Jake Bugg is musing over whether he should buy a house in Notting Hill when I meet him in an old Victorian pub in London. “I want to,” he says, pulling a Marlboro from his black bomber jacket and offering me one. “But now isn’t the right time. I’m going to wait to see what happens with this referendum thing.” Discussing what effect Brexit might have on London’s property prices wasn’t what I had in mind for the guy who routinely slags off The X Factor, but here we are. So what’s it to be: in or out?
“I think if we leave it will give us independence, for sure. If we’re successful, all the other European countries will look at us and start thinking about their positions in the EU – it will probably just disband. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, though.”
Having grown up in Clifton, Nottingham, at one point the biggest housing estate in Europe, it’s a surprisingly right-leaning take on the debate. But it also happens to be a fitting metaphor for the 22-year-old’s forthcoming third album, On My One, named after Nottingham slang for ‘on my own’. Bugg is the guitar-riffing reality of Boris Johnson’s fantasy island – he’s gone it alone. And unlike his first two albums, this one was written entirely without guest songwriters. “Not to prove a point to anyone,” he says. “I wanted to do it for myself. I thought if I don’t do it now, when will I?”
A little backstory. Back in 2012, Bugg was billed as the saviour of guitar music. Next to Carly Rae Jepsen’s sickly sweet Call Me Maybe, his lyrics about hiding from the police and drinking White Lightning in hit single Two Fingers (current YouTube plays: 14.8 million) screamed ‘authenticity’.
So when everyone realised his first two albums were co-written with hitmakers such as Iain Archer, formerly of Snow Patrol, it didn’t go down well. Not least with self-confessed fan Noel Gallagher, who told ShortList he was “f*cking heartbroken”. Today, Bugg isn’t too fussed. “I don’t care, to be honest,” he shrugs. “If I didn’t agree to [co-writers] in the first place I wouldn’t have got a record deal. People call it selling out, but if you don’t compromise you might not get a chance to continue playing music. And on this record I didn’t write with anybody so it gave me the opportunity to experiment.”
Ah, so that might explain the hip-hop. While On My One still has enough folk and blues to appease the die-hard Bugg fans, there’s also a disarmingly eclectic mix in there: the big, grab-you-by-the-balls drums of Gimme The Love, the Abba-esque ballad Love, Hope And Misery, and the stomping Bitter Salt. Listen to Ain’t No Rhyme and you’ll even hear Bugg try his hand at rapping.
“I can’t rap for shit,” he grins. “I wanted a kind of Beastie Boys, Jimi Hendrix vibe. So [the song] has guitars in it, but there are no chord changes, and I thought I’d go in with lyrics. I’m no rapper, I just couldn’t find anyone else to do it in time. Or anyone that wanted to.”
He gives me an embarrassed look. “Don’t worry, it’s not one we’re going to be playing live soon.”
Is that because you’re not particularly confident in your semi-rapping skills?
“Well, I thought…” he starts, before adding in mock tone: “what do you mean semi-rapping?
“Actually I was thinking about walking out, mic in hand, jacket on, nothing underneath and a gold chain out. That might go down pretty well, right?” he says dryly.
A LIGHTER SIDE
If Bugg has a reputation for being a bit grumpy, it’s only half true. Sure, ask him about Azealia Banks taking a pop at the entire British music industry and he’ll frown, then say (for the second time): “I really could not care less.” But he’ll also enthuse about Iggy Pop, who he saw gyrate topless across London’s Royal Albert Hall last month. “It’s crazy. As old as he is and he’s still tearing up the stage like that?” And once you do manage to get him talking, he can be surprisingly open. Bugg speaks at length about Never Wanna Dance, the song on the album he’s most proud of, in which he sings: “I don’t know if I need you/I know it might be cruel/And I don’t think that I love you/I know I’m such a fool.”
He’s previously described songwriting as a form of therapy, and it’s clearly worked again. “Those lyrics are about having feelings for someone, but you’re not sure,” he explains. “When you’re with them you don’t want to be, but when you’re not with them you do. It’s so confusing. And you know you’re messing them around a little bit, but you’re also saying that they probably deserve somebody better.”
I tell Bugg that I’m impressed he wrote a song about not being able to dance. It’s a problem many of us suffer.
“Not wanting to dance,” he begins. “I didn’t say anything about not being able to. What are we doing with this semi-dancing and semi-rapping?” he laughs. “No, I can’t dance. You’re right, you’re exactly right. I can’t and that’s probably the reason I don’t want to. I just get smashed and nod my head in the corner, that’s my vibe.”
Even given the old-fashioned skiffle-pop that made his name, it often feels as if Bugg is stuck in a time warp. The last album he listened to was “something from 1978”, he finds Twitter cheesy (“My label sends tweets that are like, ‘Hey guys.’ Who says ‘Hey guys?’ I certainly don’t. I just delete them on the sly.”) and thinks all modern music is, well, godawful.
“I get depressed when I look at the iTunes chart. Every song sounds the same. It’s frustrating. There’s nothing coming out that I like.” And, despite previously supporting them on tour, he doesn’t exactly rave about the new Stone Roses track: “It’s just Stone Roses, innit? I’m not a fan.” Does he feel like was born in the wrong era? Again, the reply as dry as a desert: “No, obviously not, because I’m really good at Fifa.”
But you do get the impression he’s got used to the glitz and glamour his life now affords him. On the shoot, it was Bugg (not the stylist) who picked out the brilliantly outlandish Alexander McQueen jacket – not bad for a boy who skulked on to the scene in tatty polos. He also recently signed to Elite Model Management, once (briefly) dated Cara Delevingne, and now finds that west London suits him just fine: “I do like my suits and champagne, as they say,” he smirks.
No sales pitch
The one thing he won’t do, however, is tell you to buy his album. “Fans will buy it if they want to, not because someone tells them to,” he says, saying his aversion to self-promotion probably doesn’t do him any favours. Still, he isn’t exactly a failing rock star: three albums by the tender age of 22, smashing the record for youngest British male to debut at No.1, next month’s headline slot on the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury and a string of sold-out UK tour dates in the autumn to come.
He’ll be playing a mixture of new material and the stuff that people want to hear says Bugg, somewhat reluctantly. Is there a song he’s sick of playing? “A track like Two Fingers is difficult now,” comes the instant reply. “I’m not the 17-year-old kid who wrote that song, so it’s hard to deliver it with the same feeling.”
Which is true, he’s certainly not hiding from the Feds any more. However, that song is also about getting out, escaping the town in which he grew up, and surviving – or hoping to, at least. And when you’ve landed a house in one of London’s most luxurious postcodes, you’re certainly not doing too badly.
Well, Brexit permitting.
On My One is out on 17 June