James Blunt: 'Music Is Not About Making Money'

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James Blunt plays the Jet Blue terminal at JFK airport

'I'm lucky to have sold a few records,' the singer-songwriter tells THR in an interview, where he also discusses sharing songwriting royalties with Bob Marley and performing at JFK.

Singer-songwriter James Blunt has seen the music industry’s good days. When his breakthrough single “You’re Beautiful” shot to No. 1 in May 2005, major labels still employed staffs large enough to properly work their rosters, chart-toppers like Mariah Carey, that year’s best-seller, debuted with sales of over 400,000 (holding this week’s top spot, Cake’s Showroom of Compassion, moving 44,000 copies), and recession was a foreign concept. 

But even with the economic fallout still lingering, Blunt has just released a surprisingly optimistic third album that’s loaded with radio-ready songs. “I've made an album that I love,” he says of Some Kind of Trouble (released Jan. 18). “Its achievement is making it. It's all going to chance from here on -- units and figures, all that industry stuff.”
 
While the business of music may seem like an oxymoron of late, Blunt still has to play the game, which means an intense U.S. promotional tour thousands of miles away from his native England. He spoke to THR during a stop in Los Angeles on the eve of the album’s release.
 
THR: Knowing that music sales have declined so dramatically, how do you prepare yourself for a new album cycle psychologically? 
 
James Blunt: My dad would tell me how difficult it is to be commercial and successful in the music business and that I should stay in the Army. And I said, "Dad, success is the smile on my face and the joy I get. That is what I get from it. I'm not going into music to be a commercial success because it's probably not going to happen." That's what I said then, what I would say now is that I am lucky to have sold a few records. I'm in the W Hotel and not the Holiday Inn. It’s the other end of the scale, but it comes down to the same thing: it's not about making money. I’m not chasing anything other than having fun. 
 
You recently performed at JFK’s Jet Blue terminal; can you explain the thinking behind using an airport as a venue? 
 
Because we haven't got the money to get the tickets home! [Laughs] There's something about airports -- people are waiting and hanging around -- you can actually create a big vibe because there's nothing else to do. It's a captive audience, so what better to do than a concert?
 
Was the album cover really taken on an iPhone?
 
Yeah. I went on Google and looked up "baby throw," and the first picture was of a baby being thrown in the air with L.A. in the background. For me, it really captured that sense of freedom and innocence that I hear and feel about the album. I found the website of the guy who posted it, and I emailed him and said, "I'd loved to use his picture for an album cover for James Blunt." And he wrote back saying, "Fuck you, whoever you are, you freak. Which one of my friends is taking the piss..." So I had to convince him that we were being honest and would love to buy the photo. And he ended up saying yes. They’re the Shytards family, and I'm looking forward to meeting them in person if they can come to a concert.
 
How did you come to share a songwriting credit with Bob Marley on "Stay the Night?"
 
I used the line, "Like the song on my radio set, which shall shelter my single bet." And my publisher says, "That's from Bob Marley isn't it?" We were sensible and agreed to give him a buzz. Bob said it was fine, that he wanted his name on the credits and five percent. I would've given him 10 percent to have my name with Bob Marley. [Laughs] And I'm working with Jimi Hendrix next. 
 
You have a home in Ibiza; how do you live a normal life in such a bustling vacation spot?
 
I live normally on vacation. You never know how many friends you have until you have a villa in Ibiza. It’s very much my home, whereas London is my office. It's two hours away and I go there to chill out. It’s hard to see friends in London because people are busy and moving around, whereas with Ibiza you just say, “I'm here for a week,” and they come. It's really just about having fun.
 
You must have people staying with you all the time… 
 
Not all the time, but I had 99 guests through the summer when I took four months off. I was just really letting my hair down and getting away from being a touring musician. I think I needed to take that time, but London really defines this album. 
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