Interview: James Blunt Asks Vital Questions on ‘Who We Used to Be’

James Blunt is asking profound questions and translating them into music on his new album, Who We Used to Be. Reflecting on the early days of his career, Blunt often wondered about who he would meet and who he was going to become. Nearly 20 years later, Blunt has the answers to many of those questions. His hit single, “You’re Beautiful,” turned him into a household name in 2005 and reached No. 1 on several charts around the world. It topped four charts in the U.S. alone, including the coveted Billboard Hot 100. He proved the formula again just months later with the release of “Goodbye My Lover” which cracked the Top 20 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 chart. The key to Blunt’s effective songwriting formula is his ability to explore emotional subjects. 

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Now, Blunt is asking a different set of questions ranging from “Does my family have security and love?” to “What is the point of life?” “My place in the world is changing, it throws up some questions, and that gives you a lot of inspiration for songs,” Blunt tells American Songwriter about the approach to his new album, Who We Used to Be. “I write songs about something bigger, they’re bigger statements. I was just writing about what’s going on in my life, but it’s been a time where there’s just tons to write about, so it’s been a really interesting and exciting and easy album to write and record in many ways. That then dictates the quality of the album, or at least the songwriting.” 

Across 10 tracks, Blunt explores a variety of topics from his children, pregnancy loss, and his late friend and renowned actress Carrie Fisher. Like with his previous music, Blunt isn’t afraid to let his emotions be exposed like a raw nerve. “The Girl That Never Was” is a tribute to the daughter Blunt and his wife Sofia Wellesley lost in a miscarriage, the singer uses the lyrics to paint a comforting picture of her bright eyes and blonde hair falling like rivers on her shoulders. We never should have picked a name /’Cause now she has a face / And now no matter what we do / No one will take her place, he sings poignantly. “It’s a very, personal, very painful song,” he shares. “I think a lot of people who have had aspirations to start a family can relate to it.” 

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All the Love That I Ever Needed” is a gift to his wife as he professes in the lyrics: All the love that I ever needed / I got it from you.“I wanted to write a bigger statement than ‘You’re Beautiful’ about the woman that I’m with,” he explains. “How do you convince them that they’re the one? It’s that search to say, ‘The love that I ever needed? I’ve got it from you.’” He closes out the album with a message to his children, “Glow,” about his longing for time to stop moving so quickly. “When you have a family, you stop asking questions about yourself, and you ask questions about your care and consciousness for others,” he observes.

Blunt also exudes delicate care with “Dark Thought,” his tribute to his late friend Fisher. Blunt met Fisher in his native England at a restaurant in Notting Hill soon after he signed a record deal and was going to the U.S. to record his debut album. When Blunt informed her that he’d had yet to find housing in Los Angeles, she offered him a room in her home, leading to a deep friendship up until her death in 2016. Blunt was running late to a recording session but he felt the urge to drive up to Fisher’s house one last time. On the album’s most lyrically descriptive song, Blunt puts listeners in the passenger seat as he makes the trek up to Fisher’s old house in the Hollywood hills, detailing the “For Sale” sign he saw in the yard and the chandelier that swayed among the trees in her backyard. So goodbye to my best friend ever / I can’t believe you’re gone forever / Came up to find you today / ‘Cause I finally found all the words that I needed to say / But a dark thought got there first, he proclaims in the emotional chorus. 

“It took me a long time to find the words because she was so important to me,” Blunt professes, revealing that he ventured to the house in an effort to “feel her spirit.” “So rather than thinking too hard about what to say I just described that moment…It’s just truth for a minute, and that’s what songwriting is. Real songwriting is just telling the truth about how you feel, unclouded by pretension, an image, and what’s going on the outside just to tell the truth of how you feel.” 

Who We Used to Be reflects his ability to harness his emotions and translate them into truthful lyrics, a talent that is likely to sustain him for the duration of his career. “You get to a certain time in your life and things happen and the questions of life are thrown up, and I’m right in that now,” he remarks. “That’s what I’ve written about. That’s why I haven’t had to think about it or open up, I’ve just had to say it how it is – and that’s why it’s been a pleasure.” 

Who We Used to Be is available now. Blunt will hit the road in 2024 for an extensive tour schedule across Europe. 

Photo Credit: Michael Clement/Courtesy of Atlantic Records

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