Jamie Lenman reveals the secrets
of the Muscle Memory artwork
Almost a year ago, Jamie Lenman released his first solo album, Muscle Memory. This exquisitely jarring collision of screaming voltaic and volcanic rock and exuberant swing jazz was hungrily and joyously received by almost all who heard it, especially long-term fans.
Jamie's illustrations and art have always adorned his records as well as being his dayjob, and Muscle Memory is no exception. His scattershot of pencil sketches for the album is now available as an impressive art print - limited to 200 - from the Xtra Mile Recordings shop. Get buying then!
Here, he tells us all what each of the seemingly unrelated drawings mean in relation to the music and himself. In doing so, he reveals just how personal the record is both musically and aesthetically.
Words by Jamie Lenman
When I was planning the artwork for my album Muscle Memory, I knew it was going to be a very personal record so I wanted the album to reflect that. Jamie Lenman’s not a great name, but it’s my name and that’s as simple as I could get so I had to use it – similarly, Jamie Lenman’s face isn’t a great face, but that’s the face what done the singing, so it made sense to have it on the cover, like it or not. I’ve said elsewhere that as the music on the album was a huge challenge to me as a performer, so I wanted the artwork to represent a similar achievement for me as an illustrator – to me they’re equal pieces of work. So you could take the view that if the cover art is like a visual version of the album, then these bits and pieces floating around me are like the lyrics – they reveal things about me and my past and my aspirations in the same way that the words to the songs do.
I wanted people to get an idea of the sort of fellow I am from looking at these objects. They fall into roughly three categories – items directly linked with the making of the album, treasured possessions that mean something to me personally, and objects of beauty I don’t own but nonetheless take inspiration from. Although I try and make my lyrics as transparent as possible, I realise the relevance of some of these objects may be a bit obscure, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at them. So...
1. Octopus tentacles
Having waxed lyrical about how profoundly personal all these things are, we start off with perhaps the only ingredient here that is almost purely aesthetic. I realise now that tentacles are a bit over-done but I didn’t know that at the time and they still look good to me. I do however, like many folks, have a strong love for the mysteries and romances of the sea, and I may well write a record on the theme one day.
These tentacles are a nod to the tentacles my agent Ross Warnock has tattooed on his ink–crowded arms – I remember he turned up at the Astoria with them one night and I thought they were amazing. They also bring to mind the horrific fantasies of H.P. Lovecraft, whose work you should definitely sample.
At one point I was going to limit the tentacles to one side and mirror them with empty autumn branches on the other, but I had so much fun drawing the tentacles I just whacked them everywhere.
3. Miniature portrait of my wife Katie
Even though I look like I come from the fifties, I don’t actually regard my wife as a possession, however valuable she is to me. This little passport photo though, in its tiny frame, kept me company on many a long night at the chip shop when we were living 200 miles apart.
Even when she eventually came down from Durham to live with me, I’d have it on the bar looking at me during my shift. As I write this, it’s pouting at me from my desk (it’s a moody shot). Katie herself sang on two songs from the record, so it’s doubly relevant here.
2. Deputy Head Boy badge
I used to be good at school, and even when the band had sort of taken over my life I found it hard to let go of things like The Sixth Form Council, organising activity days and whatnot. Unfortunately for me, the collision of grunge and the concept of ‘Oxbridge material’ resulted in an awkward fallout and I went to the interview for the post of Head Boy wearing a green jumper through which you could clearly see one of my nipples.
I was stunned when the captain of the rugby team was elected in my place, and I suspect they might have invented this dubious subordinate position purely to mollify me. As I remember, I still ended up doing most of the leg-work for things like The All-Teachers Celebrity Karaoke Night, whilst Scrumhalf Simon went on all the official visits and got his square-jawed mug in the Camberley Herald. (His name wasn’t really Simon)
4. Replica tudor coin
I was twenty nine and still a young man when I made this album, but even then I was regularly visiting National Heritage properties on the weekends, and let me tell you, it’s never too early to start. It sounds boring and sometimes it is (I went to an excavation open-day at Woking Palace last week and I thought I was going to disintegrate) but most of the time it’s awesome and they’ve usually got replica coins in the gift shop.
I can’t resist them. They don’t take up much space but they’re an incredibly potent link with the past, something you can hold in your hand and appreciate instead of gawping at from behind velvet ropes. I love the way coins used to be a sort of news-service in those remote and isolated times... imagine it – you’d go to the market, look at the shiny new coin in your handful of change and say, “Blimey! Constantine’s Emperor now is he? Well I never!”
