BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
James Blunt is fully aware that most people in America know him only for his 2005 mega-hit ballad, “You’re Beautiful,” a song so overplayed on radio at the time that it could have been used as a torture device.
Another segment of the audience who will witness him open for Ed Sheeran for a pair of shows at Infinite Energy Arena this weekend were likely too young to have suffered through the treacle (and we mean that in the nicest way possible because Blunt is an absolutely charming, funny, self-deprecating guy, but that song…).
Although Blunt is regarded as a one-hit wonder in America, he’s maintained steady chart success around the globe with songs such as “Goodbye My Lover,” “1973” and “Bonfire Heart.”
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Earlier this year, the 43-year-old Brit released his fifth solo album, “The Afterlove,” which debuted in the Top 10 in England, France, Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Ireland - and an unceremonious No. 177 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
So Blunt knows he has a bit of audience-building to do while on this three-and-a-half month jaunt with Sheeran, and he relishes the challenge.
Calling recently from a tour stop in California, Blunt, who lives in Ibiza with his wife Sofia Wellesley and their new son when not on the road, talked about his current album, his new friendship with Sheeran and his treasured one with Carrie Fisher.
Q: Much is being made about this bromance between you and Ed Sheeran. Now that you’re more a month into the tour, is the magic still there?
A: (Laughs) Very much. We’re having an amazing time. For me it’s the best gig in the world. He’s the biggest male solo artist in the world today and I get up onstage and (play) 40 minutes. And of course I come off stage two hours before he comes off stage, so I have two hours ahead of him drinking time!
Q: Do you usually stick around to watch his set?
A: I’m meeting people in the interval, and to sign CDs and take photos, that takes an hour and 15 minutes. So after that I grab a shower and a beer and see the rest of Ed’s set. It’s great fun because he only has a loop pedal for company. I have a band and my band are paid to laugh to at my jokes.
Q: You’ve been with these guys a long time, haven’t you?
A: Too long, I can’t get rid of them. (Laughs) We’re mates, probably 13 or 14 years now. I’m just lucky to have my name on the ticket.
Q: Is it kind of nice being the opening act and not having the pressure of being THE guy?
A: The real nice thing is that people don’t know what to expect, other than that guy who plays that song and they expect it to be that and I‘m thrilled that they don’t expect more because then I happily surprise them. It’s been fun to see the warmth and the surprise from the crowd.
Q: You’ve been performing a good chunk of the new album in your set list. How is the new material being received?
A: Like I tell the audience, you haven’t bought tickets to see me, so I don’t have to play them all my old stuff and I’m playing a lot of new songs. I’m pretty confident in those songs. I spent two years writing this album, working with a lot of songwriters, but I’ve also had a bit of experience myself now as a songwriter and I’ve few had a experiences that have helped me make an intense album in many ways. I got married and had a child, and the result is an album that is filled with high intensity and high emotion. The reaction to the songs has been fantastic. It started off with my band saying, “We’re paid to play the songs, not to like them,” but we’re really excited to play them.
Q: You wrote a few songs on the album with Ryan Tedder and Teddy Geiger. What was it like writing with them?
A: I really loved working with Teddy and also with Danny Parker who is a young kid I had a real connection with. Sometimes you’re writing and it feels like part of the music business and we have a job to come up with a song by the end of the day. But working with Teddy and Danny, working at their house in the sunshine, it was friends making music. And Ryan, I really enjoy working with him. We’re friends; he really gets what I want to do. I wanted to do things that were really exciting and interesting and out of my usual boundaries. We’d do it spontaneously. We’d be in a hotel room or I’d go on tour with him on the bus and you can hear that spontaneity.
Q: I’m not sure if, before Carrie Fisher died, a lot of people knew that you wrote “You’re Beautiful” in her bathroom. Did it bother you after she passed that there were suddenly all of these stories making mention of that?
A: I suppose I was more caught up in how much I missed her. Whenever I’ve lived in America, I lived in Los Angeles with her and quite naturally I wrote and recorded some songs with her. I suppose in those articles, I’m just a footnote in what was otherwise the amazing life of Carrie, who was an extraordinary woman. She had an incredible life and touched so many people. She’s a remarkable woman.
Q: You’re going on a world tour after this one with Ed, so will we see you back in the States in 2018?
A: Not for a minute would I say I’m using this tour as a practice, but I am going out in starting in Germany, probably through October 2018. I will miss this tour because we’re having so much fun, and I don’t know what could possibly match it. As for coming back to America, we’ll see – if you guys invite me!
With James Blunt. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $39.50-$99.50. Infinite Energy Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 770-626-2464, www.infiniteenergycenter.com.