Jamie Lenman: Underground Royalty on King of Clubs

For almost two decades, Jamie Lenman has been responsible for some of the most spellbinding alt. rock music to come out of the UK. Spending his earliest creative years as frontman for underground cult heroes Reuben, Lenman has since gone solo and built a legacy as one of the nation’s most charismatic and talented musicians.

Whether he’s contorting his favourite songs, novels, movie soundtracks and video game music into a new sonic sphere – as he did so eloquently with Shuffle – or delivering his signature hard-hitting riffs with albums Muscle Memory and Devolver, any time Jamie Lenman puts his name on a record there are guaranteed fireworks. His latest release, King of Clubs, surpasses all of his previous albums, combining heartfelt lyricism with meaty hooks better than he’s ever done before and in a way only Jamie Lenman could be capable of. Following the release of King of Clubs, I spoke to Jamie about his writing processes, the political nature of his latest record and his love-hate relationship with touring.

One feature of Lenman’s sound that is often talked about amongst fans and critics alike is the broad range of influences present in his songs. Floating between metal, indie and punk sounds, and finding a way to fit them all together in such natural cohesion is a talent in itself, however the genre-bending tag often given to Lenman is something the man himself isn’t entirely convinced of, stating, “I don’t try to write the same thing again and again but I definitely don’t try to hop across different genres and I actually get a bit confused when people say ‘Jamie Lenman writes in all these different genres all the time’ and I think, well do I?” While King of Clubs perhaps doesn’t have quite a dramatic polarisation of genres as the half-metal-half-folk album Muscle Memory, he has managed to fuse together elements of furious punk with more melancholic indie-rock and forceful metal breakdowns, a triad of sounds that typically draw stark contrasts. Lenman himself, however, has a much simpler way of explaining his sound: “As far as I’m concerned if you’ve got bass, drums and guitar, that’s just rock ‘n’ roll and I don’t really think much further than that”.

Lenman’s natural instincts for playing fast and loose with genre conventions can be explained by his citing of Queen and the Beatles as major influences. He uses these bands in an attempt to offer some explanation as to why he’s naturally drawn to exploring such a vast array of sounds: “If you look at what either band are doing on any one album, it’s so incredibly varied – especially Queen, Queen are insane – if you factor in that those are my main influences and that’s what I was listening to growing up then it sort of makes sense that I think an album that goes in so many different directions is normal.

An aspect of King of Clubs that stands out against previous records is the political nature of the lyrics. It’s a theme that Lenman has tried to avoid up to now but something he delivers with such an intense passion it’s clear he was simply biding his time and waiting for that perfect moment to explode. As an exceptionally expressive songwriter capable of pushing his most personal thoughts into highly emotive songs, there’s still a strong sense of unbreakable spirit wrapped up inside the political angst of King of Clubs.

There’s a reassuring self-awareness in Lenman’s expression as he explores the way politics and personality are delicately intertwined, explaining “There’s only so far that politics can stay separate from your own personal views. Politics are personal, so even if I’m trying to write personal songs, which is my main aim, sometimes the politics bleed through.” The newfound political edge to Lenman’s work is something he believes all artists should strive to achieve, enforcing the importance of using whatever platform you have available to speak on important political issues. However, he’s well aware of the fine line when searching for the perfect balance between being overpoweringly political and still being able to offer fans an insight into the artist’s psyche, suggesting his next album will move past politics and focus more on personal expression.

Delving deeper into Lenman’s innate ability to push himself as a songwriter, to uncover his innermost emotions and transfer them into heartfelt, profound lyrics, and it’s clear this is something that’s developed over time: “It can be difficult if you’re not used to it. When I started to do it, to look inside myself and say secret things to people I had never met was difficult. I’ve been doing it for so long now I’ve got well practiced at it and I’ve shed most of my inhibitions. The challenge is to go further and deeper.” As a solo artist, Jamie Lenman has crafted countless tales of his life into a revered music career, scratching and clawing into his psyche to recount beautifully twisted feelings experienced by his past and present self.

Reflecting back on his time in Reuben, Lenman makes it clear that the freedom of expression he now enjoys as a songwriter wasn’t always there when writing for a band: “Everything I said, even though I wrote the lyrics and the music for Reuben, I was sort of saying it on behalf of the other two. In some cases that would lead to, not arguments but constructive discussions shall we say, where I wanted to say a particular thing and the other two would quite rightly say this doesn’t represent us, you can’t say that on behalf of us.’” Now solely representing himself, it’s obvious throughout all of his albums, but perhaps none more so than King of Clubs, that the additional creative independence afforded to Lenman has helped birth one of the greatest creative minds in music today.

With such a vivid portrayal of life shared in every record, it would be easy to assume that Lenman finds inspiration in every aspect of his life, which is true for the most part, however he’s developed a distinct creative buffer while put in the “unnatural” environment of touring. Explaining the draining nature life on the road has both mentally and physically makes it clear that Lenman’s touring schedule is not for the fainthearted, though he does make a point of discussing how his connection with his audience makes it all worthwhile: “The 90 minutes I spend onstage are wonderful, and maybe if I get 10-20 minutes to talk to people at the show afterwards, it does make the rest worthwhile. Performance is difficult and is a separate entity to creating art, but I do it for the audiences.” That passion for his fans is obvious in every performance and has helped him build the much-deserved reputation as being one of the best live acts in the underground rock scene.

Regardless of his personal experiences of touring, it’s an aspect of an artist’s life that cannot be avoided. Audiences crave that real-life interaction with their idols and it’s something Lenman is acutely aware of, remaining extremely humble over the fact he has built such a dedicated live show fanbase. With the lockdown restrictions forcing an involuntary hiatus from live shows, Jamie Lenman has embraced the digital world in an effort to deliver some much-needed positivity through livestreamed shows. That interaction with his fans is something Lenman is clearly fond of and so being starved of that is a strange sensation, though one he has overcome through his livestreams: “In terms of the audience not being there I have to say that when I’m doing them, it does feel very collaborative and it feels like I’m in a room with good chums because it’s only a select few people, who are really into my work, that tune in to those.”

Saving the closing words for an insight into Jamie Lenman’s future suggests we may not be waiting all that long for his next release: “In terms of writing, I’m always writing. What I tend to do is write towards many different projects at any one time and it’s almost like a little pot full of songs. I’m now at the point where a couple of the pots are almost brimming over. I feel like I should take a break, maybe, otherwise people will get sick of me, so I might take a little break and then come back with something – but whatever it is it’s going to be good.

As an artist that characterises everything great with modern UK underground rock it can be undoubted that Jamie Lenman’s next project will deliver all the finesse and emotion experienced on King of Clubs. If there is one thing that remains certain in an everchanging world, it’s that when one of Jamie Lenman’s “pot of songs” gets full, it’s guaranteed to be full of gold.

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