It’s a stark record, but not without its mysteries. Jamie Hutchings talks exclusively to FLW about his current album Bedsit.
Shedding the fat from the bone appears to have been an ongoing process for Jamie Hutchings when one listens to his current solo album ‘Bedsit’. Whether such a process has been a series of conscious or unconscious decisions that has seen a division of material possessions and a severing of personal experiences and, quite possibly, one particular relationship, remains unclear. Only the man at the centre of this record will ever know the real reasons for the process that became ‘Bedsit’ because, despite any clues given by its title and some stark references, Jamie Hutchings’ current album is far from a straightforward experience, and that is where the mystery lies.
With ‘Bedsit’ being Jamie Hutchings’ fourth solo album to date, the songs give the impression of flitting back and forth between the personal and third person narrative, where real life experiences mesh with references to literature and other influences and, as a result, the edges become more blurred and the narratives more dreamlike, ethereal and, on occasions, downright puzzling. Again, the assortment of names, places and references to nature could largely be coming from a personal space and, to a certain extent, they most certainly are, but to suggest that ‘Bedsit’ is completely autobiographical would render it as far too insular an experience, and that is something it gladly avoids. Yes, it’s a very personal record and one that is deeply intimate, aided and abetted by the skilled musicianship of a few hired hands, but there are many surreal moments where feet become blocks of ice to cite one example, which adds to the charm of ‘Bedsit’ and sets a challenge for any listener attempting to decode the poetic narratives and snippets of memories.
Debut single, ‘December Park’, from the album ‘Bedsit’, provided the first indication where fact and fiction become somewhat blurred. The track, with its accompanying video, suggests a retracing of one’s steps, but whether that is a means to revive former memories of better times or an attempt to unravel the details leading to a personal experience that turned sour remains unclear. Either way, ‘December Park’ and its associated video makes for a fascinating experience and was the perfect introduction to the rest of the contents of ‘Bedsit’.
There is no doubt that Jamie Hutchings has undergone something of a transformation in his personal life (both a departure and reconnection with something that offers greater contentment in his life one guesses), and that remains his business alone. One thing that is for certain however, is that experience is a lesson that has taught Jamie Hutchings well, and therefore provided the confidence to produce such a raw and intimate record as ‘Bedsit’ that doesn’t take itself too seriously and offers glimpses of hope between the melancholy.
With Jamie Hutchings currently on a joint tour in Australia with fellow singer-songwriter Darren Cross, in addition to news breaking that his current long player is receiving its official release in the UK and Europe, after its initial release in Australia last year, Famous Last Words (FLW) was keen to learn of the ideas and inspirations behind the album ‘Bedsit’.
“My life had changed a lot when I was writing it. Parts of it are beaten down by that, parts of it are ruminating on how you limp along despite those changes,” responds Jamie Hutchings briefly.
What changes are you referring to here as ‘Bedsit’, despite the misery expressed on occasions (e.g. The counting the days illustration on the back cover), there appears to be some suggestion of happier times ahead? Anything to do with you getting married by any chance?
“It [‘Bedsit’] was written over a period of three years or so,” replies Jamie before adding, “and during that time I was left to my own devices. My friend Chris McGirr, who produced the back-cover illustration you refer to, sensed that and added that calendar to his piece of artwork. I did try to sequence it [‘Bedsit’] in a way where it didn’t end in some depressing cul-de-sac. ‘Here Comes The Frost’, which closes the album, has an optimistic sound to it, even if the lyrics don’t necessarily share that! But it has more fight to it, some of the other tracks are a little more underwater. And yes, it’s been a good year, as you mention, I got hitched and I feel like things are summery again, I feel very lucky to have met my wife Cholena. Plus, the France trip last summer (Jamie has been something of a regular at music festivals in France in recent years) and releasing more material, which is always satisfying for me.”
You must have entered one or two dark periods before ‘Bedsit’ became a reality because, despite its many mysteries, there are moments where it’s straight to the point and paying refence to your own existence.
“Bedsit is a stark record, my starkest yet. It was recorded at a time when I was returned to the world of me, myself and I. I was living and writing for the first time in many years on my own in a single room. And so, the album summons up the feelings you may have when you, for instance, stand on a bulldozed block of land where your old school used to be. But you’ll work that stuff out when you hear it. It’s a personal record, but (I hope) not without humour. I’d wanted to make a record as stark as this for many years, but somehow my songs would always bully me into giving them more. This time they didn’t.”
