John Newman, singer and musician, chats with Kevin Cooper about his custom built AC Cobra, his love of Northern Soul, his latest single Come And Get It and his forthcoming appearance at The No Tomorrow Festival in Nottingham.
John Newman is an English singer and musician. He is best known for the track Love Me Again, which peaked at number one on the UK Singles Chart in July 2013, as well as being a featured artist on Rudimental’s 2012 singles Feel the Love and Not Giving In, which peaked at number one and number fourteen on the chart, respectively. He was one of the most successful and praised British singers in 2013. He was nominated for three Brit Awards in 2014, including British Male Solo Artist.
Whilst preparing for his appearance at The No Tomorrow Festival in Nottingham, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say:
Hi John how are you?
I’m good how are you Kevin?
Great thanks. So how is life treating John Newman?
It’s good, really good man. It is nice to be back and releasing music; it is all very exciting. I have been mixing my new record over in Los Angeles and then I have just had a lovely time at home for the past two months. When I was making my first album the first thing that I wanted to do was to buy my mum a house in London closer to where me and my brother lived, and I am very proud to say that I have managed to do that. It was great to be able to stay there for two months; it’s been very nice smoking cigarettes and drinking beer (laughter) riding on lawn mowers and relaxing. So it is really weird to be releasing a new single and being back in the public eye, but it is also very nice.
I have to say that I was fortunate to photograph you the last time that you were here in Nottingham at Rock City and you blew me away. The entire place was rockin’.
Thank you very much Kevin. I really enjoyed that gig at Rock City; it was a really special night.
If I ever get the chance I would personally love to thank your mum for introducing you to Motown and Northern Soul.
(Laughter) yes, I’m sure that she would appreciate that. It was such a big influence and I took so much inspiration from it because it was played so much to me in and around the house. When you mature as a musician you go from listening to your mum’s records to saying “mum will you turn that crap off” without really respecting what it is. It was a massive influence, in fact my mum in general is a massive influence.
Well I am of that age where I used to go up to Wigan Casino every week so it means a lot to me.
Oh right Kevin, I can imagine that it means a lot to you and also to a lot of other people out there.
When people ask me what is the state of Northern Soul today, I simply tell them to listen to Duffy, Pharrell Williams and John Newman to know that it is in good hands.
The thing is that Northern Soul has been heavily modernised. Whilst it was an inspiration I never want to be a person that says my music is Northern Soul or anything like that because I have been slated for saying it. People have said, no it’s not Northern Soul, it is nothing like it and it is not traditional in the slightest. Regardless of what they say Kevin it is an inspiration.
I have got to say that I have just been listening to the new single, Come And Get It and it is fantastic.
Thank you very much Kevin, thank you.
I see that you co-produced the track with Greg Kurstin, what was he like to work with?
Really, really good. Greg is a good man and very intelligent. I think that he enjoyed it too because he does a lot of pop stuff. He is an incredible musician and it was so nice to hear him solo over the record on the guitar. We were free to do whatever we wanted to do. It was really good. I wanted to go to the next level on this album; I wanted to write with American writers; I wanted to produce in American studios and use American musicians because they all work on an incredible level and the musicians who I did work with were incredible. I had this idea that I wanted to work with Michael Jackson’s musicians and there are still a few of them around and they are all brilliant.
I got to work with Paul Jackson Jr who is a fabulous guitarist, and Jerry Hey who was Michael’s trumpet player and who was the brass arranger with me on the album. It has brought such a new level to my music, the groove is ridiculous, and it feels very fresh which is nice.
Looking at the video for Come And Get It I have to ask you, was it really hard work driving around Los Angeles in an open top sports car with a beautiful lady sat at the side of you?
(Laughter) that is the nice looking bit of it Kevin, yes.
Somebody has got to do it I suppose.
(Laughter) that’s right, somebody has got to make the video. The thing is with videos is that they are ridiculously hard work and they are very full on. The shooting of the video is the fun bit because it is always 99.9% preparation. I had spent weeks and weeks writing that script and crafting it. And then fighting with directors and fighting with the record label to get what I wanted until finally we all came to an agreement and we actually went with the idea that I came up with. It’s amazing to have a vision that comes to life, it is so incredible.
Talking of the record label, is it a nice fit with you and Island Records?
Yes it is really good; it is really good. Obviously there is always that discovering of a relationship and I felt that with the first album we were working each other out and stuff like that. But now it feels really good and they give me so much trust. It is really good. They give me what I need and they look after me well.
I was going to ask you what you have been up to since I saw you at Rock City but it is clear that you have been hard at work writing and recording your second album.
