Reporting Courtney E. Smith
He’s an old blues soul buried in the body of a young British man. He wears a planters hat – a gift from his sister – and overcoat everywhere he goes, evoking images a certain kind of man from of the Civil War-era South.
“My whole view on being a musician and writing songs is, I think you start out copying who you love and inevitably not being as good and failing,” he tells Radio.com. “But I think you come up with something new, you know? If I look at my sound, in my head it is just a patchwork thing. I was always drawn to blues and swamp music, from a very young age — when I came over to America, when I was about 7.”
Jamie cites the O Brother, Where Art Tho? soundtrack, Everlast’s Whitey Ford Sings The Blues and Moby’s Play as formative influences that got him into blues music, but places them alongside his love for the guitar work of Jimi Hendrix and John Martyn. With a voice reminiscent of Steve Earle and heavily influenced by the blues, his Rumble and Sway EP features an old-style murder balled titled “The Preacher.” Inspired by a true story, Jamie walks the line when discussing the political implications of a killer man of the cloth on the loose in his song.
“I saw a news article about a preacher who killed his wife and had hidden it and was still preaching to a large congregation,” Commons said of the inspiration for “The Preacher.” “I think he was down South where he was [head of] a pillar-of-community kind of church. It was very interesting to me, how we give advice to people. It doesn’t have to be religious or anything – everyone gives people advice, but then everyone’s got problems themselves and no one’s perfect so is any advice legitimate? I tried to put it in a way where [the song] sees both sides of the argument.”
Making music that strongly harkens back to an older time doesn’t mean Jamie N Commons are using older methods. He hooked up with Alex da Kid, a British producer who signed Jamie to his Interscope imprint label – KIDinaKORNER – and is best known for his work in the hip-hop world with artists like Nicki Minaj, Eminem and Rihanna. Kid, however, has been diversifying his sound and also signed and produced Imagine Dragons.
Jamie’s first taste of exposure has been decidedly modern as well, through placement in the promos for season three of the Southern zombie thriller series, The Walking Dead.
“I was in L.A., actually as well, with Alex [da Kid]. I’d seen the first series [season] when it came out, but I hadn’t seen the second series,” Jamie explained. “My manager rang up and said, ‘I’ve got a meeting with the guy who does the music for it.’ …They sent me over the series and I spent the week watching it. I was trying to figure out what angle I could go on this because you can’t be like, [mimes picking a guitar] ‘Zombies comin’ to get ya.’ I was trying to think of how the hell can I get an angle on the zombie apocalypse. At the end of the week, literally the morning when my manager had the meeting with the guy, it came to me that the whole point of the program is those guys trying to get home and find a home. Somewhere where they’re safe.”
Once he’s zeroed in on this theme, the song – titled “Lead Me Home” – came together with unexpected haste, unlike “The Preacher.”
“‘Lead Me Home’ came in my head… I did two or three runs of it in the studio,” Jamie recounted. “We cut it real quick and bounced it out to an MP3 and zinged it over to my manager. He was already 10 minutes into the meeting. Through some amazing sense of trust, he was like, ‘Oh he sent the file over, do you want to listen to it?’ And yeah, [the show's music director] liked it. It was one of those few examples where it just comes together really quickly.”
A moment of trust burnished with musical kismet lead Jamie to his first taste of U.S. recognition – and magically, on a show celebrating the Southern culture his music fetishizes.