Like a fine double-digit single malt, Jamie N Commons’ unique, refreshing brand of blues really hits the spot. His deep, soulful baritone, and mysterious yet commanding style, frequently draw comparisons to Tom Waits, Johnny Cash and Nick Cave.
Though he was born in the UK, Commons spent his childhood in Chicago, where he developed a fondness for American blues and folk music. On returning to England in his teens, he studied classical music alongside James Blake and Katy B at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Now 27, Commons keeps busy. He already has three EPs under his belt, and a remarkable resume that includes opening for Bruce Springsteen in Nijmegen, and collaborations with Eminem, Big K.R.I.T. and X Ambassadors.
Commons also boasts an impressive track record when it comes to making his work heard in popular culture; his dark, ominous cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” was used to promote Season Four of “Game of Thrones. His music has also been featured in “The Walking Dead”, “Suits”, “FIFA 14”, and “Need for Speed”. For their broadcast of the 2016 Olympics, the BBC is using Commons’ latest work, “Not Gonna Break Me”, as their official theme.
Hot on the heels of releasing his latest self-titled EP, Jamie N Commons has taken his flavour of blues, rock and folk on the road, touring the US and the UK. We chatted briefly with the young British blues baron about his newest EP, learning guitar, and finding inspiration.
As a child you moved from the UK to the Chicago, where you developed an appreciation for blues and folk music. Did you always want to be a musician?
Yeah, I mean I always loved music and old blues records in particular, but it wasn’t until I picked up guitar at like, 15, and started learning a few tunes, I realized it was maybe something I could do… writing songs that is. Before that, it just felt like magic or something, and people who did it were superhuman or something. To be fair, there are still a few artists like Bob Dylan, Springsteen, Tom Waits, etc. that still seem superhuman, ha!
The first gig your dad took you to see was The Allman Brothers Band; how old were you at the time, and what impact did this experience have on you?
I must have been like, 10 maybe? It was incredible. The strange thing I remember was, I guess I hadn’t heard a PA system before, so I remember being shocked at how loud it was. My dad wasn’t one to “crank it” in the car. To hear music that loud was quite amazing.
Strange what you remember, I had a similar experience playing electric guitar through an amp for the first time. Having such a loud noise come from such a small movement… I’d recommend it if you haven’t ever tried. Even if you don’t play guitar, just go down the guitar shop, learn an E-minor shape (two fingers) and give it a whack (apologies, poor guitar shop workers)!
You taught yourself guitar in your teens. How did you go about it, and how long before you were confident you had really grasped it?
I mean, once you learn one shitty riff you’re confident, ha… just rocking out “Smoke on the Water” or something for two hours, then you try something harder and you suck again. This “thinking you’re great, then realizing you suck and need to practice more” is a never ending cycle… I’m currently in the “I suck” phase trying to learn some Nick Drake super tech finger picking parts. Gotta keep trucking though!
Any advice for all the aspiring blues guitar players out there?
Just learn the basic scale shapes, and the basic “classic runs” and then just play along to stuff. The more you play, the more you can channel it rather than “play” it… and that’s what separates “blues guitar” – doesn’t have to be good, just [has to have] the emotion.
Besides the Allman Brothers, you cite the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, Moby’s “Play” and attending church with your mother during childhood as early influences. What are some other factors that have contributed to your unique sound?
Everything really, I used to listen to music all day, every day when I was younger. Music’s great when you’re young, because you don’t understand the concept of “genre” or what’s cool or anything.
Those records were just big to me because I got them all the same year, my small little mind could finally see a through line between them and that sound was blues. I started narrowing down to specifically look for blues after that.
We’ve been rocking out to your latest release, the self-titled “Jamie N Commons EP“, non-stop, and can’t get enough of the hard-charging “Not Gonna Break Me“. Tell us about the work that went into creating this diverse, unique EP.
Awesome, thanks a lot, I actually just finished the radio edit of “Not Gonna Break Me”, can’t wait to get it out to everyone.
This EP was the first one where I took the producer role on, it’s a little raw in places because of that (especially on “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way”), but I think sometimes that lets the song breathe more, there’s not enough mistakes in music these days, ha!
What’s next for Jamie N Commons?
Well as I said, we got the radio version of “Not Gonna Break Me” dropping [soon], and I’m just finishing off the album at the moment, that should be out sometime this year. Then its endless touring I guess!
Hopefully we can make it down to Australia at some point, I’m absolutely in love with the bands coming out there at the moment with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Courtney Barnett, Tame Impala, Chet Faker… The quality speaks to people being interested in new and exciting music and giving it a chance, so to play down there would be a dream.
Jamie N Commons’ latest self-titled EP is available through iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.
Check out Jamie’s official website here, and keep tabs on his latest work and tour dates on Facebook and Twitter.