Over the past few years, British singer/guitarist Jamie N Commons has shown an immense appeal that spans from earning the admiration of luminaries like Elvis Costello to seeing one of his songs made an unofficial anthem of the 2014 World Cup. Now with his latest output, the 27-year-old songwriter builds off the swampy, smoldering sound of 2013’s acclaimed Rumble and Sway with an even more fiery and volatile take on blues-spiked rock-and-roll. Largely self-produced in his home studio in London, Commons’s forthcoming self-titled EP unleashes a sublimely frenetic energy that makes his gritty songwriting and soulful vocal performance all the more powerful.
In bringing Jamie N Commons EP to life, Commons tapped into the spirit of the late ’60s proto-punk/garage rock that inspired his earliest attempts at making music. “The minimal production and the speed of the new stuff—that all goes back to my first band in high school, where we were wearing red skintight jeans and playing a million miles an hour and probably completely out of time and out of key,” says Commons, who grew up in both Chicago and London. “It’s like I’ve taken everything I’ve learned over the past decade and put it into something new that’s got all the excitement of when I first started out.”
Commons set to work on the EP at the start of 2016, soon after wrapping up a fall tour with Welsh rock band Catfish and the Bottlemen. In a departure from Rumble and Sway—which features sleek production from the likes of Grammy Award-winning producer Alex Da Kid—he created the new batch of songs almost entirely on his own and performed nearly every instrument heard on the EP. “Apart from the piano and some female backing vocals, it’s just me in my bedroom playing all the parts myself,” Commons says. “I had this creative burst and wanted to get everything out as soon as I could. It ended up being really liberating, which is very much reflected in the mood of the songs.”
That feeling of unbridled freedom is more than palpable on “Not Gonna Break Me,” whose heavy groove and haunting vocals give a heady depth to the song’s message of irrepressibility. On “Do It Till We Get It Right” (now featured in a major TV campaign for Stella Artois in the UK and US), Commons cranks up the tempo with his rapid-fire vocal delivery, furious rhythm, and blistering riffs. “That song’s meant to be as hectic as possible while still having a serious groove—like a wild night out that you only half-remember the next day, but you know it was a good time,” notes Commons.
Another powerhouse built to move at breakneck velocity, “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” matches its thunderous drumming with gloriously snarling guitar work. “‘Where There’s a Will There’s a Way’ was a bit of an experiment, like ‘How fast can we actually play this?’” recalls Commons. “I think it’s at 180 beats per minute now, which is crazy-high, but when we play it live I’m gonna try to knock it up a bit more—maybe break the 200 BPM barrier.” And on “Low Life,” Commons slows down and switches gears to offer a downhearted ballad that draws from his past excursions into dusky folk-rock. Originally written with X Ambassadors and featured on their 2015 album VHS, the acoustic-guitar-driven, harmonica-laced track blends Commons’s raspy baritone with tender backup harmonies to beautifully devastating effect.
Throughout the EP, Commons boldly pushes the possibilities of a more stripped-back sound, a dynamic he discovered in his early teens. “Hearing the White Stripes for the first time was a massive thing for me,” he points out. “I was really struck by the idea that songs with these seemingly simple arrangements could be just as powerful as some sprawling Led Zeppelin epic.” Soon after teaching himself to play guitar at 15, Commons started writing his own material, mining much inspiration from the classic rock-and-roll introduced to him by his father (who brought Commons along to Allman Brothers Band and Neil Young concerts when he was a little kid). Later, while studying at Goldsmiths in London, he began exploring British folk artists like Nick Drake and Delta blues legends like Mississippi John Hurt, then put together a band that quickly landed gigs at local dive bars. Thanks in part to the band’s rigorous gigging schedule and steadily growing following, Commons scored a publishing deal and, in fall 2011, had his debut with The Baron (an EP nominated for the BBC Sound Poll of 2012).
At the end of 2011, Commons’s music made its way to Alex Da Kid (best known for his work with hip-hop game-changers like Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Nicki Minaj) who signed him to his KIDinaKORNER label. The two soon began working together, a collaboration that yielded Rumble And Sway in early 2013. Later that year, Commons joined forces with labelmates X Ambassadors for “Jungle,” a track that would go on to become the 2014 World Cup’s unofficial anthem and inspire the two acts to team up for the “Into the Jungle” tour in 2014. On the heels of “Jungle”—whose remixes include a mid-2014 release featuring Jay Z—Commons delivered the darkly charged, gospel-infused “Karma (Hardline)” in late 2014 and the stomping yet seductive “Marathon” in summer 2015.
Now at work on his first full-length effort, Commons has found that forging a more raw, reckless sound on this EP has allowed him to channel even more pure feeling into his songs. “There’s always some kind of catharsis that comes from creating something new, and that was especially true for the songs on this EP,” he says. Along with offering an emotional release; that heightened urgency is central to Commons’s mission as a musician and artist. “At a time when almost anyone can get a copy of Ableton, spend a few months with it and make something that sounds completely perfect, it’s so important to create music that’s as honest and personal as it can be,” he says. “I want to put as much of myself as I can into every song, and hopefully come up with something that’ll stay in people’s hearts for a long time.”