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Behind The Strained Heart: An Interview with Singer Jake Bugg

 

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Seeing Jake Bugg for the first time in person is a little daunting. In so many of the promotional pictures he’s appeared in, he’s wearing a perpetual scowl, a look of world-weariness that translates to his outward demeanour in real life. We approach him about it, and he cracks a smile, relaxing his face and lamenting the journalism in the UK. “Some of the journalists in the UK can be very harsh, and sometimes, they’re not the nicest people in the world. It’s brutal and cutthroat, and of course it’s not going to make me a happy person talking to them. But really, I do smile a lot, especially when I’m hanging with my mates. I wear my emotions on my face, and it’s not a facade I’m putting on for the media, it’s how I’m genuinely feeling as I go through these feelings.”

Bugg was in Singapore last weekend as part of his Asian tour, and marking the first time he was stepping foot onto our island home outside of airport transits. Says the 24-year old singer-songwriter on his Singaporean debut: “It’s been pretty busy so far. I already knew it was going to be pretty humid, from being in the airport alone. I like going to places I’ve never been before, and I’m always excited to see what the audience is gonna be like.”

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In the music industry, youth has always been a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you’ve got limitless energy, and all eyes are on you, poised to be the next big thing. But on the other, it can be incredibly stressful being thrust into the crazy world of music, going on tour and expected to continually produce new material. Yet, having entered the music industry when he was just 17 years old, Bugg is already used to a life on the road, and in fact, revels in the madness of it all: “It can get tiring at times, but I’m used to it. It’s something I always wanted to do, and I never expected it to be easy. In fact, it’s better than I ever expected, to be able to go around the world and play, it’s the best job in the world to me.”

In a sense, the Nottingham lad has always been poised to either love or hate music, with two parents who had previously both made recordings. But when he was introduced to the guitar at age 12, he found himself enamoured with it and has become his first love ever since. Releasing his Mercury-Award nominated first album in 2012 catapulted him to early success, and since then, he’s released three more albums, with the latest, Hearts That Strain, coming out last September. Each time, he’s been exploring new genres as varied as hip hop, and is continually reinventing himself.

Says Bugg: “Every album I make is going to be an experiment. I want to try something different, and learn to be the best writer and artist I can possibly be by taking creative risks. For my next album, I’m hoping to mix up my roots-y sounds with something a little more pop. Pop isn’t inherently bad, and I like it when it’s done well, and it’ll be interesting to see how it blends together.”

On staying creative and avoiding writer’s block, he says: “It can be hard to write while I’m on tour, but I try not to force it, and only write when I feel like it. Whenever it feels like I’m repeating the same things or going into some kind of default topics, I look to the people around me and try to learn something new, and experience as many different things as I can.”

Bugg has been keeping his options open, and increasingly, finding unexpected collaborators to make new music with, such as young singer Noah Cyrus (sister of Miley Cyrus) on one of his singles off his latest album. Says Bugg: “I’m willing to work with most people, and I’m keeping myself open to any collaboration because you never know what you might get out of it. As I get older, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been very lucky just to have these albums made, and working with so many people had really helped me grow as a person.”

Even though Bugg has received mixed reviews and criticism for some of his later material, he remains unfazed, and focuses on showcasing his own voice. Says Bugg: “I know there’s always going to be people commenting on my work, but I’m not making it for them, I’m making it for my fans and people who want to listen. Sometimes you do get constructive criticism, but sometimes, you get the ones that are just out to be mean. But it’s never been about the reviews. The truth is, you only ever get artists like the Beatles or ABBA who have an entire career of great music very rarely, and none of this is going to change the way I’m going to make my music.”

Who then is Jake Bugg? His music may have been compared to the likes of greats like Bob Dylan, but Bugg has never set out with the intent to leave behind any kind of legacy, and simply expresses his love for playing music. “Music isn’t about following anyone else’s path, it’s about crafting my own music and my own journey, and that’s all I care about really. When you start to want to make music to be remembered, that’s when you lose sight of what you were trying to do in the first place.”

“I think I was very lucky to have come onto the scene with my first record around the time CDs were just starting to go into decline. Nowadays, people’s attention spans are getting shorter, and it can be hard to succeed in an industry that’s becoming increasingly congested, and where every person wants to be the next big thing. If I were to give my younger self any advice, it’d be to tell myself not to think about how if you step out of vogue it changes everything, but I’m very happy right now and wouldn’t change a thing.”

Jake may be young, but over the course of his last 7 years in music, he’s undoubtedly become older, wiser and more mature than ever before. He concludes: “When you’re not the new person on the scene, when you’re not that young guy anymore, then you just gotta work harder, because there’s always going to be someone behind you. Keep your head down and keep building your audience. I think for me, this tour has been especially good for that, with an acoustic set that gives me an opportunity to be more intimate with my audiences and get to know and appreciate them better. It’s been a huge boost to my confidence as a performer, and to know that there are so many fans out there.”

Jake Bugg continues his Asian tour with stops in Bangkok, Shanghai and Hong Kong. For the full list of tour dates, visit his website here

 

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