Jamie! Jamie! Jamie FUCKING T!”
It’s a Wednesday evening in mid-May and the crowd at west London’s Subterania are delivering an almighty hero’s welcome, minutes before Jamie T is due to perform on stage.
The rapturous reception is testament to the curious position the London singer occupies in 2022. He’s been away for six years, but his timeless tales of nights out, break-ups and everyday life have provided the soundtrack for many a millennial life and cemented his status as British indie royalty.
His latest album, The Theory of Whatever, arrives on July 22 and continues in that time-honoured tradition. But, as he tells Rolling Stone UK over a pint in a Hackney pub, it sees him reaching new personal depths too.
It’s been a long six years since your last record. Where has Jamie T been?
Jamie T: Look, we went into Covid, so you’ve got to take that into account ’cos it just put a two-year gap on everything. But I’ve been writing throughout and it takes me a while to write records. I don’t think I’m necessarily very good at what I do and it takes me a long time to do shit well.
I don’t have a need to be seen the whole time, either. I don’t care and I don’t give a shit! I like making music, but it’s not incredibly important to me. I’d go as far as to say I detest being around all the time. I don’t want to be the type of human being who needs to represent themselves every week and tell everyone what they’re eating in order to be a good musician.
But your return at Subterania showed how much you’ve been missed?
Jamie T: Yeah, it was wonderful. It’s always nice to feel like I have support and I have fans.
“I’ve worked my arse off just to sound like me. I don’t need to move on. I don’t need to progress”— Jamie T
The Theory of Whatever is your fifth album. Were there any specific themes or sounds you wanted to bring to the record?
Jamie T: I think my whole career has an arching theme to it. I’m not in a band; I’m a solo artist, so everything I do feels like it should fit in. I suppose I should be able to sit here and tell you what The Theory of Whatever is about. To package it up and say something about that, but it’s six years of my fucking life. You try and talk about six years of your life in an easy sentence. It’s impossible.
Sonically, though, there’s a lot of the classic Jamie T sound on there.
Jamie T: Yeah, but do you know what was hard back in the day? Writers describing your sound as being like everyone else but yourself? You know you’re doing all right when other artists are getting reviewed and compared to you. I’ve worked my arse off just to sound like me. I don’t need to move on. I don’t need to progress.
It’s been 15 years since the release of Panic Prevention, your debut album. How do you look back on recording that?
Jamie T: Happily. It’s a long time ago, but I’m really proud of that record. It has a lot to do with my best friend, so there’s a lot of love within it. When I listen to it now, I think of me and my best friend creating something original and that’s what I really wanted to achieve. It’s just me and a mate fucking around. There’s a lot of storytelling and shit on that record; people will tell me I sound drunk on it, but they don’t get it! I’m playing characters. It was 17 years ago when I wrote ‘Sheila’ in my bedroom and I’m just proud of it. It was the sound of a 19-year-old boy, his best friend and a computer making a record.
There’s a lot of depth that wasn’t perhaps realised at the time, too. 2007’s ‘So Lonely Was the Ballad’ addresses anxiety and panic attacks at a time when a lot of music didn’t do that.
Jamie T: I’m happy people are appreciative of that, but I’m not gonna sit here and say I was before my time. People have been talking about mental health and anxiety in songs since the beginning of fucking time. But being woke doesn’t mean people didn’t do shit before you. People have paved a path for you to be woke and there’s been a lot of hard graft. I’m very proud of it because I was an anxious little kid who was freaked out by everything. I’m proud of the sensitive side of it; it’s the most powerful thing I’ve ever done.
There’s darkness on the new record, too. ‘Talk Is Cheap’, which is a beautiful ballad, contains the lyric: “A bag of white/I fade black… I am rudderless.”
Jamie T: That song is about psychologically losing your shit and it’s important for mental health to have a maypole in your mind, so that as bad as problems might become, there’s something in your sense of self that you can hold onto. That’s what that song is about and I wrote it because I went through that.
Mental health is no joke, it’s serious shit. I’ll never write a song like that again because I never want to write a song like that again. I’m upset that I had to write a song like that because of some terrible, terrible feelings. That situation terrified me.
You’ve got some eclectic collaborators on there too: Matt Maltese on ‘Thank You’. He’s a brilliant songwriter.
Jamie T: I met him through a friend of mine and I fell in love with his music. He reminds me of Paul Heaton from The Beautiful South, who I think is one of the greatest songwriters I’ve heard. When I heard Matt’s music, it usually reminded me of his stuff, and I immediately became obsessed with it.
We hung out for a bit, although he’s obviously a bit busier now. It was wonderful working with him. He wrote that first album when he was 18 — you can’t fuck with that shit! Not many people can do that. I love that song we wrote together.
“I’m just happy now. I couldn’t give less of a f**k. If you take anything from this, I want you to know that I’m zen about this”— Jamie T
The reaction to that comeback gig and three dates at Brixton Academy on the last tour shows there’s still a generation of people whose lives have been soundtracked by your music.
Jamie T: I’m aware of it and I am thankful for it. That’s something that not a lot of people have. I cherish everything I have, I really do. But I don’t give a fuck and I don’t owe no one fucking nothing. The only person I owe anything to is the person I go home to. I don’t give a shit. I’ve done everything off my own back and I’m super proud of it.
I am aware that I can play shows and people will support me. If I didn’t have my fans I’d be cut down in a minute, but I can rely on them, which gives me power. I am aware of how lucky I am, selling tickets and putting on shows. My critics might think it’s nonsense, but if I sell tickets, then they can fuck off. I know I’ve worked my fucking arse off to get here. No one can doubt me. I’ve worked hard at what I do: I’m not a particularly good songwriter, no natural gift. I created [my sound]; no one else sounds like me. I’m happy with where I stand and what I’ve done, I don’t have any God-given talent.
Was there a time when you were less zen?
Jamie T: Yeah, I was struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and I felt completely out of my depth. It was a constant battle, and it was hard to get help for that when you’re playing to 10,000 people, so you do struggle.
Is that an industry-wide problem?
Jamie T: There’s a deep problem with it. It’s a big topic to get into, but it’s very complicated because if you’re basically a child, how do you deal with playing to thousands of people and then going home and expecting to be normal? There’s not really any support there. We all know people who have passed away. Let’s be honest, people have struggled badly and it ain’t no fucking joke. This isn’t just people suddenly feeling nervous one day. I’ve had support and I feel very lucky, but I know a lot of people have not and there are many examples recently where people have not been supported and it troubles me. People have watched others implode. But how do you sort it out when there’s not a union?
Still, you’re out there and your latest album proves that you’re a voice to be reckoned with.
Jamie T: Yeah, I’m just happy now. I couldn’t give less of a fuck. If you take anything from this, I want you to know that I’m zen about this shit. I’m happy and that needs to come across. I’ve just grown up a bit and it’s why I don’t give a shit!
Jamie T’s new album The Theory of Whatever is out 29 July 2022.
Taken from the August/September 2022 of Rolling Stone UK. Buy it here.