Jake Bugg: 'I might moan, but it's still the best job there is'
Jake Bugg is in complaining mood. But, as he - eventually - tells Andy Welch, there's still a lot to celebrate, including an eclectic new album and tour
He's a bit like Eeyore, Jake Bugg. Whether it's just a bit of a wobble, or he is actually a natural-born pessimist, who knows, but a greeting of, "How's it going, Jake?", is met with a groan, and a moan about having to spend the rest of his day signing limited-edition box sets.
The title, slang from his native Nottingham for being "on your own", might go some way to explaining his downbeat mood.
"I was on my own a lot making this record and most of the time I spend on my own. There is an element of loneliness across the record. But, saying that, I just write and don't have too much of a plan, so subconscious thoughts come out. Maybe it's a subconscious thing."
Here he is, just 22, more than a million album sales under his belt, he's cracked America and worked with some of the biggest names in the business, yet still sounds deeply unhappy.
There's also a fair amount of heartbreak within the lyrics of On My One, suggesting another angle to the album's title.
There are songs called Love, Hope And Misery, Bitter Salt and Never Wanna Dance, while The Love We're Hoping For is seemingly all about relationships not being all they're cracked up to be. On All That, he sings of a girl who lives by the ocean, who drifted away from him while he was in LA.
"Sometimes you see these things happen to other people, and other times they happen to me," he says. "Relationships are things most people relate to, and I'm sure if I'm singing about heartbreak, I'm not the only one in the same boat."
He says he'd have liked On My One to be ready sooner, but it took a full year to write and record.
It sees him working almost alone, without a producer, for the first time, which must have been a big step, having made his million-selling debut Jake Bugg with a handful of producers, and his second record with the mighty Rick Rubin.
Bugg did try various producers before proceeding, but with encouragement from his record label, who liked what he'd been doing on his own while recording demos, decided to continue by himself.
"It wasn't so much that the producers weren't giving me what I wanted, and I never intended to produce on my own, but it just sort of went that way. More a happy accident than anything."
He was helped at certain points by Jacknife Lee, the Irish producer and mixer who's worked with the likes of Snow Patrol, U2, REM and Robbie Williams.
"He was suggested to me, and I always like to try new things but I must admit, looking at his catalogue, it wasn't really up my street," says Bugg - with a rare and refreshing honesty.
"That doesn't mean I wasn't ready to try, or discard the idea, so we tried a few tracks and it was really cool."
Stylistically, On My One covers more ground than his previous two albums. His debut was a simple affair that simultaneously nodded to Fifties skiffle, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash and The La's, while the follow-up, thanks to Rubin's production, fleshed out the sound to create something heavier and less successful.
This time around, there are flavours of his debut (Hold On You, Put Out The Fire) and his second record, but also new sounds. Gimme The Love sees him channelling funk breakbeats and early-Nineties indie, while Never Wanna Dance and Love, Hope And Misery are out-and-out, lighters-in-the-air ballads. Ain't No Rhyme, which finds Bugg almost rapping over a chugging bass riff, could quite easily be Kasabian.
"That's something I always want to try to achieve, making one song different from the next, and keeping my albums varied," he says.
"And just because one song has been popular doesn't mean I'm going to try to do it again and again. I've got to keep it interesting for myself, and I want to mix as many styles as I can into a record."
It's just under three years since his last album, during which time Bugg's kept a relatively low profile, save for a slot at Reading and Leeds Festivals, directly below headliners Arctic Monkeys on the bill.
He says those were incredible experiences. Reassurance that he'll probably be back at the top of running orders next summer is met with scepticism.
"Yeah, we'll see," he says. "Maybe the album won't do very well and I'll be at that level forever?"
He says he's not changed much since his career kicked off in 2011; he's still as stubborn as ever, perhaps more so, although he has become more jaded by the music industry.
"I got into this to play music to enjoy myself and have a good time, and play music around the world. I do get to do that but there's a lot of stuff in between, there's a lot of b******t and politics and favours involved, and that's not what I got into it for. It really takes away the fun."
Despite the grumbles, Bugg does manage to end on a positive note - sort of.
"That part of it doesn't let me enjoy things as much as I would like to. I might moan," he says, "but it's still the best job there is."
- Jake Bugg's new album, On My One, is out now