Following up a hit is always a tough task for any artist. But for singer-songwriter Jamie Lawson that hit had been somewhat unexpected in the first place.
The song Wasn't Expecting That was the title track of his third album, released in 2011. It was picked up by radio in Ireland, however it took another four years for the song to really take off.
Added as the lead track for his fourth, self-titled album in 2015, there followed stadium tours supporting One Direction and his perhaps unlikely mentor Ed Sheeran and an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song.
Jamie was the first signing by megastar Sheeran to his then-new Gingerbread Man label. The red-headed-one had supported Jamie very early on in his career, and remembered the Plymouth-born performer when starting his own label.
With the Jamie Lawson album going gold, and Wasn't Expecting That going platinum, Jamie was ambitious for its follow-up.
He was shipped out to LA, where he recorded in the legendary Sunset Sounds studio with super-producer Joe Chiccarelli – he's worked albums by everyone from Elton John to U2 and Frank Zappa – as well as keyboard player Roger Manning Jr (Jellyfish and Beck) and drummer Matt Chamberlain (Fiona Apple, Tori Amos) .
How did the studio band come together?
'It was all through Joe, he put forward the musicians he thought would work best, and they were top of the list.
'I was absolutely stunned that we could get people like that. I just assumed I would have never got people like them, that’s ridiculous.
'When we were doing He’s Reading Helena, Roger came back in and said: 'I really love this song,' and he said it was like an old Simon and Garfunkel B-side. That was the best compliment ever. 'He would be mentioning people like Jimmy Webb with regards to where I’m coming from and I think he really got me. I think people think I’m more pop than I am, I have no issue with that, and I guess that’s partly to do with Ed Sheeran and that connection.'
The resulting album is Happy Accidents – a title taken from the first communications between Lawson and his now wife, when she wandered, by chance, in to his show at The Bedford (incidentally, the same venue where Lawson met Sheeran for the first time), 'hooray for happy accidents.'
'I really wanted to make a record that was a lot better than the Jamie Lawson record,' he tells The Guide. 'That was the idea, both in songs and sound. I wanted everything to be pushed up and pushed forwards. Just to elevate it a bit.
'Joe was aware of that, and I think he did that. I think it’s better than the Jamie Lawson record, but it doesn’t have a Wasn’t Expecting That, which may be the only issue,' he laughs.
'But that was such an unusual song, and a career anomaly,' he says of his biggest hit so far.
'Not many songwriters would sing such a beautiful love song and kill someone off at the end, but I did. I think that was quite brave.'
The Guide spoke with Jamie during a break in touring, when he reveals he's already writing for the next album.
'When you start writing again everything’s a bit rubbish, so I’m going through the bit rubbish stage at the moment, which I hate because it makes you question everything you’ve ever done in your life, ever.
'It’s always fun this bit, but I’ve been through this bit before, so I know how it works.'
Crikey. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
'Hopefully – I’m assuming it comes, but it’s always an assumption every time,' he says with a self-deprecating chuckle.
How did he find it working so far from his comfort zone?
'Joe was quite gentle with me, and I think he realised that I needed time and encouragement, and quiet, I guess to an extent, and that’s how he was. He was always smiling, he’s a lovely man, he’s got lots of stories about the musicians he’s worked with, as did the other musicians I was working with, so they were constantly trading stories. It was both fascinating to listen to and frustrating because we weren’t working! It was like: "We’re on the clock lads, do you mind if we get back to work…"
'But I think he made a great, great record, I’m really proud of it. It sounds fantastic and I think it stands up against other things I love, so I’m chuffed with it.'
Does he feel like his most famous song overshadows everything else he does?
'To an extent. I think more people know that song than know Jamie Lawson, if you know what I mean.
'If you ask people if they’ve heard of me, they might say no, but if you ask if they’ve heard that song, they might say yes. The two aren’t necessarily connecting, which I think is an issue to some extent because there might be fans out there who don’t know it!
'It would be nice to reach them but I don’t know how.'
So how would he describe his position in the musical world?
'It’s a tough question to answer. The things that have inspired me, the music I go to, who in my head I want to sound like, I just don’t sound like,' he gives a wry laugh. 'Bands like American Music Club, or Red House Painters, or Sun Kil Moon, REM or Crowded House – maybe I’ve got a bit of Crowded House, but I don’t really sit there.
'But I’m also not in the James Arthur league of pop. Maybe I’m not sitting anywhere, people don’t know where to put me. I’m slightly in this pop world, but then there are songs like Miracle of Love which just wouldn’t exist on a pop record.'
And how does he feel about people still using Wasn't Expecting That all the time when referring to his career?
'People say it a lot as if I’ve never heard it, which is slightly not funny, but it’s my own fault.' he laughs again.
The 1865, Southampton
Thursday, March 15