“It feels real this time,” says John Newman, one day after his debut solo single, the stirring “Love Me Again,” debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart. The song sold 125,000 units to shoot to the summit, breezing by global hits like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It” on the regional tally, according to the Official Charts Company.
The Yorkshire-born singer has been here before: the 23-year-old served as the featured vocalist on Rudimental’s overseas chart-topper “Feel The Love” last summer. But the arrival of “Love Me Again” — one of the most vibrant pop singles of the year, and a song which coincidentally became available for purchase in the U.S. this week — is a watershed moment for the 23-year-old, who’s hard at work on a breakup album as potentially devastating as Adele’s “21.”
“It felt very surreal [hitting No. 1] with Rudimental, because, although I helped write the song and performed on it, it wasn’t what I was aiming to do,” Newman explains to Billboard. “It was a brilliant platform for what I am doing now, but this time, it really sank in that I went No. 1.”
Newman first discovered a passion for music through his mother, who was obsessed with Motown and soul music, and began writing and producing songs in his bedroom before eventually turning the cupboard under the stairs in his Settle, North Yorkshire home into a tiny studio. After studying at the College of Music in Leeds, Newman moved to London and started working at an Old Dairy pub… until he got fired for giving a drink away. “That was the thing to do, I thought!” Newman professes, before shrugging off the incident and saying, “Eh, I had a good time, anyway.”
The singer worked (briefly) at the pub with the sister of Piers Agget, who later became the frontman for drum-and-bass quartet Rudimental, and when Newman got canned, he moved in with the Agget family. The two started jamming, and Newman ended up providing vocals for the soaring single “Feel The Love” as well as the “Not Giving In,” both on Rudimental’s debut album, “Home.”
“Feel The Love” hit No. 1 in June 2012, and Newman joined Rudimental on tour and for various promotional appearances, including for a live performance on “Christmas Top of the Pops” last December. Once promotion of “Feel The Love” died down, Newman retreated to a professional studio to work on his debut solo material for Universal Island, who signed the singer to a deal two years ago. “I was a little anxious in there,” he admits, “because the Rudimental tour was in the past, and I remember still being called ‘the singer from the Rudimental tour.'”
“Love Me Again,” which was unveiled last May in an official music video that has since gained 5 million YouTube views, blows away that perception with a searing fusion of house, hip-hop and soul music, as Newman and writer-producer Steve Booker (who helmed Duffy’s “Mercy”) demand to know if the singer can find forgiveness after screwing up a relationship. It’s a scorching opening statement for a forthcoming debut album that will focus on the dissolution of Newman’s last long-term relationship.
“This album… it’s going to be quite hard for me to listen to,” says Newman. “In the time that I was going through watching things change and the music picking up, I was trapped in this house that me and my girlfriend had built this whole relationship in. And I had to move out of that house, because it was like every wall reminded me of this break-up. A lot of the songs come from that — how I couldn’t look at certain things in that house, and how I had to get out.”
The still-untitled album does not have a release date, but Newman says that he’s “really happy” with what the long studio hours have amounted to thus far. “We had a really special moment the other day,” he shares. “We’d been working on a string arrangement, and then we went into the studio to record, and I had a tear in my eye because it felt like the album’s little bits were finally coming together. All the little ideas had a consistency running through them, and it just felt like the album was very close to being done. And I’ve got viral ideas and campaign ideas, and everything’s really coming together. It feels incredible.”
As “Love Me Again” vies for a second week in the top spot of the U.K. singles chart, Newman says that he’s gearing up for the song’s inevitable stateside push, especially now that it’s commercially available. The singer has a handful of U.K. live shows lined up through the end of 2013, including appearances at the Wilderness Festival and V Festival in August, but says that U.S. shows are “of course” coming as well. “I think Americans like to see a good show,” he says with a laugh.