Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Jamie Lenman Interview

Before he went on stage for his set Independent Venue Week, I was lucky enough to chat with Jamie Lenman about the transition from band to solo work, what has inspired his recent change of musical direction and what his plans are for this year. 

Julia: What made you want to get involved with Independent Venue week?
Jamie: Dominique. She runs this venue and she runs my heart, as she says. Or actually it may have been Lydia, her sister. Both of them run this venue and I’ve known them for a very long time. They said to come on down so I said ‘no probs!’ But of course I love independent venues and I love The Boileroom. Would I love The Boileroom if I didn't know Dominique and Lydia? Probably not quite as much, although it’s a great place to come, it means a lot to know the people that run it and there are always happy faces here. So I suppose that chimes with the whole deal, it’s all about people, isn’t it.

Julia: How did your shows in December go?
Jamie: Yes, I think they were a success! They all sold very well, so from that perspective I think they were good. I always find it quite difficult playing live, including tonight, so I couldn’t say that they were a wonderful experience for me. What was wonderful was to connect with the audience, to connect with the people that come along. Whether that was on stage and we all sang a bit of a song together, that was brilliant, those are my favourite bits, or whether it was afterwards, going to say hello and shaking everyone’s hands and signing things if they wanted to. So that part of it was great, yes. In terms of connecting with people and making sure the venues weren't empty it was a success, yeah.

Julia: Do you think it’s harder to go onstage on your own rather than with a band?
Jamie: Yes! Yes!

Julia: What are you favourite and least favourite things about touring?
Jamie: My favourite things about touring… Well, I’ll tell you what used to be my favourite thing about touring. The short answer to that is what I sort of just said about meeting people. I used to particularly like in the old days when I was touring with my old band (Reuben), we’d go around and we wouldn't have anywhere to stay and we couldn't afford (to stay at a) Travelodge. So before the last song I’d always say ‘This is our last song, can we please stay at someone’s house?’ And that was the best bit! And we’d meet these people, and every night someone, even if they only had like a garage that we could sleep in, which let me tell you happened! We’d meet someone that would say ‘Just come back to mine!’ and they’d always
have a cup of tea and we’d make those friends. Some of those friends lasted. I’m still in touch with some of those people. Some of them I never spoke to again, but some of them have become real friends and that was my favourite bit about touring. My least favourite bit about touring is losing my voice. Voice problems, it’s a real pressure. If a guitar string breaks you can but another string on, or if your guitar snaps in half you can borrow someone else’s, but you can’t borrow anyone else’s voice. You can’t fix a string on your voice; you can’t fix a vocal cord. So every time I tour that’s a real worry. That’s my least favourite bit, yeah.

Julia: What made you want to become a singer?
Jamie: Freddie Mercury! Freddie Mercury made me want to become a singer, and Brian May. I wanted to be a combination of Freddie Mercury and Brian May, which I think I’ve achieved, in terms of guitar prowess and fantastic mustache! It’s not quite as good as Freddie’s, but those two, yeah. I mean I dug all my parent’s music: I dug The Searchers and I dug The Beatles. But it was really Queen that made the first meaningful impression and I’ve looked towards that ever since.

Julia: How would you describe your musical style to someone that hasn’t heard it before?
Jamie: I would say it is intelligent, yet aggressive guitar music. I think that’s all you can say. And more recently, on this latest album, with sort of a folk leaning to it. But it’s still intelligent, aggressive and guitar. Those are the three main points.

Julia: Is there anything in particular that made you want to try doing folk music?
Jamie: No, it was an accumulative thing. I mean, often young folks don’t go towards folk so much because I think folk is a lot about looking to the past and it’s about keeping certain traditions alive, which you’re not really concerned with when you’re young. Well certainly I wasn’t. You’re concerned with what’s new, and then as you get older… How old am I? (Jamie asks his wife how old he is) Thirty one? I’m not that old. But I think as you go on you start to appreciate tradition and the importance of tradition more and the things you can learn from the past. So slowly but surely an appreciation of folk crept up on me. Frank Turner, who is a good friend of mine, he has always had an ear for folk and so I got a lot of it through him. It just generally sort of seemed to happen and at the same time a lot of my friends were starting to listen to bits of jazz. I’ve always had a love for jazz, actually, but then that sort of bled into folk. And when you see where jazz comes from, from the blues, it all sort of just creeps up on you really. It will creep up on you, you watch out! You’ll be playing a washboard before too long!

Julia: What should people expect from a live show from you? 
Jamie: Fun, honesty… Just those two, those are the only things I can promise. That you will have fun and that I’ll be honest about it. I can’t even say I’ll sing on tune, I can’t say I’ll sing what you like, but I will try my best to make sure that everyone has a good time. Including me, you know, I’m going to try and enjoy it.

Julia: Creating an album with many different musical styles is quite ambitious, but you’ve managed to make it work. Why do you think this is? 
Jamie: Well thanks very much for that verdict on it! I dunno, I suppose it helps if you have a distinctive voice,
a tone to your voice, which I think I do. I wouldn’t say it’s like a great tone, to me I sound like a bit of a potato! If you do have that, if you put on a record and you can hear it’s me singing, I can hear it if someone is playing in another room. It just cuts through. So I think if you’ve got something like that to tie it together then that has it nailed a bit, I think that’s part of it. Other than that I couldn’t really say. It was all produced by the same people, so it has sort of got a sound that reaches across the two discs. But I think the only thing that is constant is my voice, so I think that must go some way to making it seem cohesive.

