UK singer-songwriter Jamie Lenman made his name with noughties cult alt-rock trio Reuben, but his solo career has demonstrated his enviable ability to turn his hand to just about any musical genre.
His releases since 2013 have spanned everything from big-band jazz to sludge metal, and everything in between. But new album The Athiest taps into fresh territory even for Lenman – indulging his indie-pop leanings and taking his sonic formula into more mainstream territory by toning down the distortion and upping the chime factor.
“I made a decision on this record to limit the more aggressive edges of my music, and as a consequence I think the sound is more accessible, but that's not why I did it,” Lenman explains. “I did it because happy, upbeat, indie guitar music can be really great if it's done right, with passion and honesty, and I wanted to make a record that sounds like that. A lot of my favourite albums sound like that.”
But don’t write this off as a feelgood rebirth: Lenman, ever restless, says he has four or five ideas for new projects, and none of them sound anything like his latest full-length.
When you read his list of the guitarists who shaped his sound, you understand why that is. Lenman’s picks are all over the musical map, and he used the opportunity to get real personal and offer an insight into his childhood years getting to grips with the instrument. It’s one of the most individualistic approaches to the format we’ve seen so far – enjoy.
1. Brian May (Queen)
“Brian May was the first guitarist I really heard – other guitarists were there, obviously, but I didn’t really pay any attention. With Brian, you’re just transfixed, and that’s quite a feat when Freddie Fucking Mercury is on the other side of the stage.
“I’ve always said the measure of a good guitar solo is when people sing along to it – real melody, not just wanking around. Brian’s just the king…I mean Queen!”
2. Roger H Venesse
“No-one knows this guy ’cos he was just an old dude who came to my school after hours to teach a bunch of kids, but he necessarily changed the way I play, and besides which he was totally awesome.
“We were this big group of maybe 10 or 12 children, all banging away on acoustics, and somehow he managed to keep order. He used to make us show him the ‘train lines’ on our fingers, to make sure we were pressing hard enough. What a guy!”
3. The Egg
“Later, I had another guitar teacher, known only as ‘The Egg’, who introduced me to a whole bunch of stuff. He played me my first blues, showed me my first power chord, everything. We started out on scales and licks and all that jazz but he was the first to realise that my real skill was for songwriting instead of soloing, so eventually we focused on that – especially after I was introduced to the next player…”
4. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
“Until I heard Kurt I was obsessed about technique, trying to become a real shredder and finding it a bit difficult. Kurt said that none of that mattered, and that if you just played with passion and honesty you could make the guitar work for you instead of the other way round, so that’s what I did. I stopped worrying about perfection and embraced the jagged edges – it’s stood me in good stead so far!”
5. Lee Westwood
“Not the DJ. Lee is a classical guitarist who I met when I was in school and we were very close for a time – he was a prodigious talent even when I knew him and since then he’s gone on to great things. It was Lee who introduced me to the ol’ down-tuning trick (bottom string to D) which has become my trademark – you don’t even have to play a chord, just put one finger down! Amazing.”
6. Paige Hamilton (Helmet)
“Helmet showed me what to do with that one-finger chord, once I’d found it, which was just to slide it around the whole neck and make sure the bass was following wherever you go. I stopped writing songs and started writing riffs, big slabs of things with the drums locked in and everything. But then Paige also has that jangly thing where he lets the top strings ring out, which I do all the time. Salty and sweet!”
7. Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad)
There were a bunch of industrial metal bands at the start of the noughties doing the kinda speed-picking thing – heavier than thrash but maybe not as intense as grindcore, and Strapping Young Lad hit that sweet spot for me.
“I’d never really considered doing this kind of thing before I heard Devin, but nowadays I love to fucking blast it out and dare my drummer to keep up. You end up going through a lot of picks, though – and drummers, come to think of it!”
8. Simon Neil (Biffy Clyro)
“I don’t know if Simon knows he’s my hero but he is – I guess all of those bands in the early-to-mid noughties were all feeding off each other but I always adored Simon’s lyrical playing. He has that same melodic vibe that Brian has, and if you go to a Biffy show you’ll hear people singing the solos. It’s always great when your heroes are your pals, too!”
9. Ian D’Sa (Billy Talent)
“Another buddy of mine, who was a hero before I met him, and has stayed a hero ever since. I was always struck by the way Ian didn’t hide behind a load of distortion – he just uses this one fairly clean guitar tone and then changes his parts to add or remove emphasis. His riffs speak for themselves, but his solos are also enormous and he does a lot of really delicate rhythm stuff. A unique voice.”
10. Robert Fripp (King Crimson)
“Having never heard them before, I suddenly got really into King Crimson’s album The Power To Believe when it came out. Although the whole thing and everyone on it is just astounding, to me it’s Fripp’s free-wheeling, often atonal guitar playing that really stands out – especially on things like Level Five. A lot of one-string riffs, really mean-sounding, and all from this 60-year old guy! Wild.”
- The Athiest is out now via Big Scary Monsters.