Jake Bugg: “I don’t choose to be purposely cynical”

Although he’s notoriously indifferent to the press, Jake Bugg chatted openly with PERRI CASSIE about working with Rick Rubin, separating himself from pop acts, and the stigma of using co-writers. Splendour In The Grass portrait by Daniel Boud.

Jake Bugg was in the middle of watching reruns of old football games – a Preston vs Burnley match from 2006 to be specific – and worn out from heavy touring when he fielded FL’s call. But ahead of his second Australian tour, there’s plenty to talk about. Moving from the council estates of Nottingham to super producer Rick Rubin’s Malibu recording studio in just a few years, the 19-year old singer is on a sharp ascent and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

Just over a year after the release of his 2012 Mercury-nominated self-titled debut, Bugg released his second record Shangri La building on his rustic, Bob Dylan-esque sound and featuring Elvis Costello’s drummer Pete Thomas. The new album has already yielded four singles including ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ which narrowly missed out on a place in the recent Hottest 100 countdown and won him a prominent slot on the Bluesfest lineup alongside Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson and John Mayer.

What was some of the reasoning behind you going for Rick Rubin as producer? From what I understand you weren’t overly familiar with his work at the time.

Well it was just a great opportunity. Despite if I knew him or not, I had enough people telling me the reputation he had, so I just didn’t think it was an opportunity to turn your nose up at. You might learn something, you might get something out of it, you might not, but you’ll definitely learn something. The experience as a whole was great, he brought in great musicians. I just had a load of ideas, and I’d sit down and teach the band. He’d drag those ideas out of me and make sure I turn them into songs. It was just pretty relaxed, we’d record a song four or five times and then onto the next. Pretty easy.

It must have been a little intimidating to step up to such a large name being such a fresh act. Did you still feel free with your own material?

Yeah man. What Rick does is different to what I do. It’s his job to produce and it’s my job to play the songs. It worked pretty well, it was just a chilled atmosphere to be honest.

The turn around between your records was remarkably quick by today’s standards and now I heard you’ve even started working on your third album. How far into it are you and whereabouts are you recording this time?

I’m not recording anything at the moment mate, I’m always going to be working on a new album because I’m always writing new ideas, but as for a third album I don’t know when it’ll be ready man. Could be two months, could be two years.

Do you have anyone in mind to produce the next one? Or if you had a choice who would you pick?

I think I’m going to have to wait and see how the songs develop first; I think that’s probably the best thing to do. I don’t really know a lot about producing stuff to be honest; I’ve still got a lot to learn.

Your album lost out to Robbie Williams for the number one spot in the UK charts. Are the charts something you tend to look at?

Not really. I mean it’s only important for the industry nowadays. If you went up to some random in the street and asked them what was number two or number four in the charts, they wouldn’t know. I don’t know.

For someone just playing guitar and to reach the charts the way you have isn’t something that is all that common. What do you attribute your own popularity and success down to?

It’s about writing song and connecting with people. It’s all about the music.

“Telling people they’ll never have a chance at a career in music is quite cruel”

You get a little bit of flack because of your stance on “manufactured pop” but you’ve used notable co-writers in the past yourself like Iain Archer [Snow Patrol, Leona Lewis]. What is it that makes Jake Bugg stand apart from X Factor Winners and Simon Cowell media-hype creations?

I mean, I’ll never sing if I don’t feel like it. There’s something different about going into a recording studio and singing what’s in front of you as there is to going into the studio, picking up guitars and jamming. That’s the difference. I don’t care what people think man, they can say I’m a hypocrite or think it’s a contradiction but they don’t know what I do. They don’t see me go into the studio; they don’t see how it works. Most people who probably say those things have never listened to a Jake Bugg song.

That pop shit man … I don’t care. I just love writing songs, that’s what I do. It’s my outlet. Yeah, I wrote with other people but I learnt something from it. It’s all experience for me as a writer, and I’m going to go on to use to that experience to the point where I don’t need a helping hand with co-writers. People go on because they don’t think they’re my songs because I’ve written with professional writers, but the truth is professional writers go in the studio with different acts all the time. They don’t come out with songs all the time. But if the songwriters were that great and that professional, then they’d be giving these new acts that have just been given record deals songs all the time. It just doesn’t work like that.

