In January 2020, after a gallbladder infection forced him to cut his European tour short, singer/songwriter James Arthur was forced to take some time away from the spotlight. ‘On stage in Madrid, I had this brutal panic attack,’ he recalls. ‘I’ve obviously suffered from anxiety over the years but I’d never had that before, not on stage, not it taking hold of me – to the extent that I had to get off because if I didn’t, I felt like I was gonna die.’
This led him to eventually face his personal struggles head on, committing to therapy three to four times per week and practising cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It was a decision that wasn’t easy for the hardworking musician. ‘There was definitely a fear that if the train stops it wouldn’t get going again,’ he remembers.
But that train kept on going. In collaboration with DJ and record producer Sigala, James released the electropop hit Lasting Lover in September last year, which shot to No.1 on iTunes and made it into the Top 10 on the Official Singles Chart. His single Train Wreck from his second album Back From The Edge also saw a resurgence thanks to TikTok, finding its way onto the Official UK Chart.
Now, James Arthur is back with what might be his most personal body of work yet. The singer/songwriter’s new single, Medicine, delves into the idea of love over adversity and supporting each other through the highs and the lows. Although the autobiographical track features an uplifting beat with a hopeful message, lyrics such as, ‘when I’m suicidal, you don’t let me spiral…’ give us a painful glimpse into the entirety of James’ world. ‘It’s always difficult to be so honest and exposing with lyrics,’ he explains. ‘But I feel it’s important to do that to really move people and connect with them.’
As James gets ready to release his fourth album later this year, we chatted to him about his new single, his previous hits and the importance of looking after your mental health and putting yourself first.
Thank you so much for chatting with us! How are you doing?
I’m very well thank you, all good.
Are you in the UK at the moment? How are you coping with lockdown?
I’m in Surrey at my house, I moved here in late 2019 and it I’m really happy here. I’m coping fine, I’ve got lots of space to roam about in.
Let’s talk about your new single, Medicine, out today! You must be so excited to finally reveal it? How long have you been working on this for?
This is the first song I wrote for the album back in the summer of last year, and I finished it at the back end of the year. I think it’s the perfect way to kick off this body of work, it’s very personal.
The track has been described as ‘boldly autobiographical’. Can you tell us a bit more about the story behind Medicine and how you came to write it?
We were in the midst of lockdown and the pandemic and I wanted to write a song of hope. I felt like it was important to be honest with the lyrics to connect with the listener. Ultimately the message is about love over adversity.
I love that you’ve not shied away from using dark lyrics in this track. Was it hard for you to be so open and were you nervous about being so honest?
It’s always difficult to be so honest and exposing with lyrics. But I feel it’s important to do that to really move people and connect with them.
Although the track does feature some darker lyrics, the overall sound feels quite uplifting. What sort of sound did you have in mind for Medicine and did this change at all throughout the recording process?
Medicine really defines the sound of this record. Its trap and rock influenced which is a lane that I feel really comfortable in and feel suits me. So be prepared to hear plenty more of this sound.
You described Medicine as ‘the perfect song for spring 2021’. How do you hope people will feel when they hear the track?
I hope people will feel joyful, happy and uplifted by the song. I hope it makes them think about what their medicine is in their lives.
This year has been incredibly hard for all of us. What’s been your Medicine that’s helped get you through? A person, a new hobby, anything…
There have been a number of things. I took up hiking and did a lot of running during this time to get fit, which in turn helped by mental health. And having the time to focus on myself and my music was really beneficial for me.
Medicine is the first single from your upcoming album. What can we expect to see from this album?
You can expect an album full of very personal songs about me and my life along with sounds that you won’t have heard from me before. There is also a fair bit of rap on this album from me.
This will be your fourth album, how would you say your music has evolved and changed from your first album to now?
I think my music has matured massively from the first album to this album. There is attention to detail in every nuance of the music now. I feel like I’m fully in control of how it is presented to people.
You’ve just signed with Columbia Records UK, congrats! What was it about Columbia Records UK that made them the perfect fit for you?
The guys I met from Columbia really impressed me. It’s a label with a lot of prestige. It has a roster that boasts a lot of my heroes, but ultimately they really felt the music that I was making, so it was a no brainer for me.
Just touching on Lasting Lover with Sigala, how did the collaboration happen and how did you feel about the huge positive reaction to the song? Did you expect it to be such a hit?
Having admired Sigala’s work from afar I always expect him to do well with his music because he’s so good at what he does. I knew I was going to be involved in something successful, but I definitely didn’t think it would be as successful as it has been. It’s turned into a global hit and that’s testament to the work we put in I think.
Lasting Lover feels quite different to some of your other material such as Train Wreck. Was it fun to delve into something a bit different?
It’s always fun to explore different genres; I love to hop around genres. This song was just a great song, with great vibes and it felt good.
You’ve been very open about your anxiety and the therapy you’ve undertaken. What advice would you give to anyone struggling right now from your own experience?
My advice would be to never be afraid to speak about your mental health. Remember that being vulnerable takes a lot of courage and there isn’t anyone on this planet that won’t appreciate your honesty. And you’ll be surprised how many can relate to you.
You cancelled your American tour, checked into hospital and undertook therapy to deal with your personal struggles. I think now more than ever it’s so important to take time out when you need to and not feel bad about that. Were you nervous to take the time out and how did it benefit you?
Yeah I was nervous to take time out for sure, as it’s been non-stop since I started so there was definitely a fear that if the train stops it wouldn’t get going again. That’s why it was such a blessing to have two songs that were so successful last year with Train Wreck being the TikTok smash it was and the Sigala record doing so well.
Your career has obviously taken off hugely in the past few years. Have you made any mistakes that you’ve really learnt from?
I try not to have too many regrets, but there are definitely things in hindsight that I would have dealt with differently. But it’s important to not look back and keep looking forward.
What would you say the highlights of your career have been? Which moments have truly made you stop and realise how far you’ve come?
Reaching the billion mark on Spotify for Say You Won’t Let Go was a major moment. And establishing a global fan base, seeing how many people listen to me on a monthly basis is staggering.
Do we have a release date for the new album?
Not yet, but it will be this year.
Where is the first place you want to play when you’re able to get back out on tour again?
I’d like to get out to Europe again because I had to cancel the European tour midway through. So I’d love to make it up to those fans.
What’s coming up for you in 2021?
There will be more singles and more music, leading up to the album. I’d love to play some shows this year if it is safe to do so. We’ll see.
James Arthur’s new single ‘Medicine’ is out now.