"I feel very confident in saying that we can’t trust our government and some people are dicks."
Jamie Lenman has just released his brand new mini-album 'King Of Clubs' via Big Scary Monsters.
Serving as a follow-up to last year's experimental covers project 'Shuffle', this new seven-track burst of noise is much darker and much more devilish than anything we have heard from Jamie in a while. Melding some seriously gut-busting riffs with plenty of snarling anger and that quintessential wit, it feels like a truly fitting reaction to the world that we're currently all trying to navigate our way through.
We caught up with Jamie to talk about how the record was forged, what has been making his blood boil and how he reflects on the last seven years of being out here on his own...
You’ve said that this new record is a loose end of sorts to loose sort of trilogy of records. Within that placement, where did the first seeds of this new set of songs start to be sewn?
“A lot of the stuff that I have done since ['16's] ‘Devolver’ has been led mainly by the label. That was why ['13's] ‘Muscle Memory’ took so long and why ‘Devolver’ took so long as well. I didn’t have anyone saying, ‘What’s next?’ I was just waiting four years until I thought it was time. Back in the band as well, I always had someone saying, ‘What’s next?’ as well. So you can see what happens when I’m left to my own devices. Though since I’ve had Big Scary Monsters on board, and the management as well, there’s always someone saying, ‘Come on then, what’s next?’ It happened as soon as ‘Devolver’ came out and then that became ‘Shuffle’. Then whilst we were touring ‘Shuffle’ in the Autumn of last year, there was talk of more tours in the Spring time this year, which didn’t happen obviously, and how it would be great if I had a single. So that got me thinking about getting back into the studio but I didn’t want to repeat what we had done after ‘Devolver’. What we did was put the album out and then in the spring time we did a single, which was with Justine Jones from Employed To Serve [‘Long Gone’] and Andy [Groves] from Arcane Roots [‘Irrelevant’]. That actually went to Number One, and I’m rinsing it for all its worth. It was Number One in the vinyl chart and ahead of The Beatles, for one week.
"I never like there to be a pattern though, so I thought that we should set about doing an EP more than a single. I didn’t fancy doing a whole other album though because ‘Shuffle’ was 14 tracks and I want to be able to give it its due and not just slap another full-length on after it. So what’s more than a single and less than an album? The plan was a four-track EP, which are the singles that I had released and are a short sharp shock, but then when it came to it I wanted to add a bit more light and shade to it and a chance to show off some other sides of my personality. It felt like the right time and opportunity to make a really great mini-album. I feel as though it’s the perfect length.”
In a lot of ways it depends on your headspace and how you feel about creating something. It feels as though a lot has made you feel rather angry this time around…
“Yeah, I’ve felt very cross. I haven’t cast my withering gaze outwards since ‘Muscle Memory’. I got very used to casting inwards, which is why ‘Devolver’ was very personal. I don’t think that people realise that ‘Long Gone’ is actually a Brexit protest song though. The lyrics are a little bit obscure, which isn’t something that I like to do. I like to be direct. But I saw a poll of all the things that people who voted for Brexit wanted to come back. So there was capital punishment and filament light bulbs and things like that. So that’s what that song was about. But ‘Shuffle’ was a slight of fancy, so by the time that it came to writing ‘King Of Clubs’, I was ready. I was really cross about Brexit and Trump. I’d touched on the distrust of our world leaders a little bit before on ‘Muscle Memory’, but it really came to a head in ‘The Summer Of Discontent (The Future Is Dead)' on this record.”
What else has been making you feel cross?
“I also came to a bit of a realisation that there are venues out there that use you as entertainment and the monkey in a waistcoat as an excuse to sell beer. As a non-drinker I find that quite depressing, but if I thought that was true across the board I would probably quit. But on the ‘Shuffle’ tour, and at some shows on the ‘Devolver’, there were reactions from the crowd that really got out of hand. I got pretty confident when it came to pointing at people and saying to them, ‘If you’re a dick when you’re drunk then you’re a dick all the time’. All alcohol does is unlock who you really are and make it possible for you to act upon the feelings that you have all the time. I was sick of people using alcohol as an excuse and that’s what ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend’ is all about. It also touches on online trolling and bigotry too.
“Those two tracks are probably the most political moments on the record. But then the title track ‘King Of Clubs’ is about the victory of hate over love, which is to do with our friend over the pond. It’s a shitty time to be alive for a lot of groups of people as well.”
