Teddy Thompson seems a little out of sorts. Half-reclining on a trendy hotel sofa, he shifts restlessly in his seat and mumbles something about biscuits. He's drawn, and his eyes are out on stalks, but there's an air of vulnerability that suits him. "I need to get myself hooked on sleeping pills," he says sheepishly, looking up from beneath his floppy fringe. Having spent the past 36 hours traversing land and ocean, the fragile singer-songwriter has jet lag.
The son of the folk-rock legends Richard and Linda Thompson, Teddy had what he calls a "posh bohemian" upbringing. He was born on the Sufi commune where his parents were living. But, when he was six, his parents divorced. His mother married an American agent. Thompson moved into "a nice house" and attended "posh private school, Bedales". It was there he first picked up a guitar.
He moved to the US as an adventure-seeking 21-year-old. While he does now consider himself a New Yorker, he also says he feels more English than ever before.
The album features Thompson's father, Richard, on guitar and a duet with his mother, Linda. But, although the record is imbued with folky, countryfied undercurrents that hint at his musical heritage, the songs are somewhere between White Ladder-era David Gray and vintage Jackson Browne. They document turbulent tales of doomed relationships. "This album is an honest account of the way I've felt," says Thompson. "It revolves around the last few years, my living in New York at the end of my twenties and struggling a bit with the casting-off of childish things: irresponsible ways and going out too much, drinking and drugs and what those things do to you." Thompson was led astray by Rufus Wainwright (who also appears on Separate Ways). "I was a quiet, fairly boring, sensible sort of person - I didn't even drink that much. Rufus was quite the opposite. I was attracted to his larger-than-life persona and "having a good time all the time". He admits, "I was probably looking to be corrupted." But years of playing catch-up to Wainwright's party antics began to take their toll. "Taking drugs started off being something that was a sociable thing. But it became self-sabotage."
His weak immune system ("I'm a little wuss physically," laughs Thompson, "always getting sick,") and compulsive personality didn't mix well with the drugs - "the usual substances", says Thompson. They left him feeling desperate, lonely and alienated. "Drugs affect people differently and they affected me a lot," he says. "I couldn't take a little bit of anything - it's all or nothing for me." He shrugs shyly and strokes the inch-long scar that runs down the side of his left eye - a reminder of a playful childhood scuffle with his sister which ended in tears when he fell off the bed and onto the fin of his toy Batmobile. "These days it's better for me to do nothing - I'm sticking to tea and biscuits."
Thompson still sees the funny side of his predicaments and his songs are underscored with black humour. "Sometimes the situations I write about are just so ridiculous," he laughs. "Like in 'I Wish It Was Over', for example. If you're with someone you don't want to be with, in the end whose fault is that? Like most things, it's all mine."
He has been bowled over by the glowing reviews his new album has received in the UK. "People really like it here," he says, a little overwhelmed. "I know it doesn't mean much in the whole scheme of things, but getting good reviews on something that you've worked really hard on means the world to me. And I feel already genuinely successful because of that. I'd rather hold up my Mojo review and sell two records, than sell a million records and have terrible reviews. Coming from the family I do, that would not be a good thing: I don't think my parents would be particularly impressed if I was in a boy band. You want them to be proud of you."
Thompson insists he simply hopes for enough success to keep him touring and recording. But he allows himself a bigger dream: "I like to think that, if I do something well, at least better than most pop musicians," he says, "it's that I can write good songs. When my singing voice is gone, I'd like to be remembered for my songs."
He allows himself a weary but proud smile. "Yeah. I'd like to be thought of as a really good songwriter."
The single 'I Should Get Up' is out on Verve on 8 May. Teddy Thompson is touring to 14 MayReuse content