By Nadia Noir
23-year-old British singer, John Newman, has the sort of old soul that resonates through his style, his voice, his appropriately-titled debut album Tribute, and the lyrics of the Brit Awards nominated song, “Feel The Love” with UK outfit Rudimental.
While they have yet to become pop power players, both Newman and Rudimental are primed to play Coachella of this year and something tells us their dance-worthy mix of soul revivalism, R&B, and EDM will sonically smash through genres on this side of the pond. Newman himself has undeniable star quality and is looking to make a mark on music all his own.
The sociable singer-songwriter sat down with McCabe and talked about how he first started playing music, some of his favorite musicians growing up, and why he is falling in love with Los Angeles .
Did the dancing come first before the singing?
“No, no, no. The dancing was me studying the people that are really respected as musicians and obviously seeing what they’re doing. The likes of Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Prince, and Michael Jackson and onwards and kind of picking things up from watching them people. But when I tried formulating it and turning it into a thing that I wanted to be as good as good as theirs, it just became anger and me onstage dancing around like a flamingo with a knee injury.”
As a kid, was your house just filled with music? Were you constantly that kid dancing around with your mom or your brothers?
Kind of. I got one brother. My mum and we grew up together and my brother, he’s really into music and he always has been from a young age as well. And my mum is a big music listener which is good sometimes. It doesn’ t mean you have to be a musician to play good music.
What was the first instrument you picked up and how did it evolve from there?
A recorder. There’s this horrible thing in the UK where primary schools teach everybody the recorder for some unknown reason. There’s so many instruments that could be used in life, but the recorder I’ve never, ever seen in a live setting…In terms of me and what I do now and where it came from…I didn’t have anyone around me to do these things. I just ran my own Myspace and stuff like that and had hobbies and played around. And that’s how I like to keep it now. I’m just having fun and having ideas out there and it’s not about the clothes that I make becoming a big empire business and it all has to become tactical. The music that I make isn’t meant to be hits, it’s just meant to be me making music.
You call [your album] ‘Tribute.’ Is that a Tribute to the artist that you’ve always ended up liking a idolizing?
I get asked this question so much and it varies everyone and I think that’s the beauty of the word because it’s a universal word; I just wanted it to be “Thank You.” But you can’t call your album Thank You, so it’s like I needed an album title version of saying Thank You and I just went for Tribute, because it’s me saying Thank You to everyone whether they’ve treated me right or wrong.”
For “Love Me Again,” where was that coming from?
Tribute is an album. It’s not really a concept. It’s just what I needed to express at that time lyrically and what I wanted to talk about and it’s an album that kind of caught me in the middle of a break-up and going through a really had time. And it’s not like, ‘Oh. The break-up is the way to write an album because people buy it and stuff like that.’ It just came at that time and “Love Me Again” is the point in that break-up where I kind of realized that I’d really messed up and the girl I was seeing moved away to work somewhere else, so I jumped on the train and totally surprised her and tried sorting it out because I realized I haven’t moved on.”
Have you stayed in contact with her? Is she now like, ‘Yo, can we go on a date?’”
No. She says that I’ve grown balls because I’ve actually told her how I feel which is good but through music.
You’re also on the line-up for Coachella. Have you ever been? Do you know what to expect from Coachella?
A 6’3” man sweating ridiculously in a suit probably. This happened last time. We went to Ibiza Rocks with the Rudimental boys and they were kind of like, ‘This is gonna be jokes if John wears a suit in Ibiza’ and the next minute I was walking down the beach in it, so Coachella’s going to be the same, man.
Do you have anything special you’re going to bring to the table at Coachella? And are their artists that you are looking forward to seeing?
Every gig’s different. I don’t know. I just do what I do and enjoy because it’s the right way to go, I think. It’s a performance, man. If you enjoy it onstage than the crowd will enjoy it, too. Unless you sing ridiculously out of key. In terms of other people, the name of my childhood, Outkast, and everyone coming over from the UK. Rudimental, Lana Del Rey. These people are crazy.
This could be the birth of future collaborations.
I hope so because it’s not that I’m unsociable. When making Tribute, when we look at this album, say if said right there like ‘Easy’ featuring Adele and my record went to #1, I’ll know why it’s come to #1. Because of Adele and not because of me. And that’s the thing, so I was really stubborn about after the rudimental thing, once I’d gone on to do my own thing, I want to be proud of wherever it comes and whatever happens. You know, I am a person that loves collaborating with people and sparking off ideas. The Rudimental thing was a collaboration…I want to work with somebody. I don’t just want to step in and sing a hit.
Your time in LA; How are you enjoying it?
I’m really actually falling in love, really badly. Have you ever been in love?
Yes, I was in love at one point. I think. I think it was love.
You know that feeling where you actually turn around and look at a girl and go, “I’m actually in love.” Do you know what I mean? Those little things that keep adding to the feeling and it all of sudden ends of one. I’m literally driving around LA, ‘Oh god.’ And everything’s blowing my mind to the point where I’m like, ‘I think I’m falling in love.’ And I genuinely do. It’s incredible here.