There aren’t many musicians who are able to imbue their songs with a sense of identity that is so strong, it is the only solid link that permeates all the music they make. Whether fronting perennially under-appreciated alt-rock three-piece Reuben, showcasing two disparate sides of his personality on debut solo album Muscle Memory or guesting on a whole slew of other people’s records, Mr Jamie Edward Lenman puts so much of his own character into his music and performance that anything he touches is suffused with an instantly recognisable Lenmanesque quality. He is a unique voice in heavy music, completely uninterested in trends or fashions, much happier to follow his own path than pander to the zeitgeist. It’s been four years since we’ve heard any new music from the man but now, finally, the wait is over.
The song in question, “Mississippi”, once again showcases a side of Lenman that we’ve not heard previously; a percussive industrial number swathed in thick slabs of primal guitar sludge and infused with deep layers of haunting electronics. The stylistic change of pace is the result of a close collaboration with producer and long-time friend Space. “He really has expertise when it comes to the electronic elements, which I think this material requires,” says Lenman. “I’ve always wanted to get some of that into my music but I never felt like I had a producer that really could make that happen for me.”
A fusing between styles and genres is nothing new in music, of course, but the way that you blend disparate elements together is key in bringing out a distinct individual flavour. In other words, the digital elements shouldn’t be seasoning, but an integral ingredient. “My favourite thing is to create a synergy between lots of different mediums,” says Space, “but it’s no good just liberally sprinkling some synths on top of a rock track. It has to be an integral, living, breathing part of the music and it’s actually a really difficult thing to take things that have random human elements, like guitars, bass and vocals, and something that is essentially electronic, and give it a synergy that makes it one entity.”
Lenman picks up: “The electronics are threaded throughout this track as opposed to being a layer underneath. I feel like I’ve worked with a producer who has a sound I wanted and I think you can really hear his input. The sounds we’re getting are so thick and textured and all the riffs have been beefed up by synths, which is why it sounds so f**king thick; I can’t do that on my own with just a guitar.”
As well as the propulsive industrial pulse that drives the song, Lenman also evokes the spirit of 19th-century African-American slave songs; rhythmic, a capella music with deep roots in blues and gospel sung by chain gangs to remind them of home and boost morale. “There’s no reason not to reference all of history and use everything available to you when writing music,” says Space. “In my head, Jamie’s like a heavy Beck; he writes amazing songs and he’s got a vastly open palette that he can draw on from record to record. He’s a real lover of music and will reference things from throughout the history of recorded music. But at the same time, his songs are always in his voice and intensely personal, so you can essentially create any sonic world and distil his personality into it.”
In essence, it’s yet another new canvas for Lenman to put his unique creative stamp on. “Mississippi” was written during the sessions for Muscle Memory, the 2013 double album that was split between one disc of furious, guttural, metallic riffs whilst the other hosted gentle, acoustic laments infused with large dollops of jazz and bluegrass. The song fit neither of those parameters comfortably so it was put aside until now. “I often start with the drums when I write, so I like the fact that they are a big feature,” Lenman says of the song. “Instead of the main riff being on guitar, you could argue that the riff is the drum beat; in some ways it’s the hook. It’s not in a traditional song structure either; it builds and builds to this big crescendo until you can’t take the pressure any more and then releases, which is quite different to your typical verse/chorus/verse radio song.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Muscle Memory now seems the first proclamation from Lenman that he wasn’t going to be content rewriting variations on Reuben songs for the rest of his career. That band perfectly straddled the line between melody and extremity, while Lenman’s first solo album took great pains to separate the two. “That double album was an experiment,” he says of the record now. “I was very intentionally splitting the two main elements of what I do, because it was always about riffs and melody for me. So I figured I’d try putting them on separate discs and seeing where that would take me, but that’s not really my natural state.
“When I listen to music, I prefer to have them both together, that’s why I like Glassjaw and Nirvana, because they’ve got big thick guitar riffs but they’ve also got a melody that you can sing along to. As fun as it was to experiment splitting the two, it was only ever meant to be a side-step. So now, they’re back together and these are the sorts of songs I naturally write, with a big old f**king riff and a big old f**king melody, but now with added computers as well!”
‘Mississippi’ is yet another significant departure for Lenman and marks the beginning of the second phase of his solo career, a phase that sees him happier than ever to open up to the possibilities of collaboration. “I’m more open to ideas and other people’s input than I was before” he says. “Even whilst writing this material, I’ve purposefully gone down avenues that I wouldn’t have previously. I used to be very totalitarian in the past, particularly in the studio, and I think I’ve got to a point in my life and career where I’m ready to give up a lot more control. With Reuben and the last record, I used to come to the studio with a perfectly formed idea of what I wanted. That’s not happening any more and I’m really enjoying it.”
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