Julia: What would you say is your favourite style of music to write?
Jamie: Well, really what I like to write is the sort of riff-melody-riff thing that I was doing in Reuben. I don’t know what you’d call that, people call it post-hardcore? I don’t know what you’d call it. What would you call it, like big riff and then big chorus? Is it post-hardcore? Rock. I like writing rock.

Julia: What would you say is your favourite song that you have written and why?
Jamie: My favourite song that I have written… I think it’s probably a song on my latest record. I hate it when people say that, because it’s always like ‘Oh my new one is the best’. My favourite, it’s called ‘I Ain’t Your Boy’ and I just thought that it was the most successful in terms of trying to get my feelings across. I was feeling some big things and these days when I write I do try and put that into the music and get it across and I feel like I succeeded. I quite like the structure; it’s quite tidy, from a musical perspective, but also from an emotional perspective. I think it managed to get across my feelings. And every time I sing it, and when I sing it tonight I guarantee I feel all the feelings are fresh and I’ve managed to bottle that. I’ve only done it a couple of times, so I’m quite proud to have managed that.
Julia: My boyfriend is going to be so happy that you’re playing that song!
Jamie: Oh is he? Who’s your boyfriend? Not in like a ‘who’s your boyfriend’ way.
Julia: He’s doing photography tonight; he has got this huge flash-head so you’ll probably see him.
Jamie: Cool! Great stuff.
(It is worth noting that during the concert, Jamie actually dedicated this song to my boyfriend in front of the whole crowd. Yet more proof of how lovely he is!)

Julia: What do you write first: the lyrics or the tune?
Jamie: I always write the tune first. I know people that have journals and jotters and notebooks full of lyrics and that has always seemed a bit weird to me. I never wrote poems when I was little, well when I was a kid. It’s always the music first. You sing any old bollocks over the top like ‘I want a car!’ just because ‘I want a car!’ fits and then you think ‘Do I want a car?’ And then you sort of think no I don’t, so then you write a
song about how you don’t want a car! Or if you do then you write a song about what car you want. Do you see what I mean? It sort of evolves out of gibberish and I hope somewhere in the process I decide what I want to sing and I sort of mould it around that. So it’s always the music first.

Julia: Is it hard to find enough time to focus both on music and illustration or do you think it balances quite well? 
Jamie: It’s really hard! Well it’s not hard to find the time; I’m quite good at allocating time, it is hard making it fit. So today even, the reason I’ve had to come so late and we’ve rescheduled the interview (thank you very much), is because I had so much illustration work on. I was literally drawing when we went out the door, so it’s hard to make it fit but I know what I’m doing. It’s only possible because I’m able to allocate different bits of time.

Julia: As you've had experience in music, illustration and filming, is there anything that you have really wanted to experience but haven’t had the chance to? 
Jamie: Yeah, like a lot of musicians I’d quite like to do a bit of acting, but I sort of have a sneaky suspicion that I’m not very good at it or I wouldn't be. I think if you look at the videos I've made for my own songs, that’s as close as I've ever got to acting and they’re pretty bad! Even singing my own lyrics, I can’t do that convincingly. So I don’t think it’s probably for me. Also, it’s quite arrogant for musicians or non-actors to say ‘I might sort of dabble in acting’, because although it does sound like fun and it does sound like the sort of thing that you can dip into, real actors have trained for decades and I do feel their pain when real actors would hear someone say ‘Oh, I may do a bit of acting!’ and you think ‘For fuck’s sake, I’m trained!’ So it’s probably best to leave it to the actors. But as long as I add that caveat that I realise it is hard work, I would like to try my hand at acting. But I acknowledge that it’s an arrogant thing to say.

Julia: What advice would you give to any aspiring musicians?
Jamie: The thing is, the advice that you are often given, it stays true, so this is going to sound like a cliché, but like try as much as you can to be yourself. I spent a lot of time, and I think a lot of other people do spend a lot of time trying to imitate what they’ve heard. And to a certain extend you can’t really help that. But I can certainly remember certain songs that I was like ‘Oh great, that sounds just like Weezer!’ When really I should have been trying to concentrate on what I want I was. It does take a lot of time to work out what you are, but when you discover what that is, follow that and don’t use the crutches of other stuff. Don’t pretend. That’s the advice that I would give to any person doing anything, not even in terms of doing art. I would just say don’t pretend, just be honest. So you can be honest in illustration, you can be honest in roadwork. Do you know what I mean? Just be honest is the best way to be, and certainly in music. I think it’s very, very important to be honest with your audience and with yourself. God, I sound like Buddha! Well, I look like Buddha!

Julia: Do you have much planned for this year?
Jamie: For this year? Yeah, I've got a lot planned! Illustration wise I’m going to do five more books, so that is going to take up most of my time. But then we are playing quite a few festivals, so that is going to take up a lot of time. Who knows, we talked about whether we were going to do another tour, we’re going to have to see. As I say, I find it difficult to play live. A few books, a few shows, trying to take it easy but failing. Yeah.

Listen to the interview here: 
Check out Jamie Lenman here:
Photographs by Rob Campion Photography:

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