Olly Murs On Cracking America, Demi Lovato & Singing For Ryan Tedder: Idolator Interview
A household name in the UK since appearing on The X Factor in 2009, Olly Murs is slowly making a name for himself in the US with upbeat radio fodder like “Troublemaker” (a number 25 hit in 2013) and “Wrapped Up.” The 30-year-old is now hoping to build on that momentum with fourth LP Never Been Better, which contains a much-hyped collaboration with Disney diva Demi Lovato and a song handcrafted by hitmaker Ryan Tedder.
I recently caught up with Olly to chat about balancing his goal of cracking America against the many demands of UK fame, and his adventures working with the above-mentioned superstars. He also opened up about taking his clothes off for that raunchy Attitude magazine shoot, touring and his plans for the rest of 2015. See what the talkative Brit had to say below.
When you’re already so established in the UK, is it difficult to come to the US and almost start over?
For me it’s always a bonus. I think it’s a bit of a reality check. Which is cool. In the UK obviously we do arena tours, we’re on front covers of magazines, you’re talked about in the press. Your music’s getting played every day on the top radio stations. All of a sudden, you’re starting from scratch so for me I was already prepared for that. Every artist is on a different adventure, that’s how I look at it. Everyone’s different. I mean you can look at how amazing the year’s been for someone like Sam Smith.
Sometimes, it just happens. For me, I’m building it very slowly. I started in 2012-13 with One Direction and we did the tour here which was brilliant. We barely did any promo back then, it was just the radio stations. Now we’re just building this new album. We’re taking steps, that’s more important for me than taking jumps. I’m getting to know the market here. I’m getting to know my fans. I’m getting to know the culture. I know it sounds ridiculous because obviously we both speak the same language but the jokes are different, some of the sayings are different, so you have to adapt to it.
Is that why you delayed the album release in the US?
Yeah. We wanted to make sure that we gave it the best possible chance in the UK. I feel like with anything, when you’re promoting an album, if my status over here was huge then I suppose I would have released it at exactly the same time. It isn’t, so I feel like I needed to come here and start from scratch. Start working again and that’s what we did, we just started from scratch.
Was “Wrapped Up” always going to be the lead single?
If I’m honest, it wasn’t. We hadn’t decided. It was the song that I felt really typifies me as a person. It’s got that personality. It’s fun, every first single’s always been an uptempo song that has a good vibe. I love disco music so, and obviously getting Travie McCoy on the record was big. It was definitely one of the main contenders. There was another song on the album that I felt potentially could have been the first single, a song called “Did You Miss Me.” I wrote about my fans. I had only been out of the market for like eight months but, it was a nice, good first single to come back with.
I love all my songs equally, I’m passionate about all of them. I mean, we always knew that “Up” with Demi Lovato was the song. The reaction to that song when it came out in the UK was massive, it’s still getting massive traction now and it’s been out for four months. Obviously we’re looking forward to releasing that one here, but we think that “Wrapped up” is a nice start. It’s introduction to me being back and then I think “Up” is the one that will steer it.
How did the song with Demi come about?
Demi always came up in conversations when we were talking about it and I was looking on YouTube and just looking at singers, really amazing singers. We kept putting names into the hat and her name was always in it. Then it was like, you know what, let’s just ask. Just go to her and see what she says and to be fair her team was really lovely, they were really excited about it. Obviously Demi knew a little bit about me, but she didn’t know too much. Then we really went to her and explained who I was and what I’ve been doing and she was just excited about being a part of it. Then, she heard the song…
This was before she even heard the song?
Yeah, and then when she heard the song it was like a game changer. She was like, “let’s do it. I’m so excited about this song.” I’m looking forward to meeting up with her again, and doing some stuff over here. It’s going to be fun.
Did you get into the studio together, or was it one of those things where it was recorded separately?
Separately. I was promoting and doing stuff [in the UK] and so we just sent out the song and she did her vocal on it. It’s just one of those things, you get it back and you’re like “Wow, this really brought the song to life and it gave it something completely different.” I was just really happy to have Demi, because she’s such a fun person. I’ve been seeing her on TV, she’s very outspoken and she knows Simon Cowell obviously from the X Factor days. I felt like we had mutual friends and had something in common to talk about.
Did you get on well when you finally met?
She came into this room and we had to do an acoustic performance. She came in and I think I probably chewed her ear off for like the first two hours. Because I was just like, “So how are you? What are you up to? What have you been doing? How have you been? How’s things? You okay? What’s going on? What’d you eat for lunch? What’d you do for dinner? What socks are you wearing?” I was just talking, because I wanted to make her feel comfortable. Because I imagine it’s daunting to walk into a room and then we just do the song.
