TRACK-BY-TRACK: Jamie Lenman – Muscle Memory

Those familiar with the work of the tragically defunct British rock trio Reuben can strongly attest to the brilliant songwriting skills of their frontman and leader, Jamie Lenman. Since their rather abrupt split back in 2008, their dedicated fanbase have been longing for new material or return in some form or another, be it a one-off reunion show, a long-lasting reformation or (for the incredibly hopeful) a brand new album. It was a pleasant surprise then when, just as abruptly as the band’s announcement of hiatus was brought to light, Jamie Lenman announced details of a forthcoming, not just single, but double album, titled ‘Muscle Memory’.

The album features a bipolar split, the first half focusing on the hard, heavy and aggressive stylings so Lenman, whilst the second half would wander into the more melodic and sombre territory of his songwriting. With a massive 22 tracks to feast on, we got Jamie Lenman to give us a more in-depth look into his favourite tracks off the record, their meanings, details of the writing and recording process and more.

The Six Fingered Hand
When I wrote this one, it was the heaviest I’d ever gone and it was the start of the idea that I really could make a super heavy record. This is the kind of music I love to listen to – thrashy, max-aggressive, areas of total senseless noise and immense beatdowns. Lyrically, it’s about my disappointment with the 00s, which I’d always looked forward to as being ‘my decade’. You know, my parents had the 60s, some of my older friends had the 80s, incredible times. But, when the 00s rolled around, I felt like they didn’t really have anything to say – probably as a result of the spectre of terrorism and the global crash, everybody got really quiet and started buying white electronics novelties. A real let down.

All The Things You Hate About Me, I Hate Them Too
I like this one more for the music than for the lyrics, which are about my personal faults, even though I think I managed to express these well. For me, this is probably my favourite of all the heavy tracks, it’s got lots of things I like in it – the off-putting time changes, the machine-gun bass drum patterns, the huge chorus with the piano close to the end. I wanted to put some saxophone on this one, but there wasn’t time. Maybe I’ll put together a sax mix at some point in the future…

One Of My Eyes Is A Clock
This song represents my love for technical metal and my attempts to create something similar of my own – utterly relentless, completely horrible. I wanted this record to be difficult to listen to and I think this is one of the hardest. I saw a review recently that referred to it as “thrash-jazz”, which I love and intend to have inscribed on my tombstone somewhere. Lyrically, it’s about my distrust of social media, a sentiment which I realise is almost as cliché as taking a selfie and posting it online in the first place, but what can you do? Before this record started ramping up, I never had a Facebook or a Twitter or anything, and even now the ones I have are strictly business. People thought I was some kind of hermit, retreating from the world, but as far as I can see it’s all a ridiculous vanity, the internet equivalent of budgies cooing at their own reflections in nursing home sitting-rooms. I could go on, but I’m already becoming tiresome…

A Terrible Feeling
I like this one because it’s totally unhinged, just a lot of horrible noise. I remember reading that when ‘She’s So Heavy’ came out on The Beatles‘Abbey Road’, people criticised John Lennon‘s sparse lyric (“I want you, I want you so bad / I want you so bad it’s driving me mad” x lots) and he retorted with something like, “Look, it’s a song about being in love and wanting someone so bad you’re going out of your mind. If somebody’s drowning, they don’t politely say ‘Excuse me, but do you think you could be so kind as to pass me that rubber ring’, do they? They just scream ‘AAAAH! HELP, HELP, HELP, I’M DROWNING!!!'”. I thought this was brilliant, explaining the song and batting away the petty sniping in one shot, and kept the idea in mind whilst putting the song together.

Sometimes, I write songs about abstract things, sometimes little bits of whimsy that aren’t really connected to real life, but mostly it’s about my feelings, and when I manage to successfully get that feeling across by way of music it’s incredibly satisfying. This one, as well sounding sonically so slow and heavy, really captures the emotions I was trying to get across. I find this one hard to listen to, and to perform, but at the same time compelling. It’s a song I’d had most of in my head for a really long time, more than fifteen years probably, and I think you can hear that age in there.

