The PV Q&A: Jake Bugg on His Whirlwind Year of Success—"You’ve Got to Keep Writing Songs, Man! That’s the Secret to It All!"

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Interview by Tom Lanham

The kid turns 19 this February 28, but British punk-folkie Jake Bugg has already lived a lifetime in a few brief years. Barely out of high school, he’s already: appeared on the BBC Introducing Stage at the prestigious Glastonbury Festival; Inked a deal with Mercury Records, who’ve just issued his eponymous debut album overseas (which will hit Stateside in early 2013; a Two Fingers EP currently precedes it); Had his stomping anthem “Lightning Bolt” used in Olympics footage of Usain Bolt’s 100-meter victory; Opened for a reunited Stone Roses at a secret London show; And accepted an amazing invitation from ex-Oasis mainman Noel Gallagher to open his High Flying Birds world tour. No foofty-haired One Direction poseur, this kid. Critics across the board agree that he’s the real Dylan-inspired deal. And things can only get better for Bugg from here.

PV: Things aren’t looking too great for most English kids your age. Unemployment is through the roof, and university has gotten so expensive, few can even afford it anymore. As the recent riots made clear, there’s a lot to be angry about right now.
Jake Bugg: Yeah, man. But it’s just about how you use that anger and portray it, I guess. Anyone can get angry, but it's just how you deal with it. So I’m kind of just speaking for myself, but I know that many people my age are in the same position. But I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do what I want to do. So I’m grateful—I could be doing something completely different, but this always what I’ve wanted to do.
PV: Your last year has just been insane. You actually got to hang out with Jimmy Page?
JB: Yeah! I met Jimmy Page at that Stone Roses show [at London’s Village Underground], which was pretty cool. And I just wasn’t expecting it—he was just there, at the show. And he was really cool. I don’t think he watched me, but I just went up to him—and everybody was going up to him—because I just wanted to tell him that I really liked his solo on Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” And his eyes lit up a bit, so I think I said something he doesn’t usually get to hear. So he seemed alright with me then.
PV: How scary was it opening for the Roses?
JB: It was insane, man. And it was a secret show, as well. And I never thought that I’d get the opportunity to see the Roses at all, so actually being on the same stage with them was kind of a big thing for me. I hung out with Ian Brown, and he’s a really cool dude. He said, ‘It’s very brave of you going onstage and playing those kinds of songs.’ But it was a very tough gig, and I was really nervous about it. Then when I got onstage, nearly everybody there was famous, so they were all talking and checking each other out. So I got up there, steeled myself, and just went through my set.
PV: How did you find out that Noel Gallagher was a big fan of yours?
JB: I’d heard that a couple of his friends had told him to check me out, so he went on YouTube and had a little listen. Then he gave my manager a call and just asked if I wanted to go on the road with him. So again, that was, like, another ridiculous thing to happen. Then we finally met at [London club] Dingwalls. I’d just come offstage and it was a cool gig, so I was kind of running high with adrenaline. And he just walked backstage and said, ‘Sorry I missed your set. But those are some cool trainers [sneakers], man!’ He was just really normal—it wasn’t like a big deal or anything like that.

PV: Your song “Two Fingers” could be huge in the U.S.—but American fans might not grasp its meaning: two fingers held up being the British equivalent of the middle finger here.
JB: Yeah, I know. But it’s just the kind of song that basically says, ‘I don’t give a fuck,’ you know? That’s the story behind that one. But it’s also about growing up.
PV: Another track, “Seen it All,” is a story about a council-estate knifing. But you’re only 18—you’ve barely seen anything yet!
JB: Well, I’d seen all that I possibly could’ve at that point. When I wrote the song. And “Two Fingers” and “Seen it All” are real, they’re non-fiction. And as a writer, I think it’s good to write about what you see. But you should also come up with stories and paint a picture. So a song like “Ballad of Mr. Jones,” that’s fiction, that one.

But that’s not to say that it isn’t necessarily true, because those things do happen. And I have a song called “Kentucky”—it’s an old one from when I was like 15 or 16. And that’s the same as “Mr. Jones,” because I’ve never really been to Kentucky. But I imagine that it’s a pretty hard place to live.
PV: And you got top-flight English actors to appear in your “Two Fingers” video?
JB: Yeah. I got a girl from the program This is England (Vicky McClure) to play my mom in “Two Fingers,” and I got a guy from another show in England called Misfits (Craig Parkinson) to play my mom’s (arguing) boyfriend. And my (real) mom is very supportive in what I do, but that video is pretty close to the truth. So obviously, my mom was a little bit upset about it. A little bit. But I’m doing all this to create a better life.
PV: She won’t be so upset when you buy her a new house.
JB: Exactly, man! That was my point! So the house is coming, man. The house is coming.
PV: Have the girls started knocking on your door yet?
JB: Yeah. They’re starting to knock, man. But before you let ‘em in, you’ve got to make sure that they’re the right ones.
PV: Have other young songwriters started pestering you for tips?
JB: Well, keep writing—that’s the key. That’s what I tell people who want advice from me: I just say, ‘You’ve got to keep writing songs, man! That’s the secret to it all!’

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Jake Bugg

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