“I’m never going to think ‘Right, that’s it, I’ve made it now.’ Even the greats like Paul McCartney never think they can’t do better. The artists who do get cocky are the ones who don’t have longevity.” – Olly Murs
Steely words from one of the most successful new male singers of the past decade – and a fine statement of intent for how he’s improved on his double-platinum-selling debut album with its follow-up, ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’.
One of the most anticipated albums of the year, it’s a collection that’s every bit as infectious as that self-titled debut, but takes Olly in many unexpected directions. You’ll find ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll references, you’ll hear ballads that take a sharp turn into euphoric pop sing-alongs, you’ll even have your heart broken.
“You can always grow as an artist,” explains Olly of the reasons behind progressing away from the reggae-tinged grooves of his debut. “Every album should be better than the one before it. I needed to work harder, test the boundaries and do something different. Any song that sounded similar to my debut was rejected, because there was no progression there for me.”
From the outset, when writing sessions begun in January, it was clear that ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ was going to have a more old-school, classic soul and rock ‘n’ roll feel – as Olly points out, his first audition for The X Factor saw him wow the judges by tackling Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’. But it’s also a set of very modern pop songs. “To this day, if you hear Rock Around The Clock, you have to get up and dance,” says Olly. “But it’s an album that sits really well with what’s current. It fits in with what Plan B, Mark Ronson and Cee-Lo Green are doing, by bringing back that old-school vibe and giving it a modern element.”
Olly’s had a more hands-on approach to co-writing this album than before, helping to pen every song bar its chart-topping first single ‘Heart Skips A Beat’. He insists that it’s been easier to change his approach by working with the same writing teams that helped out first time round – Steve Robson & Claude Kelly; Martin Brammer & Adam Argyle; Matthew Prime & Karen Poole and Sam Preston & Mark Taylor. “They’re writers who know what I’m like and what I’m capable of,” Olly reasons. “I don’t understand British artists who go off to America to work with writers there, as soon as they’ve had success with British writers. Why would you change so dramatically? I can change my style more naturally and more confidently with the same team around me over here.”
The first fruit from those writing sessions was new single ‘Dance With Me Tonight’, co-written with Steve and Claude. “It just popped out of nowhere,” laughs Olly. “It’s a really hooky, happy song that you can’t help dancing to. I love its Showaddywaddy doo-wop element, and I defy anyone not to tap their feet to it when they hear it.”
Around this time, Olly was offered the job of co-hosting The Xtra Factor with Caroline Flack on ITV2. He was initially reluctant, not wanting his first role as a TV presenter to interfere with his day job of making great pop songs (“I feel weird saying I’m a singer-songwriter, but that is my job now.”) Olly recalls: “Simon Cowell really wanted me to present The Xtra Factor, and everyone’s been amazing in ensuring we could work that around this album. I don’t see myself as a TV presenter, but The Xtra Factor made sense, because I started out on The X Factor.”
Olly is one of the few male solo singers to have enjoyed huge success from a reality TV show background, which he attributes to a number of factors. “You have to have ambition, talent and a business mind for where you want to go,” he reasons. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not going to work hard at it, it’ll never come to you. “People relate to me, and I try to make songs that make people smile.”
The sing-along title track of ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ is a sequel to Olly’s No 1 debut single ‘Please Don’t Let Me Go’, as he explains: “It pictures me sat at home, wondering what the girl in the song is up to now. She doesn’t want to know me, but I still really like her, in case she didn’t know.”
Of course, calling the album itself “Olly Murs, In Case You Didn’t Know” is also a self-confessed testament to Olly’s cheek. But there’s far more to the record than raising a smile, as demonstrated on powerhouse ballad ‘I Need You Now’. Written with Martin and Adam – who co-wrote ‘I Blame Hollywood’ on Olly’s debut – it sees the 27 year-old express his frustrations at the single life. “It’s probably the best song I’ve written,” beams Olly, understandably proud of the stirring tune. “I’m not desperate for a girlfriend, but I would like someone to share my life with. I wanted to express how it feels to be the only one of my mates without a girlfriend, about sharing the small things you do as a couple. It’s a simple song, but I think that means you can really feel the emotions.
“I Need You Now is the first song where I’ve gone ‘Oh my God!’ at the end of it, as I’m so proud of bringing those emotions out of me. Whoever my ideal woman is, I don’t know her name yet, hence the lyric ‘Hold your hand up if you hear me/Searching for all that I find/It’s everywhere that I go/I’m the only one standing alone in a crowd/I need you now.’ I’m really chuffed with that song.”
It’s a sentiment that anyone can identify with, and typifies Olly’s conversational approach to lyric writing. “I try to write about commonplace subjects, like Paul Weller or Lily Allen do,” he nods. “It’s the little references that make a song real, like singing ‘Running up the stairs of the double-decker bus’ and name-checking Primrose Hill in ‘Dance With Me Tonight’.
“It also applies in ‘I Don’t Love You Too’. You’d think from the title that it’s going to be a big heartbreak anthem, but it’s a cat-and-mouse game between two lovers that any couple can identify with.”
Having worked as an energy advisor at a call centre in his home town of Witham in Essex until The X Factor, it seems Olly’s life has suddenly become one that many would happily slay a few passers-by for. “There are people who’d love my life,” he accepts. “Hosting The Xtra Factor, I really appreciate what people who audition for the show go through. When I auditioned in 2009, I didn’t really think about it – I just got up there and did it. It’s only looking back that I think ‘God, what if I’d mucked up a line?’
“I used to wonder how professional footballers get up in the morning. What’s your motivation to play football when you’re getting paid £10 million a year? But I see it now. I’m not earning anything like that, but entertainers get paid ridiculous sums too, yet we love the job. If you love what you do, whatever your job is, you don’t care about the money.”
That enthusiasm was shown on Olly’s first headline tour in Spring. Every venue sold out, including three nights at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. There was only one way to go and, sure enough, a huge round of headlining arenas will follow the album in February.
“The first tour was a great experience,” grins Olly. “I think everyone walked away with sore voices from singing along, sore hands from clapping along and sore feet from dancing. That shows we got it spot on, and that we were right to concentrate on the musical side of performing. We’ll put on a great show in the arenas, but we’re not going too far down the dancing route – I’ll get a bigger band, build that up. I just want to put on the best show of the year, if I can. I want people to come away feeling it was money well spent.”
Having sold 600,000 copies of his first album and knowing that he’s improved on it second time around, it’s no wonder Olly is confident about the future.
“I’ll do whatever I can to keep getting better,” he explains. “Having gone double-platinum, I want this record to go triple-platinum. It’d show that the people who enjoyed my debut want to hear more, and that I’ve got new fans too, who love these songs that bit more this time.
“Really, I just want to enjoy this. I don’t want to think ‘If only I’d done this…’ I don’t want regrets.”
With an album as strong, consistently entertaining and confident as ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’, there’s nothing to regret. In case you didn’t know, it’s a pop classic.