Sam Smith eyes the cold and sinus shots before him and decides to enjoy his Earl Grey tea instead. “I’m British,” he says, “so I believe in the healing powers of a cuppa.” The singer, who won four Grammys early this year, including record and song of the year for his soulful, slow-building love anthem “Stay With Me,” has been bopping around the globe — London, Mexico City, Los Angeles — promoting his theme song for the new James Bond movie, “Spectre.” Smith says he’s tired and jet-lagged, but since he’s 23, the only apparent sign of exhaustion is a faint hint of redness in his baby blues.
Smith’s 007 song, “Writing’s on the Wall,” recently, remarkably, became the first Bond theme to ever top the U.K. charts. Managing to be at once intimate and epic, the song, which Smith co-wrote with Jimmy Napes, is an attempt to tap the secret agent’s vulnerable side.
Over the Earl Grey, the singer shared his thoughts on the music of the long-running film franchise, why Bond might keep a journal and where the singer-songwriter’s career is headed after being named best new artist at the Grammys.
Shirley Bassey, “Goldfinger.” Paul McCartney, “Live and Let Die.” Nancy Sinatra, “You Only Live Twice.” Adele, “Skyfall.” How does it feel joining the long list of Bond songs?
It feels very strange. When you’re British, Bond is in your blood when you’re born. And I know from being a kid that when the Bond song comes out, everyone has an opinion. And also, I’m coming off Adele. She is our generation’s Michael Jackson.
You’ve often been compared to her, mostly owing to the confessional nature of your music.
To get compared to Adele is amazing. I’d like to think that it’s an honesty and fearlessness to talk about my life through music. Amy Winehouse had the same thing. She’s one of my idols for being truthful.
She would have been perfect for a Bond theme song.
Oh, my God, she would have. Apparently, she attempted it. She would have smashed a Bond song.
That’s what I do. I thought it would be really different to have a song that was like a diary entry from Bond.
James Bond doesn’t strike me as a “Dear Diary” kind of guy.
There’s something about Daniel Craig as Bond which is a bit more raw. You see Bond bleeding and dirty and hurt, especially in “Skyfall.” You see him in a raw, real way. “Real.” That’s the word that comes up a lot in my head. And I wanted to write a song that would show you can be the strongest, most powerful man in the world, but when it comes to love, it will defeat anyone and everyone.
Unlike most Bond songs, you didn’t have to title the song after the movie.
You can’t write a song called “Spectre.” You just can’t.
There’s a limited number of words that rhyme: Vector. Hector. Hannibal Lecter.
(Laughs) It’s a small list. That gave me the freedom to write something different.
I read in an interview that you love the soundtrack to “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” That’s a very specific choice!
It’s just not that film. I get obsessed with film soundtracks. You know when you’re watching a film and you start to cry at something in a scene? If that happens to me, I immediately go and buy that film’s soundtrack. Maybe because it’s like a drug and you want to repeat the feeling. I love the “Avatar” soundtrack, the “Harry Potter” soundtracks, “Titanic.” There’s so many.
All of which you like listening to while you have a bath …
I love a bath. I want my music to be that soundtrack for people.
Can you define the bath-music genre?
I love all types of music, but when it comes to my music — and this applies to the Bond song as well — I want it to have this vulnerability. I want my music to be that album you turn to when you want a glass of wine and a cry. (Laughs)
Lana Del Rey. “Ultraviolence” is my bath album. Bath music is reflective music, music that helps you discover a little about yourself. I think that need is universal. I look at my shows and in the front row you’ll have a 14-year-old girl and then you’ll have a grandma and grandpa, and then you’ll have a 30-year-old jock.
Jocks like bath music?
Even jocks have a bath and a cry.
Looking at your concert schedule, the last date is Dec. 16. What happens on Dec. 17?
I drink! (Laughs) I’m flying my sisters out to Australia and I have a three-day holiday planned when I finish.
And after that?
I’ve asked myself: What kind of artist am I? I’ve got ambition like you wouldn’t believe, but I don’t want to be put on a conveyor belt. So I want to step away for a year and try to live a little bit so I can write about things and the music can be insanely personal like the first album.
When you wrote your first album, “In the Lonely Hour,” you said you’d never been in a relationship in your life. Has that changed?
Yes. I had my first boyfriend last winter and that stopped. I made a massive mistake. Posting pictures on Instagram of us, which I would never do again. So that was a lesson learned. And right now I’m in a good place. I’ve met someone … I think … it’s very early days. It’s been part of the reason for me thinking I want to step back and live a little. I need to give myself a chance to pursue something.
Maybe then on your next album the hour won’t be so lonely.
I’m going to try my hardest for it not to be. I want to talk about broader things. A few of the songs I’ve written for it are not about heartbreak. I’m going to try to show something different. But it’s always going to be about love.
Sam Smith reflects on other Bond songs
When The Envelope got to talking Bond songs with Sam Smith, he may have been slightly shaken, but he wasn’t particularly stirred. Asked his favorite Bond theme, he was quick to answer. “Shirley Bassey. That’s all I can say. She defined the James Bond song for me.” Bassey’s contributions to the 007 catalog: “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker.” Smith had some thoughts on a few other Bond themes as well.
“Live and Let Die,” Paul McCartney and Wings: “Unbelievable. I would like to see Paul McCartney in concert. I’m obsessed with ‘Blackbird.’”
“A View to a Kill,” Duran Duran: “I’m not too familiar with it. I have heard it. [Laughs] I just wasn’t born when it came out.”
“Nobody Does It Better,” Carly Simon: “That’s Jimmy Napes’ favorite. And I love it too.”
“You Only Live Twice,” Nancy Sinatra: “The Sinatra family means a great deal to me. I love Frank. Same with Louis Armstrong and ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ [from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”]. Frank and Louis Armstrong are timeless.”