very popular at the time, I feel like maybe it was at it’s peak at the time. I remember like Rio Ferdinand and all these high profile people were commenting on the show. I mean you don’t see so much of that these days. It was coming from something small (redcar) and simple to something huge (X-Factor) and it’s a cacophony of noise, so obviously it’s going to be a bit traumatic to anyone that’s never faced anything like that before. I was used to performing it was putting my personality and image out there and being judged for that as well as my talent, which has never been a problem for me.
Who’s your favourite emerging artist at the moment?
I’m really into my hip hop, there are artists coming out from the North of England- A lot of hip hop mcs and rappers from the north don’t really get the same shine like people from down south. Universally what we as an audience want to hear is a more southern accent when it comes to rapping. It tends to be more mainstream. There are artists that are really good and undiscovered like Shotty Horroh who’s an MC that was featured on my last album and will feature on my new one too. Shotty Horroh is the most underrated artist out there, he’s incredible. There’s also a kid called H who’s coming through, hopefully he’ll get a bit of shine. In terms of mainstream, there are a lot of good male singers at the moment. I’m hearing a lot of people that sound similar. (I mentioned Tom Walker from a previous chat I had with his PR, and tell him he’s a fan to which he replies back with:) Tom Walker, oh wow yeah that’s really nice and so cool. I forget that these lads that are coming through, they’re really good, they’re in their early 20’s and I’m in my early 30’s, I don’t know if it’s my ego talking but I can hear a bit of myself in what they’re doing! I forget I’m in that sort of small percentage of UK male singer/songwriters, it’s kind of been around and I suppose some of these guys will take a little bit influence from what they hear. But I’m also like don’t do too well, cause I’ll have to beat you up, no I won’t do that. (he was joking around obviously, no violence just peace everyone!)
You’re very open talking about your mental health, what are the things that trigger it and what do you do to cope with it?
Like we talked about before the trauma of emerging so quickly to fame was something that is brought massive amounts of anxiety and that’s something I’ve had to manage till this day. It’s always been a part of me from when I was younger, but I’ve never had panic attacks anything is that. Now it’s just recognising the triggers and stuff like that. I think that’s really helpful and talking about it- I went through a lot of it by myself and didn’t have any therapy- it’s only now that I’m even speaking to professionals about it, it kills people. It’s really serious. When you speak to people about it you can understand what it is that causes it and sometimes it can easy to figure out and it can be easy to get to the bottom of and you can live a fuller life. I’m used to it now and manage it well; I still struggle with it from time to time like and when I suffer with it, it can be severe. But it’s part of me and its part of what makes me good at what I do and I wouldn’t want it really take it away, I’m thankful sometimes.You love your banter and laughs, a lot of the time some people like step over the line- what would you say is stepping over the line for you- like if someone was to ever do that to you would you tell them to stop?
To me, I’ve sort of changed my opinion of this sort of stuff. I guess are used to be someone who would get easily offended and would lash out because I’m a fighter- I grew up in a hostile environment, so I learned that if someone came at me to go back at them. That was my mentality for a long time. I took myself quite seriously in that sense, “like don’t pick on me, or we’ll have problems!” I have since changed now, and when it comes to comedy and jokes- some of the funniest things are a bit close to the bone and they are a bit personal. And it depends where the intent is and what the joke is about and who the target is and where it’s going. And if it’s a joke, it’s a joke and sometimes we have to put it down to that. I mean if you can’t joke anymore, then we’re not really living in fun times. Rick Gervais said something about it and summed it up really well and I agreed with him. He said that it’s about the target and the intent behind it. I think that if you can’t laugh at yourself then you’re probably going to struggle.
You’re Vegan now, how does it feel to be vegan and how does it make you feel?
I can be an unhealthy vegan; I’m always looking for the best fake meat. When I go to America, it is very dangerous because they have this impossible burger, which is ironic considering I eat plants. It makes me feel good because I’m not harming animals, I just don’t think we should cause harm to animals. I feel good about that. I’m an animal lover and I feel like you can’t be an animal lover and go on and buy into the slaughter industry. That’s just me and I wouldn’t impose that on anyone else, like I could happily sit next to someone who’s eating meat and not judge anyone or anything. I used to eat meat for breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner every single day for my whole life until a couple of years ago. I definitely feel lighter and you lose a lot of weight in the beginning and then you put them back on because you eat fake burgers like I do. I feel good mainly because I feel like I’m doing something good for the world and the environment.
What does success mean to you and how successful would you like to be?
I would like to be more successful, I’m pretty ambitious- I wanna to be great, I believe I’m one of the best at what I do and I would like to be widely considered. Like for instance Ed Sheeran, his level of success- that’s super inspiring. People call him by his first name because he’s the most famous Ed on planet Earth. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to reach that sort of stage as unrealistic at it may seem to people. I believe I have the ability to do that, just remains to be seen.
What should we be looking forward to like tours or festivals you will be heading to- or got anything that you’ve got planned?
I’m an ambassador for Mind and SANE, both of those organisations- mental health is the thing closest to my heart so I’m always getting involved. Festivals are mostly Europe and album at the end of the summer; I’ll keep that vague. More new music coming and my new single is out now. Hopefully it’ll all take off for me.