Bugg's newest stuff weaves his classic sound with dark psychedelia-tinged modern production, mostly moving away from the sound of his last record. Read the Q & A recorded ahead of his headline slot at Moseley Folk & Arts Festival
Cai Trefor
15:30 23rd July 2019

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After only sporadically touring in recent months, Nottingham-raised troubadour Jake Bugg is on the cusp of a big return.

There's a new album in the works, singles to be released before then, and a tour to be announced very shortly. These are all the encouraging things we hear from speaking with Bugg over the phone ahead of his gig at Moseley Folk and Arts Festival in Birmingham (30 August - 1 September).

The new record, which is written, but has no set release date since finishing touches are still being made, is Bugg's fifth album. It follows his chart-topping classic debut, which is a seamless listen with strong repeat value. He followed that up with the rockier Rick Rubin produced album Shangri La, before coming up with his first solely self-penned album: On My One. The latter, his third album, is famed for its eclectic production styles. Bugg himself has said before to press there's some songs he's proud of on there but that the production throws you around the room a bit. The fourth was produced by Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and recorded over in Nashville with some of the worlds most acclaimed session players. It's a bucket list record for someone who found a love for music in that old time sound.

Having hit the ground running at such an early age - he was 18 when that massive debut came out - Bugg's been constantly in the limelight for all his adult years. Live highlights include headlining the Other stage at Glastonbury in 2014 and drawing a headliner sized crowd to the Pyramid the year before. Plus, famed for donning all black attire, fashion labels love his uncompromising demeanour, which doesn't aim to please. Nevertheless, we find Bugg in good spirits today. Perhaps the 25-year-old's buoyed by his second major record deal? Whatever it is, the singer, songwriter and guitarist is here to share a glimpse into the next major chapter of his career through us here at Gigwise. So here he is:

Gigwise: Hi Jake. It’s been good seeing the positive reception to your recent shows on social media. How does it feel to have been on the road the last few weeks?

Jake Bugg: Yeah it's brilliant. It's been nice this year. I've been making a new record. It's nice breaking it up. Travelling a little bit and then getting in the studio.

GW: So 2019 has been more focused around writing?

JB: Yeah pretty much. I've been popping over to Sweden a little bit and L.A and doing some writing over there. It's been great. I've met new people, loads of new writers and stuff.

GW: Is it two different collaborators in two different places? What style of producer is the one in Sweden and one in LA?

JB: I’ve been working with quite a few people, to be honest. It was time to get out and get a few new sets of tools. I always thought they [in Sweden] had a certain way of working but turns out they write songs like the rest of us. In the States I’ve been working with Andrew Watt. Cool, exciting people. And it's different compared with the way I usually work.

GW: What's the difference?

JB: I think I've gone into it with a bit more of an open mind and I've come out with sounds that are really interesting. The results are more on the relevant tip of modern music but still with the traditional elements that I always have. It's an interesting sound. I'd be interested to see what people think about it when they hear it.

GW: Is part of the intention to innovate and have new ideas?

JB: Absolutely. I like to make each record different. My last album is a relaxed, old time-ish record. But it's time to experiment again and try some stuff. I've worked with some top people and I'm happy with the results.

GW: How would you describe the sound?

JB: To be honest, it's not much like I've heard before and the people I’ve been working with say likewise. The only element which is perhaps a thread through all of it is Jefferson Airplane. I think that psychedelic element with the modern sound is interesting to try and pursue.

GW: When it came to writing the lyrics, were you back in London? Or writing on the spot in the studio? I read at one point you were writing two songs a day, so you’re writing quite quickly these days?

JB: I've got into a good routine. I've been cracking on, trying to do at least a song a day. And it's been quite fun. I've done a lot of stuff that I want to do so now I've got more of an open-minded about the way I write. So sat at home I'll just crack on with it a bit more, be a bit more disciplined. And if I go and write with someone, I go and have a laugh and enjoy writing. I feel like I’m in a good flow.

GW: You seem positive. You posted on Instagram about how well the new material sounded with the band. On top of that, you’ve just signed a new record deal. Have both those things been really positive things in your life?

JB: Absolutely. Firstly, to get a new record deal after finishing four albums and then for another major to offer you the opportunity to get to do it all over again is amazing. It’s inspiring. Everyone who is working there is really cool. It feels fresh and vibrant in the label so that’s a bonus. So having the band back out and stuff, it’s always great. It’s like a family now and that helps a lot.

GW: How did the deal come about with Sony [RCA Records]?

JB: Well, I had a few offers. And it was a hard decision to make because you want to get it right. It's a big decision in your life to make. But I was patient. I didn’t rush into anything. Choosing Sony was a couple of factors. Firstly, a lot of the people who signed me and worked with me on my first two records moved there [from Virgin EMI]. Secondly, they just showed me how much they wanted me to be part of what they were doing in their projects. I felt wanted there. I also got a very good deal in the end so it’s a win for everybody, I think.

