Photo Credit: Martin Thompson
Despite an impressive ten year career, adoring loyal fanbase and three incredible records under their belts, alternative rock trio Reuben always seemed to fly under the scene's radar and were undoubtedly one of the most underrated British bands of the early 2000s. Ten years since their split and former frontman, Jamie Lenman, still remains one of rocks biggest unsung heroes. With outstanding new album, Devolver now in his arsenal, we caught up with the singer-songwriter about the challenges of starting a solo career, lessons learnt from Reuben, and how he always likes to keep people guessing.
Reflecting back on their nonstop touring and the mark that Reuben left on the scene, Lenman reinforces the most important thing he took away from those experiences was a strong work ethic. "We’d worked so long with that band for 10 years so by the time I was here on my own nothing really phased me. It’s only gotten easier as I’ve worked out more what I wanted to do but I think the biggest thing (taken from Reuben) would be a work ethic. I never take anything for granted. I wouldn’t be phased if I turned up to a venue and their were 10 people, I’d make sure those ten people were having the night of their life. A great rock show."
Born and raised in Camberley Surrey, Lenman discovered his two passions, illustration and music, at a young age. Influenced by Peanuts and Garfield comics he began drawing, and with the encouragement of his parents learnt the piano, saxophone and guitar. Illustration was always pursued alongside any musical ventures, regarding it as his ‘first love’ Lenman once stated ‘I still sort of regard the stage I spent in a band as a sort of sidestep, like a holiday almost.’ After Reuben ended in 2008 he spent the next five years focusing on art, working with various publications including Doctor Who Magazine and The Guardian.
Lemman's eventual return to music came in the form of his debut album, Muscle Memory. A whopping 23 track double album, featuring one disk of folk jazz influenced tunes and another of aggressive heavy metal. Brimming with variety, dynamics and conviction the album highlighted his impeccable musicianship and cemented him as one of Britain’s best songwriters.
Despite the countless tours, studio time, and all round wealth of experience, Lenman admits the biggest struggle he found in the beginning was finding the confidence to present himself as an artist.
"I was so used to being in a band, lot’s of the press photos that went out had me and the heavy mellow band and I think a lot of people thought I was still in a band, and, maybe I had something to do with that. I wasn’t really confident enough to step out on my own and say look, I’m just me. I think the biggest challenge, far beyond writing material, finding a label and getting shows, was to decide how to present myself as a solo act and I think I’ve only just got a grip on that."
Once the touring cycle for ‘Muscle Memory’ concluded at the end of 2014, Lenman took more time away from music. After a three year radio silence, his brand new single ‘Mississippi’ was premiered on the Radio 1 Rock Show, to many fans delight. Weeks later his second solo album, Devolver, was revealed. The album’s campaign, while easier in some aspects, still consisted of the same amount of work, and then some, that went into Muscle Memory.
"I wouldn’t say it’s easier. It’s certainly easier to know the direction. Now I know where I’m facing and which way I’m going I don’t have to make as many decisions but there’s more work involved. Even though I have a bigger team than I had on Muscle Memory it’s still work to coordinate that team. The campaign has differed in that I feel like there’s been a stronger sense of what we’re trying to do both sides of the fence."
An enticing live show is something Lenman is always able to deliver and striving to create a unique experience every tour is a personal goal. The current UK tour in support of Devolver sees only himself and drummer Dan Kavanagh hitting the stage as a two-piece. While this lineup change is significantly stripped backed compared to previously tours where Lenman has been accompanied by the Heavy Mellow band, the performance is still just as intense and dynamic as ever.
"I don’t like to go out and do the same show twice. I like to keep people guessing. It steamed from the energy of recording the record, particularly when we were tracking it because it’s only us. I play all the guitars and he (Dan) plays the drums. When we were playing them in the studio it just had such a good vibe that I started to think; ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could do it with just me and him?’ It’s a lot freer to have just me and a drummer if I want to experiment or change things live."
Catering to fans old and new with a setlist comprised of solo material from both Devolver and Muscle Memory, and, a handful of Reuben classics thrown into the mix, it’s clear that Lenman truly wants his audience to have the best night of their lives. These shows have ended with an intimate encore of acoustic renditions. The passion from the crowd largely overpowering Lenman’s own voice, as they sing back lyrics spanning all the way from his early Reuben days up to 2017.
Whether he’s being backed by a full band or simply strumming an acoustic guitar, Jamie Lenman is a force to be reckoned with and is truly one of, if not rock’s biggest, unsung hero.
With a busy 2018 ahead including festival appearances, European tours and, he assures ‘a single or two coming out, maybe some new material.’ we’re bound to be seeing and hearing a lot more of Lenman than we have in a long time. There’s no better time to hop aboard the ‘Lenmania' hype train, we promise it’s worth the ride.