Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson is a long way from home. The Aussie rock ledgehammer has relocated to Brisbane for a few weeks to flex his theatre chops for the first time since high school in the Down Under premiere of Green Day’s acclaimed American Idiot musical.
Between a packed sched of rehearsing for the show’s much-frothed debut run and writing some fresh solo tunes inspired by the Brissie weather and his hotel’s fine selection of pay TV programming, Jamo took the time to sit down with Music Feeds and chat about all things American Idiot, from his finely-honed US accent to stealing acting tips off The Living End’s Chris Cheney.
ICYMI: Jamo is sharing the role of St Jimmy with Cheney, and he also spilled the beans on the chances of us ever seeing a Grinspoon/Living End rock opera brought to the stage, as well as the chances of seeing a Grinners reunion happening any time soon.
Catch the full interview below.
Music Feeds: So for most of us, when we hear the term “musical theatre” we don’t immediately think “Phil Jamieson”… What was your reaction when you first got the offer to be involved in something like this?
Phil Jamieson: I immediately said yes, and then I read the part later [laughs]. I did a couple of musicals in high school – I was Joseph in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat. And then the email came through with the offer and I just said yes.
I really liked the opportunity, it’s definitely a challenge, and then I read [the treatment] and thought ‘Oh. Yeah, this is gonna be really challenging!’ It’s fantastic, the cast they’ve got are just brilliant. There’s 12, maybe 14 cast members who are all incredible singers and dancers. So yeah, there’s that and then there’s me & Chris basically [laughs]. But it’s a great opportunity because Chris and I are great friends and we’ve worked together in the past, he’s gonna be able to help me – hopefully – and vice versa.
You have to be very specific with note selection, you can’t fluff anything in this game, ’cause I’m used to fluffing my way through life in general so, yeah, it requires a whole lot of discipline… I sing about five numbers all up, so I’m not onstage for the whole production – by no means am I the star – but my role is very necessary in that I provide another story arc.
MF: What songs are you singing?
PJ: There’s ‘St Jimmy’, of course who’s my character, I perform that, that’s really fun… ‘Know Your Enemy’, which is fun as well. And ‘Last Night On Earth’, which is a really beautiful ballad… I sing a duet… everything’s kinda with an ensemble, I’m never really singing on my own — there are occasions – but there’s always BV’s. And then obviously ‘The Death Of St. Jimmy’ I’m singing too. There’s probably something else I’ve forgotten [laughs].
MF: And how did you go with the acting side of things, did that come naturally or was that a new skill you kind of had to learn?
PJ: I’m playing the main character’s alter ego, I represent sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, so it’s a huge stretch for me [laughs]. I’m just a bit of a nasty piece of work, so I think I should be able to channel that. It’s always easy to play a bad guy, right? I guess I’m the villain of the piece, so we’ll see how my villain comes out, but I’m just basically trying to encourage the main character to be debaucherous.
MF: Are you doing a lot of method acting?
PJ: [Laughs] I don’t need to do method acting. It’s naughty and fun and a little bit crazy and I’m really glad for the opportunity to even be thought about in this world, because it’s a very different world for Chris and I. The ensemble is mind-fuck amazing. They’re really good.
MF: What are some of the biggest differences between performing on stage with a band versus being a part of something like this?
PJ: I guess you’re your own director and you’re your own producer when you’re on stage, especially when I play solo. And this is a collaborative thing, we’re a part of a team. And it’s a little bit like being in a band, but instead of four of them there’s 18 in this production [laughs]. And also I’m singing harmonies with other people so I can’t — you know – I don’t wanna hit a bung note ’cause that puts everything out. So I’m really conscious of making sure that those notes that I hit are the right ones…
But this is as close to a rock concert for musical theatre as possible, it’s still kind of like a gig. There’s moments of gig-ness and there’s moments of theatre-ness, it kind of treads that line between gig and theatre, in a way. I play guitar occasionally, it’s pretty rad.
MF: Will we get to see you bust out an American accent?
PJ: Yes, short answer yes. My accent is pretty good. Well, I think it’s good [laughs]. The drummer in my solo trio that I play with, he’s an American so I just constantly mimic him. Also, if you try to order beer in America, they don’t know what you’re saying, so you’ve always gotta go [chucks on US accent] “beeR” [laughs] so it just comes naturally [goes full on Aussie] “whadda ya want? Beer? Beer mate?” But yeah, it’s an American play, so everyone will have an American accent. I’ve only got a very small amount of dialogue in the piece – I think I may be saying 40 words all up.
