James Blunt: Getting Into 'Trouble' | KUNC

James Blunt: Getting Into 'Trouble'

Originally published on January 15, 2011 8:53 am

When James Blunt was a British army captain serving in Kosovo, he saw humanity at its worst. But when he became a successful musician, his breakthrough song celebrated humanity at its best. Since releasing "You're Beautiful" in 2005, Blunt has sold more than 18 million records, been nominated for five Grammys and won many music awards. But he still divides music critics.

"I'm sure they're nice when they are asleep," Blunt says of his critics. "Music is about personal taste, and I'm really lucky that I've put music out, and millions of people have enjoyed it. Some critics have not enjoyed it so much. Would I prefer to have critical acclaim from them, or have millions of people get the album and come to the concerts? I'd take the latter."

Blunt says he feels lucky that people listen and can connect to his music.

"It means that the voice in my head can communicate and relate to the voice in other people's heads," he tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Scott Simon. "For that, I'm blown away."

Blunt grew up in a military family. When he told his relatives that he was leaving to pursue a career in music, his father gave him some valuable advice.

"He said: 'To leave the army with a steady job and career prospects, and to leave it for the music business is a gamble. There are thousands of people looking for record deals, and there's only 1 in 10 who make a living out of it,' " Blunt says. "I said: 'Hey, Dad, I don't think success should be measured by finances and how much you make, but instead in how much you enjoy it.' And he said: 'If that's what you're going for. Go for your life.' "

Since then, Blunt has released three albums, including the new Some Kind of Trouble. Included on this record is "Stay the Night," an upbeat tune that's different from the type of songs for which he's best known.

"It's [the happiest] I've ever written," Blunt says. "I was lucky enough to record my first two albums [in California]. I loved the experience there, and it shows."

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James Blunt was a British army captain serving in Kosovo. He saw humanity at some of its worst. When(ph) he became a successful musician, his breakthrough song celebrated humanity at its best, but still had a tug on the heart.


JAMES BLUNT: (Singing) You're beautiful. You're beautiful. You're beautiful, it's true.

SIMON: James Blunt's latest and third album is "Some Kind of Trouble." James Blunt joins us now from our studios in London. Thanks so much for being with us.

BLUNT: It's very good to be here with you.

SIMON: I'm not sure I quite understand that story, how you went from the army into becoming a musician and a heartthrob.

BLUNT: And so I walked into my boss's office, my commanding officer, and I saluted him and said, Colonel, I resign. Here's my demo CD. I'm off.

SIMON: Now, you're from a military family, as I recall, aren't you?

BLUNT: Yeah, yeah. My father was in the army. That's, you know, how I was introduced to it. As a result, I traveled around a lot as a child, from growing up in Cypress in the south of England, in Yorkshire in the north, in Hong Kong. I moved around a lot.

SIMON: I'm just wondering what his reaction was, your family's reaction was like when you said I'm going to give this up to - to chase my muse.

BLUNT: He gave me some really good advice, and I'm so glad he did. He said that to leave the army, which was a steady job with an income and career prospects, then leave it and go into the music business was a gamble. And my response was, well, hey dad, you know, I don't think success should be measured necessarily in finances and how much you make but instead in how much you enjoy it. And he said, you know what, if that's what you're going for, go for your life.


SIMON: Let's listen to this first song on the album, "Stay the Night."


BLUNT: (Singing) It's 72 degrees, zero chance of rain. Been a perfect day. We're all spinning on our heels, so far away from real. Been to California. We watch sunsets from our car, we (unintelligible) and by the time that it was dark, you and me have something, yeah.

SIMON: This is a very peppy song. And...

BLUNT: Yes. It's happier than I've ever been.

SIMON: And it has the feeling, particularly at the beginning, of somebody from Britain who gets to California and says, wow, the sun shines here. Imagine that.


BLUNT: It's true. I was lucky enough to go and hang out there for the recording of both my first two albums. And I loved the experience there and you can tell that(ph) - exactly that.


BLUNT: (Singing) Yeah...

SIMON: Is there some kind of story behind the name, the title of this CD, "Some Kind of Trouble"?

BLUNT: Yeah, really, I think it's just because there's trouble in all the songs, but not necessarily, you know, bad trouble, sad trouble. Lots of the songs talk about the kind of trouble that I would like to be getting into.