GW: Was the CamelPhat collaboration the first thing you did for the label?

JB: Yeah. We'd both just signed to them and they said: why don't we put you in the studio together? It’s not something I’d do but I listened to the CamelPhat boys' stuff and I was like: ‘actually, it's really good.’ They get a really good sound. It’s dark, a bit psychedelic. There’s no harm in going to the studio. If it’s terrible no one has to hear it. But thankfully we got something out of it that people seem to enjoy.

GW: Is darkness something you consciously think about when writing songs?

JB: I think so. I think the majority of listeners like that element that they can relate to. We’ve all been through some dark stuff. This is not the case in grime world where it's all very real which is great; but a lot of the lyrics in the pop world don’t have a lot of depth or substance behind them. A lot of artists want to put themselves in a good light. But sometimes being a bit vulnerable and a bit of pain and darkness in there gives it a bit of depth. I think it’s the better stuff for me personally.

GW: Is there a song that you’ve written recently that you can explain the theme of at all?

JB: There’s a couple of songs reflecting on relationships. In relationships I feel there's a lot of manipulation and insecurity - especially in the modern day with social media. So I've been tapping into that a bit. Little bits and bobs. What’s important is trying to keep the lyrics relevant with it this time. It’s nice to sing about old country roads to a point. But these songs I’ve been writing, they have more of modern lyrics, modern phrases, things people do so they can relate to it more.

GW: Has that come out of progressing songwriting discussions in Sweden and LA?

JB: Whereas I write more traditionally, it’s something natural the people I’ve worked with from the pop world do. So I've been more observational about it and pursued it from my angle. That's why it's great to work with different people. I get a different insight but still add what I’m good at and see what comes out.

GW: I guess if you just pick up a guitar you’ll reset into the original influences. It’s challenging yourself to get out ide of that to make something new?

JB: Exactly. I can write a song in ten minutes, but everybody goes to their default positions sometimes. It's why it’s good to mix with different people. And even if its crap you’ll learn something from it and take something away. Also, I want to keep this record quite upbeat, I want it to be lively. I want the tempos to be good. I’m always thinking in terms of what the live set needs.

GW: Are you going to be announcing a tour? You've only got two gigs scheduled [one in Birmingham and one in Liverpool].

JB: I am going to be announcing some soon and they’ll be later in the year….

GW: Arenas?

JB: Some of the venue we're going to be doing will be Rock City and stuff like that. It’ll be that kind of level. I think it’s always good to be a bit lower than you think you can do, especially when you have new material nobody’s heard yet. Of course it's good to do the areas but it’s nice to do the smaller ones now and again.

GW: Great stuff. One of the already announced gigs you have coming up is a folk festival [Moseley Folk & Arts]... will you write the setlist with that in mind and will we hear new material there?

JB: Yeah I think I will with the folk festival. Obviously I love a ballad and there's a couple of those written on the new record that I feel would fit with feel of the festival. I’ve got the band as well I believe, it would be nice to try some stuff out for sure.

GW: So you do really change the set accordingly?

JB: Yeah it's important to think about it. We’re quite lucky we get to play folk festivals, blues festivals, and we play rock festivals. Can’t be doing all the folk tunes at the rock one. So we have to take the set into account. It’s what makes it interesting and keeps it fun and keeps it enjoyable.

GW: The band must be itching to get on the road for the full tour since your last one was a solo tour with just you on stage. The shows got amazing reviews so well done for that.

JB: Thanks. You know what? I loved that tour. That was really good for me. It gave me an opportunity to get more confidence on stage and interact with the crowd. It was brilliant. I loved it. I got to go some places I'd never been before.[...] I grew up wanting to play music, I'm not an entertainer. I’m a writer and singer pretty much. There’s not many stage moves, theatrics and pyrotechnics. It’s about the music so to be able to add something to that, gain a bit of confidence on stage. I needed to do that.

GW: Last question. There must be a strong dynamic between the studio heads and yourself now given you’ve got a lot of experience. Do you apply the different things you learn over the years when writing new music?

JB: Yeah absolutely. You you pick up tricks and tips and that’s one of the great things with being able to work with people like the Swedish guys. They write songs like the rest of us but what they have is some tools so if you get stuck then you know how to get out. So it's picking things up like that but still keeping my DNA in there is important. I think it's good for the pop guys as well because they get to pick up instruments. Most of them are amazing musicians themselves and I don’t think half of them get to play very much. So it’s been nice for them and it’s been really nice for me as well.

GW: Good stuff. I look forward to hearing the album.

JB: I'm probably going to put it out at the beginning of next year. And I’m going to keep releasing music as I'm writing it which is the way to go.

GW: So we can expect a new single soon?

JB: Yeah. September time I'm hoping for.

GW: Brilliant.

JB: Nice talking to you.

GW: You too, see you.

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Photo: Simon Sarin