The hardships sometimes suggested in his music, stem from numerous lows, but in return such downfalls have led to various highpoints (i.e. recently tying the knot as mentioned above). For example, having graduated from the school of major record label knocks with his first band Bluebottle Kiss (BBK), and leaving behind the sublime ‘Scared Of Girls’ LP in addition to the privilege of working with legendary producer Jack Endino (Nirvana), such a crash early in the band’s recording career proved a blessing as the Australian indie underground outfit went on to produce some of their strongest work via several albums and EPs on numerous independents. Once BBK dismantled after countless tours in their homeland and overseas, Jamie Hutchings continued the solo route, but also entered a new phase with the often inventive and sometimes explosive Infinity Broke. Later still, a collaborative project with singer-songwriter Peter Fenton by the name of The Tall Grass bore fruit with the album ‘Down The Unmarked Road’, not to mention production duties with numerous acts (Peabody, Mark Moldre et al), guided Jamie Hutchings to the position where he now finds himself and apply this knowledge and experience to create such an intimate record as ‘Bedsit’ without any lingering doubts.
With ‘Bedsit’ largely being a solo affair with Jamie Hutchings taking responsibility for most of the instrumentation and production, help was at hand via several musicians who happen to be friends or family members. Despite such assistance, Jamie Hutchings would appear to enjoy working alone, but how does the whole experience of writing and recording a solo record differ from working with, for example, Infinity Broke and coming off the back of two albums with that band?
“I used to be what people would probably call a bit of a control freak,” he replies honestly. “Only in a creative sense, but it’s more that I would tend to hear everything before I’d record it and so, ideally, I’d want the sounds in my head to be replicated. That was more with Bluebottle Kiss, which was pretty much a full-time project. Now, I tend to go from project to project. I’m enjoying that I can be collaborative (like in The Tall Grass where myself and my collaborator, Peter Fenton, write together) or I can bunker down in isolation and make a record like ‘Bedsit’. And then something like Infinity Broke requires a big degree of improvisation, you have to find players in a band like Infinity Broke that you can get into a collective trance with.”
So, making the decision to return to a solo project with ‘Bedsit’ arrived at the right time for you?
“It was pretty unconscious,” replies Jamie. “I’d found myself writing particular types of songs about particular kind of things. Often an album tells me it needs to be written, and so I do it. I tend to come off the back of one project and sometimes go in the opposite direction for the next one as well.”
While the creative direction certainly differed from that of Infinity Broke and the “opposite direction” being taken by Jamie Hutchings when it came to his current album, the actual location for laying down the tracks for ‘Bedsit’ remained the same as his former band, by putting faith in the by now familiar surroundings of the former shearing shed in New South Wales.
“I recorded it in early 2016 over a few days,” begins Jamie Hutchings on the recording of his current album. “It was recorded in the same shed that the two Infinity Broke albums were recorded in. It’s on an isolated property in western New South Wales that’s looked after by Chris McGirr, the artist I mentioned earlier. There’s no distractions or sound restrictions or even mobile phone coverage there, so it’s perfect to me. I recorded it myself on a tape machine I’d bought on Ebay. I was intimidated by that, but amazingly I didn’t have any technical problems. If I had I would have been screwed! I was in the middle of nowhere, what you hear is pretty much what happened. All the vocals, guitar and double bass were done at the same time into five or six microphones. The piano was added later by my sister Sophie and there’s a couple of other things here and there. The main other musician is Reuben Wills who plays double bass on it.”
That is something that we have identified with greatly, and really appreciated the minimalist approaches to several of the songs on ‘Bedsit’, especially the quiet intimacy of upright bass, acoustic guitar and your vocal during the track ‘A Hill’ for example. Therefore, can you provide a bit of background for the inclusion of upright bass, for example, for this album?
“I liked the combination of just bass and acoustic guitar. There’s a period of music where that was a common combo, like ‘Blood On The Tracks’ by [Bob] Dylan or the first Karen Dalton album. The bass is kind of the bedrock, and the double bass when there’s nothing much in the way of it is a beautiful instrument. The double bass adds an extra element of melody on these songs as well. Sometimes the ‘hooks’ on ‘Bedsit’ are in the double bass parts as well as anchoring the songs. Before the electric bass became what it is today, the double bass did its job. I love the sound of it on a lot of those golden jazz records ‘Kind of Blue’, ‘A Love Supreme’, etc., so it was wonderful to use it as much as we did on ‘Bedsit’.”
We enjoy a sense of mystery at FLW, but speaking directly and because it’s causing a few sleepless nights, what are the following songs ‘A Hill’; ‘Judas Is A Girl’ and December Park’ referring to?
