“This is all new to me,” said Sam Smith as he circulated among the small crowd gathered Thursday afternoon for lunch at a West Hollywood restaurant.
And indeed the cozy awards-season event – attended by show-business influencers such as Herbie Hancock and David Foster -- marked the beginning of a fresh chapter for Smith, who after breaking out last year with his smash debut, “In the Lonely Hour,” has moved into movies with his theme song for the latest James Bond film, “Spectre.”
But if Hollywood politics were outside the British soul singer’s comfort zone, the tune itself is characteristic Sam Smith: a dramatic first-person ballad, “Writing’s on the Wall,” about the lengths a man will go to for love.
“That’s all I can do, really, as a writer,” Smith said. Seated next to his frequent collaborator Jimmy Napes, with whom he co-wrote the song, Smith added, “When you’re given an opportunity to do a job like this, I think you’ve got to play to your strengths.”
“It’s why they asked us to do it,” said Napes. “It’s heartfelt and has that sensitivity to it.”
The lushly orchestrated result is in keeping with the established sound of many Bond themes, including Shirley Bassey’s classics for “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” as well as Adele’s Oscar-winning “Skyfall” from 2012.
Lyrically, though, “Writing’s on the Wall” takes a more vulnerable approach, which Smith said links the song to Daniel Craig’s “very raw” performance as the British secret agent.
“I wanted to make it James Bond’s diary entry,” he said.
Napes pointed out that “there aren’t many Bond songs sung from his point of view,” and to get inside the character’s head, he and Smith read the “Spectre” script and discussed the movie’s main idea – “love,” according to Smith -- with director Sam Mendes and producer Barbara Broccoli.
That aided the duo’s process “massively,” Smith said.
“Most times you walk into a room and you don’t really have a starting point,” Napes added. “You have to create the starting point, and normally you’d do that by thinking of a title or a concept for a song, then working back from there. With this, because we had a script, a lot of it was there for us, and we just had to pick the bits that we wanted to save.”
The experience was enjoyable enough that both men said they’d happily consider doing more movie work -- though Smith admitted he might have trouble creating a song with a less personal vibe.
“I find it difficult to write something that’s not about me,” he said with a laugh. “I’m basically too selfish.”