1883 Magazine

Some say the sixties mark the death of the blues man, as the traditional delta sound became entangled with the two-tone slurs of British beat groups, leaving old folk to muse, ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.’

But, apparently in Bristol they do.

Proving that this age old adage has as much meat to it as Paul McCartney’s palate, Jamie N Commons combines the gruff nicotine growl of Tom Waits with lyrical arrangements reminiscent of Cash at his most morally ravaged.

With a voice that sounds like it’s been poured from a vintage bourbon bottle, complete with rasping melodic charm and a rich sonic texture, it’s at first hard to fuse the gravelly baritone with the lungs of an unassuming 23-year-old.

It was only after discovering he spent a raft of teenage years in Chicago, home to Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and all else decisively swamp and bluesy, that everything became a bit more believable - that and his apparent penchant for cigarettes and liquor. 

Unleashing his vocal dexterity on the world last October with his debut E.P The Baron, Commons kicks off the year with his first official headline tour and release of The Preacher’s antithetical sister track, Devil In Me via Luv Luv Luv Records. 

Setting ‘ones to watch’ lists ablaze, already stamping his name on the BBC’s coveted Sound of 2012 poll, the blue-eyed soul man enlightens 1883  on an inevitably exciting year to come.


You seem to have been biding your time and it’s worked, since releasing your first E.P in October your popularity has snowballed, why was the end of 2011 the right moment?
Well, in the music game, you can’t afford to come out the bunker half-cocked anymore; people’s attention spans are such that it needs to be perfect, bang on, first time. There are so many bands out there now, you can’t afford not to be an exciting proposition when there are four finished products playing the same show as you.  It took me a year in the dark writing songs and then finding the band to play them. It was frustrating at times because you want to get out there and play, but it will be worth it in the long run I reckon.

Speaking of popularity, you are quite the favourite on the 2012 ‘ones to watch’ circuit, what sort of pressure have you felt from this?
I enjoy the pressure mostly; it’s made me step up my game, especially on the live side of things. Music is really the only place my competitive side comes out in full, so the added pressure is a positive at the moment.

Some have criticised you for being too much like Cohen or Cash, how do you set your sound apart from your idols’?
Ah comparisons will always be drawn, it’s the nature of the game, especially for new artists. Everyone comes from somewhere, there are only so many notes you know? I couldn’t sound or write exactly like these guys if I tried, that I’m even getting mentioned in the same sentence as these artists is high praise indeed.

Religion is a theme that pervades your music, what is your connection with it?
Well it’s in the family, on one side at least, I grew up surrounded by believers and non-believers, gets a young boy thinking, and I’m still thinking…

For a 22-year-old your sound can be very dark, even haunting at times, is this something you set out to achieve?
I’m an impatient guy so I tend to be attracted to the more extreme emotions when song writing. I reckon I’ll mellow as I age though and start writing songs about watching TV or having a shower. Though I do have a new song called Wash Me in the Water, maybe it’s begun!

You create characters that become vessels for your music- how do you find them and in what ways do they represent an element of yourself and your personal experience?
Here there and everywhere, newspapers, films, books, shit that happened to you, shit you heard happen to other people, you’ve got to be ‘the sponge’.


You kick start your first UK headline tour at the end of February, which venue are you most excited about?
I think they’re all going to be pretty special. It’s our first headline tour where people are coming specifically to see us so it will be fun playing songs people are familiar with, and to meet everyone that’s enjoying the music.

When can we expect the first Jamie N Commons album?
Around the end of the year I hope, just talking to producers at the moment, we’ve got 20 or so songs on the shortlist for it though, so it’s just a case of getting them down on tape at the moment.

Favourite offstage anecdote from your 2011 tour?
We met this circus midget at this bar in Germany, he was walking around with this huge mean looking dog that came up to his shoulder, obviously I had to go over and talk to him! He was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, he had some seriously good one liners.

At 1883 we love your choice of headwear!  What’s the story behind your hat collection? 
Ah the first one I found wandering home after a long night out, he was my favourite but I fell over in the mud at Reading festival this year and killed him. I was inconsolable!

Who are you listening to at the moment?
Anna Calvi, Josh T Pearson, The Staves, The Maccabees, although I just recently discovered The Jayhawks, kind of obsessed with their tune Blue at the moment.

Best remedy for writer’s block?
Enforced isolation, boredom and whiskey.

When you’re not singing, writing or recording you’re…?
Watching films, out walking around, going fishing.

If you weren’t making music you’d be….?


Devil In Me is released March 12 via Luv Luv Luv Records.

Words by Rowan Newman

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