“Some of the songs you mention do deal with memory,” responds Jamie with no hesitation, yet remains quiet in relation to our middle choice of song and probably wise to do so. “’A Hill’ kind of deals with wise decrepitude. Aspiring to being past being hurt, almost thinking of numbness as a gift. I was imagining being a homeless old man, at the end of Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy; it jumps ahead, and the main character is really old and living under a bridge saying profound stuff, maybe it was that as that section of that book always really spooked me. ‘December Park’ is like a song I wrote years ago called ‘Montgomery On Central’. It’s about a friend I had when I was a teenager who was nearly twice my age, a kind of wanderer who taught me a lot about being an artist, who then disappeared from my life.”
We’re in agreement that there seems to be a focus on memories in relation to ‘Bedsit’. However, is there a suggestion being made loosely that you can never really escape your past (not necessarily as a negative thing either) in the sense that FLW can hear former bands BBK and Infinity Broke when listening to your current solo album?
“I think to a degree I’ve always used intangible flavours with my songs. So much of that stuff resonates and manipulates you emotionally compared to straight out confessional black and white stuff. That to me is the true power of art: expressing your emotions without vomiting on people. Finding an indirect way to tell those stories. Plenty of us experience intense feelings in that format. I’m not sure about the ‘not being able to escape your past’ bit, I’d have to think on that. Certainly, when rotten stuff goes down, I’m not a ‘fake it until you make it’ type, I believe you just have to live through it, and it transforms you for better or worse.”
At the time of writing, ‘Bedsit’, as mentioned previously, is on the cusp of receiving its official release in the UK and rest of Europe (history in the making on two counts!), and by the time this article receives its publication, Jamie Hutchings name will be known to new admirers on these very shores, especially in the wake of UK reviews positively glowing about ‘Bedsit’ prior to its unveiling. Considering the loyal and still growing following Jamie Hutchings has established to date in his native Australia, it would interesting to learn of the reaction his album ‘Bedsit’ has received Down Under.
“It’s a small world down here,” starts Jamie Hutchings in relation to music press and fans reactions to ‘Bedsit’. “The fans of my music are very loyal, and they often let me know what they like about what I’ve been doing. I’ve had some really lovely feedback from them. The press I’ve got for the album has been some of the best I’ve had, though it seems that music journalism is shrinking in general.”
In agreement that music journalism appears to be getting smaller, do you think that music in general is in a healthy place right now, or do you think that too much has changed due to a variety of different reasons where people are more interested in other pursuits?
“I think the way music is listened to and consumed is really different now. Some of that’s really unhealthy, but some of it is really progressive. It’s harder and easier at the same time. In many ways it’s more egalitarian, which is positive, but then in other ways it exploits young ambitious artistic types dreams, but that’s always happened. There will always be music nerds – and then the rest.”
With Jamie Hutchings continuing his promotion of ‘Bedsit’ and establishing some very promising reviews in relation to its forthcoming release in the UK and Europe, his current plight looks far healthier than say, three years ago when the first seeds of ‘Bedsit’ were being sown and various transitions were occurring in his life. The mood and overall feeling in his own personal camp today, certainly sounds more positive and he has every reason to believe so after creating an extremely beautiful and intimate record that is not without its challenges. Therefore, it begs the question, how does Jamie Hutchings view his current album ‘Bedsit’ in terms of his previous solo albums?
“I’ve always wanted to make a solo album as naked as this one. Somehow, along the way, the songs on the other albums would demand to be dressed differently, so I’d listen to them. This one [‘Bedsit’] they didn’t. Lyrically, it’s more in one place as well.”
The album ‘Bedsit’ is available on LP/CD/Digital on Come To The Dark Side Luke Records.
(Photography courtesy of Hadassa Haack)
I think to a degree I’ve always used intangible flavours with my songs. So much of that stuff resonates and manipulates you emotionally compared to straight out confessional black and white stuff. That to me is the true power of art: expressing your emotions without vomiting on people."
FLW - From the Tapes
For those wanting to know more about Jamie Hutchings and some of his previous works, then the following records are a good starting point…
Bluebottle Kiss – ‘Fear Of Girls’ – (Worth the admission fee alone for raw and sublime track ‘Outside Are The Dogs’)
Bluebottle Kiss – Girl Genius EP
Bluebottle Kiss – Revenge Is Slow
Infinity Broke – Before Before
Jamie Hutchings – After The Flood EP
Jamie Hutchings – The Golden Coach
Jamie Hutchings – Avalon Cassettes