James Blunt

Songs of heartbreak and humility

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By Gary Graff  

James Blunt saw battlefield action with the British army while stationed in Kosovo, but music has caused the most lasting explosions in his life. The singer-songwriter's debut album, Back to Bedlam, was the top-selling album in the U.K. in 2005 and a quick success in the U.S. thanks to the hits "You're Beautiful" and "Goodbye My Lover." He also netted a pair of Brit Awards and a Best New Act trophy from the MTV Music Awards, and a legion of swooning women who would be more than happy to get him over the heartbreak he sings about.

Q: Is success in America different from success in Britain?

Blunt: I don't know. I think maybe we set ourselves up for a fall in the U.K. We talk about coming over and trying to break America or conquer America, and I think America as a whole probably doesn't want to be broken or conquered and probably, quite rightly, would send us back home in doing so.

Q: How did you wind up with a stint in the army?

Blunt: My dad was in the army, so he introduced me. And then because of that introduction, I asked the army to assist with my university tuition fees, and the payback is you have to then serve four years of military service. But I decided to be a musician when I was fourteen, so I knew what my path was going to be. It didn't seem like too much of a problem to do my time in the army and get out and do music. I didn't sense that I would be stopping any chances of getting a record deal by spending more time in the army.

Q: Do you think that combination of life experience and age made you more ready for the success you've encountered?

Blunt: I'm not sure. I don't know whether I'm better equipped to deal with it now or not. But I guess I probably have things to write about, and experience is always a good thing to turn to when writing songs. And also, in the fickle world of the music industry, maybe I know not to worry too much if somebody says I'm not wearing fashionable trainers (sneakers). That's something I definitely don't worry about.

Q: You sing about some very personal, private experiences. Is it easy for you to put such emotions into your songs?

Blunt: No! (laughs) They are very private, really, and I'm standing on a stage singing them publicly, and being a Brit, we're not that good, necessarily, at expressing those kinds of things. And I'm as British as the next Brit, in that old fashioned way. So, yeah, it was difficult the first few times, but the payback is when I get approached by lots of people who say, "Yeah, I feel the same way."

Q: Are you concerned about singles defining the album?

Blunt: It's something we work with to get our music heard, but I've always felt uncomfortable with that because, to me, this album is a collection of ten songs and really shouldn't be listened to as individual songs. If anyone just read chapter four of a book you'd say they're mad. I feel the same way about music. "Goodbye My Lover" is a really personal song, and it's great if people get to hear it, but I wouldn't want them to hear it out of context. So I'm hoping people will recognize the album rather than just the individual songs.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.