Jake Bugg had a revelation recently. Ever since he emerged as a cocky 17-year-old, the singer behind Lightning Bolt and Slumville Sunrise has loudly despaired against manufactured pop.
Until now. Because the only rock star this side of Noel Gallagher to champion “real music” has realised he can’t win.
“I’ve given up,” Bugg tells Loaded. “People will write shit songs if they want. Turns out, no matter what I say, artists are going to write crap songs. So I might as well not bother saying anything.” Bugg is laughing as he says it, nursing a coffee at a pub near his new London flat in Ladbroke Grove.
Bugg is a lot funnier than he’s generally given credit for. Sure, he’ll spend about the first 10 minutes of an interview sizing a reporter up as if they might be the police he mocked on his first hit Two Fingers.
But once he loosens up, Bugg takes the piss out of his surly reputation. “A lot of the things I said that got headlines were from when I was 18,” he explains. “You’re a little bit pumped up at that age. Now? I’ve just given up, mate.”
“I cheer up a bit when I’m drunk.”
Another laugh. “People think I take myself seriously. I take my music very, very seriously. But I don’t take myself seriously at all.” Asked what he’s like when he’s drunk, Bugg guffaws: “I cheer up a bit. I always stay in control enough to know what’s going on but, yeah, I’m a happy drunk.”
Only recently turned 22, Bugg is a veteran of arena tours, platinum albums, supermodel exes (he dated Cara Delevingne in 2013) and a whirlwind of headlines.
He eventually even went on American Idol touring his last album Shangri La, saying of the show now: “It was everything I thought and worse. I thought it was unfair to be so opinionated about those shows and the music they churn out without experiencing it for myself. But it was really sad. The judges were (cheery voice) ‘You’re going to go home thinking you’re never going to have a record deal. Enjoy your life!’ You can’t do that to people! It was medieval. But the next day my song Me And You was the most Shazamed in America. So at least I reached a new audience, I guess…”
“I did a male modelling shoot where they wanted me to run in slo-mo like I was in a boyband. I did it just to take the piss”
Even more unlikely than his American Idol appearance is the fact that Bugg recently signed with modelling agency Elite – home to Kendall Jenner and Alessandra Ambrosio, as well as the power behind Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford.
What, exactly, is a motormouth rock star doing titting about on the catwalk? “I just did it for more press,” he shrugs with disarming honesty. “You’ve got to play the game sometimes. But I’ve no interest in modelling. I’m lucky in my position, because if some fashion dude is going ‘Can you do that pose?’ I can easily say no. It’s not my profession, so I don’t have to do it.”
But modelling can be a laugh, Bugg insists. “I did a magazine shoot in America where they wanted me to run in slo-mo like I was in a boyband. I did it just to take the piss – and then the next shoot was in the pub: ‘Don’t drink too much.’ I had four pints. They didn’t like me very much…”
Of course, the modelling and reality TV wouldn’t have come about if it wasn’t for Bugg’s blistering music. After two albums of rollicking blues and country, he’s mixed it up for new record On My One.
“I’m no good at rapping. But I didn’t have time to find anyone else”
The euphoric beats of new single Gimme The Love are the first indication that Bugg has transmitted his love of Joey Badass and Run The Jewels into his music. Bitter Salt is powerful R&B, Love Hope And Misery a thoroughly modern pop song… Bugg even raps on Ain’t No Rhyme. Tentatively.
“I had no intention of rapping,” smiles Bugg, also known for Happy Valley theme Trouble Town. “I’m not a rapper. I’m no good at it, and I’ve no idea what I’m doing on that song. But I didn’t have time to find anyone else. If you approach anyone in hip-hop world for help, it’s ‘Yeah, we’ll do it!’ and then two years later you’re still waiting. Mike D or Joey Badass would have done it loads better, but it was one of the last songs I wrote for the record, so…”
Ah yes, Mike D. Nottingham council estate lad Bugg met New York Beastie Boys icon Mike D on tour in the US and became instant friends. The pair’s unlikely collaboration was set for the studio. “I sent him a song – called Waiting, ironically, as I’m still waiting to hear anything back. I should have sent him a song called I Need This By Tuesday. But it was my fault, because I sent Mike a song that was nowhere near finished, really. It was amazing just to chill with him; he’s a really funny, down-to-earth guy.”
The same confidence that sees Bugg rapping extended to him producing the majority of On My One, apart from REM veteran Jacknife Lee helping on a couple of tracks. “I didn’t intend producing it either,” Bugg admits. “I can’t do any of the technological stuff that guys who’ve studied producing can do. I don’t know if I’m a chancer or not as a producer. I just used my ears until it sounded right.”
Having enlisted the stellar talents of Rick Rubin to produce previous album Shangri-La, Bugg admits his record company were far from certain about the idea of a self-produced album. They also doubted his ability to write the whole album himself, having used Iain Archer and Crispin Hunt as his training wheels co-writers on his first two records.
“Halfway through, my then-A&R guy was ‘This isn’t really coming together.’ He wanted to put me in with other writers, which really knocked my confidence. What was the point of me continuing to do what I do if I can’t even fucking write an album myself? But after that conversation, I went back to Nottingham and wrote Gimme The Love. But if this record had been a walk in the park, I wouldn’t have learned anything.
“I thought I make break up with someone just to write a good song out of it”
“On My One is a relevant title, as it was a solitary experience to make this record. It’s not about feeling sorry for myself.”
Maybe not, but some of the ballads on On My One imply that at some point during the making of the record someone has kicked Jake Bugg’s heart right in the bollocks. Hard. “Yeah, I guess that’s true,” Bugg laughs. Known for refusing to discuss his private life, he quickly clams up on any further details. But he does admit: “I quietly thought to myself at one point that I might break up with someone just to write a good song out of it.” Loaded mentions that he wouldn’t be the first singer to have done that. Bugg has the decency to look shocked. “Has anyone really done that? That’s terrible! I mean, I thought about it, but I didn’t actually do it.”
The Portobello House pub where Loaded meets Bugg before lunch is a short stroll from his house. Bugg moved in late last year, the first time he’s had anywhere to live since he first found fame five years ago.
He’s treated it like any regular 22-year-old would. “It didn’t feel a big deal until the landlady shut the door behind her and I realised there was nothing in the flat. I thought ‘Oh right, now what…. Get Amazon Prime, I guess.”
With that, it’s time to leave Bugg to stroll back home. But not before a final vindication about managing to make his best album on his one.
“I can work with whoever I want on my next record,” he insists. “I’ve shown I can do it. This was something I needed to do for me.” He’s done that, and he’s kept his sense of humour. He really shouldn’t give up slagging everyone else off. He’s far too good at it.
Jake Bugg’s new single Gimme The Love is out now. On My One is out on June 17. He plays at Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Glastonbury, Sherwood Pines Forest, T In The Park and V festivals.
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn