With his ginger hair, checked shirts, and rise to fame through endless gigging in small venues, it’s no surprise that Jamie Lawson was the first artist that Ed Sheeran chose to sign to his label, Gingerbread Man Records, when it launched in August last year.
Lawson, 40, met the pop sensation over five years ago when they were both playing at the same venue in the UK. Sheeran soon shot to superstardom, but a big break was nowhere in sight for Lawson. He had released two studio albums, and his 2011 single Wasn’t Expecting That was well-received in Ireland, but the hype soon died down. He was successful in a way, he thought, consoling himself. He was able to do what he loved every day and be able to pay his rent and feed himself. But a sense of dissatisfaction kept gnawing at him. “I wanted to be playing bigger audiences, reaching more people, and not being able to break through was frustrating and annoying,” Lawson tells Young Post.
“But I was still very confident in my songs. I had faith in my songs. I always thought it’s going to someone to see that potential, to make it happen.”
In 2014, Sheeran phoned Lawson and invited him to Dublin to open his show, so Lawson flew over, using half a month’s worth of rent to buy the flight ticket. “Really, just to say I’d opened for Ed would look good for my CV. Just being able to go over and say hello and well done was enough. Because not everyone from our circle got out there and did it. And Ed did it the biggest,” says Lawson.
Lawson soon left his previous label and signed with Sheeran, who re-released Wasn’t Expecting That. The song ended up being a hit in Australia, and soon gained popularity around the world. In October last year, Lawson released a self-titled album, which debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, pushing Sheeran’s X to number two.
When did you fall in love with music?
When I was very young. I was listening to records at five or six years old. I have two older brothers, and I used to steal their records all the time. I remember putting The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow on a lot, especially a song called Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. I wouldn’t have understood the lyrics, but the melody and instrumentation somehow spoke to me. Whatever occasion or mood I was in, I would always turn to music. It was my sanctuary. I was never into computer games or anything like that. The emotional pull of music was my thing. It just spoke to me more than anything else. I dropped out of art college in my early 20s to do music.
Were you naturally gifted in music?
No, not at all. I did it because I loved it, and it turned out that I could do it. I had a few lessons in primary school that taught me basic chords and from there it was just me playing in my room. It took me a long time to find the voice that I have. For so long I just wanted to sound like other singers, but there’s not much point in that, because they already sound like them, and no one needs another one. People who are musically good on a technical level meant nothing to me. I don’t consider myself a good guitar player at all. I can’t read music. I only play what I know and what feels right. It’s more about the emotional quality, because that’s what pulled me into music.
Tell us about a tough gig you did.
I once played a gig to no one. No one. I got paid to do this show, and there were just two people in the bar - one audience member and one barman. And then the audience member said, I’m really sorry, I have to go, while I’m playing mid-song. And then the barman walked out as well, so I ended up still playing and there’s no one in the room whatsoever. It was pretty weird. I managed to somehow see it as quite funny straight away. I read a lot about artists, like Ed Sheeran, who always remember the time they played to one person. Well, I even managed to beat that.
Tell us about opening for One Direction’s On The Road Again tour last year.
It didn’t make any sense. I was invited by their camp, and it was strange, but great. I got to play to this audience who would never have listened to me otherwise. It’s nearly 10,000 people a night, if not more. It was really cool. I was asked to cover one of their songs, and I was surprised, like why would they want me to sing a One Direction song at a One Direction concert? But it really helped their audience make a connection between what I do and what they do. I did a very gentle version of More Than This. As soon as I did that song they all joined in and sang along with me. That really helped them connect to the other songs that I had. For such a loyal fanbase that One Direction fans are, they were very open to me. And I’m very grateful for that.
Did you get to interact much with the boys?
Harry [Styles] used to come to sound check and just watch. So it’d be like ten thousand empty seats, and then just Harry, just sitting on his own, watching me, looking glamorous as always. He was really sweet, and when I went to number one he came and bought a bottle of champagne.
What was Ed Sheeran’s involvement with the making of your latest album?
I told him how I wanted the album to sound, a really open, spacious record, like a new version of Van Morrison’s Moondance, which is a record we both love. So he went about choosing the people that would make that work; he set me up with a producer, and helped choose certain songs, and left us to it. He didn’t do a lot, really. I think that’s why he signed me, and why I signed to him.
Touring with Ed Sheeran, have you noticed any quirks that he has?
He used to watch The Simpsons a lot after each show on the bus. He wanted to watch every The Simpsons episode ever made, in chronological order. So he literally just started in series one and watched them every night after each show. And I couldn’t always stay up with him. He would just stay up until four or five in the morning. It must be quite hard, because when you’re playing to 10, 15,000 people, the adrenaline of it takes a while to come back down in order to sleep. So that’s how he unwound, just to watch The Simpsons every night.
Are you working on a new album?
Yes, I’ve started writing. I was on tour this year with Vance Joy. We did 32 dates in seven weeks in the US, which also gave me quite a bit of time during each day to start writing and to start getting in the mood for the next record. I’ll hopefully record it at the end of this year after my UK tour. Maybe there won’t be so many straight out love songs on this record. I think I wanted the last one to be very hopeful and warm, and now that I’ve done that, maybe I can slightly move away from that. I don’t mean to do that again.
What advice would you have to young musicians?
If you’re into music, it’s gonna take a lot of courage. It will be hard at times but if you’re passionate about something, then I feel like you’re almost obliged to follow it. Ed said a great thing once. I was with him in Australia, and he was talking to a class of kids, and he said, the grades that you get do not define you. You can do whatever you want. He’s right. Neither of us did brilliantly in school, but we have this passion and drive to do something that got our work out into the world.