Jamie Lenman returns this month with his first ever solo record “Muscle Memory”. If you're a rock fan and you haven't heard the man's name before, then shame on you. Band leader of probably one of the most exciting underground rock outfits of all time, Reuben, Lenman and his bandmates released three records in their stint of the early to mid noughties. Coupling heavy riffs with strong melodies and brutal roar's, the band rose to critical acclaim with one of the strongest fanbases around before breaking up in 2008. Since then Lenman's been busy in secret and “Muscle Memory” is a double-edged sword displaying his love for metal and all things acoustic. I caught up with him on the phone this Monday. Jamie showed me that you could love heavy music and be an extremely lovely and sensitive human being at the same time.
CALLUM: So the album “Muscle Memory” is released in a week exactly. It’s been quite a while since you've experienced an album release of your work, how are you feeling right now? Nervous or excited?
JAMIE: Its sort of like asking someone with a washing machine how he feels about washing machines y'know? There's so much going on, that you find it hard to concentrate on one particular bit so I’ll be able to answer that in about a months time, but just right now, I just can't tell you. There's so much other stuff happening.
CALLUM: The albums split into two halves- “Muscle” which is the harsh, heavy side and “Memory” which is the more melodic and probably for most people- more listenable half. Why did you choose to present the record in this way?
JAMIE: Well because of the Foo Fighters “In Your Honour”, y'know that record? Was that the double album? Its shit right? Cos they were bad for so long and then they were like we're gonna bring out this record that's one half heavy and one half soft and I was in Reuben at the time and we were like “thats gonna be fucking awesome!” When it came out it was such a bummer, and I was like “we should do a proper one with one half that's actually heavy instead of both halves pussy”, and then Reuben split up and we didn't end up doing that. But then when I started writing things for this record I was like “Ah. Maybe I should do that album we were gonna do with one half heavy and one half soft”. Except, it came out way heavier than Reuben were definitely.
CALLUM: How long did this all take to come together, bearing in mind that 22 tracks is a lot of music?
JAMIE: It took maybe two years to write, and another 18 months to record, which is not so bad if you're talking about a CD worth of tracks, y'know a one album type thing, I think a year to write ten /twelve tracks is pretty good. But of course this is double that.
CALLUM: It’s released on Xtra Mile though you started your own record label back in 2006 called Hideous Records, was it difficult sustaining things on that side for yourselves during the final couple of years of Reuben?
JAMIE: Well, god damn it, as anyone who's ever run a record label of their own will know, including Xtra Mile, but it is a huge headache. To be honest, that was one of the factors that finished off Reuben because we were so intertwined with Hideous Records, and that was so difficult to do that it was either none of them or both of them, if one of them went then the other one had to go as well. So it was just a real horrible time for the label, and I knew that Xtra Mile had such experience by the time I came round to finding people to release it, plus we kept in touch through Frank (Turner) and we were good buddies by that point. Obviously we had our differences when we left in the middle of the Naughties but now we're buddies again so I thought “why not” and that means I don't have to introduce anyone to myself and I don't have to tell anyone how to make my stuff appease. I'm comfortable is what I'm saying.
CALLUM: Any guest musicians this time round- in the vein of Alpha Signal Three and Good Luck? Chance of a cheeky saxophone solo ie. Your cover of ‘Mexican Wave’ by the brilliant Kerbdog?
JAMIE: Y'know there is more chance of a cheeky sax solo than you know because I've been getting into a lot of sax-metal. Check out a band called ‘Shining’, they're from Norway and the future. But I did want to put some sax on a lot of the harder tracks but we couldn't get it sorted out in the end, maybe I'll do a later version with some of that. No, I don't think there are any sax solo's, the only saxophone on this record is in ‘Pretty Please’ and it doesn't really get a chance to solo but it's certainly something I'll be looking into. And of course their were dozens of guest musicians, absolutely loads- on the swing track we had a full twenty piece swing band, loads of people came in and did it separately. My old music teacher and his dad came in and my brother sang a record with me on the album and my wife sang a couple with me, so tons of guest musicians yeah. Originally I wanted to play the drums on it, I'll do it like a Foo Fighters record and do it on my own but then the drum parts I ended up writing were way beyond my ability and so I had my friend Daniel come in and play the drums. I did think at one point that maybe I could do the drums on one track, one of the easier ones and we'd have that one track where it was all me but then I thought that'd be stupid wouldn't it? I dunno, at some point I'll do a record where it's me on the drums, if you hear a record where its just easy drums then that's me. To be fair the parts I'd written were beyond Daniel's capabilities but he worked super, super hard for me to get them down.
CALLUM: Were any of these songs around in the Reuben days, surfing the net I came across a setlist that had ‘Pretty Please’ on it, from around 2006?
JAMIE: This is like proper detective shit! Well, the answer to that is in every set of songs I've released, with the Reuben records and now this one, they all contain songs from right the way across my writing career. On Racecar/Very Fast/Nothing and Muscle Memory, they've all got songs that I started when I was like, twelve and then songs that I wrote like the week before release. There are some songs on ‘Muscle Memory’ that I started writing before “Pilot” (Reuben's debut EP released in 2001) came out- before the first ever Reuben release. Just some of them take that long to write, and other ones I wrote in the last minute- there was one track that I wrote whilst we were recording it, it wasn't even on the recording list, I just came in one day and said “Ah! New song”, and we whacked it down. So yeah, there were some songs that were around during Reuben and before and after. Which is why it's funny when people say things like “this new material is no good” or “I preferred songs how they used to write them” or even “the songwriting is so much better these days”, so you never can tell. All of those records are from the same twenty year period and y'know I started a song last year that perhaps won't end up on an album for another ten years.
