James Blunt: 'I wrote the album for my family, not the fans'
James Blunt is back with his sixth album, Once Upon A Mind, which is a 'deeply personal' record. The troubadour and Twitter take-down king tells Lucy Mapstone why he wanted to go to a poignant place for this release and why he is somewhat fond of social media despite its negative connotations
For all of his self-deprecating jokes and comical comebacks on social media, James Blunt is convinced we'd all be happier if it just vanished. Although he is widely adored for his hilarious Twitter take-downs and witty zingers, the singer-songwriter reckons the online world has fooled us all into thinking that life isn't as wonderful as it actually is.
"I've been on five world tours, I've played to thousands of people and they pay good money and they're so positive and excited. They sing along to songs that mean something to me because they connected with them in some respect in their own lives," he says.
"It's such an incredibly positive feeling and they are people from all walks of life, all corners of the world, strangers standing shoulder to shoulder in a way that a politician could only dream of.
"Yet I'm always asked, 'Hey, how are you dealing with all this negativity?'. And I go, 'What negativity?'. It's all only online and online isn't real.
"The real world out there is really positive. The online world seems to be quite negative.
"We should all just chuck our smartphones out of the window and look each other in the eye and we'd probably have a much happier experience of life."
That's not to say he doesn't see the benefits of the online world from time to time.
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"I use it occasionally, take the p*** out of myself and then go back to doing something normal and real," the singer says.
Making fun of himself has become one of troubadour Blunt's favoured forms of self-expression, using Twitter to communicate who he really is to his fans - and his haters - having initially taken a bit of a beating earlier in his music career.
Following his years in the Household Cavalry, Blunt's chart-topping debut album Back To Bedlam in 2004 was a fan favourite and included the popular hits You're Beautiful and Goodbye My Lover, securing his place in as one of the best British music stars of the 21st century.
Despite his global success and his shifting millions of records, the former Army officer became a bit of a punching bag for the Press and music snobs thanks to the ubiquity of his gooey, romantic, radio-friendly tracks.
He now uses that disdain as ammunition to keep his 1.9m Twitter followers entertained with his sardonic wisecracks, giving the platform a different flavour away from Brexit, Trump and trolling.
Speaking about his mischievous headline-grabbing retorts, Blunt is as candid as he is in those 280-character Twitter posts.
"What I normally do is, if I'm just about to tweet, I read it out to the people around me, and if they say, 'No way you can't say that', that's when I press send," he jokes.
Blunt (45) doesn't use his humour as a shield, though - it is real. He really is as naturally funny, honest and frank as he appears.
He's perhaps less funny - but just as honest and frank - on his sixth album, which is called Once Upon A Mind.
A "deeply personal" record, it was inspired by his family, mostly his unwell father and his wife, Sofia Wellesley, and their two children.
"It's not really for fans or an audience or radio or the record label. I wrote my album for my family," he confesses.
"My father has been unwell - he has got stage four chronic kidney disease and is currently waiting for a transplant. He needs a kidney donor, but I'm not a match.
"That was a real wake-up call as a family because this man has been so fit and healthy. He doesn't drink and he doesn't smoke, so it really shocked us to the core. I've been writing songs for him."
Blunt sings about his relationship with his father on the poignant ballad Monsters, while on his single Cold he laments having to leave his wife and children at home for long periods of time while touring.
"My father and I, we love each other and he's been the most amazing father to me all my life." Blunt explains.
"We know the bond that we have, but if you have a limited amount of time with that person on this earth, then there's some other things that I, as a songwriter, feel it would be good to say.
"That's why the words to Monster say, 'I'm not your son, and you're not my father, we're just two grown men saying goodbye. We need to forgive and we need to forget, I know your mistakes and you know mine'.
"Those are kind of risky things to say because you hope they're not misunderstood or taken the wrong way, but they say something deeper than just, 'I love you, you're my father'. (They say), 'I love you as my friend as well'.
"But at the same time, at the other end of the scale, I have a new young family, so I thought of life playing out in front of me. With that circle of life, that's a really huge inspiration to write this album.
"I go away on tour for extended periods of time, up to 18 months at a time, leaving that little family behind. With that comes loneliness and guilt and isolation, not just on my part but sometimes on theirs too.
"So, I haven't been writing for the audience. I've been writing for the people that I leave behind at home."
Blunt is not afraid to be vulnerable with these songs. "I've always enjoyed standing up on a stage," he says. "You do expose yourself - you expose your fears as well as your hopes and your failings."
However, while uninhibited in his cheeky tweets, he is aware he has taken some risks with the new record. He's not just exposing himself but his personal relationships too.
"If you're going expose the inner workings of a relationship and then get on stage and sing about them, then, yes, you hope you don't hurt the people at home," he admits.
"There's no point in just writing fluff, really, but I'll be nervous when those people are there in the audience, definitely."
- Once Upon A Mind by James Blunt is available from October 25