Just like a few of the talent show winners who came before him — Little Mix, Carrie Underwood, and Kelly Clarkson — James Arthur has managed to carve out a successful career after starting out on a television competition.
Since impressing the British nation and being crowned the winner of The X Factor nearly 10 years ago in 2012, Arthur has gone on to connect with audiences all around the world. The singer-songwriter’s résumé boasts collaborations with Travis Barker, Ty Dolla $ign, Anne-Marie, and Rudimental, to name a few, and sold-out tours in packed arenas.
With three successful studio albums under his belt, Arthur spent lockdown creating his anticipated fourth LP. After achieving No. 1 hits and earning platinum plaques primarily from pop material, he was ready to evolve his sound and embrace the rockier side of his music. Released via Columbia, Arthur’s latest offering, It’ll All Make Sense in the End, is nothing like he’s ever released before. For the first time in his career, it is an album that contains no features and hasn’t been made by multiple producers.
During a Zoom chat with EUPHORIA., Arthur discussed the creative process, all about the new direction he’s taken sonically, and the key to his success.
How long has your new album been in the works? Is this a lockdown album like some have been for other artists?
This is a full lockdown album in every sense of the word. I made it at my house and set up a little studio. It was three months of intensive writing every day from about the time the restrictions started to ease in June/July of last year. I had been writing a lot of ideas prior to being able to have a producer come over to the house but by the time that came about, there were about 60/70 songs written in that three-month period.
With it being your fourth album, does the writing process get easier each time or is it still a challenge?
I find it easy, I’ve never found it a challenge. I think by the time I’ve finished one album process, I’m ready for the next one, I’m done with it, let’s make another one. I wanna make the rock album, I wanna make the rap album, I wanna make the acoustic album. I’m inspired to keep going. I’ve got a lot more I wanna share with the world.
This is your first album with no features on it. Did you make a conscious decision to do that?
Yeah, there are no features on this particular album. It feels true to the fact that it’s a passion project and I made it in the lockdown and that there was a small circle of people working on it. It’s different from any album I’ve made. I am the features on the record if you like. For example, there’s a song called “Deja Vu” where I come on the second verse and it sounds like the Northern Travis Scott is on it. I approached some of the verses as if I was the feature on them. It sounds a bit wacky but that was part of the fun of making this album.
The other main element of this album is the rock/guitar base that I’m really passionate about as I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries with that genre of music on one of my albums, which is a balance that has to be struck because people know me for pop music essentially. I wouldn’t say I have a duty but I have a fanbase that wanna hear the odd acoustic ballad. There aren’t many of them on this album, which is on purpose.
I would have loved to have some features, however. I think on the deluxe album there may be as I’ve been working with Travis Barker on a couple of bits. A couple of well-known rock bands might be getting involved.
Do you think collaborations are losing their authenticity?
Dare I say, yeah. I think sometimes collabs are to move the needle probably. I think it’s sometimes about trying to get someone on the track that is going to make the song more of a hit. Whilst I understand that logic, I think, like you said, it loses its authenticity. There’s a song on the album called “Always” and it would be a really cool duet but there’s no point having anyone do it. There’s a specific style of singer that should feature on it and if they can’t do it, then it’ll have to come out as it is.
Who is influencing you on this album?
In terms of the coherence of the album and it feeling like a moment in time sonically, I definitely took inspiration from people who don’t necessarily make the same music as me. Like Sam Fender’s album, for example, his last album inspired me to not jump around genres so much as I have on previous records. I didn’t want to jump around studios in various locations with different producers this time around as I really enjoyed albums from Sam Fender, Catfish and the Bottlemen, and J. Cole who made cohesive bodies of work. The likes of Post Malone and Juice WRLD also influenced the album.
You recently released “Emily,” which I feel like could be considered a “classic James Arthur” song. It’s written as a song dedicated to your future child. What inspired you to write a song from that perspective?
Well, having a child at the moment in time was a realistic possibility. Sadly, it never came to be but being a dad was something I had to think about and it scared me, to be honest. I’ve always wanted to have kids and be a father. It gave me a lot of material and juice to write with as I haven’t exactly had the best past. I’ve had an up-and-down journey, a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The media have written things about me that left me thinking, shit, my daughter is going to read that stuff. I thought of a way of writing a letter to her to let her know that I used to be this guy and that I’m your dad and I’m going to look after you. I thought it was a sweet concept.
Are there songs on the album that stand out to you as a solidified favorite?
There’s a couple. “Last of the Whiskey” is a cool moment on the album that I really love. Vocally, it’s one I’m happiest with as I go a bit wild on that one. “SOS” is very indicative but it was what I was going for in terms of that big rock chorus and the emo moment at the end. The song kind of defined the album. I had a video in my head as soon as I wrote the song, which doesn’t happen every time. But, I feel like you’ve got to make the video when that happens.
Does releasing this album feel any different from the others? Are you confident this time around? Do you get nervous leading up to the release?
I think it’s part of growing up, I’ve grown up whilst making albums and had all my albums been judged on a big scale. With this one and the nature of how I made it, not having the same amount of resources as I’ve had for previous ones and it being different, I’ve come to peace that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is a bit of a departure from the other records, there isn’t any obvious James Arthur type of songs. Maybe “Emily” is the only one. There is a little anxiety going around how it will be received. However, if you’re a fan of mine, it’s probably worth noting that this album is probably saved me in a way as it was the only thing that kept me sane and made me feel like I had a purpose over the past 12 months.
Next year you will be embarking on a tour that seems more intimate than your previous ones. Are the shows going to be more stripped back or is there still going to be a production?
Now that I can do arena tours in the UK, it’s mad that my management would consider doing a theater tour as an underplay. For me, I would always rather go and play the new album in an intimate setting before doing arenas. A comedian wouldn’t go straight to The O2, they’d go test out the jokes at a smaller venue. I wanted to do that first and then I’ll probably do an arena tour at the end of the year in the UK. I’m excited, it’s my first theater tour in America so I kind of jumped over there, which is cool. In London, I’ll be doing the Royal Albert Hall, which is something I’ve never done.
You won The X Factor nearly 10 years ago and have managed to create a name for yourself out of the show. What do you think the key to your success has been?
I think what’s helped me personally is that authenticity has been at the heart of everything I’ve done, I’ve let that thing be the thing that’s guided me in my career thus far. Going into The X Factor, I had an idea of who I was as an artist, and I had an identity already. I’m not sure the same could be said for a lot of other people that go onto those shows. I did that by accident, I always thought I would make it in a band, that’s the way I wanted to make it. I didn’t really want to be a solo pop artist and maybe that’s what’s set me apart from the other winners.
What are you hoping listeners will take away from the album once they’ve been able to hear it?
I always hope it’s going to be helpful because I’m obviously talking about stuff that is clearly linked to mental health and suicide, which is something that is really real to me. I’ve been an ambassador for mental health organizations so I hope people will take some positive from it. The overall message is positive, it’s hopeful. Even though I touch on the darker times, I’m always trying to be hopeful with the music.