The Theory of Whatever
“Unrehearsed, fat and old..,” Jamie Treays shouted into the microphone as he opened his headline set at Glastonbury’s John Peel Stage to rapturous applause, before delivering the punchline: ‘..I give you: Jamie T!’
Few artists in recent memory have demanded as much patience from their fanbase as Jamie. Famously reluctant to engage with press or social media, the songwriter has been all-but invisible to the public in the six years since his last album; a practise which has become commonplace during his periods of musical inactivity.
With new LP The Theory of Whatever arriving imminently, he returned to the Worthy Farm platform that he first headlined back in 2009 to find a tent overflowing with devotees who dismissed Paul McCartney’s rival performance to catch Jamie back in action after all this time.
Photography by Will Robson-Scott
Although not a concept album by any means (Theory of Whatever has been assembled from hundreds of songs that Jamie was tinkering with since 2016’s Trick), there are themes to be unearthed within the track list. The artist’s ever-young, brash delivery and humour still exists in abundance, contrasting and juxtaposing more than ever with suggestions that Treays, now 36, has reached a new phase in his life.
The Theory of Whatever opens the door for nostalgia and self-reflection to creep into Jamie’s lyricism. Tracks like Talk is Cheap captures that adult feeling of falling adrift as friends and routines that we once held dear float away into the ether. Whilst St. George’s Wharf Tower sentimentally sets its sights on the south London skyscraper which has recently infiltrated the skyline of one of the capital’s most rapidly gentrified areas.
A week after his Glastonbury comeback, Jamie sits in a carpeted pub in Soho as he looks ahead to the rollout of his fifth album. “This album has been done for me for about four months – some of the songs for years – and I’m scared shitless now to be honest,” he explains. “It’s funny with songs. I’ve had some that feel so fresh to me, then as soon as I hear them played on Radio One I’ll realise that I hate them.”
It’s well documented that Jamie doesn’t like to divulge too much about his music, keeping meanings personal, if not guarded entirely. Having notched up a consistent hit rate over his fifteen-year career, you can’t help but wonder what is fuelling this ongoing anxiety when releasing new music; is it the fear of six years of work not landing with his fanbase? Or the lingering threat of losing his own connection to these songs once they are shared with the world?
“I don’t know.” Jamie shifts his weight from the creaky wooden pub bench, “both of those things I suppose. I feel like these songs have been mine for a long time and now I’m giving them away.”
“It’s funny with songs. I’ve had some that feel so fresh to me, then as soon as I hear them played on Radio One I’ll realise that I hate them.”
With a shyness and fondness for privacy that would be readily accepted in any other industry, Jamie has routinely been described as reclusive or uncooperative when it comes to promoting his output. Today, he proceeds to evade a majority of questions that are aimed his way, although seemingly through a sincere preference for us to connect via unscripted conversation.
“When I first started in music, the media was a different beast… especially as a kid,” he explains. “You were just expected to hold your own like some kinda fucking politician.”
As a nineteen-year-old artist confronting the British press when it was at its vicious, tabloid-thirsty peak, he must’ve felt like he was being thrown prematurely into a world of adults? “No, I didn’t feel like I was thrown into a world of adults,” he says dryly. “I felt like I was thrown into a world of kids who were pricks.”
Jamie started his career as a teenager, performing at low-key acoustic nights around his native South London to unassuming crowds in areas without much in the way of a ‘scene’. Fan favourites including Sheila, Back in the Game and So Lonely Was The Ballad were hashed out on Putney stages to locals.
“I’d play every Thursday and write a new song every Wednesday,” he recalls in his distinctive saff-London delivery. “I’d half finish it and freestyle it out on the stage the next day.”
This high-intensity creative practise coalesced with other factors in his life, however, and triggered a panic attack. Always prone to anxiety, this was unlike any that he had experienced before. “I ended up in hospital with my hands and feet contorted,” he imitates his misshapen, rigid hands. ‘It came from hyperventilating too much.’
“I didn’t play music for a while, then I ended up getting drunk one night and jumping on stage for a performance. A geezer from EMI approached me that night and I told him to fuck off.” Young and idealistic, Jamie stayed true to his punk ideology, but major labels were persistent, and it was hard to hold firm “Then they came again a week later, shoving a £60k contract in my face at nineteen years old,” he recalls, going on to sign a five album deal that he has been “bound to” until the release of The Theory of Whatever.
From the difficulty of these panic attacks, however, came Jamie T’s seminal debut album, Panic Prevention. The LP sampled cuts from a self-help CD of the same name that his parents had purchased for him at a young age. Odes to navigating teenage lust, smashing gear in your mum’s sunnies and nightspot interactions made Panic Prevention a much-celebrated, hyperrealist portrait of 2000s youth culture.
Despite his debut going platinum this year, external accolades or acclaim has had very little bearing on Jamie’s own affection for the LP. “That album was a snapshot of me at a certain age. It was me and my best friend doing something together,” he reminisces. ‘We’re not that close anymore and I think about him often, I’m very proud of us making that together.’
“This is my last album on my label, so I can walk away from it all soon…”
Photography by Reuben Bastienne-Lewis
As rare and pleasing as it is to see this display of fondness for what Jamie has accomplished in the past, it’s his future that burdens him currently. And each time the subject of Jamie’s next move is broached, the tone becomes combative once more, as if he is starkly reminded that he is on record.
“Look, I’m 36 now and I’m tired as fuck,” he says, exasperated. “I love my missus, I’m happy with my life, I’m happy with what I’ve done and I don’t give a fuck anymore,” he proclaims, attempting to pre-empt and moot the rest of the interview.
“This side of things,” he gestures towards his management and publicist sat a few tables away. “It’s just a job now and I can’t pretend to be something that I’m not. I don’t even know if I’ll be releasing anymore music.” Between his strained patience from a day of interviews, and the sinking of several pints in the process, it is hard to gauge the sincerity of this prospect.
“I’ve done five albums, I’ve been doing this since I was nineteen. I don’t want to keep answering questions, I’ll write songs when I want to and I may never release an album again,” his tone feels absolute as he aims his words towards the dictaphone “…And you can all live or die by that.”
Despite this, a very personable side still makes itself present at times, never more so than when asked if he could genuinely see a reality in which he does finally walk away from it all. He exhales, softening his mood. “This is my last album on my label, so I can walk away from it all soon,” he resolves, now looking into one of the empty pint glasses. ‘But the idea of living without it is as terrifying as the idea of living with it.’
These moments of vulnerability amidst outspoken sweary rants align in perfect symmetry with the artist that listeners fell in love with fifteen years ago. He may be (in his words) older and fatter, but bravado and cocksure authority is still intercut with fleeting glimpses of human frailty, much as it was in Panic Prevention; where songs about scraps and no-hope futures intertwine with confronting the most suffocating of anxieties.
The Sticks ‘N’ Stones songwriter says that there is a genuine probably that he will soon release everything he has ever recorded – every demo, voice-note and half-finished song – in one big data dump. “Then everyone can have it and I’ll fuck off forever. I don’t give a fuck what people think anymore.”
As the meeting wraps and audio is switched off, Jamie finishes his drink and lifts himself from the rounded pub table. He leans in to say goodbye, nodding towards the recording device as he does so, “…just be kind, yeah?” he says earnestly.
The Theory of Whatever is out now, Jamie will be touring the UK in November – see dates here.