MF: And obviously Billie Joe Armstrong performed your role in one of the show’s original runs on Broadway… Have you had the chance to meet him yet?
PJ: Billie-Joe? No. Chris has – they’ve toured together. I went and saw the American Idiot tour, was it ten years ago? Maybe more? I’m not sure of the timeline but yes, I’ve never met Green Day ever, but I’ve been a fan since Dookie, cause Dookie was around my high school years so that made a lot of sense, because it’s about masturbation [laughs] and then American Idiot kind of took everyone by surprise, this kind of incredible rock opera – I didn’t know Billie-Joe had it in him — it was really out-of-the-park amazing. And now, when you see it translated to the stage, even I was confused, I’m like like ‘How is this gonna work?’ and then it was like ‘Oh! It’s kind of made for this’. It’s very impressive, how they’ve managed to get it there.
MF: Any word on whether we might see the season get extended, or whether we could even see the show visit other cities?
PJ: I don’t know, I guess everyone wants to see it be successful, but for me, I’m just doing seven shows and then we’ll go from there. I think with something like this, anyone would want to see it play as long as possible, so I guess it’s in the producers’ minds – or in the back of their minds, at least. So we’ve just gotta make sure – because there’s all of this set design and so many moving parts to this production — that it’s all gotta be done well. So no pressure! [laughs]
MF: Do you think you’d ever have it in you to write a rock opera like ‘American Idiot’?
PJ: I think that’s be incredibly challenging – to challenge yourself to do something like that would be amazing. It’s not really on my horizon right now [chuckles], but I’d love to be able to do it. I think it’d be incredibly difficult but… well, [Grinspoon’s debut album] Guide To Better Living was a rock opera, c’mon! We’ve already done that shit!
MF: [Laughing] Would you ever consider putting together a stage show using Grinspoon songs? That’d be cool, something like that hasn’t really been done by an Aussie band?
PJ: I don’t know if we’ll see that happen. But, you know – stranger things have happened. But [laughs] I couldn’t personally, you know that seems like a crazy thing to me. But you could say the same thing about The Living End I guess. Maybe we could join forces?
MF: Now, I’ve dropped the G-word… what are the chances of us seeing a Grinners reunion any time soon? Australia seems to have a taste for it at the moment with bands like Jet, Crowded House, George all reforming to tour again…
PJ: Yeah, I dunno at this point in time, everyone’s super busy, I mean Pat’s doing his thing and Chris’s doing his thing and I’m doing this thing. Maybe? As I said there’s a lot of moving parts in American Idiot and there’s a few moving parts in Grinspoon as well, in terms of getting it all together, but I don’t know at the moment.
I’d like that to happen. But logistically, I don’t know. It has to be a good plan to make sure it’s not shit. I don’t want it to be shit [chuckles].
I guess that comes to management — people like our manager, who’s a big help — to facilitate that in some way, cause we’re all just off doing heaps of shit now. So yeah, I’d like it to happen, but at the moment I’m not overly sure when, or how, or maybe, or if it will.
But we’re not — you know — not talking, we’re all friends and stuff. But everyone’s kind of got a life now. Back in Grinspoon it was just ‘tour, make a record, tour, make a record’, so once we stopped doing that, we were kind of like, ‘Oh, this is nice! We can go to the beach! Walk the dog!’ Everyone’s kind of become a bit more adult in some ways. It’s a bit of a shame [laughs] but it kind of has to happen. It’s kind of inevitable. But never say never, right?
MF: What about you personally, have you had much time to do any sort of writing lately, just by yourself?
PJ: It’s funny you say that, ’cause I have. Because the rehearsal schedule for American Idiot has been in blocks, I’ve just been here with a guitar noodling and writing songs about Brisbane and how hot it is. And then I’ll turn on the CI channel there’s some murder, and I’ll write about the murder, so yeah [laughs] there’s some stuff pouring out at the moment, whether it’s any good or not I don’t know [laughs]. But it’s definitely been a bit of a creative spurt.
Catch American Idiot running at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre until March 12th.