International intrigue. Dark conspiracies. Hair-raising fistfights aboard speeding trains on a nowhere track to Armageddon. Recoiling in horror as we shout: ‘But… no, it can’t be – the president is a clone! Punch him! Punch him in the head!’ That’s what TV told us journalism was going to be like, anyway. But the reality of working on a magazine is that it’s two parts sitting on the phone organising things to one part actually doing stuff (and exactly no parts presidential doubles, though hope springs eternal).
And when it came time to talk to UK R&B star Lemar, it was no exception – not only was the 30-year-old singer in LA at the time, he was also in the middle of filming the video for his latest single, ‘Weight Of The World’, complete with fast cars and beautiful women. So after much to-ing and fro-ing, it was decided that the interview should be conducted by that handy journalistic standby, email.
Not that we blame him for spending as much time working as possible – after all, this kind of success didn’t come easily. His first single, 2001’s ‘Got Me Saying Ooh’, failed to chart, leaving Lemar – who had given up a pharmacy degree to pursue a course in music – dropped from his label RCA. ‘I felt very low at the time,’ he says, ‘It was hard. I felt that I had exhausted all my options and I was back at square one.’ Square one in this case being a job as an accounts manager at the UK’s NatWest bank. Grim.
But he conserved his energies and took another stab at the top the following year, when he auditioned for the BBC talent show Fame Academy. Although he didn’t win – that award went to indie songwriter David Sneddon – he’s arguably become its greatest alumnus. Not only have his LPs gone platinum twice, he’s built up a dedicated fanbase and, in November, released his fourth album, The Reason.
He’s also become one of the few reality TV stars to develop actual credibility, though not without effort. ‘There is a stigma attached to people who do TV shows,’ he says. ‘Luckily I’ve been able to overcome all of that by singing good songs and giving good performances. I think people can tell the difference between what’s good and what’s not so great.’ But he’s not sitting comfortably just yet – it seems that his brush with banking has left its scars on his psyche. ‘I feel secure, but you can never relax [in the music industry],’ he explains. ‘You’re always at the risk of being dropped. The music business has ups and downs, just like life. You have to ride the wave and make sure you have fun while you’re riding it!’
That wave doesn’t look like it’s going to break any time soon, certainly not with another album coming out. And this one, he says, represents him more than any other.
‘I just wanted to be free in the studio: no agendas, no objectives other than to write some good, honest songs that really embodied me.
‘I definitely do feel the record company has more trust in me as an artist [than when he started]. If you spend enough time at anything, you become better at it. I think that my record company has seen this and as each year has gone past I have gained more and more trust from it, and it from me. That has really helped me towards making this album.’
This even extends to bringing in creative pals to help develop the CD’s sound. ‘Working with multiple producers wasn’t a conscious decision,’ he explains. ‘I just wanted to write songs with whoever I clicked with. I partied, talked and made bonds with the writers and producers that I thought were really cool, and as a result I think the songs on this album are more intimate.’
And it’s those songs – and his existing hits – that he’ll be performing at Chi this week. But, we wonder, surely there’s a danger that bringing in multiple producers leads to a less cohesive sound than his previous, single-producer albums? Did he have a final say on the tracks? No response. We try again. His PR bod replies: ‘He didn’t want to answer this question; hope this is OK.’ Oh. E-interviews, eh? We’d rather be punching presidents.
Lemar plays Chi on February 17