Interview – Jack the Lad

Jack Peñate’s uplifting lyrics and distinctive sound have made him a huge success back home, with a top ten album and single at the first attempt. Jaimie Kaffash talks to the affable young south Londoner about being a rude boy, illegal downloads and the reputation of beautiful Australian women.

Are you looking forward to coming to Oz?

Yeah, I really am. It’s one of those places that, if you are growing up in Britain, it’s very much in your childhood conscience through Neighbours and Home and Away. I have an image of a conveyor belt of gorgeous girls and these guys with great bodies. Being British, I think I have been to the gym once, about 13 years ago and definitely have a bit of a gut going. But the idea of these impossibly beautiful Australian girls, I just want to see if it is true – not that I am a cliché rock ‘n’ roll guy, I have a girlfriend! We went to Japan and nobody ever told you how beautiful the girls there were. Anyway, this is terrible! I should move onto music!

That image is completely true, by the way…

Is it really?! What is in the water there? I suppose you never really have to look good walking down Battersea Park Road with the one day a year of sun we get.

Your style of music is similar to the likes of Jamie T, Lily Allen, Kate Nash, etc all of whom are Londoners. Is this is part of a new London sound?

I imagine so – we’ve all known each other for far longer than we’ve been successful. We’ve probably all worked off each other in a way. It is quite hard for me to comment, as I am inside it. I think the main thing is that none of us sing in an American accent. I’ve had interviewers say ‘why is it that you sing in an English accent?’ ‘I don’t know, maybe because I am English, you dickhead! Am I supposed to sing in Scandinavian?’ We’ve all got that going on, which probably ties us all together.

Do you think this kind of style will come to define the Noughties then?

I hope not. To tell you the truth, when I started playing that kind of music, it wasn’t really the fashion. I think it all came about because of that Coldplay downbeat kind of thing, and when I started writing the kind of songs on the album, there wasn’t any of it around. It is a backlash against these British, Keane bands. I don’t think it will be the sound of the Noughties though. For me personally, that kind of sound is over. My next album, I don’t want to go near what I have done on this album. Once I have done something, I want to move on and I hope other musicians feel that too.

Looking at your MySpace page, you have listed the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Madlib on there…

In my friendship group, I am like the hip hop head. I was obsessed with it and I still am. I actually followed MF Doom across America when I was a teenager. I think a lot of people feel they can’t listen to music because of their social background. It’s like, ‘I’m a white boy from London, so I should like the Clash.’ For me, music is about the atmosphere. If the musician is great and can convey a story, that is what matters. Why is Notorius B.I.G so big? Not everyone who listens to it will be a big black man from Brooklyn. It’s because he is an amazing storyteller. If they are a great musician, anyone from any background can understand it.

Where did the dance to your video Spit at Stars come from? It is almost like a Teddy Boy dance…

Really?! No, I nicked it off a rude boy dance, called the skank. These little shuffles, started off when garage was big. Then I nicked it and made it really crap.

You seem to be a natural frontman. You called your first band Jack’s Basement and your first song Jack of All Trades

 Yeah, the Jack’s Basement thing was very odd. I did it just for fun. There is a kind of natural megalomania for any artist I think. Making something is always about referring to yourself, I suppose. The whole ‘Jack’ thing was when I was a lot younger – just excited to hear my name anywhere!

 When you are younger you can be foolish like that. Thank God I don’t have any songs with Jack in the title now. I wrote that song when I was 13, so I can be forgiven. I think the whole thing was, I wanted to be a solo artist. I was in this band at school and it was sweet, but I always wanted to be solo.

 I am a compromising person, but when it comes to music, if I have written the song from scratch, I find it hard to hand it over and have someone change it. There’s a lack of longevity in bands. I mean, you can’t exactly break up with yourself – that would be depressing. You can have a breakdown I suppose. I’m sure that will happen to me, but at least I will keep my name! If I did have a band, I would call it Vinyl Richie though.

As a young artist yourself, you’ve no doubt downloaded other people’s albums. Now you are on the other side, do you feel aggrieved that people take what you have created without getting any money for it?

Well, it is a hard one to say. Downloading can be incredibly helpful for a band. As a whole, it is a positive thing – a great way of getting your buzz around the world. If you are an average music listener who downloads music illegally, you can check people out. What it does is it makes good people stronger but bands that aren’t so good will struggle. If you download tracks of a band that are ok, there is no way that you’ll buy the album whereas before you would have bought it. It kills the lower level of bands but the great bands it helps them incredibly.

 The Arctic Monkeys for example – everyone was downloading their stuff for free yet it was still the quickest selling album of all time. How does that work? People buy into great bands – they will buy the album to be part of it. Those that aren’t the Arctic Monkeys are the problem. I don’t even think it has affected me much – I have got loyal fans who bought the album. And it has something to do with the record label – they are the ones that make people buy the records.