Slouched carelessly over a lit cigarette on a patio in Brooklyn, Jamie T seems sort of average. We soon realize our mistake. Self-possessed, reckless, and clever, he’s a smirking street thug with uncommon insight, maybe even a sensitive side.
Thursday night at Bowery Ballroom, the Wimbledon-born lyricist looked relaxed, soaking in the atmosphere before going to check out his supporting band, High Places. A few beers later, he took the stage. The show wasn’t exactly slick, but that’s all part of his charm. In between songs, he asked for Sambuca, tossing out homemade mixtapes (tapes!). He even jumped off stage to hang out with a crowd that included Mark Ronson.
Here, Jamie grabs a pint, and talks about stealing from Ghostface, his (stomach-turning) new genre of music, and candy-flavored beer.
BLACKBOOK: I saw you before the show and you were having a beer at the bar, just hanging out. Are you always able to relax at your gigs?
JAMIE T: Yeah. It’s a show, you know? I know bands that have this horrible situation; they’ve kind of hidden themselves away. They stay backstage and have become almost fearful of people. Fuck, maybe it’s too many drugs or something.
BB: Any interesting fan stories?
JT: [Smirking.] Um, I do, but it’s not about my band. Ghostface Killah was playing at the same venue as us. We had this gold bus—actually, it looked gold, but really it was a shit mustard color. This kid thought it was Ghostface’s bus, and we are all sitting there, tired as fuck. Relaxing. This kid runs up with his hood up holding this big bag of weed and goes, “Hey man! I just want to give this to Ghostface!” And one of our guys goes out and says, “You give me this and you fuck off!”
BB: This was the first time you’ve gotten to play with your band [the Pacemakers] in the U.S. Do you prefer playing solo?
JT: When I play acoustic, people are really quiet. With a bigger show, you want the opposite. When I am with the band I want it to be as loud as possible. They’re both really exciting in different ways. Sort of just flips my switch. BB: Do you like touring? JT: Yeah, they’re all my friends from home. [Looks down at his glass of Brooklyn Lager.] This shit tastes like a fucking lollipop. Like an iced lolli!
BB: Last night the crowd got rowdy, asking for songs, and you shushed the hecklers with “I’m the one with the fucking mike here.”
JT: I don’t know what it’s like over here, but you get a lot of heckling in England. Different places you get different types of heckling. You get the real smartasses in England. In Germany, people just want you to know that they can speak English. Getting beer thrown at you isn’t so bad. I used to do that all the time at shows, just throw my beer around. Doesn’t mean they don’t like the band. I’m onstage, getting beers thrown at me, thinking, “Yeah, they like it!”
BB: What has been the most memorable show you’ve played?
JT: We played this gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. It was the last song and we said, “If you want, after this song, everyone throw your beers up.” And we played and then at the end, well, we didn’t expect that many beers to go up. But it turned into fighting and throwing bottles and shit. Twenty minutes later people were still fighting. They were ripping out chairs and throwing them off the balcony. BB: Are you surprised by your success?
JT: Well, I never really wanted a record deal. I wasn’t looking to get signed. But my label [Virgin] was sort of trying to court me. And they do this thing where they take bands out for nice meals and such. I found this out only after I got signed. I went down to their office and nicked a fuckload of CD’s and vinyls. I called my friend and I was like, “I’ve been at Virgin records man, and it’s really weird, but I nicked a shitload of CD’s.” I’ve been nicking CD’s from record labels now for 2 years. And selling them.
BB: How did your relationship with Virgin start?
JT: I was playing a gig in a pub. They came up to me and were like, “You want to come have a chat with us?” And I said, “Not particularly.” But you know I did in the end.
BB: You’ve been compared to Mike Skinner from the Streets, the Arctic Monkeys…
JT: This is the best part of music journalism. Let’s get a guy and let’s put him in a box!
BB: Yeah, we were planning on boxing you in. Put yourself in your own box, then.
JT: My friend Ben did an interview for me once, and he asked me what I thought my music sounded like, what it should be known as. He came up with the best thing I could ever think of. He said that my music is like liquid shit being poured in your ear. And I stand by that.
BB: That’s disgusting. But I’m writing it down.
JT: I could think of worse.
BB: I want to know more about your writing process.
JT: I’ll write anywhere. I’ll jot down anything that comes into my head. A lot of it never gets used. The ones that get finished get finished because they are worth finishing.
BB: You have two versions of the “Sheila” video. The Monkey version, and the one where Bob Hoskins is lip synching the lines. Which do you prefer? JT: Uh, I really like monkeys. But I really like Bob Hoskins too. I came up with the idea with a friend. We were sitting in a bar, talking about different ideas. He went to the toilet, came back, and said, “I’ve got it…monkeys.” I was like, “What do you mean, man?” and he goes “Monkeys—pretending to be humans.”
BB: What are you waiting for someone to ask you in an interview?
JT: Um, I’m dying for someone to ask me to shut the fuck up. No. [Thinking. Looks up in a moment of clarity.] “Jamie. Are you happy?”
BB: Sure, Jamie. Are you happy?
JT: Yes, thanks. Yes I am.