Jake Bugg has always wanted to do his own thing.
At first, the Nottingham songwriter's gritty charm and rockabilly rhythms placed him firmly in a singular lane, but it's an identity that only covers part of his true self.
Since then, he's experimented with different producers, and worked on a dance smash with Camelphat, all while attempting to soak up new ideas.
Out now, new single 'Lost' finds Jake Bugg spinning the dial once more. An uplifting return, it sparks a trail for incoming album 'Saturday Night, Sunday Morning' - out on August 20th - which he believes is one of his most creative and varied yet.
Speaking to Clash over Zoom from his home, Jake is refreshing honest, with his sardonic wit and dry sense of humour allowing him to unpick even the faintest trace of showbiz from his life.
As he puts it: “It does feel like a million miles away… living where I do, to where I’m from. It makes you wonder where you fit in the world”.
Reflecting on his home town, Jake muses over his continued sponsorship of Notts County, and the role his heritage plays in his life. “I don’t think I’ve lost my roots, in terms of who I am and where I’m from. My friends wouldn’t allow that! And when you’re losing three nil it soon puts you right!”
Clash spoke to Jake Bugg about lockdown, 'Lost', and soundtracking an incoming documentary on Brazilian football legend Ronaldinho.
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It’s a very strange time, does a big project like this help focus your thoughts?
Absolutely. It’s been a lifesaver, really, for everything that’s gone on… to have something to keep your mind occupied. It’s something I’m very passionate about. I’m very proud of this record, there’s a lot that’s gone into it. I can’t wait to get out and get playing the songs.
The title is an Alan Sillitoe reference.
It is, yeah. I watched the film when I was younger, and he’s a great writer from my home town.
The title of that particular book – Saturday Night And Sunday Morning – is a nod back home for me, but also it did a good job of explaining the album, in terms of the songs. They’re more up tempo, full of energy, and that’s Saturday Night – and then the ballads are for Sunday Morning, the hangover the next day.
You’ve worked with dance producers before, is that a side of your work that you want to explore more?
Well, I always like exploring new types of music and genres. See if there’s any way to fit my DNA in there as an artist. Working with the Camelphat guys on that track was great – I love their stuff, and it did pretty well. It made me think that I can add a little bit more modern and contemporary sounds into my own work. And I think that’s more apparent in ‘Lost’ – but I don’t want to scare the fans away, that’s the only track it really happens with! No need to worry too much, it’s not a full album of that.
You had just finished tour last year when lockdown started.
Luckily we had just finished before the whole pandemic happened! It was just a strange time, with the news coming out it began to look as though things were going to stop. In a way, the audience at our shows thought it was going to be their last night out for a while, so they had a great time! Just can’t wait to get back out doing it again, really. It’s been far too long.
Without that outlet, did you find that you were approaching other projects with a bit more energy?
I was quite fortunate, actually, because at the beginning of the pandemic, when things got locked down, I got offered to write the music for a film about Ronaldinho – the Brazilian football player – who I’m a huge fan of. He was the best player in the world when I was growing up. That, for me, was an amazing opportunity, and also something to keep my mind occupied. It was a great creative outlet to have, and it helped me to be a bit more content in the other work I was doing in my own records, because I could get more experimental. Ronaldinho! An icon!
Did you grab the football and try to get back in shape?
Well, it’s funny because obviously when he scores against England he’s running away, with feelings of amazing happiness, and I’m sat there trying to write a nice piece of music while feeling… not great! But that’s what gives it a good balance. It’s a great film, and he was an amazing player.
Is that where the heartbreaking ballads come in? When Seaman concedes that goal?
Well, that’s the conflict! It’s great for him but conflicting for me! At the same time, when somebody is as good at their art as he is, that can only inspire people.
So: tell us about ‘Lost’… did that come early into the process of making the record?
It actually came later! And I think it was a good thing it did. I think if it had come a bit earlier it might have set a premise for the record, and – as I said earlier – I don’t want to scare fans away. It’s good that it’s just one of those tracks. I wrote it with a guy called Steve Lamb. And it was quite simple. The verse is a bit more traditional, in a sense, while the chorus is poppy. I’m a bit fan of 70s pop music, and I was trying to use those influences – like Supertramp and ABBA. Trying to use those influences, but in a more contemporary way.
The video is great! Are you hands on with those shoots?
