On a ridiculously gorgeous day, on the 42 bus, I make my way over Tower Bridge; making dents just South of the shimmering river Thames to Terminal Studios in Bermondsey. All is right with the world, as long as your t-shirt is white and your bottle’s full enough to keep you from keeling over like some sun-drunk idiot. All is right with the world even in the sweat drenched air of public transport.
A lot of Jamie’s output so far – some of it trapped in the grooves of the two 7”s he’s released, collected on the ‘Betty and the Selfish Sons’ EP, and some of it in the form of forum mp3s – was made to soundtrack days like today. Roll out the easy, sun-kissed tracks like ‘If You’ve Got the Money’ and ‘Back In The Game’ for hazy days stained by beers and barbeque grease. Others seem made more for when the heat reaches a head later on – ‘Salvador’ cutting a shady disco path through stormy summer evenings set in the capital and its outskirts. And even in this stifled humidity, it’s music that sounds fresh – drum’n’bass and garage, pub rock and punk, hip hop and folk all plundered and then cut and paste, woven together and given coherence by a south london rascal with a few stories to tell.
Outside the studio I run into Jonathon, Jamie’s manager – apparently he’s run off to the pub already so we head down to The George on Tower Bridge Road. By the time my turn with the dictaphone comes around, he still seems charged enough to answer questions about the upcoming debut album and nationwide tour despite the heat, and the Kronenbourg, and the sambuca.
How’s the recording going?
It’s going good yeah, it’s nearly done, it’s nearly finished so we’ll have to see. I’ve finished all the tracks now it’s just making sure I’m happy with it. I think you need to sit on things for a while so you can listen to it with fresh ears, rather than rush and settle for something I’d just been working on the day before. Take a bit of time to make sure it’s alright.
What songs can we expect to hear on it?
There are some new ones on it; there are some old ones on it because people know them - ‘Alicia Keys’ is on it, ‘Calm Down Dearest’, ‘If You’ve Got the Money’, ‘Back In the Game’. But I’ve also thrown some new ones in. I’ve got a lot of new material that I’ve just decided to leave on this, and get the old stuff out. It’s just a shame that you can’t release things just as you finish them.
You could just release singles all the time?
Yeah, I could do. I think the whole album thing might be getting a bit old now as well. I was chatting to someone the other day about releasing an album, well not an album, but four tracks every four months on the internet as their own thing and doing artwork and videos for all of them and then people can sign up for it and get it that way, while it’s fresh…
…Do you know Jens Lekman? He does something like what you’re talking about…
Oh right, na, na I haven’t…Have you got the sambucas?
[At this point Jonathon does the honours with the refreshments]
I heard a rumour that Lily Allen was gona be on the album?
She sung a chorus in a song of mine, a new song. So I dunno what I’m gona do with that, I’m sitting on it at the moment. I only finished it yesterday, so…
What’s the track called?
You’re not telling me?
Haha, why not?
Ah it can wait, find out when it’s out.
Well if you wana play it like that…
If you wana play it like that, hehehe!
What about the tour, that starts Monday…
Yeah, down in Cardiff.
Have you been round the country much before?
I’ve done a few bits and pieces; I did do a tour that lasted quite a while actually, just supported a load of people did, a few shows on my own, just kind of dusted around…
You played Fez Bar in Reading didn’t you?
Yeah, with Les Incompetents...that was a funny night, haha.
How did you throw your new band together?
They’re all mates of mine, it was just a case of getting them all in the same place at the same time, which is difficult, but it’s all come together now and everyone’s in the routine…they’re all kinda people you need to have in a routine, ‘cos they’re all a bit…
Yeah, sketchy guys but once I kinda got them in the routine, practising twice a week, then its pretty much there.
Are they all from back home?
Yeah, Kerry I met about a year ago, ‘cos I was doing some tracks with him but the rest I’ve known for years.
Who plays what?
Kerry plays keys, Lewis plays guitar, I play guitar, Duncan plays bass and my mate Ben plays drums.
What stuff have you been working out with them? Will you be playing old tunes like ‘Ike and Tina’?
We worked them all out, some that I couldn’t play live by myself ‘cos they just wouldn’t work. That particular track has kinda changed a little bit, we’ve changed the arrangement of it a bit but it’s still got the same vibe. It sounds cool man, it took ages to get that track down. So yeah, we’re gona play that, ‘Feel Me’, ‘Down to the Subway’...
…The beatier stuff?
Yeah, just trying to get some of them out there to see what people think of them.
How do they work in the context of the album? Do they go with the flow of it?