SIMON: Such as?

BLUNT: I can leave that to your imagine, but I'm sure it's the same kind as you.

SIMON: For much of your life, were you in the habit of using music, song, to work through things in your life?

BLUNT: To a degree, yeah, I think so. I think, you know, I'm a British man, ex-army, and so we traditionally have no emotion. I think my mother would describe me as emotionally stunted. And so perhaps music has been a great way of finding some form of expression. Because if you ask, you know, an ex-soldier from England how they feel on their worst possible day when their, you know, all their possessions or, you know, emotional ties or people of any meaning have been taken away from them, I think my answer would have to be, I'm fine, thank you.

SIMON: Your mum would call you emotionally stunted? They're usually the ones that recognize the ways in which, you know, we're sensitive and gaping open wounds.

BLUNT: No. I think she beat that out of me from a very early age, but I learned to enjoy the beatings.

SIMON: Oh my word.


SIMON: I don't know whether to take you seriously when you say something like that.

BLUNT: No, I wouldn't, I wouldn't worry for me, I promise.

SIMON: Well, let's listen to another one of your songs. This one is "These Are the Words."


BLUNT: (Singing) (Unintelligible) town, we were sweethearts from college. She was always around. We were good for each other but some things, they just don't work out. There were tears in my eyes when she walked way, we had planned to get married someday, but the promises were broken before they were even made. Now I'm dancing with a broken heart, ain't no doctor who can make it stop...

SIMON: Do you have to go back into that place in your heart that's been hurt to write a song like this?

BLUNT: You know, I know some of the words might sound nostalgic and slightly sad, but I think that would be the wrong way of taking them. I see it as a sense of freedom. It's dancing with a broken heart, but it's - it's, you know, dancing's something that's fun. It's about escapism.


BLUNT: (Singing) Now I'm dancing with a broken heart, ain't no doctor who can make it stop (unintelligible) now I'm dancing with a broken heart. Ain't no doctor who can make it stop. Singing these are the words that I'm never gonna say again.

SIMON: You were part of a ceremonial regiment in the army at one point, right?

BLUNT: Yes. My regiment is a reconnaissance regiment. I crept around in bushes and fired this very dangerous laser at people during a bombing campaign in Kosovo. But I also then had the option, in my last two years, to come out to London and working alongside all the pomp and ceremony in London, and so I was called the queen's horse guard.

SIMON: It just occurred to me: you would be in the royal wedding that's coming up if you were still in the army.

BLUNT: Yes. If they're bringing out their horse guards themselves, then yeah, I would've been among - in amongst that.

SIMON: And I guess it's still a possibility you could sing at some point during the royal wedding.

BLUNT: I think I'd probably do funerals better than weddings.


SIMON: Why is that?

BLUNT: I don't know. I think "Goodbye My Lover," it's one of the songs from my first album, which here in the U.K. they had some poll, it was the number one song played at people's funerals.


BLUNT: (Speaking) Since then I've done another song, I've done it for divorces - it's called "I'll Take Everything." So I'm trying to cover all the options.

SIMON: So you're a troubadour of death and divorce?

BLUNT: Well, you know, these things happen a lot.

SIMON: Do you have any general opinion about critics you'd like to share with us?

BLUNT: I'm sure they're very nice when they're asleep.


SIMON: Now, I think you have a gorgeous voice and I like your material. We have to note: some critics don't share my assessment, do they?

BLUNT: No, absolutely. First and foremost, music is about personal taste, and thank God for that. And I'm really lucky that, you know, that I've put some music out and millions of people have enjoyed it. And for that it's great. Some critics have not enjoyed it so much. And you know, would I prefer to have critical acclaim from them or the millions of people who get the albums and turn out for the concerts? I think probably the latter.


SIMON: Mr. Blunt, good talking to you, sir.

BLUNT: Very good to talk to you too. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: James Blunt, joining us from London. His latest album, "Some Kind of Trouble," is out on Tuesday. To hear more music by James Blunt, you can go to one of our websites, NPRMusic.org.


BLUNT: (Singing) So many choices, but they're all disappointments and they only steal me away from you. I'm into our private bubble, let's get into all kinds of trouble. Slide over here, let your hands feel the way. There's no better message to communicate...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.