James Arthur hopes new music becomes ‘medicine’ for these trying times

Coming off the global success of his song Train Wreck, British singer-songwriter James Arthur has released Medicine, the very first track he wrote for his upcoming album.

The song has been described as a boldly autobiographical, uplifting ode to self, brought about by the mental as well as physical health challenges James overcame in 2020.

The 33-year-old artist recalled that early last year, he was on stage in Madrid and had this brutal panic attack. “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 was gonna die. Then the next day, I developed really bad flu symptoms and had to be rushed into hospital. They found that I had a gallbladder infection, and had to remove it immediately.”

Medicine is the fi rst track James wrote for his upcoming, fourth studio album.
Photos courtesy of Sony Music Philippines

The Say You Won’t Let Go hitmaker ended up in a Switzerland hospital and later on, checked into a London hospital for rehab three to four times a week. He would cancel his American concert tour as he went through a course of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and supplemented all that with physical workout.

By the time the former X Factor UK winner was ready to be in front of crowds again, however, the COVID-19 lockdown happened.

As in the past, music helped pull James through yet another tough time. “Making music is the best form of therapy for me, personally. I’m very lucky that I have an outlet such as music to channel any of the mental health issues I might be going through. It’s always the best way for me to figure those things out,” he told The STAR and other media during a recent virtual interview organized by Sony Music Philippines.

It was Medicine that got his groove back to start work on his fourth studio album.

To date, James has sold over 30 million records worldwide and produced three hugely successful albums James Arthur (No. 2), Back From The Edge (No. 1) and YOU (No. 2), alongside nine solo UK Top 40 singles. His smash hits include Say You Won’t Let Go, which currently has 1.6 billion streams on the platform. He also recently entered the Official UK Chart with Train Wreck, a track written and recorded for his second album that got a new lease of life via TikTok. It has a whopping 365 million streams, as of writing.

James recently signed a new deal with Columbia Records UK. His new music is being released globally under Sony Music.

Apart from having to record entirely in his home because of the pandemic situation, the songwriting process for Medicine and the rest of the fourth album has remained pretty much the same. He still did a lot of soul-searching.

“That’s kind of always what it’s been for me, especially when it comes to writing the lyrics. It’s like, what do I want? What am I going to talk about? We’re gonna talk about how everything is perfect and I’m so happy and I have everything I ever wanted, you know what I mean? Like what’s relatable to people.

“I don’t know, I could talk about having Range Rovers and Mercedes and Gucci or whatever. But with the type of music that I make, I think it’s important for me to connect with people and to relate to people. And in order to do that, I have to look inside myself and be introspective always.”

Meanwhile, James said he feels so ready to hop on a plane and tour again, including to the Philippines.

Asked what he remembered most from his visit to the country in 2019, “To be honest, the people, the crowds. They seemed very passionate, and they love music and singing. They came out and they showed us love. I performed in the shopping malls. Lots of people came and showed support, and it was just a really good vibe.”

Here are more excerpts from our Zoom interview with James, where he said he hopes his new song and the rest of the new music will feel like “medicine” for the soul — bringing healing and comfort to listeners amid the pandemic.

On the intention of Medicine to help normalize the speaking up on mental health issues:

“Yeah, I think anything that I can do to use my voice and my platform to raise awareness about mental health is important. I feel a responsibility to do that having been through mental health issues and traumas in my life, and got to the other side, you know. I feel a duty to do anything I can to normalize the subject and help anyone who might be suffering.

“What would I say to those people (is) to get up and about again. I would just say that there’s lots to be hopeful about, there’s an end in sight. I know it’s been a hard time. I would always encourage people to speak up. I know it’s a very difficult thing to talk about your mental health or your health in general, but it’s the biggest step — just try and speak because you’d be surprised how many people will relate to you. Yeah, but just to stay positive and, you know, there’s an end in sight.”

On how Medicine can be a fitting song for this time of pandemic:

“I wouldn’t be surprised (if people connect the song to what is happening right now). When we wrote the song, I definitely felt like this could give people some sort of hope and it would make people feel good at this time. The reason that I think we wrote the song was because we wanted to… encourage people to think about what their medicine is during a dark time.

“Like for me, you know, like I said, exercise was my medicine, the people who love me were my medicine and lift me up, playing video games was my medicine or anything like that, that makes you feel better. I wanted people to think about that… It was inspired by the times that we found ourselves in 2020.”

On the sounds and themes he is going for in the rest of the upcoming album:

“The sounds were very much inspired by the kind of pop-punk or punk-rock, indie kind of music that I grew up listening to. And then, in order to make sure that the rock element was still viable and able to go on to be played on the radio, I realized that the hip-hop trap thing was important. So it’s kind of like a mash of trap and rock that was kind of the palate, the melting pot for the sounds for this album.

“Like with Medicine, it’s almost like Blink 182 meets Post Malone, and the production is very much in that world throughout the whole album. It was a lot of fun to make because this is where I came from, this is where I started — playing in rock bands — and I felt very comfortable there.

“There’s a few of those (feel-good songs) on this album. Certainly in terms of the music, it’s just a little bit more upbeat, there’s much less ballad-type music on this album. It’s the kind of music that you can vibe more to, it’s more electric-guitar driven…

“As for the themes, there was no plan to make it like a theme or anything in particular, but it ended up being quite a reflective album and quite personal album, where I talked about everything — from my depression, my mental health struggles as you hear in Medicine, to the idea of being a father and starting a family. So yeah, I’m just doing a lot of a lot of soul-searching on this.”

On what he learned and realized over the pandemic as an artist and musician:

ºOne thing I learned that’s been quite helpful with? I’ve always heard about people talking about living in the moment and not thinking about the future and not thinking about the past, in order to help anxiety. And I found that was something I was able to explore a little bit more. So mindfulness, stillness was quite helpful. And also, I started reading the literature of a lady named Brené Brown, she talks about how vulnerability is courage.

“So, making yourself vulnerable and just trying new things and saying yes to more things opens up more in life. And yeah, nobody dislikes somebody who’s vulnerable. It takes bravery to be honest and vulnerable — that was something I learned.”

On his musical journey since winning X Factor UK in 2012:

“I feel like I’ve come a long way. I’m very grateful to still be here, be relevant and that people are still listening to my music. So, I feel very lucky, considering there aren’t a lot of talent show winners that manage to sustain long careers. Yeah, I feel very lucky. I am grateful. I’m proud of the hard work that I’ve put in, and the energy that I’ve put into my craft, because I guess that’s the reason why I’m still here. I think it’s interesting that there are some countries that don’t even know that I won the X Factor. They just know my songs and that’s a huge compliment to me and again I’m very grateful for that.”

(You can listen to Medicine via https://bit.ly/3tgOqD4.)



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