John Newman has opened up about suffering from depression during lockdown and how falling back in love with music helped him to recover ahead of dropping new single ‘Waiting For A Lifetime’. Watch our video interview with Newman above.
In an exclusive interview with NME, the singer, songwriter, producer and DJ – who has collaborated with the likes of Rudimental, Sigala, Calvin Harris and David Guetta, and returns with a new single today – reflected on the impact of a decade spent on the road.
“When you’re touring, no matter if a single’s not doing that well or there’s crap going on at home or you don’t like yourself as a person, it’s not something you actually know,” he said.
But when lockdown hit, he said he soon realised that he wasn’t happy. “When that opportunity to run and hide was taken away from me, I realised that I was actually miserable and so not happy with how my career was going,” he admitted. “I realised that I was just running at a thousand miles an hour to try and cover that up.
“Taking the free champagne and getting pictures on the red carpet and thinking that was success, when really I’d lost all vision of what success was, which is the pure love and emotion of something that you’ve created doing well.”
He added that it was “a lot to deal with at the beginning, to deal with these emotions of me and who I am, and how to make myself better. That was really hard.”
Realising he didn’t have space for music led him to “pull the alarm bell” and get rid of his label and management. “For years I was leaning on a side of me that was influenced by Northern Soul and Motown. Although it will always inspire me, I felt I began to lose grip, lose focus and become disorientated,” he said.
“I just decided ‘I’m not happy and I don’t have any fight left in me’. But as soon as I did that, I felt this pressure release – to feel better.”
Newman continued: “I was fucked because I couldn’t release music so what was the point, and I also had no responsibility so I had to just focus on getting myself better mentally and getting out of a really depressed, and some days suicidal state, and get myself feeling good again.”
Getting back into music and producing the kind of dance tracks he used to love as a child helped him to recover. “Creating something that was just for me really helped,” Newman told NME. “I wouldn’t even sing on them, I was making long instrumental dance tracks that just made me feel great and emotional and that’s what music should be.”
Now, two years on from leaving his label and management and starting to go in a new direction, John is back with ‘Waiting For A Lifetime’, a song that he says is the embodiment of “releasing the chains and making myself happy, which I realised I’d been waiting so long to be able to do.”
“There’s a lyric in it – ‘flashing lights, leave my tears on the dancefloor, empty nights, I’ve been holding on for something more’ – and that is literally about the idea of running around the world, trying to escape every emotion and hide from everything I’ve ever done wrong or been embarrassed of,” he said. “It got to the point where I needed to write that song and when I did, I instantly felt so much better.”
He revealed that the song was also inspired by wanting to relate that feeling into his relationship. “When someone is suffering for a long time, it must be a hard gig for the person on the other side,” he said. “My wife was there for me and she’d be saying these things and I’d be losing my nut at her.”
He went on: “I remember apologising one day and saying ‘I’m done with everything, I’ve got no temperament for any confrontation or anything’. I feel for anyone that’s had to go through it in the first person, but also as a partner of somebody as well.
“But it’s amazing for someone to have that person there, because that’s when things go wrong if they don’t – they say ‘check in on your friends’ and it really is important. If I didn’t have Nana, my mrs, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Speaking of how the new single signifies an artistic revival, Newman said: “I’m literally doing what I set out to do as a kid now, before all the glitz and the glamour and everything that comes with success.
“When I started out I was actually quite afraid of the idea of fame, so it was quite nice to get rid of all that and go back to making tunes in my room,” he added, describing the studio as his safe place. And, also, how can you be famous in a pandemic unless you’re doing shit dances on TikTok?”
“I have no hesitation about it being a great pop track and, anyway, if people don’t like it they can just listen to all my old soul stuff on Spotify.”
He said the lockdown was a good thing in that way as it allowed him to “just be me and do what that kid always did in the bedroom,” and to “connect to something from my childhood,” remembering producing and DJ’ing on his laptop as a teenager.
“For me, music was always a massive release – especially dance music when I was a kid,” he said, adding that he remembers getting Fruity Loops out of a Kellogs box as a child. “Like with my single ‘Love Me Again’ , you can definitely hear that influence – it’s a massive dance track.”
Going back to his dance roots has also led him to switch up his live show to make it “much more high energy”. Having re-opened the stems of his early hits and remixed them into festival-sized anthems, he said: “It’s more of a DJ/live hybrid, with a mix of live vocals, live mixing and beat triggering, really giving the energy and making it a proper party rather than just performing my ballads.
“It comes across amazing – I’ve found a way to push myself and my talents further,” he added. “To challenge myself. I wanted to do something different. It’s still me, but putting it into a new vibe that I feel comfortable with”.
This summer, John will be playing a string of DJ sets as well as creating mixes for fans online as part of his Below The Decks series.
“I think standing behind the decks is certainly more reassuring for someone who’s been through a mental health crisis,” he said. “I don’t know if I could stand on the front of the stage pretending I’m Alex Turner or James Dean anymore!”
The most exciting thing, he said, is that he doesn’t know how his return is going to: “I’m crazy nervous but really excited. I could become the biggest artist in the world or it might all go wrong, who knows?”
‘Waiting For A Lifetime’ is out now.