It’s hard, when talking across hemispheres to Jamie T in his Wimbledon home, not to picture him as he is on the cover of his 2007 debut Panic Prevention. He sits with his busted-ass telecaster in his lap, surrounded, almost overwhelmed, by a milieu of bric-a-brac, clustered musical equipment, pop culture images and junk shop furniture.
It’s as close a visual representation as you’ll get to his five record canon; Heterogenous, thoroughly postmodern, distinctly British. One of the first British acts of the new millennium to work with complete disregard for genre, we recognised The Fall, The Beastie Boys and Joe Strummer, we’d just never heard them all crowded into the same three minutes before. Stylistics aside, it’s the songs that make his body of work so remarkable, any of his five albums could reasonably be your favourite, and when I saw him two years ago at the Forum in Melbourne, the sheer number of hands-in-the-air anthems outpaced all his contemporaries.
This year’s Trick will only add to that number and I asked him how approaches collating his setlist from such a worthy number of songs: “We kind of keep it to an hour and a half because I don’t think you want to see anyone for longer than an hour and a half, I mean, I love Bruce Springsteen, but I don’t need to see him for four hours. We’ll slot new songs in and take old ones out.”.
For some bands this would be the exact opposite of what fans want to hear, but certain songs from Trick; the coiled snake explosions of Tinfoil Boy, the two chord thrash of Tescoland and the stalking menace of Police Tapes, in which Jamie spits his lines with the most unrestrained disdain since Zach De La Rocha, sound like they were made to be played live. Which is mainly because they were: “When we were touring [2014 comeback record] Carry On The Grudge I was thinking I wanted some heavier music to to play live…so that went into the Trick record and the live show”. Well there’s certainly a lot to be angry about in the fading of 2016 and audiences can let off some steam at the upcoming Falls Festival and sideshows.
On the subject of letting off steam, I turned the conversation to the rather personal subject of Jamie’s mental health. Jamie has openly discussed his music’s relationship with his longstanding anxiety in the past and he’s made no secret that the five year silence that occurred before Carry On The Grudge was due to his parlous mental state grinding musical productivity to a halt. “As with any sort of problems concerning anxiety, its always up and down. I have good months I have bad months. I’ve been pretty good on this tour to be fair and I’ve been able to relax a bit”.
Has this corresponded with being able to enjoy touring more this time around? “Touring is a funny one, because if you’re touring a bit stop and start you lose momentum and momentum seems to help with anxiety for me because I feel better when I’m in a routine. So the longer I tour for the more I enjoy it…The Carry On The Grudge tour was [pause] extremely difficult for me and by the end of it I was just about getting to a good point with it…I’m OK right now but [pause] I have to take care of myself if you know what I mean”
The openness with which Jamie addresses these normally off-limits issues puts one of guard, you certainly get the impression he is downplaying things. When I ask if he’ll have the time or inclination to see much other music at Falls Festival over New Years he becomes apologetic and concedes that he’ll try and see The Avalanches and London Grammar “If I’m not feeling too anxious”.
I wonder at the implied contradiction that his mental health can make him unable to commit to watching bands perform to thirty thousand people but remains able to execute a performance himself. Has he ever been too anxious to get onstage at all? “No. there’s never been that point…It’s never gotten to that point….The thing is, how do I put this? [long pause] It’s all imaginary…It’s not like as soon as I get up there I’m fine, that’s not true, it’s just that if I didn’t do it, I’d hate myself so I always get up there, no matter how hard it is. I’ve had hard gigs, I’ve broken down as soon as I’ve gotten offstage, but I’ve always gotten up there – and I don’t think that’s ever going to change”. There’s a lesson in that for us all.
I make the suggestion that the recording sector of his career represents a form of therapy while the touring sector represented its antithesis. “No, I think you’re over simplifying it. I find the same issues arise from different sides of both aspects [recording and performing]. The touring side can be so immensely cathartic, because I might struggle to get up there but once I do it I feel great. And then getting home and writing songs, you’re sort of in your own brain, kind of fucking with yourself”. As with everything we may think about mental health, it eludes easy answers.
That aside, Jamie insists he’s in a good place now creatively, and insists he never stopped working: “In those years I was away, I amassed a lot of ideas and material, so when I was doing the last two albums I had a lot of ideas to grab hold of… So I think the five year gap made for a lot of songwriting to happen… But I think it all goes in phases”
Here, Jamie’s language when talking about his writing process and when talking about his mental health become startlingly similar and of course we remember, with artists like Jamie T, it’s two sides of the same coin. The phrase “I had a lot of ideas to grab hold of” seems particularly metaphoric. That music offers us all a hand hold as we stumble through life’s dark phases is one of the antecedents to Jamie’s career; his first record is called Panic Prevention for a reason. And that pop music still offers us one of the most acceptable avenues to explore and discuss these hitherto off-limits issues is continued proof of its endless stamina and possibility.
Trick is available now through Virgin/EMI
Jamie T Dates
Falls Festival Lorne & Marion Bay – Dec 28 – Jan 1 (Lorne Sold Out)
Enmore Theatre, Sydney – 04 Jan
The Croxton, Melbourne – 05 Jan