Jamie Lenman is something of a Download veteran, having played the festival of numerous occasions (including last year’s Pilot event), and he’s back this year to liven things up with his quirky sound. The Midlands Rocks cornered the renowned musician and illustrator just before he was due to hit the stage.
You are due on stage in a couple of hours. Aside from talking to idiots like me, how do you prepare yourself?
Usually I have a special set of clothes I put on so that I don’t get too sweaty, but today I’m just going on in these [note: Jamie is immaculately attired and rocking the country squire look] and that’s fine. I warm up, drink a lot of water, I have to warm up my voice, these interviews have taken it out of me a bit, I try to remember what songs I’m playing. I don’t have a routine really, I think if you have a routine you’re in trouble.
You were here for the 2021 Pilot festival and you’re back this year. Have you noticed any difference in the atmosphere?
It’s quite sedate. I’m quite surprised. It’s usually a hideous mess, by the time people have been here for five days, the order of society has started to break down. It’s quite civilised, so I’m quite impressed.
You are something of a festival veteran having played, ArcTanGent, Download, 2000 Trees, how does Download fit into the scheme of British festivals?
There’s this idea that Download is the heavy festival, but in recent years it’s broadened out and you don’t feel like you have to be the heaviest band on the bill. You’ve got your heavy bands like Maiden and Korn, but Biffy aren’t so heavy, so it’s broadened out.
Do you think that’s a good thing? If you’re a fan, it’s nice to have things within certain parameters.
I think we’ve still got enough niche festivals for it to be OK that Download spreads its wings a bit. You can’t go on for as long as Download has without changing and I think it’s fine. I think it’s a bit weird that Reading has a ‘Rock Day’, I think that’s weird. Reading’s a rock festival and now they only have guitar bands on one day, which is a bit odd. ArcTanGent has sort of gone the opposite way, they’ve gone more metal and techy as its gone on.
You were one of the first artists to tour after the lockdown. How was it playing acoustically, and to seated audiences?
It was fine. I would have felt weird doing a full-on heavy rock n’ roll show with drums and everything if an audience was sitting down. In fact, I did do one, in fact two, with The Hell, which was very odd but as far as the acoustic show, it felt right that everyone was sat down. I’m a bit like ‘pay attention to me’ anyway! So, it suited me that everyone was sat down and I could see if anyone was chewing gum or was passing a note so I call them out on it, so it was great.
And how was it breaking your songs down acoustically?
That’s always the most fun part for me, seeing how they might work in that setting. I enjoyed it. I had been trying to do an acoustic tour for years, I’d been trying to say ‘book me an acoustic tour’ and then it happened, with distancing and everything, that was all we could do anyway, so I thought that this was great and a way to reach out and see some people.
Although that whole lockdown experience was very hard, those acoustic shows were something unique for the fans.
Yes, it was novel and it made people think outside the box.
From your recent interviews, it seems you took lockdown in your stride.
I wouldn’t say that. It was an upheaval, certainly. I found a lot of new ways to express myself and I kept myself very busy. I’m quite a home body anyway, and I don’t go out to a job, I work from home anyway so there was two sides to it; I’m not going to an office anyway, so it’s not like I was suddenly trapped in a house. It must have felt very weird to people who were. On the other hand, all the theatres and clubs closed so I couldn’t do my job when they did close but because my job only happens in short bursts in that regard, it wasn’t as immediate as with other people. It didn’t floor me like it floored other people, let’s say that.
I was surprised you didn’t release more recorded work during the lockdown. Have you been working on new material and can we expect a new album sometime soon?
Sure, I’ve been recording at the start of this year. During lockdown I did do a couple of bits and bobs, but it was difficult getting a team together. Recording an album is a long process, and you need a lot of people, so it was difficult getting that all together, I don’t record myself. I did some bits and bobs on my own, but nothing of any note. I’ll be making a record this year and hopefully people will start to hear some of that as the year goes on into the autumn.
I wonder what type of aesthetic will you be tapping into for the new album. Your last album, King Of Clubs, had a definite look. Will you be aiming for the same type of thing?
Yes, I’d like to. Those last two records I did were very sharp and crisp, not only in terms of the imagery, but also in the production and the sound, and really I’d like to feather everything out this time, I want to create a softer environment, a softer image, both aurally and visually. So, generally softer and brighter and more summery.
Out side of music, what artists do you draw upon for inspiration?
All of my heroes are comic book artists. People like Mike Mignola, Dave Gibbons and a fellows book I’ve just read, a guy called Mike Dawson. I read a lot of comics in my downtime.
Does that influence your visual side?
Yes, if you really want to get down into the nitty gritty, let’s talk about Mike Mignola who does Hellboy. He makes a lot of use of shadow and blank space, and strong, big areas of black, which was King Of Clubs, I used a lot of shadow in there. And crowns as well, Mike has a crown motif and you saw that on the first Reuben album, there was a crown on the artwork and then again with King Of Clubs.
After you left Reuben you spent five years in the wilderness. How do you look back on that time?
Well, I had a job to go to in London, as a designer, so I just sort of forgot about music really, and focused on being a designer. It was a weird period, and I questioned what I was doing, I suppose it was a mid-life crisis, although I was only 25 (so I’m shortening my prospects somewhat!). For a long time I thought I was a designer and an illustrator, because I was before I started the band, but then when I came back to music, I realised it was possible to be both and these days I would say I was both.
How was it going solo? It seemed like a big risk.
No. No risk at all. No harm, no foul. If people don’t buy the records then fine, if people don’t come to the shows, don’t do any more. The only reason I’m still doing shows, is that people did come to the last ones and the only reason I’m still making records is because people did buy the last one. So, if they don’t buy this one then I might stop.
Finally, what are your plans for the coming year?
I want to put out a record out. I suppose we’ll do singles. I’d like to go out on tour as a support act, I think that’d be fun but really I’m focused on getting the record out.
If I could wave a magic wand, who would be your preferred band to support?
I’d like to tour with Feeder. I know Geoff, the drummer. I know that’s not how things work, you don’t ask the drummer but I thought that’d be a good fit. I thought the new material might work with what they’re doing, so that would be nice.