That’s right Kevin. When Love Me Again was released I was still working on the album and the pressure to get the single out hit me pretty hard. I was running around like a bull in a china shop; it was so stressful. I was promoting, whilst gigging, whilst making an album and I was constantly going back and forth whereas now, I feel confident and happy that I have got an album that I am so proud of. I was very proud of the first one but this one I feel a lot more confident about and it is ready to go. So the key focus now is promoting the first two singles, and going out on the road with confidence.
And just how close are we to getting the announcement regarding the second album?
Pretty close Kevin, although it is very early stages obviously in terms of releasing an album title, tour dates and things like that. The single was only played this morning on Radio 1 for the first time. There is always a big run up to the first single being released, and we are six weeks away from that as it’s not released until 17th July and then after that we will release a second single. The key thing is in today’s quick moving music industry is that we keep providing material; keep putting out new music and new videos, and continue giving people things leading up to the album being released which will be some time this year. So there is plenty to see, plenty to go on and hopefully it will be an exciting ride.
And once the album is released I am assuming that you will tour it?
Yes I will Kevin but I am waiting a little while to book venues because the shit could hit the fan and we could be back in Leeds doing the rounds, starting all over again (laughter). On the other hand it could do really well and we could be playing arenas, so we are just waiting it out. I played three sold-out nights at Brixton Academy which is very comforting for promoters to think big and look at arenas. So we are just waiting for the moment but I am sure that there will be a tour in the latter half of the year.
You are headlining the No Tomorrow Festival here in Nottingham. Are you looking forward to it?
Very much so, it’s my first festival back headlining. The good thing is that I actually feel confident about it Kevin and I also have the new music to play. I take so much pride in my live shows; I take so much pride in my live band which has taken me ages to get spot on. I am in a place where I feel really good about at the moment. I design my own sets and it feels like I have finally got what I was looking for the whole time throughout Tribute.
Will you be showcasing some of the new songs at the No Tomorrow Festival?
I will Kevin but I don’t want to do too much in my live shows at the moment because people come to watch you, partly because of the work that you have done and also to hear the new stuff. But if people don’t know the songs it can be a rough ride until the end when you play a recognisable hit. It’s all about being clever with it. While you are introducing people to the new music, it has to feel fresh, feel like a live show, and feel like you are the returning artist. But you have to make sure that you are not boring them by doing something that they don’t recognise all the way through.
I will give you a heads up and tell you that it is absolutely hammering down with rain here in Nottingham.
(Laughter) I wouldn’t have expected anything less Kevin.
Don’t forget to bring your wellies with you.
I will do mate (laughter).
Are you one of those artists who can never stop writing?
I can stop writing but I tend not to. It’s a bit of a curse sometimes because it means that you are working every day, but I do. After you have just written an album your body is a bit numb, because you have got every hook and lyric out of you. It really does take so much time to make an album; making sure that everything is perfect. After that it does take a little while for me to get back on it and start writing again but when I do I will sometimes write for other artists. Last time I wrote for Olly Murs and Jessie J so I do continue to write. I really do enjoy writing for other artists.
What comes first, lyrics or melody?
I get an idea of the production and the melody together and the idea of a song and how it should work, but the lyrics always come last. Then I will either sit at the piano and pull it all together or sit at my computer and put the beat together. After spending a couple of days producing the track I will then spend weeks on the lyrics because the lyrics are very important to me, it is the bit that keeps me sane. It is the part where I let out all of the crap that I had inside me. So I like to take a lot of time telling my stories.
Was it always going to be a career in music?
I can remember when I was 16 years old and it was the last day at school and we were writing up our achievements and what we intended to achieve in the next ten years. I look back at this all of the time to see where I messed up (laughter). I had written that I wanted to have my own customising garage where I could design and customise cars. I was into cars back then and I am still ridiculously into cars now. I am currently having a custom built AC Cobra built for me at this moment. I really do love driving. I still build go-karts in the back of my shed to keep my mind busy (laughter). It was the whole designing of cars which I loved so much and so I started an apprenticeship and also studied design at college.
I think that the reason why I moved into studying music was partly to get out of the town that I was growing up in. Whereas I think that if I had become a mechanic then I would have never left.
You have mentioned the Cobra are you going the whole hog and having a V8 engine in it?
Yes (laughter) a Chevy block, so it should really be rapid Kevin; it’s going to be mental (laughter). I want to put massive carburettors on it. It will be amazing.
John thanks for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure.
It’s been a real pleasure Kevin, thank you man.
Good luck with the motor, it sounds wicked. Will it be the traditional blue with a white stripe?
(Laughter) no I’m going for black with a white stripe.
I’m extremely jealous. Take care and have a cracking time at the weekend.
Cheers Kevin, thank you very much.