“You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, it’s true…” A seemingly simplistic lyric launched British singer-songwriter James Blunt into the public eye in 2005; the radio played the song endlessly after its release. Blunt has been busy making music since then, but feels that his most recent album, The Afterlove, released in March 2017, is notably different from his previous four records. He feels that most people just know him for “that one song.” But on his current world tour in support of the new album, he has found audiences to be receptive.
We caught up with Blunt to talk about his inspiration for the new work, how his approach to music has evolved since his rather abrupt rise to fame with “You’re Beautiful,” and his friendship with Ed Sheeran.
Westword: How do you feel your approach to music has changed over the years?
Blunt: At first I was very naive, and then I started learning the rules of music. The first four albums built off each other, and I did something slightly different this time around. I kind of went away from music for a bit and wrote over 100 songs. I worked with amazing people I’d always wanted to work with. I’ve had some amazing experiences in my life, some good and some tragic. We set out to make it a special album. It’s called The Afterlove, which came from the phrase, “after the love is gone,” which seemed appropriate for where I’m at.
Did you experience a breakup or something similar, perhaps?
I was at the Burning Man festival with my producer. It’s 5:30 in the morning and we’re dancing in the desert, and he said, "You have four albums which are incredible. You could retire." I thought that was a weird thing from my own producer, telling me to quit music. Then I thought about it a bit harder and realized if I’m going to do a fifth album, I need to make it stand out and have a good reason to do it. And it couldn’t be just like all the others. [I needed to make it] something special. My songs are about real life experiences I’ve had the last few years.
Were the first four albums similar?
They were simply developments of each other.... It was a gentle progression and development, whereas this one is a bit more spontaneous. I didn’t go into the studio to record it. I would write and record wherever I was. Either in the dressing room, on the side of the stage, or [traveling] in the middle of nowhere on a tour bus.
Since you were recording and writing more spontaneously, do you feel it produced a true reflection of who you are?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m known as a guy with a guitar singing miserable songs, in the States, and that’s not entirely a reflection of who I am. So the songs are more diverse on this album.
Tell me about touring with Ed Sheeran.
We are touring together for three and a half months. We’re having a blast. My job is awesome, I have to say. I get on stage for forty minutes before [Sheeran] comes on with my band. [Some of the audience] knows me as “that guy that plays that one song,” and some don’t even like that song. But I’ve got some new songs, and it’s an awesome stage to be on. The audience doesn’t really know what to expect, or maybe they even have low expectations, so it’s an awesome place to start, and the reaction has been absolutely amazing. I’m really lucky to be here.
How did you and Ed Sheeran come together? Did you collaborate on music, and then the opportunity presented itself to go on his tour?
We were introduced and then went on a skiing holiday at my place in Switzerland. I taught him how to ski, and he taught me how to write songs. Then we got drunk, and when we were drunk he said we should hang out some more, and I said, “Deal, I’m coming on your U.S. tour.” [Laughs.] That’s a pretty good, funny way of summing up our timeline.
Do you feel you two have a similar sound in the way you both talk about relationships in your songs? Or find inspiration from human connection?
He’s more direct in his lyrics, and I’m a bit more ambiguous sometimes, but maybe not in “You’re Beautiful” or “Goodbye My Lover.” It has been a real education to work with him. I’m not joking when I say that he taught me how to write songs. But, yeah, we’re men. We’re singer-songwriters. There is some similarity.
So you have a fairly symbiotic relationship where you both are learning from each other?
Yeah. Or maybe it’s just a mutual love of cheep beer.
James Blunt, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 15, Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle, $39.50-$99.50, 303-405-1100.