Demi has done a lot of features lately. She did that song with The Vamps, and now you. Do you worry that there’s an over saturation?
No. The thing is, if you want to get a rapper on a song sometimes in this industry it’s “How much?” You know what I mean? I think that you can do that. With both Travie and Demi it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t a deal with money, it was really about them wanting to be a part of this project, this album, the songs. I think the songs said it all for me. Like Travie, unfortunately he wasn’t around for the video, because he was unavailable for that day and we had to do it that day.
I suppose I felt a little bit like “Oh he’s not into it.” Then I met him in New York and we did loads, we’ve done loads of shows here now with a lot of acoustics, and everything. He’s brilliant, he loves the song. You can get that when he performs it, you can see it when he’s around. He’s really, really into it. We could all feature on songs, but it’s if you believe in that song and you can give it something. I think that they genuinely believed that they wanted to be a part of it because they like the songs.
The next single is “Seasons”?
Yeah. I didn’t write this song. Ryan Tedder wrote it with his team of writers in LA. It was actually the last song that was given to me. I went to the studio, recorded the song and then I got a phone call saying “Ryan Tedder wants to talk to you tonight and we’ll do it at a studio in London because he might want you to tweak a few bits in the song.” I was like “That’s fair enough. It’s his song.”
I drove right into London, my voice is a bit sore because I had been singing that day and all of a sudden I’m there talking to Ryan Tedder, someone that I really admire on FaceTime, so I’m like, “Oh what’s up?” He’s like “Okay cool, so what we’re thinking is… I listened to your version and you didn’t quite nail it. I want to do it again.” I was like, “Okay, well what bits do you want to change?” He was like “The whole thing.”
Was that a bit of a blow?
No, no. It wasn’t a blow. It wasn’t I didn’t nail it. He said I sung it fine, I sung it straight. There was a lot of little things he wanted me to put across. A bit of swag was missing. I think that probably came from the fact that it wasn’t a song that I wrote. You can’t always get that emotion right in a song. He felt that I needed to give it an extra ten, fifteen percent. Without a shadow of a doubt he got fifteen, ten percent out of me. Then I had to pick up this Skype thing. I was like “Okay well I’ll do the song again.” He’s like “Okay well, I want to be here for it.” I had to pick up Skype and walk him into the vocal booth and he was sat there the whole time. It was like me auditioning for Ryan Tedder. It was amazing.
Your Attitude magazine shoot got a lot of attention. Do you enjoy posing for the shirtless pics?
I actually don’t like doing it. This was a shoot that I really wanted to do but, obviously when they said “You have to take your clothes off” I was bit like “Oh.” I really hadn’t been to the gym that often. I’ve been in the studio eating biscuits this whole six months. It was like I had to starve myself a couple of days before the shoot. That didn’t even help. You know, I’ve got a really great, gay following, lot of gay fans and obviously for them it’s all pictures. You know what I mean? My gay fans are going to like it, obviously my female fans are going to like it as well. It was fun. It was a good shoot to do. It was interesting, it was something I’d never done. I mean I’ve done a naked shoot before but it wasn’t very artistic and almost “film-esque” like. It had really good sets.
Do you set down the boundaries before hand?
There are no boundaries with me. I’ve never been that kind of person. If I don’t feel comfortable with doing it, I won’t do it. If the guy was like “I want you to lick your lips” or do something and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, I wouldn’t do it. I’m always up for testing things and doing something. Like, with videos if you’re kissing a girl in a video, like for example in the “Seasons” video, they really wanted to see that love between me and this girl. I wanted that passion and that excitement to come on camera. A lot of artists might say “No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that” but for me it’s about artistically showing the story. In the photo shoot, again, it was a way of me showing their ideas.
Everyone’s getting nude now. Nick Jonas and Miley Cyrus…
Yeah, I mean I’ve got no problem with it. I would have much preferred to have done the shoot now because I’m in much better shape. I mean if I do it now I’d look much better. They definitely picked the wrong time. That’s the great thing about Photoshop, they can tweak it. I think they gave me good lighting and I got good make up team.
What are your plans for like the rest of 2015?
I’ve got the tour coming up. I’ve got my arena tour in the UK coming up at the end of this month. Then I’m going back to Europe. I’ve got Australia to do, back here as well quite a bit this year doing different bits for the US. Obviously promoting “Up,” the single, and then hopefully coming back for a tour as well. There’s going to be a lot of touring. I knew this year was always going to be a touring year. I’m back on the road doing loads of festivals and seeing the fans basically. It’s a year for the fans.
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