Life after the X Factor for John Adams

Breaking away from his TV past and becoming a musician in his own right wasn’t going to be an easy path for John Adams. Around Town catches up with the singer-songwriter from Rhondda Cynon Taff.

It’s seven years since mathematics teacher John Adams auditioned for the X Factor, where his stirring cover of Damien Rice’s Cannonball saw him win thousands of fans overnight.

In the time since, he’s quit teaching to make of a go of his music career, whilst simultaneously attempting to shake off the X Factor tag.

The Aberdare singer-songwriter is now set to release his second album – his first since signing to New York indie label AntiFragile Music in 2017. We find out about the X Factor hangover, his love for Wales and the desire to follow in the footsteps of James Morrison and Passenger.

Lots of people will remember seeing you on the X Factor, what have you been doing since?

I tried to do both jobs for a while and it just didn’t work. I was shouting all day at children, so my singing voice wasn’t very good, and I was having late nights from gigs. So, I quit and just went busking. I had no idea how to be a musician or make any steps forward. I started busking and did that in different cities, and I picked up some gigs.

Do you miss teaching?

It’s a nice job and it gives you a sense of purpose. Music is really the opposite, it feels like you’re banging your head against the wall sometimes. It’s the only job you’d go for 50 interviews, not get the job and still think you can do it. But, of course, music is what I like to do. I always tell people this is what I wanted to do in my retirement, so technically, I’m already retired. I hope to never go back to teaching ever again.

The album’s called You Never Know Who’s Listening – who is that directed at?

It’s just something people say to us all the time when we’re busking. It’s quite a nice little vote of confidence. And in today’s era, I’ve done well on Spotify the last couple of years and have listeners in Singapore. You just never know who’s listening. I did some touring with [Eighties pop group] T’Pau, so I did writing sessions with the guitarist and writer, but they’re all my own songs.

Rhondda Cynon Taff is good at producing musical legends, was it meant to be?

I started off in a choir and that’s where I learned to sing. Without that foundation, I would never have sung at all really. But I focused on education and getting good results, to end up in a good job, and it wasn’t until I had good results and a good job that I realised it didn’t make me happy. But knowing that local band Stereophonics had made it was a great incentive.

You’ve supported Take That, Lemar, Katherine Jenkins – what was that like?

They’ve been one-off experiences, but they’re really good opportunities. Because of the X Factor, I had big crowds early on, probably bigger crowds than I was ready for, so I felt like I had to wait for that to tail off, and almost start again and work my way up. The tour we did last year was 300-400 capacity and the T’Pau gigs about 1,000. I feel like they’re nice, accomplished sizes.

When you talk about the X Factor crowd tailing off, was it something you wished you hadn’t taken part in?

I was lucky I could go from a full-time teacher to a full-time musician in a matter of weeks, and without the show, I would have never had that opportunity. But I felt there was a negative stigma after the show. You weren’t taken seriously as a musician and, to be fair, I hadn’t done the graft. You tend to get thousands of fans overnight, but they’re not going to stay. That’s quite hard to take and you cling on to that for a while. Now, it’s quite nice knowing it’s always progressing, no matter how small the steps are. I’m in control of it, rather than it slipping through my fingers.

Did that affect your music, it sounds like quite a difficult period?

It gave me more of a push to do it really. It was a tough time and it was quite difficult to take. I can imagine a lot of people were struggling with losing the hype. But I was almost glad when we did a show and no one recognised me from X Factor. Even now, when people ask me, I don’t want to talk about it because it’s so long ago, that talking about it suggests I’ve done nothing since.

It’s learning what isn’t your path as well, perhaps?

It took me a long time to realise you can be a successful musician without being part of that celebrity fame scene. As I got more into the industry, I see artists who are touring really successfully. That’s the direction I want to go in. I look at people like James Morrison and Passenger – they’ve got the right level of fame. They’ll have a long career, because it’s not overnight success followed by a quiet period.

Do you get loads of support from Welsh fans?

When you get known in Wales the support is great even if they don’t love the music, because you’re one of them. It’s an amazing place and everyone knows each other, which is good for songwriting, because you get to hear loads of different stories. And the busking is great – you’re just singing in front of a bunch of strangers, and everyone is really generous and supportive.

Wales is a lovely place, especially when the rugby is on, everyone stops and you all become one.

On the 2nd March John Adams will be releasing his second studio album, entitled You Never Know Who’s Listening.