Olly Murs has experienced the kind of dizzying success that some artists could only ever dream about. Yet somehow magically, he remains so incredibly humble.
Emerging from the stages of Britain’s ‘The X Factor’ in its 2009 season, the cheeky UK star has gone on to sell “about four million records” across the globe and, thanks to a recent promotional visit, has slowly begun capturing the hearts of the Australian record buying public too. We sat down for a natter with the singer to discuss his amazing ride and soon discover that there’s a reason he’s hell bent on making it ‘down under’.
“I’ve been here before,” he quickly admits. “I backpacked in 2008, so I did the east coast, travelled and had a right laugh. They were very good times. I just popped on a plane on my own, decided I wanted to do something different with my life. I think that’s what a lot of travellers do really – you just get bored with what you’re doing. I left my job, left all my friends behind, got on a plane. I was thinking ‘what the fuck am I doing getting on a plane to Australia?’, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he says.
Naturally, there’s a bit of a back-story as to how Olly came to arrive on our shores four years ago. And it all revolves around football, beer, karaoke and a couple of doses of rejection.
“I suffered a really bad knee injury playing football. It was all I played and I always felt that I’d be playing for Manchester United or something. It was never going to happen, but I lived and breathed football every day. Because I stopped playing, the only way I could really see my mates was to go to the pub after the game. So I started going to the pub more, which I hated because it was just full of drink and stuff I never really did.
“But there was a karaoke machine there, I got a few beers down me, one thing led to another and all of a sudden I was on the microphone singing away. It then became a regular occurrence. The guy behind the bar, John, thought that I was really good and he said that I should do some stuff at weekends, so me and my mate started doing a little acoustic thing. We started earning some pretty decent money, so I thought perhaps that it could be a new career move. So I went to ‘The X Factor’ back in 2007 and got rejected. I applied again in 2008 and got rejected again and I think that was the reason I thought that I needed to get out of the country,” he says.
But as they say in the classics, the third time’s a charm. And it was on his third attempt to apply for the country’s biggest TV show that Olly finally got accepted and was subsequently catapulted into the national spotlight, ultimately finishing runner-up in the competition to Joe McElderry. He’s been pinching himself ever since.
“It’s just bonkers,” he says. “It’s been a big shock to the system. I never really sat around for years trying to get into the industry, but it feels like it was almost meant to happen. I almost feel like this is the kind of job that I was always supposed to do, because I really enjoy it. I was thinking a moment ago that wow – I’m in Australia. I’ve just got a new house, it’s just sort of setting in.”
While Robbie Williams was off reconnecting with his former Take That bandmates, there was an obvious gap in the UK market for a knockabout, cheeky male solo singer – a gap that Olly seems to have filled with ease and aplomb. And the British public seemingly adores him.
“I think the UK public see me as someone they’d know next door or someone they could go down to the pub with or someone they could go and play football with,” he says, continuing… “Someone that they’d be happy for their daughters to date!
“I just get on really well with people. I think that I’m not above myself and they know I’m aware that my career is down to the fact that these people voted for me. So they kind of own me in a way, which is good. I think a lot of other pop stars seem to become this big ego where they think they’re bigger than they actually are. I don’t think I’m ever going to be that kind of person. I just like what I do and I enjoy it. I don’t like fuss and when there’s too much fuss around me, it gets on my nerves.”
Which is probably why Australian audiences reacted so well to Olly during his recent promotional visit. He notched up the No.1 trending Twitter topic while in Australia, appeared on numerous high profile radio shows and from what we hear on the grapevine, impressed a number of record company staff with his grounded, no-nonsense approach. Seems the charm offensive on local audiences certainly had an impact.
“Weirdly enough, this is probably the one country in the world where I really want to do well,” he admits. “Because I’ve been here before and I actually spent some real quality time here. Some of the best times of my life were spent here, so that for me is the one reason that I really want to do well in Australia. With the other countries, I’ve never been to them before, so it’s all fresh and new and it’s great that everything’s doing well for me, but this is the one country that I thought if I could get on a plane and Sony was able to sort it out, I’d much rather come to Australia for a good week and do some promo.”
And it seems he’s not too worried about losing the anonymity he enjoyed during his 2008 visit.
“I went to Bondi and had a couple of people recognise me, but that’s about it. It’s a beautiful country and it’s a place where I’ve got a lot of amazing memories. I’d love to come back in the future and spend even more time here. Maybe even meet an Aussie girl and settle down – who knows,” he teases.