5. Snare drum
This is just an ordinary snare drum. I found a picture of one on the internet. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it features quite heavily on the album so I thought it should be represented.
7. A british police box
This 1920s public call kiosk as designed by Mackenzie Trench is in no way associated with the BBC television series Doctor Who, for which I have a life-long passion bordering on obsession, to the point where it informs many of my most basic life choices. Nope, not at all. Totally different, rights-free thing.
6. My guitar
I think we could probably call this my main guitar, it’s the one I’ve played on every record I’ve made and at most of the shows I’ve performed, although I have used others from time to time, usually when this one was being repaired. I’m not one of these people who get all excited about instruments, much less so guitars, which are barely even instruments in the first place, but I do love this one. It’s been with me through all sorts of mess and it’s got the scars to prove it and it still sounds better than any other guitar I’ve ever played.
I bought it at a knock-down rate from the boss in ‘Good Luck’ (who was actually very supportive) but even at the bargain price of ninety quid or whatever I still couldn’t afford it so I convinced Mark and Jon that it was technically a band expense (since I’d broken my previous guitar) and they agreed I could take a third of the price out of the band account. Great lads, eh?
For what it’s worth, I don’t actively intend to abuse these guitars, it’s just that by the time you’ve given all of yourself to a really good rock show, you should be ninety percent adrenalin and I can never manage to calm myself down enough to daintily remove the strap and hand it to the guitar tech (if there is one), I just wop it on the floor and off to the dressing room (if there is one). This guitar is basically a zombie – it looks like a corpse and technically it is dead, but it keeps on growling. I noticed the other day that one of the tuning pegs is at a right angle to all the other ones. Still tunes though!
8. Brighton Pier prize tickets
I used to carry these around with me in my wallet because just looking at them reminds me of Brighton and makes me happy. Specifically, I love the ‘whack-a-mole’ games at the end of the pier, which I play with such ferocity that there usually forms a small frightened but fascinated crowd of children around me.
It is my fond hope that one day soon, when this double album of thrash metal/folk and jazz goes triple-platinum, I’ll be able to afford the astronomical house prices in Kemp Town and there make good my retreat.
9. Uncle Arthur’s Trumpet and Trombone
Whilst I’m aware that "Uncle Arthur’s Trumpet" sounds like an inconvenient if non-life-threatening medical condition, I did actually have an Uncle Arthur and these are instruments he owned, passed down to me through the family. Family was one of the themes of the record and when I knew I’d be needing some brass instruments on there I asked if I could use these old heirlooms and it worked out great (well, I did my best). The trumpet, I’m told, is of very fine quality and is worth a lot of money, whereas the trombone is a clapped out piece of junk. Makes no difference seeing as I can’t really play either. More on Uncle Arthur later.
10. Fox tie pin
My wife gave me this tie pin, a genuine Edwardian antique, for my birthday a few years ago. There’s not much to say about it other than it’s beautiful and it gives me that same sense of connection with the past that the coin and a few other items in this tableau do.
When I had a look at these things and realised that a lot of them are historical articles from within the UK I thought about why that may be and I reckon it’s because after my wedding in Las Vegas (more on this later) I became terribly afraid of flying and haven’t got on a plane since. This means I’ve focussed inwards on our little island and all it has to offer, particularly its traditions and its history.
Maybe I drew those tentacles because these days I spend my holidays gazing not at the red sands of Nevada but the grey seas of Cornwall. I don’t collect tiny facsimiles of The Statue Of Liberty, I trip home with a model of Winchester’s Alfred monument and set him on my PC tower. Perhaps?
11. Bakelite radio
I’m a sucker for Bakelite, as you might imagine. I like the romance of the radio, the way the family used to gather round and stare at it, even though there was nothing to see! I have a replica in my house but it’s not as nice as the one I’ve drawn here.
12. Heart and Brain
The thematic core of the record - the muscular heart-led visceral songs on the first disc and the cerebral, head-lead delicate songs on the second disc. Heart and brain, muscle and memory.
These aren’t my own heart and brain however, I just found them on stock websites. My own heart has been a source of trouble since I was a young lad and diagnosed with Aortic Stenosis, which basically means a slightly thin aorta, which theoretically might get blocked easier and kill me. Perversely, eighties doctors decreed that the best way to avoid valve-blockage was to stop me partaking in any sports, meaning I ended up getting very little exercise and put on a lot of weight. Great for the heart! I was a fairly normal five-year-old boy up until that point – I loved football and running about and all the usual stuff but then they told me I couldn’t do any of it anymore and so I ended up getting fat and reading science fiction books all day.
