He’s a four time Grammy Award winning artist, who’s given us smash-hit pop songs, ‘Hollywood’ ‘Haven’t Met you Yet’ and ‘Everything’. His soulful, classic sound has seen him release renditions of some of the greatest songs of the past 50 years including, ‘Save The last Dance For Me’ and ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and he has been known to make both women and men swoon – quite literally.
Now the charming 39-year-old is headed to Dubai for the first time to perform across two nights at the Dubai International Stadium.
You’ve recorded a duet with Van Morrison, a reworking of his track ‘Real Real Gone’. How did that come about?
‘I’ve been a fan and loved Van Morrison since I was about 12-years-old and of all the people alive today, he’s probably the number one guy that I wanted to work with. It was a dream come true for me truly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had something so satisfying in my career before. I got a call saying Van was interested and wanted to know if I had any ideas of what to do and of course it was a song that was on the radio years ago and one of the many dance songs that I love. I think he’s a deep, beautiful songwriter and singer and it moves me, and the fact that I got to do it is something that I’ll never forget. I can’t believe I got to do it’.
You turn 40 this year, which is quite a milestone. How does it feel looking back over your career and the success you’ve had? Does confidence come with age?
‘I think that humility comes with age, (laughs) I think the older you get, the more you realise that you don’t know anything and you take joy out of learning and out of knowledge. There’s humility there that comes with realising how little you know. I think I realise how lucky I am, I’ve realised that I need to appreciate the thousands of people that love me and support me and without them, I’d never be here. You look back on your life and you realise that you’ve been blind for so long. You walk around with hope and there’s so much luck to get to where you are and your just so thankful that that’s the way it went for you and you know I said about the universe, you put it out there and you pray to your thoughts, to whoever you talk to and I think if you put it out there, it comes back to you. I’ve been very fortunate’.
You’re known to attract quite a few female fans. Is it true you’ve caught fans as they’ve fainted?
‘Oh yeah that’s happened a few times. I think that’s less about me being like a member of One Direction (laughs) and more about social anxiety. I think sometimes people have a hard time accepting the reality of that moment and I think that it overwhelms them a little bit. I think that while they thought about it a few times, they never really about that they would be there. I think we’ve all kind of had those moments, moments of social anxiety in different places. Whether it’s with a celebrity, or with a girl you like or people that you don’t know very well. I struggle with it a little bit. Man it’s happened more than once that’s for sure. And not just women by the way, yeah guys too, it happened at a party.
I was in a conversation with a guy at a house party actually and I think he got nervous and he was just standing there and he just got flustered and he passed out’.
You are in Dubai for two shows, do you have plans for when you are here?
‘You better believe it I have plans. I got lots of plans, I’m flying my mom and dad in with me, they’ve never been, my wife and my baby, my sister in law and her husband. My sister in laws husband is a magician and he actually works and lives in Dubai, so we’ve lots of stuff planned.
What have you been up to recently?
‘There’s always new stuff happening. I’ve always got songs that I’m working on and different projects’.
Was it difficult starting out to get signed, as a young guy with this classic, soulful sound?
‘It was incredibly difficult. It was scary. I worked for ten years, I was 16 years old when I started out and I didn’t kind of get my break until I was 26. So it was difficult especially because I didn’t come from a family with connections in this business. I came from a very blue-collar family. I don’t know how many times I heard the sentence, “You know your very talented but I’m not sure what to do with you” this was something that I heard from the biggest producers, record companies and agents and I remember saying “If you don’t know then who knows”. It just took perseverance and a stupid belief in myself and its funny when I look back I can’t believe how naïve I was to think that I could somehow do this. I think that naivety is part of what actually got me to this day.’
Songs like ‘Everything’ and ‘Haven’t Met You Yet’, are big pop songs. Do you think those were game-changers for you?
‘Yeah I think the pop songs were game-changers for me, they were the difference between me getting a younger audience probably. They were the difference in me playing in theatres and arenas. Radio play is pretty huge. An interviewer said to me that they saw me as the Sinatra of our generation and even though I thought that was a nice thing for him to say, it’s a categorization that’s uncomfortable. The fact is the reason that I’m playing arenas is partly because I sing these great songs but it’s also because I sit on the radio with Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran and One Direction and all these people. I like pop songs, it allows me to be a schizophrenic, whatever you want to call it and it allows me to build an audience that’s a little more diverse.’
What tracks would be on your party playlist?
‘One of my favourite songs is called ‘Hollywood’ that I wrote, it was kind of a tongue and cheek look at celebrities and how stupid and ridiculous it is. I love the new Bruno Mars song, ‘Uptown Funk’ (Starts singing) ‘To hot, hot damn, called a police and a fireman, too hot, hot damn’ yeah I like that song.
Can we expect any of those renditions at the concert in Dubai?
‘You can expect the unexpected. I’ll tell you the truth, I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t know what song I’ll break out with, or what’s going to inspire me. I have no clue, I just know that it’s going to be fun.’
Dhs295-1,000. March 12-13. 7pm. Dubai International Stadium, Dubai Sports City.