Not really, to be honest! I’ve never been a big fan of music videos, actually. I’ve always liked music videos to be open to interpretation, because I believe songs have different meanings to different people. I like videos to still keep the possibility of that open. I don’t like to give a narrative to anyone. Whereas with these new guys I’ve been working with, they’ve made me feel very comfortable. It’s a bit trippy, a bit psychedelic – which I like – and I feel a lot more comfortable. If there’s anything I don’t like, then I say it. It’s been quite fun the past few years! And this is probably the craziest one.
It might take fans by surprise, what do you say to them?
Yeah you do see people on social media, saying: he’s sold his guitar! But that’s it. You can’t win, at the end of the day. If you push out of your comfort zone people aren’t going to like it, but also if you don’t evolve people aren’t going to like it either. You’ve just got to believe in what you’re doing. And for me, this is just a good song – it doesn’t define my style or what the future sound of Jake Bugg is going to be, it’s just a song that’s fun, and I thought it would be apt for the times we’re in now. It’s a bit fun and a bit uplifting, and we need that!
And fans have always got the catalogue don’t they? You’re in a position where you’ve genuinely built something.
Exactly. And that will never go away. I always play those songs live. Those songs aren’t for me any more, they’re for the people out there. I’ll always play them. That side of me is who I am, it’ll never go away… but I want to experiment with my sound as well. With the new record, it remains part of your life.
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Let’s talk about these ballads – is it a soul-baring record, at times?
Yeah. I think there are a couple of songs where I’m conveying a lot of emotion. I’m not somebody that does that in life, but I do it through my art. With other songs, I wanted something more uplifting – less doom and gloom – but obviously to contrast that I needed some ballads, so they’re very much in there.
You’ve explored those before, why made you want to use ballads this time?
I’ve always had them on every record, and it’ll always be a part of me. I was very happy with these ones in particular, as they have a contemporary twist. It’s something I was trying to achieve with this whole record, to be honest. I feel like I did that….I just hope everybody else enjoys it now!
When was the record finished? Did you tinker with it over lockdown?
Yeah I’ve been working through lockdown. We didn’t want to release it until we knew we could tour, so I kept on writing and writing, trying to better what I already had. I don’t really like to settle. I’ve been writing in the meantime. Some of the songs that are still on the record were written three years ago, and some of the others were written three months ago. It’s a mix of both.
Do you have songs in your locker no one’s heard? Do you think there’s an appropriate time to release a song?
I think I’ve released songs that no one’s heard as well, to be honest! But yeah, I do. There’s a song on my last album called ‘Waiting’ – that I did with Noah Cyrus – but I had that for the third record, and I could put it on… but I’m glad I didn’t, because it fitted best on the next one. There are plenty of songs in the locker which no one will hear. There’s a couple of songs from this one that won’t be on the album but they go down pretty well live when we played them previously. It’s nice to have live tracks, as well.
Songs live in different environments, don’t they?
Exactly. And because I’ve written with other producers, I’ve done tracks where it isn’t quite the sound I’m after, but then I’ll take it into rehearsal with the band and we’ll just thrash it out. And the songs take on a brand new life like that sometimes. It’s happened with a couple of tracks, there I’ll wish I had recorded them with the band. But that’s how it goes sometimes.
There’s a few guests on the final album, what is it your look for in collaborators?
I guess it depends. With this record, at the beginning I knew what I was after but I hadn’t heard it yet. Luckily I struck gold straight away working with Andrew Watt, who just won a Grammy. He had a great energy, was very talented, and we just got on very well. I try to keep an open mind, work with various people. I don’t look for anything in particular – I like to go in with an open mind, and hopefully come out with something that I didn’t think I would, or something different that inspires me.
After a decade, how do you keep things fresh?
I think for me, it’s probably the only thing I know how to do properly. And even that, there’s loads of stuff that I don’t know. And I think that’s what keeps you inspired. There’s so much stuff out there to learn. And with the world the way it is today, there’s so much madness out there… so there’s plenty to write about! It’s just genuinely the music that keeps me inspired. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Did that keep you sane during lockdown?
Absolutely. I even tried to learn a bit of classical guitar. I had to learn a few samba techniques for the film. And also, I took a journey through Brazilian music, and I found so much great stuff which was really inspired. There’s always something you haven’t heard.
You were incredibly young when it all blew up, was that hard to adjust to?
If I’m honest, from the age of about 14 I said to myself that this was what I was going to do. I didn’t know it would get to this level! I could have wound up staying in terrible hotel rooms, playing to nobody… but it’s what I wanted to do. So, I kind of came to terms with it young and early. But it’s difficult, having that success and then trying to maintain it.
There’s been ups and downs, and that’s the life of an artist. You’ve got to keep going, wait for your turn, and take it.
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