It’s hard to believe that it’s beeen ten years since Jamie Treays first appeared in the music scene under his alias JAMIE T. Thanks to joyful and reckless lo-fi pop in the form of songs like Sheila and Salvador (plus the power of MySpace back then) he quickly became the new indie darling. Even quicker it became clear that this man was way more than another poster boy for the blogosphere. JAMIE T might be one of the finest and most talentend British songwriters of his generation and one thing is for sure: he remains restless and willing to play with the expectations of his audience. His latest studio album, Trick, and his furious and heavy sound mark another surprise in the unstoppable urgency of this man to move forward. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION editor Bastien Perroy sat down with Mr. Treays on a sunny summer day in Berlin to discuss his current state as an artist.
You’ve been reaching a certain point in your career – it’s your fourth album. I would like to have a very open chat to understand how you see this particular moment, as you described it a turning point. To begin with, I’d like to know if there were particular points in your career when you felt you were losing the ability to enhance your creativity?
Yeah. There have been times when I struggled to care enough to want to connect with people. I always liked writing music, I think I would still do it even if it wasn’t a career for me. Sometimes, in the past, I might have been writing music not exactly for the good reasons, not primary for myself. After the second record, I felt a bit tired, feeling that I had written a lot for people. I was tired, really. Especially regarding the attention on it. I wanted to write some different stuff, and it ended up being more personal. That was great for me, to have the space to do it. Songwritting is always a given tape I think. Being a solo artist, it’s a given tape between what I want to do and what people want. I respect the fact that people want me to do a certain thing, but I’m also aware that people don’t really know what they want, until they have it. Rather than doing the same thing all over again, it’s good to experiment, to try things out.
Were you able to keep your whole creative process quite instinctive during all those years? Not to intellectualize it too much?
It depends. I think you’re right when you say ‘intellectualizing it too much’ because it’s a bad thing for me. The best songs I write come very easily, within their moment. Once I start thinking too much about it, I ruin it. Having said that, I still have to write lots of music to find these moments. So it’s always a given tape between working hard and trying not to think about it, all at the same time. It’s a hard balance to find.
‘The danger is trying to write something timeless’
Is it a bit like intellectualizing your environment, to understand how you want it to go, but once you’re inside your environment and in the act of creating things, you just have to free yourself and not thinking about anything?
Yeah I think the best music is always made when someone is within the environment, and you get the idea of what’s going on – from the aggression or whatever is in it. When you start having to explain it, maybe it’s harder to make it work. There’s no trick to songwritting, it’s just lots of songwritting and trying things. I want to try different styles, and I know that I can do certain things very well, but I think it would be very boring doing the same thing all over again.
You have a big public image. Obviously when you made it, it was all about excitement. Were there times when you felt you just wasn’t able to feel anymore? Like doing exciting things but not feeling them as such.
I don’t think it’s like that, but yeah I know what you mean. There’s something disconcerting about lots of people wanting a bit of you. And I found that quite hard to deal with, when I was younger. That made me close off to anything. Then I’d be in big parties and I wouldn’t want to speak with anyone.
People would be having parties in my name, and I would be next door, in a bar. It’s a very weird game, when you’re in the music industry. You have to protect yourself.
And I do that by not really interacting with it. I don’t do that anymore. I live my own life away from all this… stuff. This is my job, you know. And it’s what I think of it.
Did you feel some sort of aggressiveness in that? Being seen as a musician, a musician, a musician. Like wanting to just say ‘fuck off’.
Yeah sometimes, but I also like what I do as a living. In my head, it’s very healthy to compartmentalize it as ‘it’s a job’.
To take a step-back.
Totally. It allows me to chill out. Before, I was struggling the whole concept. I was like ‘who these fucking people think I am ?’. Now I just don’t care, and that’s easier. I feel a lot happier.
Did it change your way to see happiness?
Yeah probably, even if a lot of it might only be growing up. Because It was during my twenties, so you grow up and you realise a lot of it anyway. I saw lots of friends crash and burn as well, who were doing similar jobs to me.
You just got to realise that if you don’t want to be doing something, don’t do it. Because it bears deeply on your soul.
