Experience as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, illustrator and graphic designer is not something everyone can put on their CV, especially not before they reach thirty. Jamie Lenman, former frontman of the rock band Reuben, is currently illustrating for The Guardian, as well as working on additional projects, such as cartoon strips in Rocksound and Doctor Who magazine, and being the voice of the fireman on a children’s educational website. Jamie lives and works in London.
Jamie Lenman
The 405 got in contact with Jamie for an email interview; we asked him questions about his illustration job, album artwork, Reuben, the Queen and Christmas, and he gave us some interesting answers. Okay, just a general question to start off with - how's life? Life is pretty good. I'm sorry that's a boring answer - what can I say? If you bang on about the great things it sounds like you're boasting and if you list all your complaints you sound like an arse. I'd say I have a good mix going on. Does that make me a boastful arse? As an illustrator and designer who spent ten years in rock 'n' roll, which do you identify with more? Well it's funny, I was drawing way before I was playing music, I was always 'the guy who draws the cartoons' and only recently became 'the guy with the band', so I think I've always really felt like an illustrator. Now that I've stopped rock and rolling for a while, I almost forget I even did it. It seems like a ten year side-step.
Centrefold illustration for Very Fast Very Dangerous, the second Reuben album Centrefold illustration for Very Fast Very Dangerous, the second Reuben album
What do you enjoy most about your job now? I enjoy the company best. I work with a really great team of people, all a similar age, all geeks. Most people complain about their bosses giving them a hard time - my boss gives me chocolates and even the occasional cuddle. It's a bizarre environment, no one has any hang-ups. What inspires you most - musically and artistically? That's a difficult question because these things are difficult to get a grip on but I think it's attention to detail, in both areas. I love to see a drawing of a figure with a few cursory hairs on the arms or a bead of sweat on the forehead, I love to hear songs where that little riff from the beginning winds its way back in at the end in a slightly different form...but at the same time, I also love slap-dash, totally spur-of the moment stuff. If you had to rewrite one Reuben track in retrospect, which would it be and why? I think if I have any regrets about Reuben tracks it's usually in the way we recorded them, rather than how they were written. You know, could have sung better there, should have dropped the strings out here, etc etc. Although I did make a little change to 'Stuck In My Throat' when we played it live, to build it up a bit more and make it more exciting. You can see that version on the Download set (video below). We had a song called 'Push' which wound up on a B-side, but I wrote it when I was fifteen and the chorus goes 'I killed Kurt Cobain' which I thought was clever and shocking at the time, whereas later I cringed a bit about it. (Writer’s note: I love that song). When we recorded it, I considered changing the lyrics cos I was worried what people would think, but in the end I thought it was better to stand by what I thought when I was fifteen, who I was when I wrote the song, and just went ahead with it. I think you have to honour the choices you make, good or bad. So...ah! That's a story about me NOT changing things! To sum up then, I suppose...I don't believe in correcting things. I think your mistakes are as important as your successes. Stuck in my Throat, Reuben - Download 2007
What is your favourite film and band around at the moment? I'm currently listening a lot to band called 'Nostromo' who are fucking intensely heavy but I'm not sure if they're all that recent..it takes ages for stuff to filter down to me and I'm not that impressed with anything happening at the mo...as for films, I saw 'Precious' the other day and I thought that was brilliant. Heavy going.
Reuben (Ashley Wood) – In Nothing We Trust In Nothing We Trust, cover of Reuben’s third studio album, by Ashley Wood
What is your favourite album artwork ever, and why? The first one that springs to mind is White Zombie's 'Astro Creep 2000', cos there's so much going on. I loved the fact that the singer Rob drew it all and the way that there's a little tableau dedicated to each song. I love the cover for 'Pinkerton' by Weezer, and I have to say I loved the artwork for Reuben's third album cos they're all paintings by one of my favourite artists, Ashley Wood.
Weezer - Pinkerton cover Pinkerton, Weezer
Which is most important in music - talent, originality, attitude, image, or something else? I think it's attitude, really. You can make great music if you're not particularly talented, and great music doesn't always have to be original, although it helps. I think all you need is the desire to make great music instead of the desire to get groupies or be in magazines, and then you're on the right track.
Illustration for the now defunct Hideous Records website Illustration for the now defunct Hideous Records website
When did you first discover you could sing/draw and how did you develop? Well my mum is both musical and 'artistic' so that helped a lot. Both my parents, even though my dad wasn't artistic at all, persuaded me to get lessons on piano, euphonium, saxophone etc, and eventually guitar stuck cos it was easy. My Uncle John had a loft full of old Snoopy books and I read all of them, which is probably when I started drawing cartoons all the time. Then I got a dodgy cassette tape copy of Queen's Greatest Hits from a market in Bulgaria when I was about 9, so that's when that took off. When I was at school I got into trouble for drumming on the desks and drawing all over my books. I often think how funny it is that I've ended up making a career out of those two things instead of all the maths or science I was supposed to be learning. If you had to design something for the Queen, what would it be? Why? This is easily the oddest question I've ever had in an interview. Funnily enough one of the tasks in my graphics GSCE was to design a logo for her 50th Jubilee, and I remember being pretty pleased with that. I got an A* so it must have been quite good. Where do you see yourself going from here? Are you going to keep making music? Honestly I have no idea where I'm going. There are so many things I want to do and so little time...I'm sure it's the same for everyone. I'll probably finish the songs in my head at some point and put them on an album, but not just yet. Watch this space! Finally... was Christmas awesome? Christmas was awesome, Christmas is awesome, Christmas will always be awesome. Jamie Lenman’s website can be found here, complete with many more examples of his work. While Reuben are on indefinite hiatus , the website is still functional at www.wordsfromreuben.com, with an incomparably cool ‘Time Machine’ option so you can see all of Reuben’s past websites. It makes for brilliant boredom browsing, Reuben fan or not – and if we're on general advice, you should be. I'm definitely 'watching that space'.