At Reading and Leeds Festival...

Jake Bugg knows plenty about playing in front of big crowds at summer festivals. It is something he loves doing, and throughout his music career, since he first emerged on the live circuit ten years ago, he has played some of the biggest festivals in the UK and much further afield.

Starting out at a young age, he has never attended Reading Festival as a punter. But as a performer, the festival represents truly familiar ground, and this year he played a secret set. With songs from his latest studio album ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’, the setlist also comprised older favourites ‘Lightning Bolt’ and ‘Two Fingers’.

Susan Hansen caught up with him on Sunday afternoon, just before his set.

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What has been your main focus this past two years?

I've kept myself busy. I'm always writing, I’ve been writing music for a film about the Brazilian football player Ronaldinho – The Happiest Man In The World. It kept me incredibly busy and inspired, because he's great at what he does, and it gave me the opportunity to learn some new styles and new ways of working. Douglas Brothers – Andrew and Stuart Douglas – directed it, and Andrew has done a few music videos for me in the past. I’m buzzing to have that experience.

Writing for film must require a different process, or how do you see it?

When you're writing to film, you're never short of inspiration, that's for sure. Even just watching someone who's that amazing at their craft, watching that person do it so effortlessly with a smile on their face all the time is very infectious.

That’s not hard to imagine. How do you tackle songwriting now? These things can change over time.

I think, as I've gotten older, my work drive has become a lot greater. Whenever I'm in the studio or in a session, by the end of the day, I want to finish with a song, I want to have something done and complete. Songwriting is a muscle, you got to exercise it every day, do what you can to keep improving.

The new album is catchy. Where does your interest in pop music stem from? Was it always your intention to pursue it?

It was never always the intention. It depends what I've been listening to, and what inspires me. I wanted to make more of a pop album that was modern in its production. Most of the pop that I love is the old '70s - Bee Gees, Abba, and Supertramp - what I like about those artists is that the music’s quite dark in places.

I wanted to try and see if I could implement that in any way to what I already do, and I'm happy with the result. I’ve been working with some great producers, and that’s been helpful. I've had the opportunity to work with Andrew Watt, who’s very good, he has made loads of big pop records, but he comes from a rock background. I wanted something that sounded fresh and a bit different.

How would you describe the process of writing and recording this time?

The way that I've been working with the producer on this record has been so enjoyable. We produce as we go throughout the day. As we’re writing, the song’s improving throughout the day, by the end of it, you've got a fully produced song.

It’s inspiring to work that way, because sometimes you write songs and think it’s a great song, you go and record, and it falls flat on its face. Other times, you think you've not got anything, but when you record, it sounds brilliant. At this moment in time, I feel like I'm on a bit of a roll, and I just want to be writing all the time.

There was a time when you received less favourable feedback from critics. How did you handle that on a personal and professional level?

I just kept going, I didn’t give up and kept trying my best. It can be hard to do when you've put a lot of work into something, and it's being criticised quite harshly and not received well. But that's life, and that's the life of an artist, you have ups and downs. Even bands like The Beatles weren’t always on an upward trajectory in their careers, some of my favourite artists made records that they probably shouldn't have. That's what toughens you up, and how you become experienced.

But it’s important to make the music you want to make. You seem to make music that is true - music you believe in.

Absolutely, I think that’s important. But at the same time, the most important thing is that the fans enjoy it, they're the ones that go and buy the record. As much as it has to be music I like and believe in, it has to be good enough to share, maybe in the past, I could have taken my time a bit more.

I can imagine there’s pressure to finish something within a certain time scale?

Yes, there's a lot of pressure involved and nights staying up awake, it's an industry that's just so uncertain all the time. One minute you're doing very well, you're headlining festivals, people are into the record. The next minute, people aren't so keen on the record, and you're not as high up on the on the festival line-ups. At the same time, that's not a reason to ever stop, you've just got to keep going.

Ten years in music, what’s your secret to staying fresh and keeping things interesting?

There's always so much to discover out there, and that's what I love, I love all types of music. For the film about Ronaldinho, as he is from Brazil, I had to put a few Bossa nova and Samba sounds in there. That was like learning the guitar all over again, because all these jazz shapes and rhythms that I have no idea how to play, learning all that has been very inspiring. Never at any point think you know it all in this industry.

What’s been your method for learning to play genres you were less familiar with?

I was picking up bits everywhere, but most time was spent listening. You have to, there's no point trying to learn a genre if you don't know what it sounds like. So I did a lot of listening and practicing.

I also started practicing classical and jazz, trying to improve in areas that I never thought I'd be able to do. Sometimes that's the inspiring part, when you surprise yourself.

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‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ is out now.

Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Jack Bridgeland

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