UK Guitarist Jake Bugg Shares His Story from Nottingham to Nobel Prize

19-year-old Jake Bugg hails from the small British city Nottingham of Robin Hood lore, armed with a raspy voice and polished lyrics. His self-titled debut album was nominated last year for the Mercury Prize (won by James Blake), and he followed up in the same calendar year with a second record “Shangri La,” which has also been positively received since release in November 2013.

We met the charmingly humble Jake Bugg before his show at Fox Theater for an interview.

How did you go from first hearing Don McLean’s “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” while watching an episode of The Simpsons to playing the guitar professionally and becoming a world-famous musician?

I just picked up a guitar when I was about 12-year-old and I fell in love with it. My uncle showed me the first few chords that we used to put songs together. I carried along listening to other kinds of music, listening to people like Hendrix, just playing along and sitting in my bedroom. It wasn’t until I was about 14 when I started writing songs. And between that and now, I did a few shows around my local city, Nottingham. I got signed and I just made the record and here I am today.

What do you credit most for your rapid rise in popularity?

Well, you know, the fans and everybody that’s given me a chance and gave me an opportunity to do what I always wanted to do and what I love.

How were you able to recruit drummers Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers to collaborate on “Shangri La”?

Rick (Rubin) brought those people in. He just decided to bring some cool musicians in. I didn’t know who any of them were. I certainly do now. I appreciate how great of players they are. It was great for me to play with people who are a bit more professionally experienced than I am and just jam around and play some music. It’s just good to experiment a little bit and play with different people. I’m sure one day my drummer will be ready to lay some albums down in the studio.

What are your impressions of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo after playing a concert there?

It was a very sophisticated event. There was a lot of people in suits—champagne and chandeliers. I’ve never been in that. Two years ago, to go from sitting in my bedroom in a track suit drinking warm cans of beer to wearing a nice shirt, chandeliers and Norwegian royal family. It’s a bit strange.

Have your global travels allowed you to discover new styles and genres?

I like all kinds of music—classical, hip hop, heavy metal. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song. On the bus, we all like our different kinds of music and our essence. We all just pass the wire around and listen. We’ve been listening to two Jon and Vangelis albums from the 80s. They’re pretty cool, man. Very melodic and great lyrics.

Where is the strangest venue you’ve ever performed live?

We put on a gig on in Belgium in a little, tiny cafe. It was last year and the cafe holds about 80 people. We got there are there was like 400 people outside. The cars couldn’t get past the road. We got there in our van and all the fans start hitting on the door. They weren’t like running up, they were walking up like zombies. It was freaky, man. It was so hot in the room, it was steaming on the windows, and people were rubbing the windows so people outside could see. It was one of the best gigs but some pretty crazy conditions.

You cite Oasis as an influence and you’re friends with Noel Gallagher. Do you think that Oasis might reunite one day?

I never got to know them, but at the same time, they’re brothers and what goes off between two brothers, you just don’t know.

You’ve said that awards don’t hold a ton of sentimental value to you. What accomplishments do you value most?

I’ve already achieved everything I want—much, much more than I thought I ever would. I suppose the only thing to do now is maintain it and try and help out in anyway I can. And make records. And play shows. That’s kind of all that’s left to do.

Do you have any goals for 2014?

I don’t know really. It’s a bit strange having a year planned out for you. Knowing what you’re gonna do everyday for the next 12 weeks. It’s hard to say what will happen in between those moments.

Any vacation planned?

I want to go somewhere hot. I went in the mountains skiing over the New Year and it was cold. I need to get somewhere hot.

Written by Carlos Olin Montalvo

Follow me @carlosolin