U.K. Singer Jamie N Commons on Coming to America, Exploring His Blues Roots
He may be 24 years old, but with his gritty, blues-drenched voice and love of all things folk, Jamie N Commons has the soul of a much older musician. The London native recently released his debut EP, the Alex Da Kid-produced ‘Rumble and Sway,’ and now he’s gearing up for his first-ever U.S. tour. Already, his music has already appeared in a trailer for ‘The Walking Dead,’ and fellow Alex Da Kid collaborator Eminem samples the British singer on his forthcoming album.
Commons got his start playing London pubs alongside Mumford and Sons and other rising folk artists, but he’s yet to explore the stateside music scene, where his beloved blues originated. While rehearsing in the U.K. before crossing the pond to launch his U.S. tour, Commons chatted with Diffuser.fm about working with a hip-hop producer, his dad’s taste in music and having Elvis Costello as a fan.
You just signed to Alex Da Kid’s KINDinaKORNER label. How did you meet?
He was going up on a train over here to see Chris Martin with a publisher, and she started playing him some new stuff that she had just signed. Apparently, along the three-hour train ride, they just kept putting the same few tracks of mine on repeat and got in touch with me soon after.
It’s quite exciting, because he obviously writes in a completely different way than I write. It’s basically me writing to his beats and then trying to make a song out of it, so I’m finding that first hook, then expanding on it, really. I spent about a month with him in the studio, trying to meld the whole blues and hip-hop thing together, some good and some not so good. The fruits of our labor are on the EP.
And how long did you live in Chicago?
I was there for about six years, I think, when I was younger.
Were you able to experience any of the local music culture while you were there?
To be honest, I left when I was about thirteen. But the two shows I did get to see with my dad when I was there were the Allman Brothers and Neil Young. It wasn’t much part of the city’s music scene at those arena shows, but I’m a massive fan of the history of Chicago music and Chicago blues. I’m going back for the first time in about 10 years on our U.S. tour, so hopefully I can check out a bit more when I’m there. I was probably just a bit too young. I’d love to tell you about sneaking into House of Blues when I was 13, but it just never happened [laughs].
You’ve talked about going to shows with your dad and raiding his music collection. How has his taste influenced your work?
I think when he went to America, he went all the way in. I remember when we were there, he was listing to a lot of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, a lot of country. My memories were me telling him to “turn off that old-timey crap,” but now, some of those are my favorite records. That’s just something you have to do at that age. He really had a great a collection, though, going from rock to country. If I’m ever a parent, I hope I do the same.
When you first started playing in London, you played with Mumford and Sons, Johhny Flyn and Laura Marling. Did you think they would become as successful as they have?
At that time, I was just moving into the city for the first time, and I was only about 18 or 19 years old. I didn’t know anyone at the time, so I found a home in those folk clubs. I would always try to drag people along to those shows, and they would always have a great time. They kept getting bigger and bigger, and, well, s— happened. It was great to go along and get to play a few nights as well, even if I was only on for the back end of it. I’m glad I got to see it before it exploded.
That was part of the only real scene I had ever experienced, and I was coming a little too late to the party [laughs]. They were just about to tip over to the mainstream stage when I attempted to crowbar myself in there. I just remember watching Marcus Mumford out there playing the tambourine and all these instruments and wondering how the f— he was doing it. Those three in particular were on another level that I had never seen before. I would sit close to the stage, trying to figure out what open tuning they were using for songs.
You get a lot of comparisons to Nick Cave because of your voice. Do you like being compared him?
Well, he’s one of my favorite artists, and its obviously very flattering, but what Nick Cave does is almost singular. His lyrics are second to none, and I’m very grateful for the comparison, but I don’t really see myself as that type. I see him as a little more spoken-word, where as I’m a lot more focused on the melody of the song.
I definitely hear more a Joe Cocker, Ray LaMontagne quality of your voice.
See, that I get. It’s really Joe Cocker and Greg Allman whose style I really try to use. Especially Joe Cocker because he and Ray Charles certainly the top bar for me.
You already have some famous admirers in the U.K., including Elvis Costello. Have you gotten to meet him?
That was once again through our publicist in L.A. She was throwing covers my way, just so I could learn different chords and try to pick up things that I wouldn’t normally write. She sent me one of his songs called ‘Fifteen Petals,’ and it turned out pretty good, so I recorded it. She sent it to Elvis, and he really liked. I’ve met him twice now after shows, and it was a very surreal moment.
Are there any U.S. venues or shows you’re particularly excited to play?
You know, I’ve been to L.A. a few times to record over the past few months, but this is some of the boys in the band’s first time in the States. We’ve won over some hearts and minds in the U.K. and Europe, so it will be very interesting to places like Nashville and Chicago, where’s there such tradition in the music. Our sound is rooted in America, so we’re excited to come over to America to see what you guys think.
Watch Jamie N Commons Perform ‘Rumble and Sway’ on ‘Conan’