We have a healthy cluster of Reuben super-fans in our ranks at Thrash Hits so when the opportunity arose to interview Jamie Lenman on the advent of his solo return to performing live there was an almighty clamour. Gavin Lloyd grabbed the chance, however, and had a frank and lengthy discussion with one of the finest British songwriters of this generation.
Let me start off by saying Reuben are my favourite band of all time. I love everything they’ve ever done, including all the songs on their b-sides and rarities compilation We Should Have Gone To University.
A few weeks back I was having a crappy Monday morning when out of nowhere I received an email saying front man, Jamie Lenman was set to release his debut solo album. My mood completely flipped and I struggled to contain my excitement as the man who played a big part in shaping my musical taste was releasing new material.
I obviously jumped at the chance to interview him. While I’m hardly Michael Parkinson, I’ve interviewed a fair few bands over the years but this was a big deal for me. As I got to the venue [GIG REVIEW] I entered a small room draped in red curtains complete with rustic furniture as Jamie warmly greeted me and instantly made me feel welcome. Despite this he was quick to apologise, saying sorry if he wasn’t nice enough but he was feeling pretty tense about his return to a live stage.
I have to say the news of a solo album came as a surprise to me. Around the time Reuben came to an end I remember reading on the internet a lot of people saying that you wanted nothing to do with music, is there any truth in that?
“Yeah there’s some truth in it. It’s not that I wanted nothing to do with music but I’d certainly had my fill of it for a while. I didn’t do anything with music for about a year. I got back into it but it wasn’t a conscious decision. I certainly didn’t want to play live, that much is very true. Still, I’m tense this evening and live is a very scary prospect for me.”
Was that something you’ve always felt? Did you feel the same about playing live with Reuben?
“When I was in Reuben I loved playing live and wanted to go on as many tours as possible. But in the last year or so I had a bit of a confidence crash. I think just because we got a lot more popular very quickly – which isn’t to say we suddenly reached Bon Jovi status, but lots more people tuned in – that meant the scrutiny was a lot higher and people would come to shows with such high expectations. Plus, the music we were playing on the last Reuben album was very complex and I just found it harder to enjoy the live experience. I suddenly had no appetite whatsoever to play live at all. I never wanted to play live again and I have to tell you it’s still a bit of a push to get out and play live. I’m still quite terrified, but I realise there are enough people who enjoy it so I’ll make the effort and hopefully I’ll enjoy it. I don’t want to sound too down about it because there are good things about playing live, it’s just when Reuben finished it terrified me.”
Now you mention it I remember reading an interview when you were touring the last Reuben album and you said how you found it difficult to juggle between what fans wanted and what you wanted to do personally.
“It does get harder and harder to please people as they get more invested. The longer you go they become bigger and bigger fans and I really felt the weight of people’s expectations, it’s very, very difficult. Some people manage it very well, but certainly for me it was quite unexpected. I would have people coming to shows and they’d find me afterward and instead of saying, ‘Great gig,’ they’d just harass me and complain I hadn’t played particular songs, and they’d say, ‘We’ve driven x hundred miles to see you and all you can do is this.’ I just couldn’t put up with it.”
Talking to Jamie in person was a huge eye opener. I obviously don’t know the full story behind Reuben splitting up but always assumed it was a simple case of not enough people buying their music, so they couldn’t afford to be in a band. Obviously, it was not this black and white, and it’s far too easy for us to forget that our favourite bands are actual people with their own thoughts and feelings, not just performing monkeys for us.
Right now, there is one thing we can be certain of: Jamie Lenman is making music again. He is an enigmatic figure while also being a very creative individual and very passionate about music. When asked who he’s been listening to recently he names a diverse list of artists including the likes of Tom Vek, Arcane Roots, Regina Spector, Feed The Rhino and Darwin Deez amongst others. Despite news of a solo album initially coming as a big surprise to me personally, it turns out that it is a project that has been in the works for quite some time. Jamie states that by the time the album is released he would have been working on it for four years.
With the album being in the works for a while, was there always a plan to make a double album?
“Yes there was, that was one of the things that we were talking about doing at the end of Reuben. We were going to do an album that was one half heavy and one half soft, but then when Reuben finished, I sort of forgot about all that. Then I started thinking about doing an album on my own and then after about six months of kicking around some songs I remembered the concept of one half heavy, one half soft. I didn’t really want to come back with a record that sounded too similar to In Nothing We Trust. Especially after such a long time away, I wanted to have something different about it. I’ll probably go back to more of that streamlined sound in the future because that’s how I naturally write but for the first thing back I thought let’s pick up that idea again of the heavy album and the soft album and let’s do that.”
