JOHN NEWMAN: HE’S A NEW-MAN words Amy MacKenzie - green room photography Filipe Phitzgerard - stage photography Myles Wright
This last Wednesday (16) we caught up with John Newman before he went on stage at a sold-out O2 Shepherds Bush Empire. He went on to deliver a memorable, high energy performance to an adoring crowd, something you can always expect from John. Throughout his set, Newman mixed familiar tunes with newer tracks, which were all met with the same level of passion and enthusiasm. John has the unquestionable ability to engage while captivating, something that was clear as crystal as we watched the packed venue following him from the first to the last second. The audience's admiration and love for this class A artist is undeniable and something that makes the whole experience even more memorable.
Before stepping on stage, we spoke to John and were captivated at a whole new level, making our existing admiration of him even more tangible. Newman was at pains to stress that nothing in his view beats a live show to connect with an audience and is the best marketing that a singer can do. Having seen him perform just a few minutes later, he is definitely right! He clearly connected with both individuals in the crowd and the collective with the same energy and was as appreciative of the crowd as they were of him.
Although short (and sweet) our chat with him was both energizing and heartfelt. Just like his music, John speaks from a place of honesty and vulnerability; he doesn't hype up the celebrity life but acknowledges the human side of it and explores his own virtues and flaws without shame and perhaps, that's one to the main reasons why he is able to so perfectly connect with other humans.
Amy MacKenzie: Hey John, thank you for meeting with us. We know you're preparing for tonight's gig so we really appreciate you giving us this time. John Newman: That's all good. [Smiles]
A.M: How are you doing? J.N: Yeah, good, really good.
A.M: Have you had a good day? J.N: Yeah, it's been an alright day. I’ve had a good week which is good.
A.M: Yeah, you’re over halfway through the tour now, right? How’s it been so far? J.N: It’s been amazing. I think it has been amazing interacting with people, for me that's the most important and exciting thing, being able to see people face-to-face and interact on stage.
A.M: How come? J.N: Well, if you compare with social media which is connecting from a distance, there is a big change there. I say that because I think that social media and things like that are good, but I don’t think it’s a reliance for people to use as a cheap form of marketing. I think that going on tour is the way to do it; you see the whites of people’s eyes, you show people what the lyrics mean by your emotions and everything and it changes everything.
A.M: That is true! And how are you feeling about the tour? J.N: Yeah, it’s been amazing for that reason. I did start the tour ill which made it really difficult because it was like going to watch fucking Andy Murray with no tennis racket [laughs] you’d be a bit pissed off wouldn’t you, if he was trying to throw it around with his hands, you’d be like ‘what’s this?’. So, it was basically just karaoke! But I have never canceled a gig so that was the reason, I was like ‘I can’t do this to you guys’
A.M: Which has been the best show so far and why? J.N: Glasgow. I know tonight is gonna be tough, I can feel it in the air, but it’s buzzing! Glasgow was very good, it was in an old fruit market, the venue, where they do loads of BBC orchestral stuff, it was so cool. The vibe was amazing, everything was just great! I always feel bad saying that because everyone else is like ‘oh what, you told us our night was the best night’. Manchester was also amazing, it was in this beautiful venue, The Ritz, and that was the night I had fully lost my voice and it was just amazing to watch the audience understand that and be so incredibly supportive and support me through it all and sing every word, it was so mental! It was amazing and moving.
A.M: Are you looking forward to tonight then? J.N: It’s the one, isn’t it? [Laughs]
A.M: I just love it here. J.N: It’s the venue, it is just so ridiculously amazing.
A.M: Yeah, it’s incredible. Which song on the EP were you most looking forward to performing live? J.N: ‘The Hardest Word is Goodbye’ because it’s where my head’s at right now. I feel like for a bit I let people dictate what music I should put out because they told me ‘that will work on radio, this will get you on Spotify’s New Music Friday, this has got a formula, put a bit of the chorus at the start’ but come on, formulas don’t make fucking hits, hits make hits! And hits aren’t hits until they’ve been hits so it’s almost for me, I was like why don’t we just put out music and then the public can decide what they like and what they don’t like. I’ve expressed myself so ‘The Hardest Word is Goodbye’ was the most exciting one because it sets the tone of where my head is and who I am right now which is just somebody who loves to sing big old amazing songs that make me feel great.