Recently I went for a checkup and the doctor told me it wasn’t really a problem and had probably been misdiagnosed. That’s my whole bloody life they misdiagnosed! I could have been an athlete!
As for the brain, it’s always the joke that weirdoes like me were dropped on the head as a baby but I genuinely, actually was. You make my mum a cup of weak tea and she’ll gladly tell you how I rolled off a table-tennis table when she had her back turned and landed on me bonce. Thrill as she tells you how she earnestly believed I was mentally impaired for life until my eyes un-crossed on the ambulance ride to the hospital. Great stuff.
13. Uncle Arthur’s Banjulele
My Great Uncle Arthur was my granny’s brother, and he was he black sheep of the family. He’d been in the navy but then he’d got an unmarried girl into trouble and could never hold down a job, and no one knew what to do with him. I didn’t know any of this when I was a kid, I just knew he was a sort of extra Grandpa who’d come round unannounced every now and then with a big load of instruments and everyone would have a go.
There are two pictures of him in the album inlay, one in his sailing gear as a young man and a later one taken at one of these impromptu jam sessions, where you can see me hammering away at that very same banjulele, the one I played on the record and on the tour, the one that hangs on my study door. My Auntie Christine gave it to me as a Christmas present one year – I don’t know if she was aware of the grip that pre-war blues had on me at the time but if not it was a great coincidence, just perfect.
I loved Uncle Arthur and I love that photo of us together. Although the one featuring my brother playing a kazoo-trumpet solo in a nappy whilst seemingly half-asleep is also good.
14. My father’s pipe
My father was a difficult man to buy gifts for – he used to ask for a Terry’s chocolate orange every year and when we cleared out all his possessions we found boxes of them mouldering away in his cupboards. In later years I tried hard to find things that might actually mean something to him and I think this pipe might have hit the spot. I’m not sure he ever smoked it but it’s a lovely object and it was one of the things I kept of his.
15. Racecar Is Racecar Backwards LP
In the same way that I don’t really go nuts about instruments, I don’t usually care much about vinyl but when my friends Hundred Reasons and Vex Red brought their albums out on 12 inch, I rushed out and bought them, and to be able to add my own debut effort to the pile was really special.
I don’t believe any of this guff about superior sound quality and whatnot (in fact I’ve seen it disproved in several blind tests) but one thing about putting on a record as opposed to a CD or an MP3, I’ve found, is that for some reason you pay it more attention. You listen harder, it’s more of an experience. It might be because it’s a big physical thing and you can actually see it happening, you can see the grooves that connect with the needle and arm in way you can’t see the lasers or the binary codes, I dunno. But I do like to listen to vinyl copies of my very favourite albums, of which this is necessarily one.
16. The ring of Aethelwulf
Aethelwulf was a ninth-century king of Wessex, one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that eventually became sort of the main one, with its capital in Winchester. His son Alfred (the Great) went on to become king of most of those kingdoms, except the ones held by the Danish at various points. Anyway this ring is awesome and I’ve gaped at it many times through the glass at the British Museum, plotting various ways to slip past the infrared laser-lines and bag it for myself.
Actually I could probably just lift up the case and take it, I don’t think anyone would notice. It’s not particularly prized as far as I can tell. I just ain’t got the guts.
17. Bakelite telephone
This is my actual phone from my actual house, it was made in the 1950s and it still works. Lifting the receiver is like pumping iron and you have to speak like a town crier into the mouthpiece but I love looking at it and I love the sound it makes when it rings (seldom – who has a landline these days anyway?)
My brother has a phone that is also a moving, singing plastic chameleon. When I call him on this sleek little number it always amazes me that these two pieces of technology, made sixty years apart, can still communicate using the same system. Try plugging a Skybox into a 1960s television, or playing the original Monkey Island discs on a modern PC. They don’t even put CD drives on laptops anymore! WTH?
18. Sutton Hoo helmet
Wikipedia can tell you more about this but one of the biggest hordes of Anglo Saxon finds in archaeology was a huge ship-burial in Suffolk, unearthed just before The Second World War got going.
No one knows whose burial it was and therefore to whom the helmet belonged, but whoever it was, his moustache will last forever. I’ve been looking for a good commercial replica of this for years but so far no luck.
19. Las Vegas poker chip
It’s not an actual poker chip, you’re not supposed to take those, but I suppose I could have if I’d thought about it (see guts; lack of, above). When I went away to get married in Vegas, I brought home these poker chips for everyone in the hope that they would serve instead of a huge expensive/pointless ceremony and ensuing awful piss-up. In many cases they didn’t, and my address book got a lot smaller that year.
