Open mic nights in southwest London, and eclectic influences ranging from Tina Turner to The Clash. That’s where it all started for Wimbledon-born musician Jamie T, now 30 years old.
While panic attacks plagued the singer-songwriter from a young age, it was those very attacks which inspired his hard-hitting debut album Panic Prevention back in 2007, with acclaimed vocalist and actor Lily Allen also providing backing vocals. It was that year that Jamie T also embarked on a US tour, performing at Glastonbury. He went from strength to strength, producing sophomore hit Kings & Queen as well as a short series of EPs.
Yet it was after this period of success that Jamie T found himself beginning to lose perspective on his life. After taking some time off and living life away from the spotlight, he took to the live stage for the first time in four years at Glasgow’s School of Arts in 2014. His third album Carry On The Grudge was a true eye-opener for the songwriter, and this carries well into 2016.
Latest record Trick dropped just months ago, and I sat down with the man himself to talk about his love-hate relationship with London, immersing himself in a new environment to write and record, and the first time he listened to his all-time favourite band.
It was impossible for us not to reflect on 2015 as I began our chat, a huge year for Jamie T down in Australia. He returned to our shores for the first time in nearly six years on a mid-summer tour, and also supported iconic London rockers Blur at their Splendour sideshows.
Ahead of his appearance at Falls Festival next month, along with a few sideshows of his own in January, the singer-songwriter said enthusiastically, “Yeah I feel great, can’t wait to get to it really. We’ve always had a good time especially in Australia. We’ve been very lucky over the years with the support and shows we’ve got. It’s just mad for us because it feels like it’s the end of the world, and people come to gigs to see us. It still dumbfounds us.”
The feeling of disparity, yet also the flow between cultures imbues the musician’s latest album. That vibe partly comes from Jamie T and longtime co-producer James Dring choosing to write and record in three places: The Premises in Hackney, the former Moloko Studio in Hoxton Square, and High Bias in Detroit. Jamie T was inspired to work in this last location after watching a documentary, and as he reminisced, “It was a really cool experience.”
“I think we always wanted to do an album somewhere else and soak up the place a little bit. As you said, it’s an interesting city and for lots of reasons. I found it quite inspiring, I wrote a lot over the month we were there. It was really positive and kind of makes me want to do more writing in other places.
“For me, I’ve always travelled quite a lot, and London’s a multicultural city. I don’t know if that helps when we go and record somewhere else, but you get to know a few people, and before you know it you feel at home. So I really enjoy that, and I think it [going to Detroit] changed the way I wrote about London. It was helpful to sort my thoughts out on where I come from, if that makes any sense.”
Here I mentioned how his love-hate relationship with his hometown weaves throughout Trick, to which he affirmed “Yeah! I love the place, but there are also parts of it that bore the shit out of me. You always want to leave it and go back to it.”
A sentiment often shared by Jamie T over the years is that the best music often comes from being focused on a single moment in time, rather than being written from the perspective of timelessness. Most of the album was “quite spontaneous”, yet he thoughtfully brought up one part of the record which truly captured this for him.
“I think the moment that sticks out to me was the song on it called ‘Sign of the Times’, which I wrote in Detroit and I was on a bit of a songwriting roll. We were recording two songs a day. I felt like I had clarity, which is quite hard to get as a songwriter. So I’ve got a fond memory of writing that, because I really felt like I said what I wanted to say in it.”
Jamie T’s certainly grateful to have Dring in his life to help bring that clarity out to its fullest, and in a moment of relaxed British humour he told me, “I’m incredibly fond of the bastard [chuckles].”
“I think we always enjoy working together and we’re always aware of that, as well as how lucky we are to be able to do so for so long. He’s always been very patient with me [chuckles], and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s quite a Zen dude, and I think that’s helpful for me, because I’m not Zen at all. I drive myself nuts, and he’s good at levelling me out and making me concentrate on things. I need that.”
Going back a few years to his third release Carry On The Grudge however, the musician found his focus on the things that mattered slipping, feeling that he was losing himself and forgetting why he was making music in the first place.
I invited him to reflect on just what put that back into perspective for him, and he wisely clarified “It’s not as dramatic as just one thing that puts things back into perspective, it’s more one foot in front of the other kind of stuff.”
“It’s hard to think about because I can’t really form my opinion on it yet, it was only a few years ago, but making the record was important for me in lots of ways. I don’t know what I was doing for a few years. I think I was a bit dazed and confused about music, and that one [Carry On The Grudge] was me deciding I wanted to do it, I suppose.”
We then rewound further to when he was 23, a pivotal year in the English songwriter’s life in the wake of releasing sophomore record Kings & Queens (2009), as well as notable EPs Chaka Demus and The Man’s Machine. Reflecting on that time seven years on, it’s clear that his grapples with anxiety have been at the forefront of his life.
“It might come as a shock, but I always felt like I had it all sorted out and I knew who I was. At some point, I was whittled down by the situation and everyone else around me, and I felt myself in some respects become someone else, because I was trying to protect myself from outside things that were going on. That was the issue for me. So it was about trying to find what I already knew I had.”
“When I’m having bad anxiety times, it’s quite hard to live in the moment. So to be on stage and to try and forget that is quite important and therapeutic for me. I think touring’s always difficult for me, I have good days and bad days. But after I go on tour, the overwhelming feeling I have is how much fun I had, and I want to do it again straight away. Whatever struggles I have while I’m doing it, the feeling I get after definitely sways those troubles by a long shot.”
Yet the nostalgia trip wouldn’t be complete without Jamie T taking me back to the very first time he listened to The Clash. The punk undertones and brutal honesty from the English legends certainly thread their way through Trick, particularly on standout tracks ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Tescoland’. With a chuckle, he admitted “I think it was a lot earlier than I used to say it was, I was about 13 or 14.”
“I put on the live DVD of theirs’ called Westway to the World, and I was blown away. From then, I always had it in my mind that that’s how good music should be played, and it certainly got my synapses firing. I’ll always love The Clash, that’s for sure.”
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Immerse yourself in a sensory experience like Jamie T did in Detroit with Trick here, available now via Virgin Records.