Moustachioed muso Jamie Lenman is one of rock’s wildcards. A self-starting go-getter, over the years he’s hosted his own festival (Lenmania), been a part of a lauded rock band (Reuben), and established himself as a rocking and rolling solo figure with two albums under his belt. So, where to next?
A covers album, of course – but not just any covers album. ‘Shuffle’ is a deep dive into Jamie’s inspirations that also features spoken word and acting, and does away with any preconceived notion of track-listing. This is a record where you’re encouraged to hit the shuffle button, letting loose the madness.
“You can basically draw a very straight line… well, it would be a tangled line because of the way I’ve sequenced the record,” Jamie laughs. “But if I put it all in chronological order, you could draw a line through it, and it would point to me – what does that even mean?!” he wonders out loud.
“They’re weird ingredients, but then if you look at the ingredients of most recipes they’re all bizarre! You wouldn’t think – why would I eat a clove of garlic, and why would I eat a raw egg, and if you put it all together, it makes a delicious soufflé. Do you even get eggs and garlic in stuff?! You must do. I’m out on a limb here, man!”
Muddled allegory aside, ‘Shuffle’ is a concoction of confusing proportions, but somehow – in amongst the tides of cartoon theme chaos (‘Popeye’), or the straight-laced readings (‘The Pequod Meets The Delight’) – it works.
Connecting all these elements wasn’t an issue for Jamie, but executing them? He needed a push. The catalyst came in the form of ‘You’re The Boss’, a song that features Jamie’s voice acting debut. Converting a piece of film – in this case, 2007’s Always Crashing in the Same Car, a 12-minute short about a power struggle between two men, James (Richard E. Grant) and Bill (Paul McGann) – into an audio track came with new challenges, and it saw Jamie reaching out to writer and director, Duncan Wellaway.
“There’s no precedent for covering a movie,” Jamie explains. “Unless you remake it, but covering it and turning it into an audio drama? There’s no real precedent in putting it on your rock album. So I wrote to the director and said, ‘Would this be alright? I don’t really know how to go about this – what do we do?!’
“He got back at a time when,” Jamie briefly pauses. “A few other people were gently trying to dissuade me from making this record because they thought that it sounded like an absolute car crash idea. Duncan, who I’d never met, got back to me and said, ‘What a fantastic idea! So happy you’re going to do my film, you have my total blessing – do whatever you want’.”
A second email from Duncan about casting created a moment that’s going to stick with Jamie for a lifetime.
“He sent me another and said, ‘Have you thought about who’s going play the Bill part?’ I hadn’t because I never thought it would go that far. I hadn’t made any plans. So he said, ‘Why don’t you just get Paul McGann to do it?’ And I said ‘Well… because he’s Paul McGann, he’s already done it! And why would he?!’ – and then he put me in touch!
“I emailed Paul McGann – which was a surreal experience anyway – and said, ‘Do you want to be on my new record?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, why not, sounds fun!’
“We went up to a studio in London and recorded and he was as fantastic as you might imagine. I genuinely think he’s one of our finest actors, and to hear him recreating these lines that I knew so well, from a piece of art that I’ve loved for so many years, directly into my ear – and talking to me! So not even a live performance – I was in it! I was inside my favourite film. It was incredible.”
Before Duncan Wellaway’s encouragement, whether or not Jamie should see through the idea of ‘Shuffle’ was a push-pull affair.
“There was a period toward the end of the summer last year where I was collecting my thoughts about the record and preparing to do it,” he explains. “I had a long conversation with my producer [Space], who, although he was interested in the project, he felt very strongly that it was not the right thing to do at this point in my career.
“I sort of feel like at ‘this’ point in my career – twenty years in – anything goes, but it’s weird because I’ve only been a solo act for five or six of those years. In that sense, I’m still fairly new, and he was thinking that to have two albums of originals under my belt, so far, he was worried that wasn’t enough to have established me in the public’s consciousness.
“He was very adamant that what we needed was another album of originals – and I have got lots of ideas for original albums, and lots and lots of songs that I’ve written ready to go on an album – but they sort of all go into like a big pot of gumbo, and they take a long time to stew.
“None of the projects I had boiling away were quite cooked enough, and I had no material to start fresh on something and knock up a nice healthy salad or something,” he laughs. “All I really wanted to do was the covers record! I just kept coming back to the covers record and it was exactly the right thing for now. So at that point, I did, under the advice of this guy who I trust very much, consider abandoning it, or at least putting it back on the shelf for a bit – but nope, this was the one that was ready and I think you can hear its the record for right now.”
‘Shuffle’ is certainly a record for 2019 – it goes against the grain while sticking close to the roots of everything that’s come before. Jamie knows he’s in a unique position of being fresh, yet with the wisdom of his twenty-past years.
“I’m free to do what I want. When I say these are all pieces of music, pieces of art, that I adore and make up the sum total of my artistic experience thus far, I think they believe me – and good, because it’s true!”
Taken from the July issue of Upset. Jamie Lenman’s album ‘Shuffle’ is out 5th July.