You appeared on American Idol. Could you tell me a little bit about your first-hand experience with it?

I thought … that maybe if I went and experienced it for myself it might give me a different insight or confirm how I felt about it. To be fair to American Idol, the way they ran the show and the way it was done was great, they were cool. But the actual concept for it – telling people they’ll never have a chance at a career in music is quite cruel. I wanted to go on and show that you don’t have to do that to have a career in music. You can actually go on the road and stay in hotel rooms, and tour, and have a laugh with your band. It might take a little bit longer and it might not be instant fame, but you’ll have a lot of fun in the process.

Your success has just grown rapidly over the last 18 months. I’m sure it’s been full of surreal moments, including various support slots and I even read that [Manchester United striker] Wayne Rooney asked you to sign his guitar for him. What’s your favourite surreal moment?

To do what I love is quite surreal but it’s kind of normal. I dreamt about doing these things. Wayne Rooney was pretty surreal. I used to love football before I started picking up the guitar. It’s all pretty surreal, but it’s all I’ve known really, so I’ve eased to the madness.

There has been some talk of collaboration between you and Johnny Marr? Has that ever eventuated into anything? If not who would you been interested in collaborating with?

I don’t like to plan those things. For example, Johnny goes “Come by the studio” – if I’m town, then I’ll come by. If it seems like a cool idea, I’ll swing by, pop the kettle on and have a bit of a jam.

I’ve seen a quote from you saying that you’re quite cynical when it comes to listening to new music and it annoys you that you are. What are the sort of things that find yourself being cynical about and why?

I don’t choose to be purposely cynical. It’s a very frustrating thing. I just want someone to make a record I can sit down and listen to and no one has. It’s driving me mad because I just want to hear something that I like. I just want to be able to press play and let the record play and not have to skip a track, it’s been a long time since someone made a record that I can do that with.

People always talk up your working class roots and growing up with very little. Now that you’ve earned yourself some success, have you treated yourself to anything yet?

Just guitars to be honest mate, nothing really, I haven’t got anywhere to put anything [laughs]. I might have to look at getting a place, I don’t really live anywhere, I’m in hotel rooms all the time. I don’t think I’d live in Nottingham to be honest, all my friends and family are here and stuff, but it’s not really the place to be for me. I knew there was a big world out there and I want to see it.

Did you get a hard time from your mates when you started modeling for Burberry?

[Laughs] No, my mates are quite happy. I’ve never properly modeled, I do little bits for magazines but I don’t like to attach myself to specific brands. They’d all do the same – they can’t say shit!

In the UK the press like to build people up, and then slowly try to squeeze the wrong kind of headlines from them, as you’re learning. How do you deal with the press?

I think not to care [laughs], or to read what people write. It doesn’t matter how influential one person or the column is, or how many people read it, at the end of the day it’s just one person’s opinion. I think that’s what we forget sometimes in this country. We’re very impatient people. A lot of the time people seem too busy be now, so when they read something “Oh, it must be true, it was in the newspapers”, that kind of mentality. I know from reading the press about maybe someone I know, or perhaps about me, and I know what’s really happened. And when I read about and it’s different to what actually happened it just shows you that a lot of it is bullshit.

I was watching the video for ‘Slumville Sunrise’ and you bust out some pretty funny acting chops, would you ever consider doing more acting? Could Jake Bugg do Coronation Street?

[Laughs] Oh no, not soaps! I hate soaps. I can’t stand soaps, they’re never consistent. If someone asked me to I’d always try something. It’s good to give anything a try even if you’re not very good, it’s just fun isn’t it?

FL presents Jake Bugg tour

Wednesday, April 16 – Palace Theatre, Melbourne

Thursday, April 17 – Palace Theatre, Melbourne

Sunday, April 20 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Wednesday, April 23 – The HiFi, Brisbane