Jamie T: “No one knows music like a 17-year-old kid does”
Jamie T was one of the hottest artists on the planet when his first album, Panic Prevention, dropped in 2006. The follow-up, Sticks And Stones, cemented his place among the modern greats, but then something unexpected happened: He disappeared. After four long years of soul searching, the Wimbledon-born artist returned in 2014 with the critically acclaimed Carry On The Grudge. Now, at the ripe old age of 30, Jamie T is back to his best and feeling better than ever with his fourth album, Trick.
The Red Bulletin chatted to Mr Treays at the end of his European tour to find out how he’s found inner peace in this chaotic life of his, and why he’s happy to sit down and have a chat with you in a bar – as long as you don’t ask him about what his song lyrics mean!
THE RED BULLETIN: You’re just as loved now, if not more, than when you first started out ten years ago, while many of your peers at the time aren’t around at all anymore. Do you think the break helped you stay relevant?
JAMIE T: In a weird way, yes. Going away when we did helped us – I say “us” when I actually mean me, but there’s more to Jamie T than just me – to work out what we really wanted to do, and for people to really see what it was like when we weren’t around.
That takes some balls.
It was definitely a brave thing to do, especially at that age. I thought at the time that it was the right thing to do, but yeah, it was f****ing ballsy. [Laughs.]
Did you read all the conspiracy theories and media reports about what had happened to you at the time?
I didn’t really give a shit to be honest. I wasn’t really in that state of mind; I wasn’t even in music if you know what I mean? Initially, I only wanted to take a short break, but personal reasons meant it was a lot longer. But I wasn’t really on the Internet or checking things out, I didn’t even know people missed me. The first time I really became aware of it was when I was staying at a friend’s house, and waking up and him going, ‘everyone’s looking for you!’
Did you not want to let your fans know you were alive after that?
To me it wasn’t really about that and it never has been. I have got a lot of love for my fans, but I have always been fearful and protective of my privacy. Being hounded by the media, fans and the industry was one of the main things that drove me to the point of exhaustion. I love being a musician, but f**k off if you think I’m going to show you around my house like on MTV Cribs!
Don’t you feel a responsibility to your “public persona”?
Not at all, and I don’t think anybody should really. I was speaking to a young artist the other day who’s going to release a record, and I was trying to tell him to take his time, and he was like: ‘But there are people on Twitter wondering where I am!’ and I was like, ‘mate, in the big scheme of things, what someone thinks or says on the Internet doesn’t really matter.’ You know, no one’s going to give a shit about that if your record isn’t good.
So the power of the Internet is over-represented?
Without a doubt. The importance of all of these social platforms and stuff was always over-represented. Look at Myspace for example. We were always labelled as being part of this “MySpace generation” and we were meant to have profited from this, but in reality, we were touring our arses off, and I’d been playing three shows a week for years all over London. That’s really where we made our impact – being good live. The Internet definitely helped, but it wasn’t a case of the Internet making me.
You’ve mentioned before that you treat music as a job these days, especially the industry side of it. Is that the key to finding peace in this hectic life of yours?
I think so, yeah. It’s all about not taking things as personal as I used to, I guess. The whole music industry is a game and you just have to find ways to take it all a little less seriously, and after a while you start to learn how to play the game a little better. Sometimes you get journalists who are pricks, or photographers who are pricks or people say stuff to you in the street to get a rise out of you, but as the years go by you start to take it all with a pinch of salt and realise that I’m still here, and many of those journalists who said rude things to me aren’t [laughs.] It’s been said before by many people, but if you can do press in England and get through it, then you can do press anywhere in the world.
So how do you go into interviews these days?
It’s all about respect. We’ve both got jobs to do, I’ve got respect for what you do, so have some respect for me. I’ve learned that the hard way and I’ve kind of had to run the gauntlet over the years to really understand the business.
And what have you learned?
Well, basically, I just don’t do interviews with people like that anymore! I’ve got better things to do with my time. If you’re just here to grill me or spout silly questions then f*** off. [Laughs.] But to be honest, I really don’t mind doing interviews as much as people seem to think I do. It’s just sometimes I struggle with silliness. I used to really struggle with people asking me about my songs and lyrics. Now I just refuse to answer those questions.
Does it not take a bit of the fun out of it when you turn your passion into a strict job? Does it feel like a 9-5 these days?
[laughs.] I think if you’ve toured an album for 18 months, I don’t care who you are, yeah, it takes some of the f**king fun out of it! [laughs even louder.] You have to pay a sacrifice to do what you love to do as a job and there are going to be sides to it you’re not going to like. Do I like making music? Of course I love making music. Is it the only thing I know how to do? Yes. Is it a 9-5? No, it’s a f**king 24-7 slog. I don’t put my coat on the rail and go ‘sweetheart, I’m home.’ I’m going mental all hours of the night.
Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins is a workaholic, who gets up at 4am, rehearses at 9 and works on the business side from 2pm till the evening. Sound familiar?
Yes, very. Although the times are a little different [smiles.] When I’m at home, I’ll get up about midday, go to the studio until about 7, go home and sleep for an hour, and then I’ll work until about 2 or 3 in the morning most days. It’s pretty full on. It’s a lot of work, but you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it. To get good in this game, you have to become obsessed with it. There’s no luck involved.
Could you imagine doing something else?
I don’t know really. I love writing songs, so I would probably still be doing that to be honest. Whether I want to continue under the guise of Jamie T forever is something I haven’t decided yet.
A collaboration, perhaps?
I love being a solo artist, but yeah, I would love to be in a band. I’ve always wanted to be in a band with two songwriters in it. It’s something I think would be really exciting, and I’ve always been a bit jealous of that to be honest. But I don’t know if I could do the whole band dynamic thing really. Inevitably what happens is you end up being a solo artist in a band, which would be weird.
And not having creative control would also be a problem.
[very long pause.] You see, I don’t know if that would be a problem, because I would have creative control. That’s the only way it would work. I would never sign off on anything I didn’t like, so the buck would always end with me. But yeah, I’m up for collaborating and exploring new channels, I just need the time!
Go to a Jamie T gig and you’re going to see tons of teens in the front row. Why do you think you’re still catching those kids with your early stuff, more than ten years after Panic Prevention came out?
I think we caught – and are still catching – people at that age of discovery, when you’re in your late teens and early twenties. When you’re coming of age and you’re listening to music and that’s when it really has an influence on you.
I think our music, and the first album in particular, has that youthful temperament you know? I wrote Panic Prevention when I was a teenager, so it’s easy to relate to and I don’t think there is much stuff out there – written by someone of that age – that connects like that. Perhaps Arctic Monkeys maybe? But there’s not that much music before then that sounds that young. Even if you listen to bands from the ‘70s or ‘80s when they were young, I don’t know, something about them just doesn’t sound as adolescent as our stuff did.
What advice would you give to a 17-year-old looking to make music who’s been inspired by you?
The thing that comes to mind is when I feel the same way I used to feel like when I was a kid. That feeling has an excited innocence to it, and a joy of creating something. And also being confident that this is exactly what you want to do, because it’s your gut feeling. The major problems that have arisen in my life have come from listening to other people. I would strongly advise people to not listen to anyone else. If you know what you want to do, then do it. No one knows music like a 17-year-old kid does.
So follow your own instincts even if it means making mistakes?
All the mistakes I’ve made have been because I listened to someone else [laughs.] At the end of the day, this thing is only going to end with you. If you’re successful, you’re the one who’s going to get the success, and if it messes up, then no one is going to help you out in this business. So it’s all down to you. You can’t be sitting there blaming someone else after it’s all gone tits up.
Do you still get freaked out when people recognise you?
I really don’t mind people coming up to me on the street and having a chat about my music – I enjoy it. I love knowing that I’ve had an impact on people. What I don’t like, is when groups of people come up to me and they don’t treat me like a human being. I hate that mob mentality. There’s nothing like being treated like an object to mess up your head. But I love meeting fans as long as they respect the fact that I’m also a human being. You want to chat to me? Then come over and have chat.
What track do you want people to remember you by?
Sticks And Stones I reckon. But there are so many I love. So Lonely Was The Ballad has a special place for me. It was one of those songs when I knew that something had changed for me after writing it, so that was a big moment. I’d been working on it with two of the lads who did the Gorillaz stuff and they’d done a version of the track that had taken a few days to finish. I listened to it afterwards and realised that it was s***, so I called them up and told them I didn’t like it, which was quite ballsy of me at the time. I went back to my demo and finished it in an evening in my bedroom – and that’s the one that’s on the record.
Looking back at your career so far, are you where you wanted to be at 30 or are there things you may have done differently?
I’d like to think this is where I thought I’d be! [He looks around the dimly lit, sparsely furnished backstage room, lights another cigarette and adjusts his Ray Bans on the table.] I don’t really know where I thought I’d be, I don’t think I even thought at all to be honest. If I did it certainly wasn’t about my long-term future as a musician! We were just like ‘F*** it, let’s do an album! Great, let’s do another one!’ Sometimes I look back and think: ‘I wish I’d done this or that’ but to be honest, I can’t see myself ever doing anything differently. I can’t see any of my decisions taking me anywhere but here right now, sitting in this room, doing this interview.