In 2006, 20-year-old Jamie Treays, performing as Jamie T, was one of the UK’s biggest breakthrough artists. A singer-songwriter whose swagger and volatile nature have aligned him with a string of confident young British millennial pop heroes, including Lily Allen and the Libertineshis debut album Panic Prevention (referring to the panic attacks he suffered as a bullied teenager at Wimbledon), was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2007 and delivered a handful of hit singles, including Sheila and If You Got the Money.
Also a record producer, Treays’ own independent label Pacemaker even released Adele’s 2007 debut single, Hometown Glory, while two years later her second album, Kings & Queens, reached No. charts. Performing on Glastonbury’s John Peel Stage that summer, his set erupted into mass chanting. He seemed on top of the world.
But privately, Treays’ anxiety skyrocketed alongside his newfound fame, and he began to retreat. Long gaps appeared when he neither released music nor performed live. In the five years between his Kings & Queens and 2014’s Where’s the Grudge, concerned fans created a Facebook group Where’s Jamie T?
When he finally broke his silence, he admitted to having a crisis of confidence. On the contrary, this situation seems to have worsened. There was a seven-year silence between 2016’s Trick and fifth album, The Theory of Whatever, released today.
Impressively, the Treays’ last four albums have all made it into the top five and it has maintained a fervent following all these years. His fans won’t be disappointed with The Theory of Whatever: another bravura album filled with gnarly, witty, shape-shifting songs about the human condition, brimming with lustful melodies and beats.
And yet, sitting in the corner of a quiet London pub at lunchtime over a pint of lager, Treays, now 36, continues to doubt himself. “I don’t know how to do anything,” he announces. “I am horribly dyslexic. I can’t do math at all. I’m afraid of emails, afraid of having to correspond with people. I don’t understand punctuation, I get text messages and literally can’t figure out what they mean. If you gave me a guitar and asked me to play a G chord, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell you what a deal was, I don’t know f______!”
He often laughs when he makes such statements. Yet, at his most vulnerable point in a conversation that oscillates between arrogance and insecurity, he admits: “I am a shy, shy, incredibly shy, incredibly anxious human being. I don’t know how I managed to do that. I am lonely. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like being around a lot of people. He also tells me that he doesn’t like playing in a band, hates rehearsing, hates making videos and finds interviews difficult. “The only thing I know how to do is write songs. And I’m f______ good at it. Which is lucky. Because I couldn’t do anything else.
There’s little obvious confluence between Jamie’s cheeky persona on stage and his obvious awkwardness in conversation. He looks tired, puffy-eyed, scruffy and unshaven. When I ask him what he’s been up to for the past seven years, he gets defensive. “It’s just the time I need to write a record,” he replies optimistically. “I mean, who cares? I write songs, I love what I do, I work all f______ day.
He draws a comparison with Adele, who has only released four albums in 15 years. “Have you noticed that she shuts up every time she stops putting out music? She has the same manager as me. It’s the same system. We’ve both been driven to this idea: don’t post anything until it’s good. Be brave enough to close the f___. If your records are good, you will survive. If not…” He concludes by swearing profusely into his pint.
Speaking of Adele, “I haven’t seen her in a long time,” he says. “We grew up together, we were like brother and sister back then. We found ourselves in a studio many times. She’s an incredible songwriter, one of the best of all time. It seems like a moment lost in his thoughts. “God knows what happened to those tapes.”
The pursuit of perfectionism is clearly not Jamie T’s whole story. “I kind of lost my way for a while,” admits Treays. “I started to worry about whether I had any relevance.” One night he found a track he had completely forgotten to write: The Old Style Raiders, which became that year’s comeback single and gave him the inspiration to complete the album. The lyrics draw hope from despair, urging the listener (or themselves) to “fight for something you love in life”.
The song encapsulates the intriguing dichotomy at the heart of Jamie’s work. His songs are full of empathy, addressing issues of mental health and emotional vulnerability, yet they are uplifting rather than tearful and delivered with electrifying exuberance. It’s a dynamic even more apparent during the rare but exuberant live performances that have helped build a stubbornly loyal and patient following.
“Do you want to know the truth? he asks, as if unsure if he should admit it himself. “There’s something about anxiety called flight fighting, isn’t there? The way I am in public and on stage is almost a catatonic version of fear. It’s not the ego. It’s the contrary. This is absolute f______ terror. When I go on stage, it’s almost exhausting. But it’s the only place I can fight the anxiety rather than run away. And so, in the end, it’s a peaceful moment.
Treays seems inebriated during our interview, slurring his words, occasionally grabbing me to make a point, oscillating between almost crude self-confidence and deep insecurity. When I wonder if he could self-medicate with alcohol, he is dismissive. “The self-medication I have is constantly writing, changing my mind, being obsessive, and driving people around me f______ crazy.”
I find myself in the unusual position of giving a pep talk to an artist I sincerely admire when he says to me, “Honestly, in my heart, I don’t quite know how I am here. I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s very difficult. Sorry, I get confused quite often. What do you think I’m good at – if I’m good at anything? »
I’m a fan of Jamie T, though it’s hard not to worry that his many insecurities, anxieties, apparent mental health issues – and, I guess, life choices – are intrinsically part of his originality in as an artist. The work is always excellent. I just hope it doesn’t take too heavy a personal toll.
“I’m proud of it,” he says of an album that spanned seven tough years. “I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, no bigger and no less than I deserve. I just want it to be okay. So do me a favor and make me look good, yeah?”
The theory of everything is now available