James Blunt is an unlikely pop megastar in the U.K. Can he take that success stateside?
By Ginanne Brownell
Updated: 7:52 a.m. ET Aug. 19, 2005
Aug. 19, 2005 - James Blunt needs an attitude adjustment—he’s just too polite to be a rock star. The 28-year-old singer, whose debut single, “You’re Beautiful,” and debut album, “Back to Bedlam,” currently top the British singles and album charts, has a voice that’s reminiscent of a young Rod Stewart. Sexy and sultry in a choirboy-gone-bad way, his lyrics are painfully raw and compelling.
Blunt has been getting attention across Europe this summer, and his album hits America on Oct. 4 with “You’re Beautiful” already getting airplay in New York and Los Angeles. Like his background—he was literally the first British soldier to enter Pristina, Kosovo, during a peace mission in 1999—his rise to the top of the charts has been unconventional. Instead of going with a big marketing campaign, he and his five-piece band played small gigs and slowly gained a dedicated following who then spread the word about his music. “Our shows are something you can understand and follow in an industry that can be so full of marketing ploys and things I do not understand,” says an extremely self-effacing Blunt. During a break from a video shoot recently, Blunt spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Ginanne Brownell. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How does it feel to have both your single and your album at No. 1 in Britain?
James Blunt: Well, it’s a bit over my head really. That is the kind of thing I never anticipated or expected. It keeps records companies very happy. [Laughs.]
Your music has been promoted in unique way—no marketing campaign per se.
We put [the album] out in October  and did some very small live shows, a couple hundred people. Then we watched how a bunch of people turned up to the next shows but brought a bunch of mates and then those mates at the next shows brought their mates and watching crowds growing in a really natural way.
What is it about your music that is so appealing?
I think these songs are relevant to everyone and though these songs are very personal to me, as humans we are all very similar, and we are all just trying to get through. I hope this is a way for people to relate in their own lives.
Tell me about your time as a peacekeeper in Kosovo. Is it really true that you had your guitar strapped onto the back of your tank?
I wrote “No Bravery” out there. For me, the people on the ground were the ones who were your sounding board, whether things were good or bad or whether we were doing the right jobs or whether we should not be there. But Serbs and Kosovar Albanians were saying, “Your presence here is saving our lives.” One could see the humanitarian benefits. The guitar was strapped to the back because you cannot put it on the inside because there is not enough room. The locals are incredibly hospitable, they would bring you in and feed you and sometimes I would [bring along] my guitar.
How did serving there affect your music?
I do not think it affected my lyrics any but it did on my outlook on life and the human race. The so-called civilization we exist in, the ease at which humans can go from civilized humans to animals in a flash and how individuals can once in a group lose their sense of individuality and moral conscience and become something like “Lord of the Flies.” A group mentality can be quite a frightening mentality. I think my outlook on the human race was deeply affected by that. I met some charming and special individuals on both sides, but when seen in groups there is something else that seems to take over sometimes.
And then you guarded the queen at Buckingham Palace?
I was a Horse Guard, so you ride around the palace, and though I did not write the songs [in my head] while I was on horseback, I knew I would be doing music, and I knew I was destined to do that. The Army was something I had to do to earn the money to be funded through university, and it was a day job.
Rumor has it that you recorded “Goodbye My Lover” in actress Carrie Fisher’s bathroom in Los Angeles. How did that come about?
I met her through my ex-girlfriend, and I rented a room off Carrie. She had an upright piano in her bathroom, though really it does not take up too much room. We did not have the right kind of piano in the studio, and “Goodbye My Lover” is a very special song and to try and get back to the meaning of the song, I wanted to get out of the studio. Late at night we set up a studio in the bathroom, and we got into the song more. I was over the moon with the outcome.
Are you concerned about breaking through in the United States? Is this something you hope to achieve where so many other British artists have failed?
We are going to get to the U.S. and give it our all. It’s just going to be my keyboard player and me and [our goal] is to connect with the crowd. You can make it in the U.K. and Europe but it does not mean it will be success in America at all. You have to try and connect with Americans in a way that they want to. You have to respect it is a whole different ball game there.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.