With his rich, rasping vocals and penchant for darkly passionate songwriting, British singer/guitarist Jamie N Commons delivers a gritty brand of rock & roll that instantly transports any listener to another era. Already counting Elvis Costello among his fans and the UK press drawing comparisons to Nick Cave, the 24-year-old songwriter is now deepening his sound and further warping time by teaming up with Alex Da Kid (the Grammy-winning producer best known for his work with hip-hop game-changers like Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Nicki Minaj). Newly signed to Alex’s KIDinaKORNER , a label under Interscope Records that is also home to Imagine Dragons and Skylar Grey, Commons is gearing up to release an EP and full-length album that wield heady beats and boldly inventive grooves to create an entirely fresh style of blues-drenched rock.
On the six-track EP Rumble And Sway, Commons serves up a selection of songs that veer from stompy retro-soul to moody ballads to fiery, fuzzed-out pop. Like his full-length debut (due out later in 2013), Rumble And Sway finds Commons backed by the four-piece band he assembled while attending Goldsmiths College in London. The follow-up to Commons’s 2011 debut The Baron (an EP nominated for the BBC Sound Poll of 2012), Rumble And Sway also features leading-edge production from Alex Da Kid, as well as heavy-hitters like Eg White (Florence + the Machine, Adele) and Eliot James (The Futureheads, Bloc Party).
For Commons, a fierce love for the blues at the heart of his high-powered rock began at a very early age. Born in Bristol but raised in Chicago, Commons accompanied his music-obsessed father to Allman Brothers Band and Neil Young concerts when he was a little kid. At 10, the back-to-back releases of Moby’s gospel-infused Play and the Americana-tinged O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack prompted Commons to delve more deeply into the roots of rock music. By the time he was 15, Commons had scored his own guitar and started teaching himself to play. “I learned guitar the way most people do—just sitting in my bedroom for hours, copying Jimi Hendrix riffs,” he recalls. “After a while I was coming up with my own riffs, which probably sounded exactly like Jimi Hendrix at first but eventually took on their own sound.”
After several stints in high-school punk bands, Commons headed to Goldsmiths and soon became fascinated with British folk troubadours like Nick Drake and John Martyn and Delta blues legends like Mississippi John Hurt. While at school he put together a band and began playing shows at local dive bars, taking on a rigorous gigging schedule that quickly led him to land a publishing deal. “We did things the old-fashioned way when it came to our live shows, which means we just kept on playing and playing and gradually the venues got bigger and bigger,” Commons notes.
In December 2011, on the way to see Coldplay in Newcastle, Alex Da Kid ended up on a train with several representatives from Commons’s publishers. “They played me Jamie’s music and I fell in love with it right away,” says Alex. “He’s making rock and roll that’s in an entirely different space from anything else out there, and he’s got this amazing voice that can completely transform whatever he sings.” Upon returning from Newcastle, Alex met with Commons in a pub and—about a month later—flew him out to Los Angeles so the two could hole up in the studio and start making music together.
Once in the studio, the duo plunged into the process of dreaming up a genre-bending new sound that would capture Commons’s raw, wild energy while weaving in some of the larger-than-life elements of Alex’s artistry as a hip-hop producer. “Alex would make beats and I’d come up with song ideas, and pretty soon we started speaking the same language and figuring out how to make it all come together,” says Commons. “What we ended up creating is a really varied, eclectic batch of songs that gives you the feeling of skipping through genres and maybe even skipping through time.”
Kicking off with the lead single and title track, Rumble And Sway comes on full throttle with a strutty, smoldering, horn-soaked rave-up that offers the perfect intro to Commons’s unforgettably masterful vocals. Another fast-driving powerhouse, “Worth Your While” merges a fat, fuzzy groove with scorching guitar riffs and vocal work that alternates from lustful growling to Motown-esque harmonies. Both “Wash Me In The Water” (an anguished, gospel-inspired number) and “Have A Little Faith” (a piano-laced plea built on bright, crisp beats) blend midtempo rhythms with soul-stirring lyrics about pain and redemption, while “Caroline” emerges as a dreamy, lovesick ballad intensified by sorrowful strings. And on the slow-building and stormy “The Preacher,” Commons mines his British folk influences for a downright bone-chilling epic about an evangelical preacher who murdered his own wife.
Despite charting new musical territory throughout Rumble And Sway, Commons retains the same rugged spirit that’s instilled his songwriting and performance since he first claimed boundary-pushing artists like Tom Waits, JJ Cale, and Johnny Cash as his heroes. “The swampy, bluesy rock and roll stuff is always the first place I go when I’m writing a song,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s important to me to create something new and different to put out into the world.” For Commons, the formula of straight-from-the-gut songwriting and slick, stylish production allows him to both expand his creativity and fill a highly crucial void in today’s pop scene. “Right now there’s plenty of music that’s got a huge, loud, punchy sound,” he says. “When you bring in that blues element, the music takes on a heaviness and rawness that’s harder to come by but incredibly powerful.”