INTRODUCING… 18-year-old Nottingham singer-songwriter Jake Bugg, who plays York next Friday.
JAKE Bugg has just released a debut single as catchy as his name. Trouble Town heralds the arrival of a teenage but timeless Nottingham singer-songwriter with the folky charm of Donovan and the insouciant attitude of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner. We detect a stylistic wink to early Bob Dylan too. Jake explains all as he sets out on his five-date tour this weekend.
Introduce yourself, Jake.
“Well, I play my tunes. I write my songs. I like to swing from genre to genre – country, indie, even a bit of reggae. I take influences from all over but people are calling my stuff rootsy, which is fine by me. There’ll be an EP at the end of May which has quite a lot of punch and attitude to it, but then I’ve also got lots of softer, more intricate stuff too. Grit and rawness, mixed with quietness and delicacy, that’s how I’d put it.”
Did writing songs come naturally, or were you trying to ape your heroes?
“It’s not a secret that when you start out, you want to try and be like your favourite artists. When you first learn guitar, you don’t immediately sit down and write songs, you try and work out the songs you already like. And I did that when I was 12. But somewhere along the line, you find your own sound, you work on it and develop it. To be honest, I just prefer older music.”
“Well, in the last ten years Arctic Monkeys, definitely, but then I’m just as happy listening to Robert Johnson or Donovan. The Beatles, of course.”
That play list would not be on most teenagers’ iPods, particularly not Donovan.
“Actually, people have been comparing me to Bob Dylan too. And he is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but maybe a lot of people say that because they don’t really know Donovan. My Mum always played Catch The Wind, and some of the songs he wrote are just phenomenal, so gorgeous; just really mellow and nice to listen to.”
Your parents are musicians too. Did their musical tastes rub off?
“There’s a bit of that, but I also think you find out for yourself that the songs were better back then. Too much music today sounds the same; the songs have got no vibe about them.”
It’s hard to imagine many other Nottingham teenagers channelling Dylan or Donovan when they start writing songs, so where did your distinctive voice come from?
“That’s a tough question really. I started writing at 14 and I didn’t notice that my voice was developing in a particular way. At first, to be honest, I couldn’t sing a note but I worked and worked at it. The weird thing is, what I hear isn’t what other people hear. To me it just sounds like I’m singing a song, I’m not deliberately trying to sound like anyone else.”
Trouble Town has the memorable line “the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out” Do you have a love/hate relationship with your home city?
“I love Nottingham, actually, but when you’re growing up, you want to get away, don’t you? I think that’s a feeling that everyone’s experienced as a teenager. You want to go out, travel the world, see things for yourself.”
You played Glastonbury last year. Who were you up against on the other stages?
“Er, Beyonce was on at the same time as me! So I didn’t have the biggest crowd, but in a way it was the footage of me playing at Glastonbury which was more important – and I’m playing lots of festivals this year too.”
Is playing live important to you?
“I love it. There’s nothing like coming off stage when you’ve kept an audience’s attention. It feels like you’ve done a day’s work, like you’ve really achieved something by entertaining people.”
Judging by your sometimes caustic lyrics, you want to make them think too.
“Look, lots of musicians end up singing about love and relationships. I have myself. But I just wanted to try and get a bit more edge and grit in the songs – a bit like Arctic Monkeys do. So it’s about noting down things that you see in daily life and perhaps singing about getting out and doing what you really want to do.”
What are you most looking forward to this year?
“For me, it’s got to be the album. The first record for any artist is the thing, isn’t it, when it’s finished, in the shops. It’s what you’re judged by. The album gets recorded next month and I just hope it goes well. Basically, I don’t want to look back in ten years and say ‘I wish I’d put the tambourine on’.”
• Jake Bugg plays Fibbers, York, next Friday and Live At Leeds on May 5. His single Trouble Town is out now on Mercury.