„I hated music until I was about twelve“: an interview with Jake Bugg

Songwriter Jake Bugg playing a concert in a church in Berlin, 2017

When Jake Bugg, a middle-class boy and musical prodigy from Nottingham, came out with his self-titled debut album in 2012, when he was only just 18, he seemed to fill a gap. A gifted modern singer-songwriter, he blended elements of folk, country and rock music to a fresh new style. As so many people could relate to his stories, often dealing with the tough life of the English suburbs, Jake soon filled large concert halls. On his subsequent records, he explored into new musical areas and song topics, not always to the satisfaction of his early fans.

Jake’s new, fourth album „Hearts that strain“ was cut in Nashville and shows him as a troubador and soulful balladeer. In support of this new record, the young artist is currently playing a solo acoustic tour, presenting new and old material in stripped-down folk versions. His concert in Berlin on 1st November took place in a church, making for an intimate atmosphere. I was lucky enough to talk to Jake just an hour and a half before his gig.

Flowers in a church in Berlin„This is a way to accumulate all [my different] songs and to play them in a consistent manner.“

indieberlin: Jake, we’re in an evangelical church in Berlin-Kreuzberg where you’re going to play a show tonight. Was it a deliberate choice to be playing in a church?

Jake Bugg: Yeah, for the acoustics and the intimacy of it. I think not all of the shows of the European leg of this tour are in churches but a couple of them are. And they’re always great to play, great atmosphere.

indieberlin: You just embarked on a tour in support of your new album „Hearts that strain“ and you decided to make it a solo acoustic tour. Why did you choose to go out all on your own this time?

Jake Bugg: I felt that this album and the past three ones, they all sound a little different from one another. So this is a way to accumulate all the songs and to play them in a consistent manner.

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indieberlin: Was it a way of challenging yourself, too? Because I think it’s a brave thing to do, to be playing all on your own, cause it makes you a lot more vulnerable.

Jake Bugg: Yeah, you’re more vulnerable but at the same time you’re also more in control. You don’t have to stick to any structures that a band has to go by. So I can make a mistake and nobody has to know it’s a mistake and I can just kinda improvise and turn it back around.

indieberlin: Does it feel like a kind of throwback to your beginnings when you were playing in bars and you didn’t even have a band?

Jake Bugg: A little bit. But the difference is, there’s actually people there to see me this time.

Stage for Jake Bugg in Passionskirche Kreuzberg, 1st November 2017„Criticism can be constructive, but it has to be more than the old boring ‘Oh, he changed!’“

indieberlin: „Hearts that strain“ came out 1st November. Are you happy with the results or are there things that you would like to change if you still had the chance?

Jake Bugg: No, I’m very happy with the album. On the one I did before, there’s probably quite a lot of things I would like to change. But that’s the way it goes. So yeah, I’m happy with „Hearts that strain“, I think it’s a proper album.

indieberlin: Please tell us a little about the process of making that record.

Jake Bugg: It was a very easy process. It really just consisted of me writing a few songs in my flat in London and then going to Nashville for a week to record. Sometimes I also wrote with my friend Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys. And then we went to the studio and recorded about two or three songs in a day. We did that about three times. So [all in all], it was maybe four or five weeks until completion.

indieberlin: Like you said, the album was cut in Nashville and it has a lot of influences from that particular part of the US, too. Apart from Dan Auerbach, you also worked with two of the original members of the Memphis Boys. For all those who don’t know, could you tell us who these people are?

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Jake Bugg: Well, they are some legendary musicians who played with the likes of Elvis and Dusty Springfield. The drummer, Gene Chrisman, is just amazing and I would say that Bobby Woods, the piano player, is probably the best musician I ever had the pleasure of playing with. A lot of things they do are pretty simplistic but to come up with it the way they do is just genius and it was amazing to be in the company of those guys.

indieberlin: You like to experiment with and blend different musical styles. „Hearts that strain“ is quite a departure from your earlier work. Have you gotten negative responses from fans, saying `Oh, he’s not the same anymore!’ or are there British fans saying ‘Oh, he sounds so American now! He’s no longer that lad from our neighborhood!’?

Jake Bugg: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of people like that. I usually find that the people who say those things are just hardcore Oasis fans and that’s about it. Otherwise, people that know me and my music and who know me as a person, they’re supportive of what I do whether they like it or not. I mean, any criticism people might have can be constructive, but it has to be more than the old boring ‘Oh, he changed!’ just because it’s not what they wanna hear.

Setlist of Jake Buggs concert in Passionskirche Kreuzberg, 1st November 2017„I usually try not to think too much about what I write.“

indieberlin: Your previous album „On my one“ was a personal, rather dark record that dealt with feelings of loneliness. When I listened to „Hearts that strain“, I felt that this album is a lot warmer and brighter. What mood and what state of mind were you in when you wrote those new songs?

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Jake Bugg: Well, it’s true that „On my one“ has more of a dark side about it. And even while [we were touring that record], I was really just dying to get back into the studio and make a new album. And doing that, I felt in a good place, felt excited and was just quite content with that point of my life, really.

indieberlin: The record sounds a lot happier. Did something change in your personal life?

Jake Bugg: No, for me it’s… It’s hard to explain because I usually try not to think too much about what I write. So whatever comes out of me is usually subliminal, out of the subconscious, I guess.

Church windows, Passionskirche Kreuzbergindieberlin: I read that both your parents are or used to be musicians. Did music always play an important part in your life?

Jake Bugg: My mum used to play a lot of music in the house, most of which I disliked. But I didn’t like music at all until I was about twelve years old. I hated music, to be honest with you. Used to drive me mad.

indieberlin: Was it just your parents’ music that you couldn’t stand?

Jake Bugg: Yeah… maybe it’s because they played music that it was the last thing that I wanted to do. But what I got to love [eventually] was music like Vangelis, you know. Music without any words in it, that’s the kind of music I liked.

indieberlin: You have written quite a number of songs already. Is there one that you’re most proud of?

Jake Bugg: I don’t know. Ehm… I like „Kitchen Table“ from my second record. I like the guitar part in there. I don’t play it live cause it’s really difficult. But it’s one of those songs that I wrote that I couldn’t believe I could come up with.

indieberlin: Thank you very much for your time, Jake. Good luck with the concert tonight.

Jake Bugg: Dankeschön.

Interview and photos: Bastian Geiken

Came to this world as a boy in the year of the Wheel of fortune. First discovered music through MTV and had a hard time when they went from music videos to ringtones and dating shows. I was part of the “Nu Metal generation”, if you want to call it that, and am still in love with riffs and beats, although the Fred Durst days are far behind me (and everyone). Discovered poetry through music and went on to release a volume of poems myself in 2015. Happy to be part of the indieberlin crew since april 2016, thanks to a certain bookseller and music nerd who wouldn’t like to be mentioned here.

Came to this world as a boy in the year of the Wheel of fortune. First discovered music through MTV and had a hard time when they went from music videos to ringtones and dating shows. I was part of the "Nu Metal generation", if you want to call it that, and am still in love with riffs and beats, although the Fred Durst days are far behind me (and everyone). Discovered poetry through music and went on to release a volume of poems myself in 2015. Happy to be part of the indieberlin crew since april 2016, thanks to a certain bookseller and music nerd who wouldn't like to be mentioned here.

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