The sensitive crooner released his single Bonfire Heart earlier this month, which soared into the top ten charts in the UK and sparked a renewed love for the self-called 'Blunty'.
Chatting exclusively to HELLO! Online, James talks about his famous fans — which include Prince Harry and Princess Beatrice — his former career in the army working as the Queen's bodyguard, and why he likes to joke around with the media.
You've just released your single Bonfire Heart, and the full album, Moon Landing, is coming out next week. What's the story behind this album?
"Really I suppose, it's about the journey of making it. I recorded this, in the main part, with Tom Rothrock — the guy who I recorded my first album with. Originally I was an indie artist and he was an indie producer, and together we made this indie album, Back to Bedlam. But on it, it had a song called You're Beautiful, which stripped away those indie routes and took it to a dirty place called 'mainstream'. That sent me on an amazing journey of three world tours and two subsequent albums and recording in fancy studios with amazing musicians — but really, it was nice to go back to where it all started, to find that same producer and record an indie album."
Did you have a particular person in mind when you wrote You're Beautiful?
"All my songs are about real life experiences, and the highs and lows. There's a song on my new album called Blue on Blue which is a military term. It's when two people in the same army shoot each other by mistake, and I relate that to what we do in relationships. Sometimes we hurt the people we love the most. All my songs are about real life interactions and I hope that’s why people connect with my music, because as humans we do the same things as each other and we feel the same emotions."
How have your fans responded to Bonfire Heart?
"At the moment it's number six in the charts and it's an absolutely amazing thing for me to see. The response has been mind-blowing and really exciting."
Do you get much backlash on Twitter? How do you deal with your critics?
"Well everyone has that. That's the nature of Twitter and why it's been in so much trouble recently, because human nature is sometimes to be unkind. I come from an army background where I enjoy that kind of thing though and now how to respond. If you’ve read my Twitter feed, I seem to enjoy that a little bit too much."
You also like to joke around with the press.
"Well normally I just lie a lot within the media. I recently lied about being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and I have been asked so much about that, mainly in Europe at the moment. In every interview, they've been congratulating me for my Nobel Peace Prize nomination. But they announced the winner, and unfortunately I didn't get it."
How has your experience in the army affected your music? Why did you decide to join?
"The army paid for my higher education, so I owed them four years and I ended up doing six. It was a really amazing time working as a reconnaissance officer and in many ways I tie in now with what I did then. I went into enemy territory and used my eyes and my ears to be sensitive and report back to my commanders. In many ways as a musician I feel I do the same thing now. I live life and I absorb that and I'm aware. People use the word 'sensitive' but I would call it more of an awareness of my surroundings. I get up on stage and I report back to an audience."
Part of your career in the army involved protecting the Queen. What was that like?
"Throughout London, where you see the horse guards that wear the helmets, the swords, the armour and the plume — I was one of them and I was wired up to the police. My job was to protect the Queen. I knew her on a professional level and she is very quick witted. She's very sharp and an amazing person who has dedicated her entire life to service to the country."
Did you also have to stand guard at the Queen Mother's vigil?
"Yes. I was just trying not to fall over really."
We spotted Prince Harry and Princess Beatrice at your gig at The Tabernacle, as well as Ed Sheeran and other celebrities.
"Yes, there was a real mix of people and of course, some familiar faces along the way. That's what I really enjoy about putting out music and seeing how many people it connects with. I've played in places like Beirut where you have a mixture of Christians, Muslims and Jews all in the same room, and that is the magic of music — you can write songs about personal experiences and people will say yes, you know what, I feel the same thing."
In your video for Bonfire Heart, did you use real people and not actors?
"With Bonfire Heart, the song is about human connection so the words are simple — 'People like us, we don't need that much, just someone to light the spark in our bonfire heart.' One of the coolest parts of making the video was getting to cover hundreds of miles on my motorbike and because the song is about human connection we didn't want to use actors. We just met people along the way and filmed them. In the final scene, that was a real wedding. I got out my guitar and played Bonfire Heart, and then spontaneously, surrounded by their friends and their family, the bride and groom had their first dance and that's what we filmed. That's what became my music video."
Your track Miss America is about Whitney Houston. How did she inspire your song?
"I didn't personally meet her, but you can't escape hearing her music or being blown away by her voice and talent. It's a song about the tragedy of how her dark side, her demons, overtook that talent. The song is really about how we are the spectators of that, and we perhaps enjoy spectating a bit too much. We talk about celebrity and fame, but I just see myself as a singer, a guy who writes songs. I work for an organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, and these doctors, nurses and aid-workers save and rebuilt lives. For me they're the real celebrities of the world today."
Moon Landing is out in the UK on 21 October.