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Elder Statesman: Jamie Lenman on 'Devolver' And Sending People Home Happy

Friday, 02 February 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

When Jamie Lenman decided to break up the much-loved rock trio Reuben in 2008, it was more than just the end of an era. He suffered what he later described as complete musical “burnout” and decided to pursue a career as a full time illustrator.

Ten years on, he’s selling out venues as a solo act and being labelled “one of the greatest songwriters of his generation” by a national publication. It might not seem the most likely artistic journey, but Lenman has always been more idiosyncratic than most.

Whether he’s attempting to write the first heavy metal Christmas number one or covering Frank Turner on a banjolele dressed in a bathing suit, the singer and guitarist approaches his art with genuine enthusiasm and a unique sense of humour. When I ask him if he’s had a busy day, he says he’s “been rearranging his Ghostbusters action figures, so not really”.

But it’d be a mistake to call Lenman a clown. His latest record, ‘Devolver’, is his most mature yet, exploring a range of personal and existential themes over an array of styles. Where his 2013 comeback record, ‘Muscle Memory’, split his disparate musical interests - searing thrash metal and mellow jazz/folk - over two records, ‘Devolver’ incorporates both along with touches of industrial and electronica.

And yet, it’s also somehow his most catchy and melodic offering. He says: “I kind of took a holiday from myself with ‘Muscle Memory’. Although it’s musically varied, this album I’m kind of back to being me. I’m a bit more comfy – there’s more singing and less shouting.   

“I’ve always had a pop sensibility since Reuben – we did tracks like Freddy Krueger and A Kick in the Mouth, so I’ve always liked that. But it felt particularly natural on this album. I had about 40-odd demos that I played to managers and producers and they all seemed to pick out the same 12, so that’s what we went with.”

Coverage on BBC Radio 1 and widespread positive reviews suggest the album has received more support than previous records. Lenman hails his “hard working” press team and management as the reason for that. But it’s clear that the angsty 20-something Reuben frontman that was so contemptuous of the wider music industry hasn’t gone completely.

“People ask me why everything has taken me so long and the truth is it all just takes time,” he says. “The whole process has always been a ballbag! The industry is based in London and everyone is super busy for better or worse, whether it be labels, lawyers, managers, me, whoever. It grinds my gears but that’s just the way it works – I’m never happy until I’ve signed that dotted line.

“I guess the way the industry works doesn’t anger me so much now. Don’t get me wrong, I still fucking hate some of the soulless rubbish that gets promoted. When I was in Reuben, I used to get so cross by bands like Razorlight and the like. There was one genuine leader – like the Strokes – and any band who sounded even superficially like them would be jumped on because they had the right haircut and jeans.”

Going against the grain remains vitally important for Lenman. When it came to releasing music again post-Reuben, he acknowledges that he “never had a plan and still kind of doesn’t”. But you get the sense he’s also increasingly at home with his artistic freedom.

Lenman, who illustrated the covers of several of his band’s projects, boldly decided to place his face front and centre on the ‘Devolver’ album sleeve. Having previously played live with up to eight performers, he’s also stripped down to a two-piece for his latest tour, which kicked off this week.

“It just feels more powerful,” he says. “There’s just a stronger connection between two musicians, as there is with me and drummer Dan [Kavanagh]. It allows for a lot more: I can be spontaneous and move around or change chords or whatever and I know the drum beat is going to be fine.

“It’s just easier. He’s always learned everything first, even before my guitarist Chris or my bassist Gus or sax player Pete or whoever. They’re fantastic guys, but it’s a lot of weight to arrange for that many people. As soon as I realised it could just be us, I was just like: ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”

Despite being a long-term friend and occasional collaborator of the likes of Frank Turner and Biffy Clyro, the unconventional Lenman remains something of a cult concern. However, it’s testament to his charisma and talent that he still inspires such a fanatical fanbase. Ahead of his latest round of shows, many of which are sold out, does it feels strange to be perceived as an elder statesman at the tender age of 35?

“I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I don’t find it weird at all,” he says. “I find it gratifying and humbling, but it’s what I’ve always aimed for. People that come up and say they loved Reuben and that they were a big influence just make me so happy and grateful. It makes me immensely proud.”

And what’s next? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s impossible to predict. He says: “It’s project by project for me. I haven’t signed a five-album deal or anything. After these shows and some festival dates, and hopefully a couple of spin off things, I’ll have a look. With any luck it won’t be another four-year gap before people hear from me again.

“As for these next shows, it’s going to dominated by the new album for sure, but fans might also hear a golden oldie or two. And you’ll get a few weird new versions as well, along with maybe a cheeky cover. I like to have fun and play what the audience want to hear. I’ve always done my shows for the people – I want them to go away happy.”

'Devolver' is out now.

Jamie Lenman Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri February 02 2018 - GLASGOW Stereo
Sat February 03 2018 - MANCHESTER Academy 3
Fri February 09 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Islington
Sat February 10 2018 - BRIGHTON Haunt
Sun February 11 2018 - PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
Fri February 16 2018 - PLYMOUTH Hub
Sat February 17 2018 - BRISTOL Fleece
Sun February 18 2018 - CARDIFF Globe
Fri February 23 2018 - SOUTHEND Chinnerys
Sat February 24 2018 - NORWICH Waterfront Norwich
Sun February 25 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute3

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