Born in Settle, North Yorkshire, John began creating music on his own at the age of fourteen. Using Northern Soul, Motown and the world to influence him both lyrically and musically is what makes John Newman stand out. He not only creates music with strong vocals and a lot of soul, he creates music that can move you.
Writing, producing and recording his début album has been an emotional experience for John, stating that there are songs on there that will make you want to get up and dance along to, but may also cause you to breakdown and cry. Music is John’s way of expressing himself and drawing out his emotions, which is certainly noticeable with tracks such as “Love Me Again” and “Cheating”.
Making his big break with his friends Rudimental on their hit single “Feel The Love“, and also later on “Not Giving In“, his voice captivated listeners immediately. Newman’s voice is resonant, extraordinary and hauntingly beautiful.
Having recently spent some time in Australia doing ‘touristy’ things like almost patting koalas and falling in love with Sydney, we caught up with John for a chat about how he developed into the strong willed person he is now and also what he enjoys most about the music he creates.
E: You draw a lot of inspiration from your childhood and the music your mum used to listen to. How did all of that help you to find and create your own, unique, original style?
J: I think it is very natural that the sounds I was listening to when I was younger now influence the sounds that I am making now. When you go to another country you get influenced by how people speak and after a few years that will influence the way you speak. I guess with music it’s a similar thing and now I have hopefully found my sound and can play around with that to create something new and unique but still ultimately something that is coming from me.
E: Do you think music works better when it can be visualised strongly through a music video clip?
J: With the track “Love Me Again” I had a clear image in my head. I wanted to make a Romeo and Juliet video and also from growing up in the Northern Soul surrounds that my family brought me up on, I really wanted to include that as well. In terms of the visual fitting with audio I think it is such a special relationship that can really move you.
J: There are many examples particularly in film where you’ll have a piece of cinematic musical accompanying a key scene. You could watch that scene and it wouldn’t mean as much without the music and visa versa. It’s like watching a game of football; if you turn the commentary off it’s not the same. I think music videos are really important to give you that extra aspect to a song and take things further, especially now with the rise of YouTube, they are really as important as ever.
E: Working in a cupboard under the stairs and creating your own tunes must have been rewarding at such a young age. Fast-forward a few years you are now 23, you have released No.1 singles with Rudimental, had ‘Love Me Again’ played probably on all most all major radio stations around the world and just about to release your first début album. What would you say to that little boy sitting in the cupboard about the challenges you have faced in order to get where you are today?
J: I’d probably tell him to keep doing what he’s doing as he’s doing something right. At that time there was no pressure on me. I was doing what I liked and loved, making music and finding my love for it, which to me was so important. One thing I always say is that I work for everyday and focus everything on what I’m working for that day. I probably wouldn’t tell him I was doing what I’m doing now.
J: I would probably say I was still working in a bar but still working hard at my music which was going well so that he kept grounded and carried on doing what he was doing and putting the work in.
E: ‘Tribute’ has fourteen tracks, each encompassing soul-driven lyrics and heart-felt meanings. What part of writing/recording the album was the most challenging and what did you learn from it?
J: I don’t think challenging is the right word. I loved doing it, if I didn’t love it then I wouldn’t be doing it. The challenging bit for me is the travel and touring round the world getting on planes trains and automobiles all day working to promote my music. The easy bit for me is making the music. However, I did learn a lot from making the LP, from the places I recorded and the people around me.
J: I guess the most challenging bit was working with Steve Booker who I learnt so much from working with. He helped me really express myself in my music. Learning that music is really so therapeutic, I’ve always known that, but going through a break up at the time, he really helped me to get that through in my own stuff. In terms of the technical side working as a producer in such a ‘high spec’ studio was challenging but I really learnt so much, and now I feel comfortable going into those studios and working at that level.
E: Do you think that music has an ever changing cycle and the Motown and the 1950’s, 1960’s music era will one day resurge itself into modern music?
J: I think music is on a cycle, everything is; fashion etc. It all comes round and round, but you never know how fast things will come back around or when the cycle will speed up or slow down. The 80’s seemed to have a revival pretty quickly. I think the good thing is now that we seem to be accepting our history and using influences of it everywhere.
J: For example, soul music has already returned and people are using it and referencing it, though maybe just in a less obvious way. Also the 80’s and late 70’s disco stuff is back at the moment, look at the tunes this summer with the likes of Daft Punk. Even the likes of Rudimental releasing Drum and Base music which was last around in the late 90’s, so not long ago at all. Then there’s also Disclosure going back to a UK Garage sound just ten years later. We’re taking influences from every era and that I think puts music in a really strong place and I like to do that with my music too.
E: Writing from the heart is said to be one of the most crucial elements in music production and composition. How has music changed you as a person and where do you picture yourself in five years?
J: I think it is important to me to write lyrics that come from the heart and express myself in my music. I am a person who keeps things locked up but via music I do open up. Other people may talk to their friends and parents, but I’d rather talk through my music and it’s very therapeutic for me. In terms of my productions it makes me feel good to craft a great production for a song and I like to express myself there as well. I think as a person it relaxes me, it chills me out and makes me feel numb about situations I have been through.
J: In terms of where I’ll be in 5 years, I don’t know, I’m just working really hard now and loving what I do right now. This first LP is so crucial that I need to get it right at this stage so I can hopefully carry on for the next five years.
E: Do you think music can sometimes fill a void each one of us may have in our lives?
J: I’d hope that my music doesn’t go to people with voids in their lives, I think they need to be able to relate to it and if they haven’t anything there and are trying to fill a gap with it then it’s going to be hard to for them to relate to my lyrics. I guess maybe with the music, the production and type of sound, there’s maybe not anything like that around so that can fill their void if they like it and it’s their perfect musical choice. I just hope people can relate to my music lyrically and in other ways.
E: You recently spent some time in Australia, what did you enjoy most about it?
J: I did do some tourist things which I really enjoyed, I got to go to the Wildlife park and see the Koalas, though you aren’t allowed to touch them any more, you could only stand next to them and they gave you a furry wooden board to stroke instead which was weird. Sydney is amazing, it is so modern and cultural and I have really fallen in love with it, I’d quite like to live there and cannot wait to come back. Hopefully the plan is to come back and tour Australia in April/May which should be great!