James Blunt is well aware of how he's perceived. "People think of me as this rather sad figure, a lonely, tortured guy writing songs about how miserable and misunderstood I am. That's what happens when you have a big hit about love and loss."
That 'big hit' Blunt is referring to is...well, c'mon, you know the tune. You either adore it or could happily go to your grave without ever hearing it again. Since its release in 2005, You're Beautiful has been certified gold, platinum, multi-platinum and beyond in just about every country that hands out such certifications. The album it was featured on, Back To Bedlam, didn't do too badly, either, selling over 11 million copies worldwide. The former British army officer continued his winning streak with his sophomore CD, 2007's All The Lost Souls, which moved more than 4.5 million copies globally but did little to change his image as a dour, lovelorn troubadour.
Blunt's newest album, Some Kind Of Trouble, finds the singer-songwriter and guitarist in a much more buoyant mood, as evidenced by the zippy, infectious single Stay The Night. "I just felt happy and wrote a happy song," Blunt says. "The key is the music. If you start strumming chords that make you feel good, then the tune is going to go the same way."
MusicRadar caught up with James Blunt recently to discuss his approach to songwriting, his love of acoustic guitars (along with his renewed enthusiasm for electrics) and performing on Sesame Street ("a career high," he half-jokes). In addition, we posed to him that all-important question: Is there a huge song by another artist that drives him up the wall?
Stay The Night is what I would describe as a 'perfect pop song' - you hear the intro and you're hooked. How do you go about writing such tunes?
"Well, I don't have any kind of formula. Stay The Night is something like three minutes and 30 seconds or something like that, and You're Beautiful is probably bang-on three minutes and 30 seconds, as well. That seems to be kind of a marker, in a way - it's enough, but it doesn't drag on forever.
"More than anything, though, I think the role of a songwriter is to capture an emotion. If you can do that with absolute honesty and clarity, then you're well on your way. Don't get me wrong: I do like a lot of music where the meaning is open to interpretation. But if you're talking about the kinds of songs that hit people straight away and they can relate to directly, you've got to go for a very pure message."
Talk to me about working Steve Robson and Ryan Tedder on that song. Who came up with what, and how did it all happen?
"I'd been working with Steve Robson already. I was introduced to him by my drummer. It was supposed to be a one-off meeting, have a beer and a chat - that kind of thing. But I showed up early to his studio when he was playing the piano. I looked around and saw these electric guitars. So I picked one up, and right then and there we wrote a song called Dangerous. We struck up an amazing relationship. So what was supposed to be one beer turned into days and weeks and months, and he produced the album.
"During that time, Steve and I were out in California, and we met up with Ryan Tedder. We got out a bunch of guitars and started playing together, very spontaneously, so Stay The Night has that kind of guys-sitting-around-the-campfire vibe. I'm really happy with how the song turned out. It's got a lot of energy, and I think it's from the way I attacked my guitar a bit differently, a little more percussively.
"But going back to your first question about what makes certain songs work and connect with people, the narrative of Stay The Night is about having fun and enjoying life and not wanting the night to end. I think most people can relate to that kind of spirit."
Does the whole concept of having to churn out hit singles bother you? Wouldn't you rather concentrate on albums than think about a song being a hit or getting picked for a TV commercial?