A.M: Yeah, I totally get you. Has there been an audience reaction that you’ve been surprised by to any of the songs? J.N: Yeah. It’s really weird. I’m one of these people, I investigate my own career. I look around and check the stats. I am a massive perfectionist and when people tell me things I’m usually like ‘yeah, I already know’. [Laughs] So I was checking the stats of this acoustic video I put up of ‘Mama’. It wasn’t on this EP but it’s in this new phase where I did this ‘Out of the Blue Tour’ and did this acoustic track ‘Mama’ and put it on the acoustic EP. And I checked online and the version of me doing it had like 300,000 plays. The version that somebody had ripped [laughs] and had chopped up with some tropical beach scenes and girls with knickers in, had nearly a million plays. [Laughs] I didn’t realize but when I started singing this tune, next minute everyone’s singing along and I was like ‘what’s going on here?’ so I checked and then I found that! So that was surprising but not so amazing because that song is a really touching and personal song. It was really hard actually the other night, I met my dad for the first time in 15 years.
A.M: Wow. J.N: Yeah, it was mental, it was like being in a weird dream. We played in Leeds and sang that song and it’s about me growing up, my childhood, with my mum being a single mum and everything we went through so that was a difficult one to sing at that moment in time.
A.M: Yeah, of course. Wow. What would you say are some of the best and worst parts of touring? J.N: I just love it all, it’s just great. Do you know what the worst thing is? It’s going back to reality, that is the worst thing. When I’m at home I get up at 5 am and start working, crack on and persevere on everything so when people start getting up, I can handpick who I need to bring in on the work I want to do that day and it’s really good for me and how my brain (process) works.
A.M: So I guess the dynamics of on-tour and off-tour are pretty different? J.N: When I’m on tour, I’m probably going to bed at the time I usually wake up if I am not on tour. Like waking up at 1 and going ‘why have I got up?’ because you’ve got nothing to do [laughs]! It’s so bizarre, like ‘oh let’s walk into town and buy some socks’ [laughs]. And I’ve been doing it all without my phone, I broke it, so for 3 days I have literally had nothing to do but play FIFA and get beaten! So the hard thing is, I went home last night and my Mrs was like ‘why are you being so weird’ and I was like ‘I’m not’ you just feel a bit weird coming out of the bubble, it’s just always a bit weird. When you are on tour you have someone to tell you where to go, what to do, what time you’re doing this and then you come out of that and you’re like ‘what time are we having breakfast?’ [laughs] does it matter? Yes, of course, it matters [laughs]!
A.M: Have you got any pre-show rituals? J.N: Yeah, I start on a straw, just humming into a straw about an hour before, then stretch a bit. I really try and relax my body. Then I start listening to some mental music and get really hyped. Then I start listening to classical and stuff like that and just relax and then getting more hyped. Then we shut the dressing room doors and no one can come in and we really build it up, start warming our bodies up, doing stretches. So then we will walk downstairs and I’ll be jumping all over the place like a maniac but I think the main ritual which is the thing that saves me every time is about 20 seconds before I walk on stage I just stop and breathe. I take all that adrenaline in and level it out at the last minute. It's a long mental process, I felt it this morning when I woke up on a big gig day, I’m just straight away on it!
A.M: And is there anything, in particular, you take from home with you on tour? J.N: Just loads of dirty clothes and it’s well annoying! [Laughs] No, I travel too much, I just travel all the time so I have my iPad with films on, my laptop to work on, and my phone.
A.M: Yeah, and then lastly, what is your favourite f-word? J.N: Fandango! [laughs] Bam, interview done! [Laughs]
A.M: [Laughs] Indeed! Well, thank you again for taking the time to speak to us and good luck tonight!