Shotgun House
A couple of years ago at Christmas, my aunt gave me her uncle’s old banjulele, which is like a tiny banjo mixed with a ukulele. It has a unique sound and you don’t have to be a genius to play it. Better still, aside from being a beautiful object, this precious thing is a family heirloom and I had banged away at it when I was very young and my great uncle used to visit, bringing with him instruments for all the children to play, much to my parent’s annoyance. There’s even a photo of one of these jam sessions on the inlay of the record. I’d been listening to a lot of pre-war jazz and I held this thing in my hands for weeks and just sort of willed the song to happen, and it did. I rescued some more of my great uncle’s instruments from various family vaults and ended up with his beautiful trumpet and slightly battered trombone, both of which I played on this track. This one of the more whimsical ones lyrically, but the idea of owning a real shotgun shack in Louisiana is a very alluring one, a genuine aspiration of mine.

I Ain’t Your Boy
This one is, in my opinion, the best song I’ve written so far, which isn’t to say that it’s the best song in the world, just of the few I’ve personally penned. Like ‘Muscle’, I feel I managed to get across exactly how I was feeling into the music, and in this case, it even cured me of these melancholy feelings, which has never happened to me before. I know many people find songwriting cathartic, but up until now I never had. I went through a very low period a couple of years ago where I felt completely detached from myself, like a stranger in my own home, and specifically I was worried that my wife might feel she was living with a stranger, which was awful. I put it all into this song and those feelings sort of lifted like a cloud. I’ve never known anything like it. I’m very pleased with the arrangement and the chords, I think you could play this to someone without the words and they would still feel sad. This is another one that’s very hard to play and to listen to, but it’s perhaps for this reason that I enjoy doing both.

It’s Hard To Be A Gentleman
This is a sweet song. One of my friends described it as “the Disney one”. I like the lazy summer feeling of the banjo and the trumpets in the mid section. This is one of a couple of tracks I sang with my wife on the record, which makes it very special for obvious reasons. She’s never done any real singing, but she sounds great. Harmonising with someone else’s voice is hard at the best of times and I use some very weird intervals, but she just took it in her stride and belted it out. Singing songs with your family and friends is one of the biggest joys that music can offer as far as I’m concerned, far more than playing infront of huge audiences, which in itself is pretty rewarding. To crystallise that on a record like Johnny and June is just great. Plus, the lyrics she’s singing with me are actually about my feelings for another woman. It takes a lot of trust to deal with that sort of thing and I think that makes the track, and her, all the more remarkable.

Pretty Please
This track represents a huge achievement for me. I love big band music and I’d written this jaunty little song a while ago, with a sort of vague notion that it could work really well in that style, but of course I dismissed this, ’cause when was I gonna get hold of a swing band to do it? Then, when the idea for this album came along with its ‘no holds barred’ approach to musical genres, I knew it was now or never. I asked an old friend to help me transcribe the notes on my various demos into a musical score (I don’t read or write music) and started looking for band to play it. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find any bands willing to learn it and record it in exchange for a few pizzas (although, I have to say I would definitely be up for this deal), so in the end we found a few good friends and even strangers from the internet to come and play it bit by bit. I had my old music teacher play the piano and I even picked up the trombone and did those bits myself. You’d never know to listen to it, it sounds like it was recorded at Carnegie Hall.

A Day In The Life
Since I got scared of flying, I spend all my holidays on the British coast, usually down in Devon and Cornwall, staring into the grey sea over the pages of old books. On these trips, I invariably end up in the rickety old pubs, singing sea shanties with the local fishermen. I’ve come to love these old traditional songs, there’s something very pure about them. It’s music for people who aren’t musicians, you don’t have to be a good singer to join in, it’s for anyone, and I think that’s what music should be. I wanted to put one or even a couple of these on my record, or even do a whole album of them, but then I realised that these songs are about people’s real lives, and I’d feel a fraud for singing about trawling cod or mining tin, so I came up with my own version about my own life. It’s not supposed to be a parody, even though singing about things like slimfast and PC monitors will always sound incongruous in this setting. I hope it works as a serious piece.

‘Muscle Memory’ is out on November 4th 2013 via Xtra Mile Recordings. You can pre-order the release online now from the label’s official webstore (here).

You can follow Jamie Lenman online at his official website, Facebook and Twitter.