Mix 105.1’s Next Big Thing: “Say You Won’t Let Go” James Arthur
In December 2012, James Arthur’s debut single “Impossible” became the biggest X Factor winner’s song of all time, achieving over three million downloads and staying at No1 for three weeks. The buzz around the Middlesbrough-born singer was different to previous champions. Regarded as the ITV show’s first credible artist, James not only possessed showman-like qualities with an incredible, distinctive voice, but he could back up his stage presence with natural songwriting ability. He was destined to finally break the male winner’s hoodoo by forging a successful chart career and the early signs were looking good.
Impossible was nominated for a Brit Award and his self-titled first album, featuring No2 single You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You and collaborations with Naughty Boy and Emeli Sande, was certified Gold in the UK after worldwide sales of over 400,000. Only global superstar Eminem kept him off the top of the album charts.
However, months after his debut single was finally usurped from the top spot, his obsession to become that elusive X Factor breakthrough male artist proved to be his undoing. The pressure he put upon himself became too much and the singer, in his own words, “cracked”, triggered by a dependence on marijuana and prescription drugs to cope with anxiety.
The people’s winner, the musicians’ winner, had lost the public support thanks to well documented Twitter spats with his detractors whom he now admits he couldn’t handle. His actions resulted in the loss of his record deal with Syco in June 2014.
Fast forward two years and James is a very different animal. Refreshed after a break from the spotlight, he no longer has an ax to grind with the world and the substances he relied upon to cope with the strain of fame and criticism are no longer his dependence.
Now it’s his music which is doing the talking courtesy of his highly-anticipated second album, Back From The Edge, featuring the single Say You Won’t Let Go, his sound board for what has been a truly turbulent career, still very much in its infancy.
James says: “It’s embarrassing to look back because it’s not who I am. That’s not my heart, that’s an ego speaking. It’s someone who got lost in the whole fame thing.
“I’ve always been an anxious character. As a child, I struggled with acceptance and trust. I spent time in foster care, through all of that I’ve got this real trust issue.
“When there’s no expectation, you still have that paranoia, but when it’s on a scale where everyone is talking about you, it was magnified and I lost my mind. I cracked.
“I saw all these past X Factor winners and thought ‘why do they never do anything?’
“I’ve got to make a stamp here. If I’m going to do this, I want to be great.
“It manifested some way that with all the other s*** I was doing, I ended up becoming a control freak and becoming bitter when I saw any negativity.
“I got into a lot of feuds. There were many comments made about me but you can’t say I’m bad at music, so when I saw those types of things, for some reason I’d bite back at them.”
James’s new lease of life has been sparked by clean-living and creative control on his second album, which is released on November 4. He believes he’s been given the opportunity to show his potential to the millions of TV viewers who voted for him to win the X Factor nearly four years ago.
He says: “I don’t recognize that artist in my first album. Some of the songs are great, but I was writing for other people then. I was trying to write a hit, trying to be the best X Factor winner ever. It got really good reviews, but the one thing people said was ‘we missed a bit of the character we saw on the show’ and I fully agree with that. This album has loads of character in it. There is a bit of self-indulgence in there too as I had to tell my story. People will relate to it and the message is hope, to like yourself, love and respect.”
James certainly reveled in being given the opportunity to have more of an input in the recording process, a luxury he wasn’t afforded in his first album.
He says: “I’m a co-producer and I’m in the studio for eight hours picking the comps. I’m also on all the emails back and forth asking things like ‘how loud should this snare be?’ It’s real detail.”
James launches the album with his first single, a ballad called Say You Won’t Let Go.
He says: “It’s a love song. Everyone working on the album thought it was bit of a no-brainer to be the first single. It resonates with all people.”
While he insists the single has “nothing to do with my story,” other songs on the album most certainly do – including title track Back From The Edge. He says: “It’s a really cool way to open the album. It’s a real James Bond, swing, rock, hip-hop tune. It’s really honest but the whole album feels honest and real.”
“I’ve also written a song called Sermon which has my favorite rapper Shotty Horroh on it. I just love it and I’m really proud of that.”
“Another track is called Trainwreck. that could be one of the best songs I’ve ever recorded –
James admits his musical style remains “versatile” with aspects of his favorite genres soul, rock and hip-hop all featuring on the record. He credits his parents for his influences.
He says: “I like to explore different genres and mash then all together. I grew up on soul music with my mom but my dad would play heavy rock like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Thin Lizzy. With this album, you get a bit of everything.”
Thankfully for James, his European fan base stuck by him throughout his career. He still plays to huge audiences in some of the continent’s biggest music festivals.
James says: “In the UK people wrote me off, but in Portugal, I’d headline a festival and play to 70,000 people and I’d have 70,000 people singing my songs back at me.”
The homophobic label grates with James. It’s a highly unflattering term he hates being associated with and insists his notorious rap battle in November 2013 was taken out of context and was never meant to offend.
James says: “I hate it that’s part of my reputation. I accept people for what they are. I’m not the most conventional people. It’s the one thing that upsets me. I hate bullying. I hate all that kind of stuff. It’s disgusting. It’s shame that average guy on the street might think that about me. If I could turn that around, it would make me happy.“
Having finally addressed his past actions via his new music, James is now looking forward to focusing just on music – no matter the reaction to his album.
He says: “There’s a lot of things that are going to have to go my way for the underdog story to happen but we’ll see.
“I’m pleased with the album I’ve made. I’ve loved every minute in the studio and now, what will be will be.”