Yeah, kinda. The album's got more beats in it than the live stuff. I was thinking the other day I might just do two albums at once, go into the studio and do everything acoustic and release that as well, just to give two sides to the slate. I could do that in a day or two, just record all the tracks acoustically. ‘Cos some people don’t like it with beats ‘n’ that, I can understand why.
What, have you put beats on stuff like ‘Back In The Game’?
Just trying to…[I do my best impression of a drum’n’bass hi-hat shuffle]
Haha, “Back… in the..gaame” [Jamie does his best impression of some singing two step sket]
‘Sheila’, a sepia-toned lament to city-bound self-destruction, is Jamie’s buzz magnet – MTV and Radio 1 already compelled; a ton of others positive to follow before its release on July 3rd. The growing momentum behind him has been palpable for a while now, but it seems that unlike other recent ‘grassroots’ success stories, he really has been prepared to get his hands dirty and dig out his own place in the sun. Hitting on the frankly genius idea of sending out his Panic Prevention mixtapes to scores of fans across the country, Jamie shows he’s for real, and not just some cheap marketing ploy relocated from PR company offices to Tooting basements. The eclectic selection of tracks for those tapes also seems to strike a chord with those that’ve been churned up and spat out by various scenes along the way to discovering Jamie T’s music.
A lot of my mates back home in Maidenhead, they like it with beats. We grew up sort of latching onto things like punk and then drum’n’bass. Am I right in saying there’s a Rancid influence in there? Your manager said they used to be one of your favourite bands.
Yeah, they were when I was younger, anyway. I still listen to it sometimes. There are loads of bands that I listened to when I was younger and I can’t listen to now, it’s kinda embarrassing.
But with Rancid I get quite embarrassed, but I still like it…it’s raw, I think they’re sick man, they’re fast, they’re really fast. That Rancid skull’n’crossbones album, that’s fast mate! They played 'Hoover Street' when I saw them, you know “Salvoderean immigrant, Head through a thin wall…(trails off)
Haha, Yeah! I cover that tune, when I play live with my guitar. But there’s one lyric in it that I can’t work out what he says. [Fast forwards through lyrics slurring like Tim Armstrong] Its like “ASHPRAAKA…ASCANTGETYOUATTAME…ASHKANT” Haha. Whenever I play it live I just go "AAASHBRAAAKAA" and just carry on and no one really knows that tune so I get away with it. I think if you’re into punk it kinda cements that way you do music, that “fuck off we’re doing it like this”. Drum’n’bass is quite similar to that. I had the same thing with UK hip hop when I first became aware of it, it was in the high of transition – ah that’d make sense, after listening to punk for a few years.
You get bored of that in the end though don’t you…start to feel like you’re just preaching to the converted?
Yeah, there were bands I used to see when I was 15, punk bands that I see now and they’ve got stickers in toilets saying “punk rock music”.
Yeah, it’s like “allow, that needed to be 2 years long…"
It’s like “what you on about!” There’s no such thing as punk now. There’s a mentality still there now, that’s gotta stick. And it does with a lot of good music still.
What bands are you thinking of?
Have you seen The Nudes? I think The Nudes are the only band that sound punk and do get away with it. And they’re fucking good, every other band I know who call themselves punk rock they’re shit. They’re just trying to copy what has gone before. I’m glad I went through that area of music. But you read these magazines about 70’s punk and you look back on it and you think “most of you lot were pricks!” There’s only one band I liked from that time and that was The Clash.
What about your mixtapes? What sort of feedback have you had from those?
It’s always gona be good because it’s not my music! But those are bands that I fucking love. I listen to some of the best music that’s around, y’know? I give it to people like you and they rate it, and then I give it to 14 and 15 year old girls and they love it, ‘cos she’s never heard shit like Squeeze and stuff like that. A mate of mine was going to me “why are you putting these old Jungle tracks on your mixtape?” I was like, well look I fucking like it and I was too young to be around when jungle was around and I’m 20. If I give it to someone who’s 14 and 15 they’re not gona have any idea about Jungle, so for them that’s good – it’s like an introduction.
Most people seem to work their way out from the city, and it ripples out, but you seem to have gone the other way. Have things like the mixtapes and the rise of Lily Allen helped in that process?
Lily’s doing well man, she’s blowing up. The guy before [from another website] was saying to me “it’s funny you and Lily are doing things at the same times - is this record label corporate shit?” I looked at him and went “fuck off! Right ok, yeah, safe mate.” Why would you work that out?
What, did he think it was like all the PR surrounding that girl who’s at number one at the moment?
