Phil Jamieson: “Grinspoon is great, but I got to a point where I wanted a little bit more creative control”

Phil Jamieson. Credit: Ian Laidlaw
(Image credit: Ian Laidlaw)

It’s debatable whether or not Somebody Else – the stunning new record of prickly retro pop and punchy rock from Phil Jamieson – is the Grinspoon frontman’s debut solo album. He did break out from the Grinners in the mid-2000s to steer The Lost Gospel, but Somebody Else is the first to bear his actual name. It’s also not entirely a solo album – as Jamieson tells Australian Guitar, producers Oscar Dawson (of Holy Holy) and Davey Lane (of You Am I) served the same role on this record that his bandmates in Grinspoon did on their seven albums, four EPs, so on and so forth. 

So it’s not Jamieson’s first solo record, but it’s the first Phil Jamieson record, but it was made a three-piece supergroup… You keeping up?

Whatever the case, Somebody Else is fantastic. It retains the big hooks and angsty bite that shot Grinspoon into the spotlight, but mellows them out with a little more groove and pliability, focusing more on catchy melodies and bright, upbeat pop song structures. It’s been five years in the making – with a few pauses here and there – and condenses everything that makes Jamieson a great artist into one short and sweet compendium of life-affirming jam material.

Before Jamieson takes it on the road at the end of the month, he shot the shit with Australian Guitar, giving us a firsthand look into the magic behind it.

So this record has been a long time coming. When did you start working on it?
2017 was the first session, then 2019 was the second one, and then obviously the pandemic hit, so we had to hit pause for a little while. The pivot to doing solo stuff was also necessary due to the tyranny of distance, with everyone in Grinspoon being split between three different states. But I was able to do solo stuff during the pandemic – I could go to the Lansdowne and play three shows in one day to 50 people each, and that spun my wheels; it made me feel like I was doing something worth doing. But yeah, it’s been gestating for the last five years, I’d say. And then recording with Oscar Dawson and Davey Lane, they were able to formulate a coherent thread through all of my weird ideas. But it’s a pretty straightforward guitar-pop record, really – it’s not a Harry Styles record.

Why did it take you so long to do a solo project?
Well I did The Lost Gospel in 2005, and that was essentially a solo project – but that was also 17 f***ing years ago. It was just that Grinspoon were – and still are – such an amazing, creative, collaborative force for me to write songs and get them out. It’s an amazing format – and y’know, Pat [Davern, guitar] was a great finisher of songs for me. I can be really lazy with songwriting, I’d write the verse and the chorus and be like, “Ah, just do something cool in the start.” So the band is great, but I got to a point where I wanted a little bit more creative control.

So the reason it’s taken this long is because I’m lazy, and it was necessary because the last three years have been weird, and I had the time to do it. And with the collaborators I found... It feels weird to say, but Oscar and Davey were like my band, in some ways – they were the same kind of collaborative force I have with Grinspoon. But obviously over time, everyone kind of pushed and pulled a bit in Grinners; it was like, “I want to be this band,” or, “I want to be that band,” and I was just like, “Alright, I’ll just do what I want.”

I’m digging this ‘80s new-wave vibe. What led you down that path, sonically?
Well, I love synthesisers. I think the songs called for it, right? Especially songs like ‘Trouble’ and ‘Somebody Else’. It was a little bit of psychedelia, a little bit of ‘80s new-wave… And then there was ‘Kapow!’, which has those syncopated beats and the staccato guitars. But what led me down there? I think the songs dictated it more than anything else. I wasn’t being led by anything else but the songs.

‘Somebody Else’ had so many [iterations] – it was a Stones groove, then it was a dream-pop thing, and then we settled on what I thought was, like, early ‘90s Manchester, but everyone else says sounds like the ‘80s… But y’know, tom-ay-toes, tom-ah-toes. I’m terrible at looking at my stuff from the outside in. And I had immense help from from Davey and Oscar as well, with their respective sonic palates. Davey’s got a great studio in Collingwood, which has all the amazing synthesisers, and Oscar’s got some incredible production skills – no shit – so he was able to make it shiny, but also make it nasty as well. 

Is there much of a difference in like your writing style between Grinspoon and the solo stuff?
It all falls under the same umbrella, I think. I’ve written songs for Grinspoon, that they’ve listened to and been like, “This is f***ing terrible,” so those would always end up as Last Gospel stuff. Songwriting, to me, is all the same – I’m terrible at wearing hats for different projects. But I admire that immensely. Like Damon Albarn – whatever he does, between Gorillaz and Blur and everything else, it’s so impressive. 

And collabs… I don’t know really how that stuff works, to be honest. I find them fairly terrifying. Chris Cheney just wrote a song for Vika and Linda Bull, which I found amazing – that would have been incredibly intimidating, to be honest, because they’re just incredible singers. But yeah, the song will be what it’ll be, and I don’t really know how to figure out what project it’s for until it’s already kind of fermented.

What guitars did you play on for this record?
I used my Hagstrom Viking Deluxe, which I use live solo. I also used a Fender Telecaster, which Patrick bought for me many moons ago – thank you, Pat. The bass guitar was a Fender Precision, and then we had a plethora of amplifiers out at Oscar’s studio in the Dandenong Ranges – I have no idea what they were, but they sounded good. 

I like my guitars to be really simple, and I like them to not break. I’ve had that Hagstrom for like 15, 16 years now, and it’s never had a problem. It looks good, too, and because it’s a hollowbody, I can really dig in on it. I’m not going to say that I play hard, but because I grew up with an acoustic guitar, I tend to have an attacking style, I think, which doesn’t always work on solidbody guitars. And it sounds pretty good, too.

What about your arsenal of effects? Are you a big pedal guy?
No, I find them really difficult – especially live. When I play solo, I’m concentrating on singing and playing at the same time, and if I’ve got to do too much tap dancing on the pedals, my skill set starts to fall apart. So I try to make it as simple as possible. But Davey got me on to the Strymon Iridium, which is an amp simulator. I don’t use an amp anymore – that does my AC30 sound, and it’s been great.

I do have a fuzz octave pedal, too, which I use for the chorus on ‘Trouble’. And then the other thing I’ve got is a little tremolo situation – I forget what brand it is. And then I’ve got a loop pedal, but I only use that when I’m playing completely on my own. And I only use it for the last song, because I’m not the best at doing looping… And I hate it [laughs]. 

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Ellie Robinson
Editor-at-Large, Australian Guitar Magazine

Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Her bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (where she also serves as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Her go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, she only picked up after she'd joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped her see the light…