CALLUM: Also your first single release for six years happened today- what made you pick the two songs in question to be the promotional tracks for such a momentous occasion?
JAMIE: Well, I don't think either of them can be said to represent the two sides of the record- there's nothing really that sounds like Fizzy Blood and nothing that sounds like ‘Pretty Please’, so in that respect they're a bit redundant. I thought that if you were going to pick one from each side, they are the two that contrast themselves the most. So I thought that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to have the most crazy contrast to get the biggest reaction and to make people think “what the hell!” You get metal kids listening to swing and thinking “ooooh, that wasn't bad
CALLUM: Could you explain who is in your touring band this time round and why you picked these men to join you on this quest?
JAMIE: I very specifically picked good friends of mine, people that I had a long relationship with. I could've picked a from a very long line of professional musicians who would've been happy to join up but I wanted us to know each other and already have an existing bond, so I had Daniel who's the drummer on the record- he's the only one on the record from the band, he's been my good friend for ages and ages and he used to come and tour with Reuben, he used to be our drum-tech. He was the one who really encouraged me to do it, so that's why I picked Daniel and then Angus on bass, he doesn't even play the bass- I didn't realise- but he used to be in a band around from where we live called Redwood? A bit of a local superstar and he used to drive the bus for us back in the day and I just picked him because I didn't really know any bass players that I was that friendly with, but I knew that Angus played guitar, he just picked up the bass and that worked really nice. We did have on guitar, my friend Harry who is the lead singer for Caretaker and I was the drummer in Caretaker so he's a very close friend, he helped to shape all the songs and get them all ready for the studio but then by the time we went into the studio he wasn't able to give any more time to it, which is fair enough. So I ended up asking my friend Chris who is a local producer and he used to be in a local band called Ordit and he was great and I know his wife very well and he fits right in, so those three guys Angus, Daniel and Chris are my live band.
CALLUM: What was the story behind “A Little Bit Of Rapping” from your producer Sean's band The Black Dog All Stars?
JAMIE: That was a mistake. We were supposed to do a rap album for someone and he was like “do you wanna just sing the chorus bits?” and I was like “yeah sure” and just on the take I did the rapping just to show where the rap would go, but then the guy heard it and was like “no, I don't wanna rap on that”. So we just got to keep it as our single which was really nice.
CALLUM: Do you still have a massive life-size Dalek in your living room i.e. The one shown in the ‘What Happens In Aldershot Stays In Aldershot’ DVD?
JAMIE: Yep. Course I do.
CALLUM: With your moustache and three piece suit, you'd make a spiffing Doctor, excited for the 50th anniversary special?
JAMIE: I am yes. Well, slightly. I think there's other things going on next month that I'm looking forward to more than the big TV special that's going on cos its gonna be a bit smug, cos it's fallen in popularity and it's thrown a few people out including me. I'll watch it but I’ll have one eye on something else, there's other bits going on that I'm looking forward to a bit more. In general I'm very excited about the anniversary.
CALLUM: You've directed some music videos in your time including your own, ‘Sucioperro’ and of long time friend Frank Turner, have you ever thought about doing a full-length feature film?
JAMIE: I have actually, lots of times. There's a couple of ideas knocking around for that but I would need to clone myself in order to do it. As soon as I find a story good enough that I want to tell, then I may well do that. If I find a gap in-between the records and the illustration.
CALLUM: I see you've got a massive canvas of the album artwork on sale over at Xtra Mile's website (record label). Which came first for you, music or the drawing?
JAMIE: It was the illustration, when I was a kid I was drawing from two or three so really illustration is my first love and I still sort of regard the stage I spent in a band as a sort of sidestep, like a holiday almost. Even when I was in Reuben I was illustrating for two magazines, doing the cartoons for those so I still had my illustration kinda tick-tocking along and I still knew that was really, not my main thing, but my first love. I think I'm probably better at drawing than I am at music. (I disagreed at this point and exclaimed that it must be at least on a par between the two). Funny as it sounds, illustration isn't much of a stable job either but for me its been more stable than before.
CALLUM: And finally, I'm 19 now, do you remember how your life was at this age?
JAMIE: Course I do, 19 was fucking brilliant. I was living with a girl who was nice, we were living in a weird house and that was just when ‘Scared Of The Police’ (early Reuben single) came out. So things were starting to ramp up for Reuben really, though what ramp up actually meant was going another two years without a record label. But at the time we thought “hey, hey, hey! This is happening!”. Yeah, I felt good at 19. I mean if you're nineteen, then you would've been like 13 when Reuben finished which is pretty nuts man.
CALLUM: Yeah I never got to see you guys live due to the fact my tastes weren't in the heavy side of the musical spectrum very much at that point. But now, I have every ETID (Every Time I Die) record, they're one of my favourite bands so I guess you just have to pace yourself into it gradually.
JAMIE: Well that gives me hope that the young folk are still listening, thanks very much sir.
Thank you very much for your time Jamie, I look forward to listening to the record and seeing you in Manchester in December!