At a dark time, you’re going to want to make dark music. When you’ve been making music as long as you have, there’s going to be a point where you just say, ‘Sod it’ and go all in…
“Well the thing is that I like to wear my politics with a small ‘p’, because I’m afraid of being wrong about things. As much as I try and educate myself, there’s always going to be gaps in my knowledge. I’m very reluctant to point my finger and say that this is the problem. The thing is with the issues that I’ve tackled on ‘The Future Is Dead’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend’ I feel very confident in saying that we can’t trust our government and some people are dicks. It’s hard to argue with either of those. But I would never wanted to go on a huge tangent on the intricacies of racism and sexism because I’m not well enough informed. But I’m always trying to be better educated.”
It’s hard to believe it but seven years have passed since you first released ‘Muscle Memory’, which is no time at all but also an absolute age. Who do you feel like you were as a person and artist back then compared to who you are creating these songs today?
“My approach is basically unchanged but my personality is very different. When I wrote ‘Muscle Memory’ I was very depressed and very angry. ‘Muscle Memory’ was the fallout of what happened to my band, to my career and to my life. It was also the start of the healing process. It represents the absolute dip and low point of the valley but you can also hear green shoots of hope on there as well. I listened to it the other day and I wasn’t aware just how raw it was in terms of emotions lyrically. I find it quite shocking really. I find it even more shocking that when it came out and there’s a song that literally says,’ The only place I belong now is in the fucking ground’ and no one called me and said, ‘Are you alright?’ None of my friends and none of my family picked up on me cutting my own face off because I hated myself so much on that record. If there’s any bigger flag you can send up, Jesus Christ, that was it. I think you can hear that by the time we got to ‘Devolver’ I was a little bit more composed and I was able to see things that a larger viewpoint. That record was like flinging paint at a canvas and seeing what comes out.”
It feels like it needed to come out though…
“Oh yeah, it was very emotionally and artistically necessary. I had to do it before I moved on to anything else. At that time I wasn’t even thinking about having a career. I didn’t even think about putting it out when I first made it. I wasn’t even looking that far down the road, much less playing it live and much less making other records. I was never thinking of it in terms of commerciality.”
Are those things that you consider a bit more now?
“I would say that I’m just much more comfortable with every aspect of it now. I’m more comfortable playing live and I’m more comfortable in the studio. These three records that I’ve made with SPACE [Producer] have been a lot of fun and very explorative. There is a joy to it now. There was I was unsure about back then. I didn’t know what ‘Muscle Memory’ was for and I didn’t know where it was going whereas with these records I have done with Big Scary Monsters I know what the deal is. It’s good to know where it’s going to go.”
Having that focal point also serves as a reminder for why you wanted to make music in the first place…
“Definitely. That feeling left me for a little while and I had a little burnout. But now it’s back and it’s really great. I still get excited when I look in music shop windows or if I see a guitar in a Cash Converters window. It could be some shit knock off red Stratocaster-esque guitar, but I look at it and I have to stop myself from buying it. I’ve got guitars coming out of my arse. I really don’t need it. But to see it sat there I start thinking, ‘I could buy that and write a song and start a band’ but I forget that I already have that stuff in place. But the opportunity that a guitar sitting in a window represents is still so tantalising to me.”
So what does the future look like in terms of what your working on now?
“At any one time I’m always working on a number of projects in terms of albums. The way I tend to write is things just come. I’ve never been one of the people who can sit down with a guitar and a notebook and just write a song. I can’t do that. What I end up with is loads of different pots and then a new song will come up and I’ll go, ‘That sounds like it belongs with these over here’. Then eventually one of those pots will have 14 songs in and then that makes it a record. So as far as going forwards there’s two or three pots of songs that are 2/3rds of the way there. They are slowly filling up and all of them move in a direction away from what I’m currently doing. I do intend for ‘King Of Clubs’ to be the final chapter of what I’ve been doing with SPACE. I really like them as a set and I really want to work with other producers now and try some different sounds. Whatever happens next will be a move away. I could go in one of a few directions that would sound crazy if I explained them now but we’re looking forward to next year. We’re looking forward to getting back what we were supposed to have this year. Then we will get back on it in a different direction. Whatever that is, it will be good and honest and what I want to do.”