Olly’s latest album is ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’. Musically diverse, it sees the singer co-write every track on the album except the lead single, the reggae-tinged ‘Heart Skips A Beat’. He’s once again worked with some of the finest writers in Britain, predominantly Claude Kelly and Steve Robson, and Olly tells us it’s a natural musical progression from his debut.
“This album is much more mature than the first record. The first record was a great start for me – I just came out of the traps, happy days. Got to the first hurdle and I was really proud of the effort we put into it. The second album was just a chance to go in a slightly different direction, but not really taking too much away from my personality. The album is a feel good album – that’s what I think. People listen from the start of the album to the finish and it’s a bodywork of the personality that lies within me.
“It’s very diverse. You’ve got some old school Motown vibes, you’ve got a bit of the ‘90s beat with ‘Heart Skips A Beat’, you’ve got some reggae in there, you’ve got some cool, modern contemporary pop in there. It’s a mixture of different styles and when I do write songs, that’s precisely what I like.
“Not that I think that I’m a songwriter – I think I’m someone who goes in with an idea and works with these amazing writers who are brilliant at it. I just put my feedback and own flavour on it. It’s more of a collective meeting really. You start with a blank piece of paper and suddenly you’ve got a hit record,” he says.
And he’s most certainly had plenty of them. His debut single ‘Please Don’t Let Me Go’ went straight in at No.1 in the UK on its debut back in 2010. His eponymous debut LP hit No.2 and went on to enjoy double platinum sales. The first two singles from this album (‘Heart Skips A Beat’ and ‘Dance With Me Tonight’) both achieved No.1 success. But that’s seemingly only the start of the story, with his music now starting to impact further afield.
“To be honest, I thought that the UK market was what I was going to be doing and I still don’t think I’ve reached my peak there. Really the European and the world markets were something that I didn’t really think was going to happen. I thought perhaps that Europe might take a little bit of a nibble at me this year, then maybe with the third record.
But we had a number one in Germany – two weeks at No.1. We hit No.1 in Switzerland, top ten in Austria and I think we did quite well in France too. So all these other markets are taking off, which is brilliant, but I didn’t think I would take off quite so well that I’d be heading to America and Australia. I didn’t think there’d be a demand for it, but you know… here I am,” he says, clearly excited.
The ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ project has taken a little while to get off the ground here, but the lead single ‘Heart Skips A Beat’ finally made it into the ARIA top 100 this week. Back home, meanwhile, the singer has been hard at work crafting album No.3, due for release later this year. We ask him what we might expect from it.
“Well I don’t like to fix what’s not broken,” he says. “I think a lot of artists try to change too much, so this year we’ve decided to go pretty much with the same writers as we have before. We’ve changed it up a little bit – I’m doing a couple of writing sessions with new people, getting a new vibe and a few new ideas just to freshen up a little bit. But the guys that I’ve written with before are pretty much top of the game in the UK and across the world. Claude Kelly and Steve Robson have had 80 million sales between them, so to have them in my corner and writing songs with me is pretty amazing.
“Claude wrote ‘Price Tag’ for Jessie J and ‘Grenade’ for Bruno Mars. He did ‘Please Don’t Let Me Go’ and ‘Dance With Me Tonight’, so hopefully we’ve got another hit with him for this next album. Wayne Hector’s going to be on the new one as well – we’re doing some sessions with him in the next couple of weeks. So yeah, I’ve written some exciting songs already, so hopefully the third album is just going to be as successful,” he says.
In the meantime, however, Olly’s certainly not going to be slowing down. On the contrary, he’s off to support One Direction on their American tour (we’ve told him to take earplugs), release his album Stateside and hopefully drum up a bit of interest there, plus there’s the small matter of the 2013 tour in the UK, tickets for which are already flying out the door.
It seems Olly Murs is very much a case of “what you see is what you get”. No bullshit and a positive outlook in a down-to-earth, family-oriented, cheeky guy-next-door. He’s friendly, funny, chatty and warm and, armed with a swag of well-crafted pop songs, seemingly still has the whole world at his feet.
“I always say that if anyone had have said to me when I first got off ‘The X Factor’ that in three years I’d have three number one singles, I’d have a number one album and I’d be sat in Australia again, I’d have had a No.1 in Germany, was going to America to do a tour… Everything that’s happened to me, I’m really honoured and incredibly chuffed about.”
Olly Murs’ second album ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ is available digitally and physically now, with a third (as yet untitled) album due later this year.
His single ‘Dance With Me Tonight’ was serviced to media this week.