Whaaat is that, it just kills me. Murder isn’t it? It always is the way though.
You know you had those wacky people at school, with those Shaun the Sheep backpacks…
Haha, trust it’s always the way. How old are you?
We haven’t been around that long so you haven’t really seen it happen before, but you know it has. Where things have come up through underground levels, and then there’s this one person who goes…[leans over and acts out like he’s nicking something on the sly]…takes that and does a single and gets to number one and everyone goes “YEAH!” and everyone else goes (dejectedly) “Nooo, nooo”. We’ve got nothing to do with this shit. That’s why occasionally something breaks through and they’re the first to do what they do before someone else nicks it and when that does happen it’s fucking great. Very rare though. Joy Division were probably a bit like that…but you couldn’t really do Joy Division. It’s a bit weird init? You couldn’t do Joy Division if you weren’t Joy Division.
Oh yeah, but at the time. Trust, since then…how many people do you wana see having an epileptic fit on the stage?
You can tell when they mean it though. Have you seen that video for ‘Transmission’? There’s something in his eyes, it’s like he’s possessed or something.
Haha, na bruv, when you say that it reminds me of Rasputin. Ever seen pictures of him? He got shot like five times and they poisoned him and he wouldn’t die, haha! They had to shoot him.
Yeah he had to drag himself to the river…
Yeah, he had that eye, where he just looked like he didn’t know what was going on. And then he hung himself and it was like “fuck, he really didn’t know what was going on”.
Yeah, maybe someone should’ve stepped in.
Have you seen that 24 Hour Party People?
It’s good but I don’t think it’s very accurate.
Nah, it’s not meant to be, but you know. It makes me like ‘em all more.
You know that opening scene where they poison all the pigeons?
Yeah, I was chatting to a geezer that was the sound engineer on the new Gorillaz album and he told me that when Shaun Ryder went in to do ‘Dare’ he couldn’t pronounce the word ‘There’…
Haha, yeah I heard that. Apparently they were there for hours. How can you not get it after that long?
“It’s there” [adopts monged out voice]“It’s daa…” It’d be like “alright, are you ready Shaun?” “Eh?” “You ready?” “Yeah”.
Can I ask you about your personal background? You won’t feel like you’re in Heat or something? It’s just that I don’t think many people know that much about you.
Well I kinda like it like that. I don’t like the kinda celebrity vibe shit. I grew up in a home with my mum and dad. Nice fucking family, nice household…nothing fucking.. no raw shit went on in my life.
But I think that’s why you can connect with people perhaps. ‘Cos I was the same as that, you know thoroughly middle class but you still wana have a laugh.
Na, I was never adopted, dad never died. Just did what I did - got really into music at about 13-14. It’s the only thing in my life that I’ve never dropped. It wasn’t like I was that involved in it that I was like [puts on poncey voice] “I’m gona change this”. I just never dropped it. It’s just something that’s always been fresh. Probably ‘cos I’ve been into vibes, like I was into punk and I was into the whole movement of something…it’s funny ‘cos now I’m into the music business I don’t wana be part of any vibe. I don’t wana be part of something that I don’t really believe in. I’m sure if something came along that I believed in then I’d stick my colours to the mast or whatever. I duno, I’d just rather do my own thing. I write music because I listened to a song earlier that day that I really liked and I wanted to create that vibe. People ask me to explain what I do, it’s not like “Ooh I’m an artist”. If you wana know what I did today go and listen to my songs.
Would it be fair to say that your music is essentially suburban?
It’s suburban and urban, but I’ve always been more interested in suburbia than I have been in urbia. Just ‘cos every house in suburbia is the same, and it’s a weird place. I’m really, really interested in it, ‘cos the city’s the city and you can walk down one road and it’ll be different to the next. But suburbia’s different, it’s not like that. I find it more interesting than the city. I find it quite an alienating place as well. If you’re in the city you can roll down the road and in ten minutes you’re in a different place.
What about the characters in your songs? Are they real or more from your imagination?
They’re a bit of both - they’re not real characters in themselves, more a story of how I make a personality up. They’re a lot of real situations that I sort of brought together in one go, from a whole period when I was hanging out in Putney and places like that, and it all got really messy. Like a bit weird, for about four months. The trouble was that after that I ended up with agoraphobia, haha, kinda in my house. But I ended up writing about 15 tunes.
What tunes came out of that?
'If You’ve Got The Money', 'Sheila', 'Calm Down Dearest', were all written at that period and a few others that I don’t play live anymore ‘cos they’re shit. I wrote so many ‘cos I was just staying in, not going out. I’m not like that anymore…I like people.