I carried this one around with me until the constant rough-and-tumble of life in my pocket threatened to wear it away to nothing.
20. My banjitar
When I realised that this record was going to have a strong trad-jazz flavour I knew I had to get my hands on a banjo, but grabbing a four or five-string would’ve meant re-learning all kinds of complex chords, so I wimped out and plumped for a six-string, which is played like a guitar, hence the name.
As a result, it doesn’t really sound like a banjo, but it does have its own distinctive twang which I think lent an important flavour to the second half of the album. I ended up giving it to my producer Sean, although this was probably because I couldn’t be bothered to carry it home rather than genuine altruism.
21. A propelling pencil
As if this whole piece wasn’t a big enough nod to my real life as an illustrator, I thought it’d be good to include the tool of my trade. It’s not even a cool, real pencil, it’s a crappy plastic one, like a disposable razor. But I’ve found that these guys are perfect for the sort of work I do, they’re always sharp and you can get a huge variety of different lines and tones out of ‘em. I completed this entire illustration with several of these humble pencils.
22. Lewes chess men
Again, Wikipedia is your best bet for learning about these buggers but basically there was a job lot of them found in the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, dating back to the 12th Century. Made most probably in Norway, they appear to be the Viking version of the Simpsons’ chess pieces, ie a comedy set. The various knights and rooks and what have you all wear hilarious expressions on their faces and they’re awesome to look at, lovely to hold. Most interesting to me is that some of the pieces found show traces of having been painted red, not black, which is just the coolest.
It’s hard to find good replicas of these but I have a half-decent set and it’s these which you see on this spread. I’ve just realised I don’t have any shield-biting berserkers in my lot though, so it’s back to Ebay for me!
23. My grandmother’s chess set
The last item in this tortuous essay is another set of chess men, this time with the lovely old box I keep them in, saved from the clear-out of my grandmother’s house. She wasn’t actually my grandmother, she was my dad’s stepmother, but she was an incredible old woman and I loved her very much. This chess set, which we played together when I was very small, reminds me of her more than all the photos and whatnot.
I wish I could say that the chess thing is another big metaphor for the album cos there’s two sides, the light and the dark, blah blah blah but it’s not, they’re just lovely items, all of these bits and bobs, I like to handle them and to look at them. I’m afraid I’m quite a materialistic fellow, although not in the sense that I lust after cars and speedboats and diamonds and so forth. I do get annoyed though, by people who say things like “Oh, just chuck it all out, you don’t need it! You’ve got your memories, haven’t you?” And the answer is yes, I do have the memories, but these objects help you to access those memories, they make them stronger and more vivid. You might not think about that summer you spent washing cars and listening to reggae for decades, until you stumble upon the ragged old t-shirt you had to wear and then you’re right back there, in an instant.
Maybe this artwork and its theme of physical objects is a bit of a metaphor for me – I’m an analogue man in a digital world. I didn’t mean to be, it’s just turned out that way. I suppose if you look at my clothes and my hair and even some of the music on this record it might appear that I’m retreating from something, but if I am it’s not conscious. Sometimes the good thing about making art is that it tells you things about yourself that you didn’t realise at the time, and it’s only when you look at it from the outside, a few years down the line, that you get the message your subconscious was trying to tell you. You won’t believe it but I genuinely wasn’t aware that I was sick of any girl in particular when I wrote ‘Freddy Kreuger’, that chorus just fell out of my mouth, but now I look back I can see that I was (she’s a wonderful person, we just weren’t a good fit and I was too much of a coward to do anything about it – see ‘Lights Out’ for the next story in that chapter). So whatever you do, don’t dig out any of those potato-prints you made at nursery school – they’ll make you re-evaluate your entire childhood.
Anyway I have to go now and have a think about things. Perhaps an all-digital album that’s streamed directly into your mind via binary sub-routines, that sounds like a 56k modem with blast beats. I reckon that’s the way to go. Watch this space!
It's been almost a year since Jamie Lenman's Muscle Memory was realised. You can still buy it here, and you should. Again, go have a look at the lovely artwork and buy it in a format which will look nice on your wall. You can also grab the Record Store Day '14 seven inch vinyl 'It's Hard To Be A Gentleman', which comes with a build-it-yourself zoetrope that works as you play your record. It's great.
There have also been some noises about some other record Jamie was involved with or something. Don't know what that's about.