If you are a family living in a London apartment block, it would be pretty unfortunate if a young musician moved in next door. That is, unless the artist is flourishing British singer-songwriter Jake Bugg.
The way the 24-year-old musician tells it, he is a consummate and considerate neighbour. He is clean and tidy, and there are none of the wild parties that sometimes come with being young and successful.
Bugg was even thoughtful when it came to the songwriting itself. To keep the volume down, he created the skeleton of the songs on an acoustic guitar, before jetting off to Nashville to flesh them out with a full band.
That courtesy came with an unintended consequence. Bugg's latest album, the relaxed Hearts That Strain, has him singing a majority of the songs in an unusually low register, which is a far cry from the signature nasal whine of his best-known tracks Trouble Town and Two Fingers.
"Well, I was a little more careful because of the neighbours, and that was, I guess, part of it," he says, with a soft chuckle. "A lot of it is also down to what I was feeling. I am enjoying the lower ranges at the moment and they are obviously very comfortable for me, as you can hear on the record, whereas a lot of the earlier stuff is very high, so this is kind of a nice break."
Indeed, everything about Hearts That Strain sounds unhurried. It is a smooth and languid collection of pop songs, heavily indebted to the American singer-songwriting scene of the 1960s and 1970s, in which artists such as Jackson Browne and James Taylor reigned supreme.
Bugg admits to being a fan of the era. It was a time, he states, when recording sessions were relaxed affairs and those vibes seeped into the music.
"I am a big believer that music should be something that is enjoyed," he says. "It is meant to be about the experience of listening to the music and that goes for creating it as well. If you are looking to play music, then you should be able to enjoy and it shouldn't be stressful."
Fans will be able to luxuriate in those chilled vibes when Bugg makes his debut Middle Eastern performance tomorrow at Dubai Opera.
With four albums to his name in the space of seven years, the prolific Bugg and his band will bring to Dubai a hefty set from a career which led the British media to label him "the new [Bob] Dylan". That said, the music in Hearts That Strain is not merely the sound of an artist pleased with his lot in life. The songs do manage to push Bugg in new and subtle ways.
He credits producer Dan Auerbach, who is also the vocalist and guitarist for the big-selling blues duo The Black Keys, for nudging him towards new sonic territories.
For example, the album's mellow opener, How Soon The Dawn, shows Bugg dialling down the primal angst of previous releases. With lyrics that address a bruised relationship ("you know me less, every day") Bugg displays a new-found romantic streak, recalling the sound of the great heartbreak balladeers, such as Jimmy Webb and Lee Hazlewood.
“The song has happy chords, but at the same time the melody is quite sad,” Bugg says. “And that’s one of the cool things with Dan helping me out on these songs, he helped me add that element of darkness to them.”
Then there's the dramatic The Man On Stage – a song about a struggling artist who lost his zest for life – which finds Bugg using a massive string section for the first time, a style he enthusiastically copied from 1960s country music. "I am a lover of that old country sound and artists from that era, like the late Glen Campbell," he says. "At the heart of these lovely songs are just great melodies and what strings do is just add that bit more drama to it."
With such an unabashed love for the sounds of old, has Bugg ever felt like he was born in the wrong decade? "I used to wish that, when I was younger," he admits. "But now, as I get a little older, I realise that there was so much great music around at that time and a million people probably did what I am doing now. The chances of me making a career from music back then would be even more difficult, whereas now, what I am doing is not as common, so I feel like I have my own little territory in a way. It is working out pretty well for me, I suppose."
With sold-out UK tours now a mere formality, not to mention an international fan base, perhaps Bugg is being a tad too bashful. But it is something he can't help – he says his low-key approach to life and lyricism comes from the hard years spent growing up on a council estate in a gritty neighbourhood of Nottingham, in The Midlands in England.
“I’m really more of a cynical person,” he says. “And that came from growing up disappointed a lot, by a lot of things. I just like to be prepared for the worst. And then, if something great happens, then it’s even more of a surprise, rather than having my hopes up and being so frantic about everything.”
Jake Bugg performs at Dubai Opera tomorrow at 8pm. Tickets from Dh195 are available at www.dubaiopera.com
In good company
Jake Bugg isn’t the only young British singer-songwriter making waves. Here are three more to hear.
Record companies are scrambling to find the next Ed Sheeran, and hopes are high that Odell could be the next cash cow. He certainly has the voice and looks to get fans' hearts racing. His latest album, Jubilee Road, is another slice of his buoyant pop style and fans in this country can sample the tunes when he performs at The Rotunda at Caesars Palace, Dubai on March 12. Tickets begin from Dh250 from www.ticketmaster.ae
Ezra, and his distinctively baritone voice, beguiled UAE fans last month with a near sold-out show at the Dubai World Trade Centre. His sweet and innocent takes on the subjects of life and romance – best showcased in the hits Budapest and Shotgun – have established him as the next potential James Blunt.
The wildest of the bunch. T’s rollicking talents, with an eclectic palette ranging from indie-rock to rap, were championed by the industry’s heavy hitters – such as UK radio presenter Zane Lowe – as far back as 2006, with his debut album Panic Prevention released the following year. His career continues to progress solidly and a new album is set to be released later in the year.