I think I’m smarter now, a bit more grown up in a sense.
Is it harder and harder to listen to yourself when you become successful? Like, doing things your way.
No it’s easier. At the beginning, you’ll be fighting lots of people who don’t really believe you’re really good. Or at least they don’t have any evidence you’re very good. They think they know best. And you sit here and you go ‘No I know best, because it’s my life’. So you’re arguing with the record label, you’re arguing with whoever ‘no I don’t want to do that!’. And then hopefully, at some point you say ‘no, enough’ and the people leave you alone. Now, it’s great, I do what I want to do, and people respect me. I don’t have any EMI guy coming to my studio and listening to my stuff and telling me what to do. I do an album, and when I feel It’s ready to go out, they put it out.
Nowadays, do you need to isolate yourself to be creative?
Sometimes, but sometimes I can be bad in that as well. If I do it too much I get lost in it and I become self-indulgent with the music. So it’s always a balance between being on your own and having friends other – when you realise ‘this is shit’.
People in your position often struggle between the desire of doing it something that is more than just music for the masses. Something that could be musically respected regarding how it’s written. Something that could satisfy both the critics and the people. Do you feel that as well?
It’s a dangerous road. I see what you mean. I think the bands and the artists that I want to emulate, to look up to, are always bands that moved on and done amazing stuff. As you got older you always want to do that, but you can never forget the visceral energy of your first stuff. I find it funny how young people now are like ‘what are you doing ? the early stuff are way better’. Just look at any great artist. Take Bob Dylan. If Bob Dylan had just sat there and done fucking Blow in the Wind all over again you’d be bored fucking shitless. (laughs)
And even nowadays, with bands like RADIOHEAD…
Yeah, exactly and give them a chance to move away before you cut it off. I think change doesn’t have to come as an intellectual thing. If you can put that away, as a musician, it’s a lot better. I think you’re right, it’s a really good point.
Especially when you begin to be successful, then you want a step ahead which is doing something that would be better than just being good right at the moment. Something that would be on a longer narrative.
The danger is trying to write something timeless. I think timeless songs are written about the moment and time they’re written about. They are written trying to describe a moment in time. That moment might reverberate and have a timeless thing to it. But it was only ever great because it was written about that moment. When you start trying to paint music to make timeless music you’re never going to create that. So I think the best thing a musician can do is to sit on the moment and trying to realise what’s going on, there.
‘I have my days where I kind of get into a mental rut about it all’
But isn’t it frustrating sometimes feeling not totally empowered by your art. Because you can’t intellectualize this, you can’t really control it. But at the same time you depend on it, so you’re always unconsciously trying to get a grasp on it.
Sometimes I find that when I try to empower myself I can’t do it and it really frustrates me. And I try again and It doesn’t work, ‘fuck it’. I forget about the idea and I fuck out doing something else. And 6 months down the line, I find the right song that I was trying to write 8 months ago or whatever. It’s a craft, signwriting. You have to learn how to do things. Sometimes you have to put it down and let it all kind of sinking a bit before you’re able to do what you initially wanted to do. But it’s a hard thing. Even conversations like this, I don’t really like thinking about it too much. Because I feel it’s bad for song writing.
Are you at the point where you say to yourself ‘certain kinds of ways of thinking are not good for me, and I want to enhance a certain way of living my life which I feel better for conducting what I want to do’?
There’s two sides to it. I’m not into dying for my art. I’m not into that shit. I’m not into like putting myself in a situation to create art. Because I think it’s dangerous.
Do you depend on your art to be happy? Would you be able to be happy without it?
I’d be probably happier without my art. I would have less ups and downs, for sure. Yeah, I think I’d be happier. But the most important thing for me, as time goes on, is to be happy doing music. Because I see less point in like… I’ve been there before in the past, put myself in a bad place, because I’ve been doing the fucking art thing.
And there’s this idea in life. When you’re born you’re not famous, then it starts working well for you. And there’s this idea of progression. Life is a continuous progress. But isn’t it addictive and dangerous in some ways? Having to progress, progress, progress.
