Meet Jake Bugg, the 18-Year-Old Who Beat Mumford and Leona to a UK Number 1
Jake Bugg

Photo courtesy of jakebugg.com.

Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.

From time to time, publicists and managers and various other members of the rock band team will ask me what kind of questions I’d ask their new recruits. “Baby bands,” as they’re called in the industry, are notoriously difficult interviews. They are prone to intense shyness, coupled with eye roll-inducing self-seriousness about the monumental importance of their music. It’s only rock and roll, people. If you can’t have fun writing it, playing it, and talking with journalists about it, go back to art school. So whenever this question comes up: What kind of attitude should a new artist have? I always send along a link to this clip.

“In America, or at least in New York, we insist that our bands pretend not to care — aloofness is the default pose for a NY rock boy or girl. But in England, it’s okay to want it.”

Yes, that is baby faced future Libertines star, boyfriend to supermodels and actresses, and champion drug taker, Pete Doherty as a teenager queuing up to buy Oasis’s Definitely Maybe. Everything about him is impressive, from the ease with which he answers questions to the blend of absurdity and truth to his answers. The guy is obviously a born master of the quip, but what I really love is how much fun he’s having. This guy wants to play. In America, or at least in New York, we insist that our bands pretend not to care — aloofness is the default pose for a NY rock boy or girl. But in England, it’s okay to want it. From the likes of Ozzy Osbourne to Pete Townshend, whose incredibly revealing new memoir contains a description of the outline of Mick Jagger’s cock and the line “Mick is the only man I’ve ever seriously wanted to fuck.” To the heady days of Blur and Oasis, where Damon Albarn’s posh snark was perfectly balanced in the press by Noel and Liam’s thug wit. This willingness to see rock stardom as a game is a British tradition, and there appears to be a new player in town: Jake Bugg.

I first noticed him on the Tube. There are these ads featuring a striking black and white photo of a pouty-lipped kid, jeans barely pulled up over his briefs, cigarette in his hand, carrying his guitar case, defiant stare on his face. This is his album cover, the visual representation of a striking collection of singer-songwriter folk-pop that blends the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner’s nasal delivery of preternaturally profound lyrics with the warm, open, acoustic-guitar-anchored style of a classic troubadour. A week after I got here Bugg’s self-titled debut went to number one, edging out the Mumford’s Babel and the new effort from pop wonder Leona Lewis, a product of X Factor the UK equivalent of American Idol. “It’s my job to keep that X Factor shit off the top of the charts,” the NME quoted Bugg as saying, casting himself as the latest soldier in guitar music’s never-ending war against pop.

I wasn’t able to meet him in person because he’d already boarded a plane to the US, not wasting any time in going after what every British rocker wants more than anything: American fame. “This is my first time in the US and I expect the streets to be paved with amazing musicians,” he said via email. Bugg joins Snow Patrol and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on the road. It’s a good start, but of course it’s too soon to really tell if this teenager can carry the torch of British guitar music much less British snark. The week I landed in London Doherty was still in the headlines. He was in trouble with French transit authorities, “…regarding my accountability for a missing trolley-load of staff uniforms (gaberdine wool mind you), cold meats, cutlery,” the singer wrote on his blog. But Bugg has the right look (defiant nonchalance) the right sound (urgent folk pop) and the right attitude. He’s holding a cigarette in every press photo and smokes enthusiastically through the video for his single “Two Fingers,” so I asked him about his predilection for tobacco: “Smoking is a bad habit and I would never encourage it.” What a wanker. I can’t wait to see him live.

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