Jake Bugg: Old kid on the block

By Chris Schulz

Making a quick return to Auckland, rising British singer-songwriter Jake Bugg tells Chris Schulz he worries that - at 20 - he's not the "young guy" any more.
Jake Bugg says music is his outlet - he uses songwriting as a means of avoiding the harsh realities of life.
Jake Bugg says music is his outlet - he uses songwriting as a means of avoiding the harsh realities of life.

He's performed on Glastonbury's main stage, recorded an album with Rick Rubin, toured with Noel Gallagher and has members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on speed dial. He's even dated a supermodel.

But, at the ripe old age of 20, there's one thing Jake Bugg still dreams of doing.

"I want to play for England up front," says the football-mad British singer-songwriter, laughing down the phone to TimeOut.

The way Bugg's been going lately, you wouldn't rule out his chances. In two years he's gone from lonely bedroom-based troubadour to a chart-bothering, festival-headlining, American Idol-performing folky superstar.

That he's about to perform his second New Zealand show within a year, with a venue upgrade from the Powerstation to the twice-as-big Auckland Town Hall, shows just how far he's come in such a short timeframe.

With his second album only just out, touring plans mapped out for the next year and a third album already in the works, things are moving incredibly fast for Bugg.

Stuck on promotional duty in the US, he didn't even have time to celebrate his recent 20th birthday - a milestone which seemed to stress the worry-wart immensely.

"I didn't really like turning 20 because it feels like I have to achieve more in the next 10 years than I did in my teens," Bugg confesses.

"Your teens, that's where you grow and spend most of your time becoming the person you're going to be. It's a strange feeling ... Younger musicians might start coming through soon and I'm not the young guy any more.

"It's just mad how it feels like you've aged more than a year when you turn 20."

Most guys his age would be out celebrating with mates, and although Bugg admits he likes to attend the occasional party, he does so "in moderation".

While touring he prefers to escape to the solitude of his hotel room to relax, watch football and write new songs.

"There's no other time to write. Some people find it difficult but I don't. Music for me is my outlet. It's soul-cleansing and therapeutic. If I ever get stressed on the road or things are a bit crazy, music is the one thing that puts me in a different world and lets me escape.

"Sometimes I don't really want to think about the realities of life and I use my songwriting to create a scenario of somewhere else I'd much rather be or something else I could be doing. I love it more than anything in the world."

That love has taken Bugg everywhere he dreamed of going when he was holed up in his Clifton, Nottingham bedroom after finishing school, penning the acoustic earworm hits Lightning Bolt and Two Fingers that made his 2012 debut one of the year's best records.

Its quickfire follow-up - the less tuneful, more folky and introspective Shangri La, released in November - was made under the bearded gaze of super-producer Rick Rubin.

Does he ever pinch himself when he's sitting next to Rubin, performing to tens of thousands at Glastonbury, or recording with Chili Peppers' drummer Chad Smith?

Bugg says no, he doesn't - he always believed this was meant to happen.

"I always dreamt of these things when I was little. This was my dream and when it became reality it felt pretty normal because I was like, 'Yeah, this is what I had in mind'. This is what I thought was going to happen, and it did."

But fame, Bugg has learned, has its downsides. His five-month relationship with model Cara Delevingne saw him become a tabloid gossip fixture. He's become a seemingly grumpy critic - in the style of Gallagher - of industry events and awards show bashes.

It's obvious to most that Bugg's a bit of a loner.

Despite being on the road constantly for the past two years, his least favourite times involve the brief moments when he heads home.

"Everyone wants to see me and I find myself meeting family members I've never spoken to or met before, like, 'This is your third distant cousin detached'. It doesn't make any difference to me, I haven't known him for 20 years I think I can do without (knowing him now).

"They're usually the most overwhelming and difficult times. The music's what's keeps me going, and keeps me sane."

Bugg has also faced critics who claim he's simply copying the sounds of classic Bob Dylan and Neil Young records, and reinterpreting them for a new audience.

Bugg admits he's a fan - but claims he tries not to over-listen to any one artist.

"When I discover an artist I don't like to listen to them too much. I like to discover who influenced them. I'll try not to listen to every album, maybe just two or three at the most, to get a taste for it.

"It's a fine line between imitation and being influenced. You have to be very careful."

Then there was the backlash Bugg faced after his recent performance on American Idol. Bugg has been an outspoken critic of the show's dream-crushing attitude - and he thought long and hard before agreeing to judge Keith Urban's invitation.

"My initial instinct was to turn it down. I've commented on those kinds of shows and what they're about, and I thought I should go and experience it for myself and have more of an inside view of it.

"No one goes on those shows doing the music I do. But maybe there are some kids that only have one TV in the house and that's what their biggest sister watches and they're forced to watch it. It's a way of introducing them to something they wouldn't otherwise listen to."

That old-school attitude is what Bugg believes has made him stand out from the mass-produced pop and generic rock that populates the charts.

"I wanted to show that you don't have to go on those shows to make a career out of it. You can get a terrible van and stay in terrible hotels. It might take a few years for something to happen, but it's a lot of fun. It's a great life.

"To me when I was in school I liked the idea of travelling in a van with mates, have a few beers. If the crap part sounds good to you then it's for you."

Unless he gets sidetracked by his football dreams, it's a lifestyle Bugg seems happy to keep embracing - especially when the hotels are so much nicer these days.

Who: Jake Bugg
Where: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday, April 10
Essential listening: Jake Bugg (2012), Shangri La (2013).

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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