It’s hard to believe its been 10 years since Lemar Obika took to the Fame Academy stage, and wowed viewers with his soulful voice and song writing skills. Since then he has had seven top ten singles, sold over two million albums, won several Brit and MOBO awards, and had two children – Nyiema, 4, and Uriah, 2. Having just completed a mini tour celebrating a decade in the music business, Lemar spoke to Press Party about his latest album release Invincible, his perspective on TV talent shows today, and how being a singer has led to some difficult sacrifices.
HOW HAVE YOU FELT ABOUT THE RESPONSE TO YOUR ALBUM “INVINCIBLE” (RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER)?
So far, so good. It’s been three years since my last studio album and since then I’ve been doing a lot of writing so I wasn’t sure how people were going to react to my return. It’s been a warm welcome, well received at radio and the fans seem to like it a lot. I’ve just finished a mini-tour to celebrate the last 10 years and that went down really well.
WHAT DOES THE WORD INVINCIBLE MEAN TO YOU?
I think sometimes in life the fear of doing something is bigger than the doing itself. For me the word invincible means to feel the fear and do it anyway.
HOW HAS YOUR SOUND DEVELOPED SINCE YOUR LAST RECORD?
I would say this album is certainly the most eloquent, lyrically. It translates live very well, and live is my strongest point.
WHAT WERE YOUR INFLUENCES WHEN WRITING IT?
Personal stuff, you know? My personal life always plays a big role in anything that I write. On this one I had a lot of time travelling and a lot of time to talk to other people, friends and producers. It’s been a big analysis and reflection on relationships and life.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PART WAYS WITH SONY FOR THIS RECORD?
It just felt right. Sometimes a change is as good as a holiday. I’ve done five albums with Sony, and completed the whole deal so I thought why not do this? I didn’t actually set out to write an album. I just wanted to write as many songs as I could, and take it back to what it’s really about – writing a good song, and performing. I think sometimes you can get into a state where you’re concentrating on trying to write a hit. Eventually, I ended up with a bunch of songs, which I thought would be good on an album. I knew all the producers, writers, and record company people, so I rolled the dice myself, which was a bit more exciting, and a bit more risky, but it’s turned out alright.
YOU’VE HAD SEVEN TOP 10 SINGLES, WHICH TRACK HAS BEEN YOUR HIGHLIGHT?
The biggest song was “If There’s Any Justice”. I owe a lot to that song.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR CAREER HAS CHANGED SINCE SOCIAL MEDIA BECAME SO POPULAR?
Now if you’re not on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram then the promotion of a record is just that much harder. The television isn’t as important anymore. It’s all very much online. That’s just the way things are going, and it’s very much a different playing field.
DID YOU PREFER MAKING MUSIC WHEN IT WASN’T A BIG FACTOR?
I think more pizazz would be there. TV talent shows show everything that is going on behind the scenes in people’s lives and I think once you know all that you can get bored of it. The hysteria element of music is on it’s way out. But, because of social media a wider variety of music is accessible to people. So people can talk about more obscure acts, which makes everything a slightly more levelled playing field. It’s good and bad.
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’D BE WITHOUT FAME ACADEMY?
I’d still be doing music because I love it, but probably as a hobby. I’d probably be doing pharmacy, which I was going to be doing as a degree, so I would be dispensing tablets and handing out prescriptions!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO AN ASPIRING SINGER – WOULD YOU SUGGEST THEY GO DOWN THE TALENT SHOW ROUTE?
The most important thing, more than any talent show exposure, is if you’re a songwriter you’ve got to write songs, and if you’re a performer you’ve got to get up on the stage and perform. If you’re a dancer you’ve got to dance – you can’t just say I’m a dancer and wait for someone to come and see you. The only way people are going to know how good or bad you are is by doing what you do. Go to your local pub, club or theatre and sing – that’s how I started. My first gig was actually supporting Usher. When he came to London I found out the promoter and hassled him until he said, “Alright, you can open the show”. After that some American acts started hearing about me and whenever they came over I’d be their support on the club scene. I did that for ages, then I did the under 18 tour, then I did the Trevor Nelson tour, and it kept building and building. Because I was alright, I kept getting the next gig and the fan-base kept on growing. Going to a record company and being signed immediately wasn’t my route. For eight years I did what I did, and I was going to give up when Fame Academy came along. As a result, when I got that break I was of a standard that was good enough. The equation is opportunity plus preparation equals success.
I THINK PEOPLE FORGET THAT FAME ACADEMY EMPHASIZED THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A WELL-ROUNDED MUSICIAN…
Yeah, there was song-writing, voice coaching, performance classes.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE TALENT TO EMERGE FROM A TV TALENT SHOW? ARE YOU A BIG ONE DIRECTION FAN?
Well they have captured that hysteria that I mentioned earlier that’s disappearing so that’s cool. A lot of teenage girls are very excited about them. It’s not necessarily my music. I’m a person who loves voice. So Leona Lewis, Rebecca Ferguson, Misha B all have nice voices. Anyone that’s got a cool voice I like.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR CAREER HIGHLIGHT SO FAR?
This isn’t a cop out answer, but I’ve done a lot of travelling, won a lot of awards, but one thing I’ve always wanted is longevity. That’s what I said to the guys when they signed me. I wanted 20 years. So I’ve done my first 10.
PRESS PARTY ONLY REPORT THE TRUTH – WHAT IS THE CRAZIEST RUMOUR YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT YOURSELF?
A couple of years ago I was doing a gig somewhere up north, and it was in the paper that I went to the toilet and I didn’t wash my hands, and I said was drying my hands on the fans’ clothes. I was like, come on mate.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT ABOUT?
Not really. I do wash my hands and dry them after I am in a toilet.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MEDIA?
Largely positive. I keep myself to myself a lot. I’m a super private person so I don’t court much attention. Unless there’s something work related, when it comes to falling out of clubs and that, they largely leave me alone. I used to dream about getting on the stage and performing. I didn’t know much about what fame would be like but all I wanted to do was get on stage. Now a lot of kids just want to be famous. So talent is taking a second step on the ladder, and as a result the foundation of why you’re successful or famous is missing.
IF YOU COULD TAKE 3 THINGS TO A DESERT ISLAND, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
Oh my god, gadgets! My mobile phone, my MacBook Air, and my MyFi which gives you constant Wifi broadband.
WHO DO YOU ADMIRE MAKING MUSIC AT THE MOMENT?
I’m more about individual songs. I like a few of Emeli Sande’s and Ed Sheeran’s.
HOW DO YOU JUGGLE YOUR CAREER WITH BEING A FATHER?
Sometimes really badly. One thing about music and being an artist is that in order to be successful you have to be a little bit selfish as it takes so much focus. It has been an extremely intense year and as a result something has to suffer. I’m not around as much as I’d like to be at all. It’s all about just juggling work and trying to fit in the family and play whenever you can. It’s hard and you just get on with it.
WILL YOU GET TO SPEND CHRISTMAS TOGETHER?
Yes, I will, which will be great. I wanted to get away but I’m not sure that’s going to happen but either way by the end of this week I’ll shut down.
FINALLY, WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS AND WHAT IS YOUR NEXT BIG GOAL?
One thing I want to do is tour every year. You can’t download the live element of things. There’s also two or three major events I’d like to put on next year which are in the pipeline but I can’t say too much about them. Watch this space.
Interviewed by Holly Rubenstein for Pressparty.com
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