Jamie Lenman’s new album is a beautiful and honest blast of sunshine in a cloudy sky. This is how it was made.
Jamie Lenman has just released his new album ‘The Atheist’ via Big Scary Monsters.
A bright, breezy and beautiful collection of big-room indie-rock bangers, it’s a record that allows Jamie to let loose with a sound that he has always loved but never fully indulged in with his recorded output. From love and faith to charity and mental health, it’s a raw yet sun-stained masterstroke from one of the finest songwriters the UK has ever produced.
To talk it through, we sat down with the man himself…
What would you say was the catalyst for bringing together all of these songs? There are tracks here you have had for years but have yet to find the right place. Others are as fresh as it gets. What triggered you to work on a place for them all to it?
“I had made a few demos of the humbler tracks, the more introspective ones, and sent them to my management and said,’ This is the next record that I want to make. I was almost asking for permission to step into this. Is it time to make this record? Does it fit in with our plans? They said, ‘You’ve got to have something big if you’re going to go down this route’. Stadium-sized songs and bombastic choruses. I was thrown through the loop cause I wanted to make that humble, scratchy, indie record. So how do I translate that into more of a larger stadium energy?
“So I picked up the threads of a couple of songs I had: ‘ Talk Hard’ and ‘Lena Don’t Leave Me, ‘ which were partly written but dismissed and possibly waiting to be given to somebody else. But when management prompted me, that’s when I thought I could take them and make them my own. Filter these big hair metal moments through that slight indie lens, then maybe they could provide the power that everything else can hang on, and I could have my cake and eat it. So after that, finishing those songs and then going to the studio with a different producer, I was able to develop a sound that would work across the board. That’s when ‘The Atheist’ was born.”
The sentiments in these songs are incredibly personal and close to home, so you do want them to have the right mould to be expressed in. To be able to piece all that together is one thing, but it is also about how much of yourself you want to show off…
“The challenge is always to go as deep as possible but make it sound as breezy as possible too. It makes the profound and personal things feel like they aren’t that big deal. It would be wonderful if we could talk about our innermost truths without having a huge disclaimer at the bottom about what to expect. It’s funny because of certain quirks this album is coming out simultaneously as the reissue of my first body of work, ‘Pilot’. To compare the two, ‘Pilot’ I was 16 and a child and in school and just at the start of being able to talk about my own feelings. If you listen to the lyrics, they are very teenage and nonsense poetry that was normal in the 90s. But you would get a little glimmer of the real me every now and then, which was very hard to do. Since then, the lyrics have been more like my diary, and the poetry is more of an anomaly.
“So the mission has been to gouge out as many feelings as possible. These days, I have concentrated more on the negative parts of my personality. With the environment we have been in over the last ten years, we have been asking those around us and ourselves to be accountable for our own behaviour. So if you are plugged into the global psyche, you ask those questions and wonder what you can do about it. I did it a bit on ‘King Of Clubs’, and when you listen to ‘Bad Friend’ on this record, you see how I am trying to be so personal. I’m trying to expunge my deepest and darkest secrets, and the result gets pretty close to the bone.”
It’s also knowing that you have the tools not to let that journey pull you into a place that you don’t want to be…
“It’s a lot of hard work and often quite painful. But by the end of the process, positivity was the thing that held all the songs together. That sums up this album and this album’s title. Atheism, for me, is a positive thing, to not have the burden of any system of belief above you. I wanted that to come across when you listened to these songs, like, ‘Wow, this guy is really happy that there isn’t a God!’. Even though there are dower moments of sadness and pain, like there always are, you need to have that for any positivity to actually mean anything. I even wanted to make sure that all of the photos for this record had me wearing a big goofy smile across my face to make that positivity feel even more real.”
After the last few albums and the world in which they were made, you have to take it upon yourself to push for that light a bit more. It’s important to delve into both sides, but it’s not a very comfortable place to exist…
“That’s the magic of making these records the way that I do. It’s a double-sided coin. When I make a record like ‘King Of Clubs’, I come out of it feeling better, but then when I make a happy album like this, I still feel pretty good afterwards. I will come out the other side feeling alright, no matter the content, so it’s almost a win-win for me.”
Reflection continues to be a big factor in our day-to-day right now, but with the ‘Pilot’ reissue’ and ‘Muscle Memory’ being almost a decade old now, it’s even more potent for you. How does that reflection inspire you as you look to the future?
“It’s interesting when you think of the different milestones and times they were at. Twenty-five years ago, or 20 years ago, I felt no baggage at all. I was free. Anything could happen. So I had nothing behind us. Nobody knew anything about us. Then when you come to ten years ago, I felt like my baggage was quite restraining. That was one of the reasons that I didn’t promote ‘Muscle Memory’ and just put it out in the world. I just wanted it to speak for itself. Right now, I feel strengthened by it all. I’ve made a bunch more albums and now feel rather than a set of chains. It’s more like a suit of armour. I can feel the weight of it, but it doesn’t hold me back. It moves with me. It makes me feel protected and invulnerable. I can do whatever I like, and people expect that.”
You can only consider feeling that way after going through all of that as well. And to still be here and feeling the drive to do this isn’t something you should take for granted…
“Very much so. I have a lot of pals who have burned out. Some are fine with it, and for some, you can tell that they wish they were still in the game. That process and the industry at large stamped many beautiful fires out. I came very close. At one point, I didn’t make music for the best part of a year. I felt that part of my life was over, and I was fine with it. I had a regular job at a design agency. I worked five days a week, and I partied at weekends. But in stamping me out, there was a little tiny glowing ember that gradually got stoked into something that resembled a flame. But you never know if that will happen.”
And to be back where we are with this album, there’s a reason it took you until now to feel like you could make something like this. Because you had to go through all of that, see life on the other side, learn from that time away and then return to the limelight to know how to make it so…
“This record wouldn’t have been the same if I had made it a few years ago. It wouldn’t have been good, either. I guess we will never know what it would have sounded like 20 years ago either, but then I will just have to make another one in another 20 years and find out the answer.”