JAMIE T doesn’t do mornings.
“I’m not one for getting up early,” admits the 36-year-old Londoner, known for his sharp observational lyrics set to free-ranging music.
The singer is known for his sharp observational lyrics set to free-ranging music[/caption]
“I work better at night,” he continues. “If I get really involved, I’ll write for 15 hours until 4 or 5am. I love the obsession of it.
“A really enjoyable day for me is waking up, going to the pub, going back, start working.”
So, to prove his point, it’s lunchtime when I stroll through the double doors of a lovely old-school pub on Hackney’s main drag.
I say to a member of staff: “I’m looking for Jamie T,” but before she can answer, the man himself cries out, “Over here!” from one of the stools ranged along the wood-panelled bar.
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We each order a pint, him lager and me bitter, and we go outside to the quieter surrounds of a small courtyard.
“I told the pub people I like The Beatles,” he tells me with a wry smile.
“Now, whenever I come here, they stick them on the jukebox.”
Jamie’s in good spirits and dressed in a checked shirt and jeans. He’s sporting a modest beard which you could call designer stubble.
He has just been watching Sam Fender’s documentary about Geordie folk-rock legend Alan Hull, the late Lindisfarne frontman who sang Fog On The Tyne.
“One of his daughters said he used to have something called ‘an after-breakfast nap’,” he tells me. “I identify with that.”
It is six years since Jamie’s last album and 15 since he burst on to the scene with his memorable debut, Panic Prevention, the title referencing his teenage panic attacks.
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Now he’s back with The Theory Of Whatever, a record bristling with invention and underpinned by his refreshing “don’t give a f**k what people think” mentality.
As I quickly discover, Jamie Treays, pronounced “tree-aze”, likes to do things his own way, in his own time.
“I’m pretty self-contained but not completely DIY,” he says.
Social media is bad for my mental health
“I have a good group of musician friends who pop in and out of the studio. That’s the way I like to live my life.”
There’s another reason why he sticks to a relatively small circle.
“I’m not on social media any more,” he says. “It didn’t go well with my mental health.
“I don’t like putting myself in a situation where my insecurities start to come up, where I’m worried about what people are saying.
“Now, I’m grown up enough to realise that I shouldn’t look at that stuff.
“My life’s been a lot happier since I stopped.”
However, Jamie still has a distaste for the way people try to pigeonhole him, finding the “one-man Arctic Monkey” description particularly galling.
“I think that’s unfair,” he says, drawing on a roll-up.
“I was about 19 when their first single came out. “We were aware of each other and, don’t get me wrong, I very much love the Arctic Monkeys but basically I’m a one-man me.”
I get where he’s coming from because there’s nothing quite like a Jamie T record, from the singular turns of phrase to the unexpected twists and turns of the music.
For example, I give you the new song on which he intones, “I’m keying Lamborghinis in my mind” over an insistent hip-hop groove.
He says: “I’ve made my own style. I know that sounds arrogant but it was cemented with the song Sticks ’n’ Stones on my second album.
“Nobody had written songs like that before.”
Jamie emerged in the Noughties during a golden age for straight-talking English singer-songwriters such as Lily Allen, Jack Peñate, Kate Nash and, a little later, Adele.
“I consider Adele to be my little sister,” he says. “She started a bit after me and we have the same manager, Jonathan Dickins.
I annoy the s**t out of people
“I remember Jonathan sending me a live version of (her first single) Hometown Glory by email really early on.”
So, I venture, is there much difference between the Jamie of today and the one who released Panic Prevention soon after he turned 21?
“I don’t remember 15 years ago . . . do you remember 15 years ago?” he replies.
“Do I think I’m the same person as I was then? Yeah. I also feel the same way musically but I do wish my writing was a bit more like it was back then.”
If Panic Prevention was about a misspent youth of scoring bargain booze, getting into fights and first drunken fumbles, his new record reveals a wiser Jamie T . . . yet his spirit remains undimmed.
One of his latest creations, the confessional, drug-referencing standout Talk Is Cheap, is a deliberate attempt to recreate his early songwriting style.
I sat there for two hours and came up with Talk Is Cheap
He says: “My friend Olly Burden, who played guitar for Liam Howlett in The Prodigy, said: ‘Show me how you created a song for your first album.’
“I sat there for two hours and came up with Talk Is Cheap. I was stunned by how quickly I did it. Olly was like, ‘Wow!’”
So who else does he bounce ideas off? I ask.
“I annoy the s**t out of people!” he replies. “There’s Yannis (Philippakis) from Foals and Carl Barat (The Libertines).
“I send them f***ing mad because I get so enthusiastic and I want them to hear my songs.”
As for his mates who play on the new album, the most significant is Hugo White from the now defunct Maccabees.
Jamie’s recording career has been notable for two lengthy hiatuses, the five-year gap between Kings & Queens (2009) and Carry On The Grudge (2014) and the six-year wait after Trick (2016) for The Theory Of Whatever.
But he gives a convincing explanation: “I didn’t have a break before Trick and that album is not as good as it could have been.
“It would have been better if I’d spent two more years on it. It takes me that long to sort my s**t out.”
“I need a period of chaos to find originality. I like having a hundred plates spinning at the same time.”
For Jamie, all that matters now is that “the end product is good” rather than fretting over maintaining career momentum.
“I’m not obsessed with myself, so it’s not important for me to release music until I’m ready,” he decides.
“Everyone goes on living their lives and there’s a bunch of other great stuff out there to listen to.”
Of course, the Covid pandemic had a profound impact on Jamie’s album, tour, album, tour routine.
“Like everyone, I was stuck inside for a couple of years,” he says. “On a day-to-day basis, my life was just songwriting.
“At one point, maybe for about a year, I got a bit lost. I became too aware for trying to ‘sound like me’ and was struggling with my identity.”
That said, he’s written around 200 songs since Trick and only 13 have found their way on to the basic edition of The Theory Of Whatever.
“Sometimes I’ll write lyrics for a whole week and come up with 25 A4 pages,” he says.
“As for the music, it’s either sitting at the computer or I’ll use piano, guitar or bass. “I like melodious Peter Hook-style bass lines.”
Then he quips: “But I don’t often pick up the bassoon!”
Playing Glastonbury was absolute chaos..but brilliant
Talking to Jamie, one thing that shines through is his searing honesty.
He’s not afraid to say that he “steals a lot” from other people’s work. “I’m a big thief,” he confesses.
“If I’ve been reading a lot and I like the way something reads, I’ll underline it.
“I’ll listen to a Bob Dylan song, find a line and it will cascade into something else for me. I don’t think that makes me a plagiarist.
“Music is a free for all, man.”
And “free for all” could describe Jamie’s new album. He’s particularly proud of his album’s rocket-fuelled first single, The Old Style Raiders, which, he says, contains hope and positivity.
“It’s about trying to love yourself enough to properly love another human being and also about finding your next-door neighbour and giving them a hug.”
Enough time to forget everything
London looms large in a couple of song titles, The Terror Of Lambeth Love and St George Wharf Tower.
“I don’t mean to be London-centric,” says Jamie. “But obviously it happens naturally because I live here and it’s my life, the place where I’ve written all my songs.”
“St George Wharf Tower is about someone living a life in the sky next to the A3205 at Vauxhall.”
The song poses the questions: Is that person alone? Are they happy?
He adds: “I always hope my songs ask questions. That’s the sort of music that changed my life when I was younger, whether it was Bruce Springsteen or The Clash.”
Thank You is one of Jamie’s favourites, mainly because of the frequent repetition of a cab company name, Addison Lee.
I tell him that I arrived at the pub in one of the familiar black people carriers as a special tribute to him.
He laughs and says: “I had a vision of being someone’s boyfriend in Kingston and she’s going out to the Rotunda (a big round, leisure development).
London looms large in a couple of Jamie’s song title[/caption]
Talking to Jamie, one thing that shines through is his searing honesty[/caption]
“Afterwards, I go to pick her up and have to park on a f***ing side street. She gets in with her mates and no one can pronounce my name, Treays.
“That’s just like being an Addison Lee driver. And why is someone called Steve smoking in my car?
“I did the song with my mate Matt Maltese, a phenomenal young songwriter.”
Next Jamie explains the album title: “It was originally called The British Interplanetary Society Part I.
“Since about 1913, the society has been lobbying the Government to get British people into space. . . but they wouldn’t let us use their name.
“Then it was 50 Ways To Kill Your Lover and eventually I went back to the original (work-in-progress) title, The Theory Of Whatever.”
As we finish our second pints, Jamie talks about his return to the stage after a lengthy time away.
After a warm-up gig for 600 in London, he played the John Peel Stage on Saturday night at Glastonbury in front of 20,000 boisterous festivalgoers, overlapping with a certain headliner called Paul McCartney.
So how was the performance at Worthy Farm? “Absolute chaos,” he answers.
“There was a three-week gap between the two gigs, just enough time for me to forget everything I’d rehearsed.
“The crowd was huge and went right outside the tent. You could see Macca for an hour and then come and see me!
“We walked a fine line between falling apart and brilliance. Hugo (White) called me and said, ‘You were really great but don’t try that again’.”
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We can expect a well-rehearsed Jamie T on his UK tour in November, including a date at the cavernous Alexandra Palace in North London.
“That’s the theory anyway,” I tell him.
“Whatever,” he sighs.
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