This year, Jamie T turned 30 years old. That may not seem all that remarkable of a milestone, but you’re not taking into consideration that it was in the precocious youth of his early 20s that we were first introduced to the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist once thought to be the next great hope of British music. Across rousing, all-encompassing indie hits like Sheila, If You Got the Money and Sticks & Stones, Jamie T was a figurehead for exuberance and abandon – of late nights and broke weekends and trying to figure out who it is that you want to be.
That last part got to Jamie in particular – he spent five years in the proverbial wilderness before making a comeback in 2014 with Carry on the Grudge and a subsequent world tour in support of it. At a time when the turnover rate and degree of disposability within the spectrum of indie music is higher than ever, it’s a small miracle in and unto itself that people not only remembered Jamie after all this time, but they embraced his comeback with open arms.
September saw Jamie’s fourth LP released, entitled Trick. It’s a further evolution of his sound, ranging from dub-inspired ragers to classic Britpop rabble. Jamie and his band are bringing Trick to Australia as a part of the Falls Festival across the new-year period. Ahead of that, we spoke to the man himself about his origins, his writing process and what he misses about being in a band.
Music Feeds: Before we get into a second of music on Trick, we have to discuss the album art. How on earth did that come about?
Jamie T: It was an image that I’d come across myself a few years back. I can’t actually remember where I was, but I do remember immediately falling in love with it and buying a print of it. I hung it up in my studio, and it’s been there for quite awhile. Over time, I got to learn a little more about the guy in the painting – he was this guy named Solomon Eagle. His story ended up inspiring me to write a song about him. It ended up being on the album, so I only found it fitting that he should be on the cover. So, yeah – it was all my idea! [laughs]
MF: With Trick, it’s more or less asserted the notion that you’ve never made the same album twice. The gap between Kings and Queens and Carry on the Grudge certainly assisted in that, but it appears to have progressed into your writing for this record. Given the fairly positive response to Carry On, were you in the mindset that your music as Jamie T had a new lease on life?
JT: I think my confidence was building. I was really enjoying playing live, so I wrote a lot while I was on the road. I was really keen to get into the studio and bang it out. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed playing live in those years between the second and the third album – which is why, I think, I didn’t necessarily write the Grudge album with playing it live in mind. When I was on the road, I was actually getting kind of frustrated with the newer material – I felt it wasn’t fast enough or didn’t have enough energy when I was playing it live. The writing came really easily on this record – I really enjoyed thinking about playing it live. That was my primary focus, and I think that really shows on this record.
MF: One of the big takeaways from seeing you live last year was just how different the live show is to your recorded music. The songs are a lot faster and a lot more aggressive when they’re played live – almost to a point where they’re unrecognisable from their recordings.
JT: Because I don’t have a band and I’m not in a band, I do find sometimes that I want to do my songs differently when I do bring it to the guys I play with when I do full-band shows. It makes me think about the songs differently. I’d probably say that’s one of the main things I miss out on when it comes to being in a band – when you’re rehearsing before you go on tour, you find all these bits and pieces you might have missed. Playing the songs off the last record with other people, I found so many different elements of the songs that I wish I had recorded. I write and record simultaneously a lot of the time – that’s just my method – so when I’m rehearsing, it’s like I’m getting to know how to play my songs for the first time. It changes the songs in a big way.
MF: The turnaround between Carry on the Grudge and Trick was a lot quicker than that of Kings and Queens and Carry on the Grudge. You mentioned writing on the road – how far into touring did the creative process for Trick begin?
JT: I actually started while I started doing my initial run of press for Carry on the Grudge. Ideas were coming to me more or less straight away – the whole time that I was on tour, I was thinking about them. I’d think of something, and it would keep growing and changing. I wasn’t at the point of writing full songs at that point, but I definitely had a lot of sketches of what I wanted to do. It was this ongoing thing – I never really used to do writing like that, but it became this really great way for me to keep my mind occupied while I was touring.
MF: As discussed, all of your music is released under your own name – as you’ve evolved and changed as a person, so has your music. Is that a liberating thing to you as an artist?
JT: There’s a beauty in it, yeah. I think that I’ve had to fight for that – the privilege to be able to do whatever I want. People always want you to do a certain type of thing, but I’ve always wanted to do something different. I feel like a lot of artists get caught in that. Not just solo artists – bands, too. I’m sure even someone like Bowie had it at some point. There are times where I do wish it was a band – you can take certain liberties if it’s just a band name and not just your own name. Still, I guess when you’re in a position like mine, there’s no-one to tell you you’re wrong. [laughs] You’ve got no-one to fall out with but yourself – the problem there is that it could actually happen!
MF: For all this talk of band vs. solo artist, it’s worth remembering where you came from as a performer. You perform with a band these days, but initially you performed solo with an acoustic bass. Would you ever consider returning to that mode of playing live, or do you feel like the songs from Carry on the Grudge and Trick are too difficult to translate to such a medium?
JT: It’s funny that you mention that, actually. I’m glad you brought it up – a lot of people often forget that it was just me and the bass when I started out. When I got signed, the record label had no idea that I had any greater ambition to make something with a full-band sound. I’ve come a long way since then, but it’s definitely something I’d be interested in doing it again. I miss that rapport you have with an audience when you’re on your own – there’s something really fun about that. In some ways, being a solo artist with a band can hold you back. It’s a lot of money to bring everyone out on tour. Still, I’m not going to push it either way – if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
MF: Trick has had a little bit of time out in the world now. When it comes to your shows on this current tour, are you leaning more heavily on Trick material? Or is it more of a weighted balance between your four albums?
JT: We always try to have a good mix of stuff for everyone. We try and make it broad. Obviously, I’m excited to play the new album – it’s about 50% new material right now. We still love playing the old stuff, of course. It takes awhile for me and the band to get a feel for what people are into and what they might want to hear. We’ll try and take in a bit of everything.
MF: You’re set to visit over the new year period for Falls, about 18 months after your last visit. That must have been a huge double-header – not only getting to play a massive festival like Splendour in the Grass, but also getting to open for Blur at their arena shows.
JT: It was great. I’ve opened for Blur before in England, but it was really great to be able to do it in another country. Obviously, opening for Blur was a childhood dream of mine – to actually get to do it is indescribable. Being on the road with those guys is so much fun. It was great to play to an audience that wasn’t my own – you get your competitive streak rising all over again. It makes you hungry to win people over. [laughs]
‘Trick’ is out now. Jamie T will return to Australia for Falls Festival and his own headline sideshows. Catch dates and details here.