Was there anything you’ve been listening to over the years, especially in regards to the second half of the album, that inspired you’re writing?
“Very definitely, I think when we were talking about doing it as a Reuben album, it wasn’t going to be anywhere near as extreme. It was going to be about as heavy as Reuben got and about as soft as Reuben got. Which means some heavy riffs and then maybe an acoustic song, but in the time since then I’ve been listening to much harder music. But the soft side that soon spun right out of control into music I had no idea I’d get into. I got into banjo music very heavily about three years ago. I got myself a banjitar and a banjolele, and I started playing around with those sounds. I could never have imagined when I was playing with Reuben, that I’d write an album of pre-war jazz and bluegrass. It’s not all like that but it’s a very heavy theme that runs through it. I started listening to Steve Martin [click for video], not a lot of people know that he is a mean banjo player, he’s released a couple of banjo albums, they’re great. C.W. Stoneking is this amazing guy who is playing pre-war jazz at the moment. There’s a band called the Carolina Chocolate Drops who are doing a lot of old American folk standards using banjos. There’s a whole world out there. I’ve only really dipped my toes in, but it was enough to inspire that half of the record.”
Jamie was clearly very enthused when talking about these new found musical influences. However the question was, would those similar anxieties that plagued him towards the end of Reuben still be a problem now? If he was struggling with the pressures of pleasing fans back then how was he feeling now as he’s about to release a very different sounding album upon the world?
In terms of the solo album is there any trepidation about how Reuben fans will perceive it or are you viewing it as a clean slate?
“I have to say I don’t really regard it as a clean slate at all. I regard it as a direct continuation of the music I was making with Reuben – I don’t think it’s a secret that I wrote everything with Reuben and I wrote everything for this new record. There’s no real trepidation because I was just talking about a very small minority who got a bit possessive, which I can understand, but 99 per cent of them, well even the possessive fans are very open-minded. Reuben played such a variety of music any way that I was confident that they would all accept this album with open ears and I’m pretty confident that they’ll enjoy it. That’s half the reason why I put it out because I knew there’d be people who’d enjoy listening to it.”
Once the album is released in November, you’re going on tour in December, are there any plans past that?
“No, there’s no plans past then. All along there were no plans, though. There were no plans past ‘Pick up a guitar’ and no plans past ‘Finish these songs’ and no plans past ‘Let’s record it.’ So every step – it sounds like a cliche – but I’m just taking it as it comes. Although it’s hard to stop your mind from planning because back in the day with the band all I did was music, so as soon as I write a song I know what the video looks like and I see the album artwork, but I’m really trying to lay back on that. As far as the tour’s concerned, that’s the only thing on the horizon. Anything that comes after that we’ll have to take it on a case by case basis. I might end up really enjoying the tour, I might actively seek other tours to go on. I doubt it but you never know. Maybe the label want to release another single, again it’s such a small-scale release I doubt it. I couldn’t say if I’d do another record after this, it all depends on how the reaction to this goes down. Everyone’s been very nice, all the reviews have been very kind so it’s very encouraging. These days I need a lot of encouragement, it’s not my main concern and it was only through people saying why don’t you write some songs that I said ok, so we’ll see.”
As the interview drew to a close, Jamie asked if the interview had gone ok. Never before has an interviewee asked me if the interview went well for me. In fact, in some cases bands are keen to get it over and done with so they can get back to their drugs and having sex with strippers, or whatever it is bands do these days. (Xbox and Facebook.) It only added to Jamie’s like-ability.
It’s fair to say that Jamie Lenman is one of the good guys. You get the sense that he is making music in its purest form, as a creative output without any contrived secondary reasons. He may not follow in the footsteps of his friend and label mate, Frank Turner in becoming a globe-trotting, big-selling solo artist but this doesn’t appear to be what he wants anyway. He’s happy to take each day as it comes and see what happens. I for one am just happy he is making music once again and is sharing it with us all.
Jamie Lenman will release Muscle Memory via Xtra Mile Recordings on 04 November 2013 and will go on tour in December. You can BUY TICKETS to a gig HERE. It might be your last chance. To see what you’re in for, read our review of The Islington show.