Yeah I suppose so! But then you look back on it, and you think…
At the end of your life, if you’re an artist, when you’ve died and they do an exhibition of all your works. I think you’re going to look back and say to yourself ‘I’m really glad that I did this weird shit’ (laughs). So you’re hoping the end is worth it, you know, I think it’s worth it. It’s got to be. All the best artists have done that. No one stayed still.
Do you manage not having it stressful, this thought?
Not all the time. I think I’m better at dealing with it than I was. But It’s not always perfect. I have my days where I kind of get into a mental rut about it all. I can be quite pessimistic about everything. But generally I know myself a bit better. When I’m into one of this rut, I manage to snap out a bit quicker than I used to do when I was younger.
With this kind of trajectory, the hardest part of it, isn’t it to keep a stable mood?
Yeah, that goes back at what we said as treating it as a job. My home life is pretty normal. I go home like everyone else does, and I’ve got a life there. I tried to create that from the beginning when I first started. I wanted to create a home, a home so that I could got back there. It didn’t quite work, because I’d get back home and get fucking crazy because I’d been travelling for months. Now I don’t travel as much as that, I try to go home often. It keeps me grounded, it’s better for me. I do better music that way I think.
Do you manage to feel what you need to do? In life, not just in music. Is it still about planning things?
It’s instinctive. It should be. I think the ideas I’m most confident about are always instinctive. The intellectualizing is just boulder. It’s too much time on your own, too much time doing something.
Because intellectualizing comes from worry, that’s what I found. It comes from insecurity. If you’re secure about something, you don’t have to think about it.
In your perspective, you can’t really intellectualize things to get more positive? It never goes this way?
No, not really. (laughs) I find sometimes, especially when I do interviews, obviously people are asking me about the songs, and I have to intellectualize what I’ve done. Sometimes I giggle on myself and I’m like ‘what am I going to say?’. I come up with a story, and I start to believe it. It’s funny hearing myself intellectualize what the songs are about. Often, you write a song because It sounds good.
And with time, with medias, are you taking a step-back and doing it just because you have to do it; or you still manage to do it out of curiosity?
I do it out of curiosity for sure! I love touring, and I love the excitement of seing new places, and I love playing fucking shows. I do it for the kick, of whole that. It’s just the interviews, and the photo-shoots that is a job for me. I treat it as a job, because it’s easier for me. But everything else, it’s definitely worth it. And that makes me want to write more.
Do you look forward to the step where you’ll be matured?
Because the audience want a certain kind of narrative about you. The medias want a certain kind of narrative about you. It’s all about narration and telling stories. With your song, but also with you, what you’re. Is it something conflictual? Having this identity, writing songs which are part of your identity, but your identity is also used to create narration. It ends up being schizophrenic.
Yeah, the person you think I’m may not… But It doesn’t bother me.
I don’t really want you to know the inner working intricacies of me. I don’t want that so much.
I really like artists like Bob Dylan who always play with people on that, ‘Who’s Bob Dylan?’. He’s always keeping you on your toes. That annoys journalists I think because it gets in the way of the narrative. But at the same time, it makes him a far more interesting artist, even if it makes journalists’ jobs harder. But even people like Bob Dylan went through phases where they can’t tell who he is. The caricature that they created – or that we all created of him. It’s this weird balance trying to be yourself but also not denying the fact of what you do.
Did you need to identify precisely what is your intimacy, what are your facts, and set yourself OK?
Yeah, I had troubles with this, because there are bits of my public image that aren’t me, that I no longer have in my normal life, because I refuse to bring them into that world. That’s like forgetting a part of yourself, it creates problem that. Strange.
So it’s all about fighting conflicts?
Yeah, it’s all about conflicts, to a point. You’re never going to find a natural balance, but you’re trying to get it right, somewhere near right. It’s a learning curve.
Do you feel you’ve matured?
No, but I’m better at it than I was.
Do you think there will be a step where it will be over? That you’ll be totally fine with all this?
Yeah possibly, but I’ll be probably way older. I don’t know, we’ll have to see.
Do you look forward to that moment?
With dread (laughs). Yeah maybe, I don’t know, hard to see. It could be a nasty thing. I will probably be retired by then.