Since dealing with two successful careers in cinema and modeling wasn’t enough, Jamie Campbell Bower set himself a new challenge: music. The outcome? Counterfeit, an incisive punk rock band. After roaming Europe and releasing several promising EP, the British quintet finally takes the next step with “Together We Are Stronger”, their first album. A few days before its release, the leader told us about his need for honesty and unity and made us a promise that should put a smile on several faces.
Hey Jamie! How are you?
Jamie Campbell Bower (vocals/guitar): I’m good, I’m good! We’re in rehearsals at the moment, preparing for the tour. We’re making a lot of loud music, a lot of loud noises, so I’m in my element! How are you?
Great thank you! Hope we’re not stopping you from practising!
Jamie: No, no please, we’re on lunch, don’t worry, not at all!
Your first album is out in two days, on a scale of 0 to 10, how excited and/or terrified are you?
Jamie: 10 excited, 12 terrified, if I’m being honest! (laughs) It’s a scary prospect to have it out there for sure, but I’m massively excited and massively terrified at the same time. I think it’s natural to be so, if I wasn’t I would be afraid.
Most of the time, there isn’t any high expectations for first albums, but yours is eagerly awaited. Things escalated massively and quickly for you, you went on a huge European tour with only a few tracks under your belt. Did you have a lot of pressure to prove yourself with the album?
Jamie: I think so. Pressure’s good, right? We all work so hard on this, we all put so much effort into it, so we do put pressure on ourselves. We all work really well under pressure and I think that’s a really beneficial thing for this band. When we started Counterfeit, we wanted it to sound like it was sort of struggling to survive, making an impact, almost like it was dying already. (laughs) The pressure only adds to that excitement I think, the pressure helps us perform, but of course there’s pressure. At the same time, in terms of like reviews or whatever, those are the things that can’t be affecting us. We shouldn’t let those things affect us, because that’s just one individual’s point of view. I think that’s absolutely valid, but our main pressure should come from the shows we’re playing and from the performance side of it as well. We’re under pressure, but hey, pressure’s cool! I’m down with pressure, I dig it! (laughs)
Before Counterfeit got together, you were in The Darling Buds with Tristan (guitar) and Roland (bass) and you were playing acoustic and folk music. Now, with Counterfeit you’re making angry punk rock, what made you want to switch to that style of music?
Jamie: I guess I grew up, if I’m being honest. The music that we were playing with The Darling Buds was lovely and at the time, that was music that I was into. I was feeling it and it was cool. But as I grew older, and the changes that I made in my life, I became very much more aware of things that were going on around me in terms of like politics, in terms of emotional things. I started feeling things a lot more and started to really be able to connect with what it means to be a human. I felt myself being quite angry I think, it’s how I would probably describe it. And with that came this need to write, it was never a conscious thought of “oh, let’s just go out there and make a punk rock band”, it was like I want to represent myself in the most honest way possible, that I can do, musically and it just so happened that’s how it sounded! (laughs) It was never like a conscious thought at all.
Your album is called “Together We Are Stronger“. Do you mean it as a personal meaning as in stick by your friends and family’s sides or maybe a more general, political meaning, at a time where people seem to be more and more divided everywhere in the world?
Jamie: Both. We experience divide and isolation on a day to day basis. We can put ourselves in that emotional space, we can separate ourselves from life. I think that we see that more in politics now than ever before you know, with countries choosing to do certain things and choosing to leave certain unions, which I think is absolutely mental if I’m being honest. It has both meanings absolutely. On a more personal level for me, I developed for the past few years and find that actually sharing things and connecting with other people made me a better person and made me who I am today. So there’s two sides to it, but I would say, it’s a philosophy. If you call something a philosophy, it doesn’t need to be as segregated as personal and political, I think a philosophy can be both. So it’s our philosophy and it’s our message.
So you’re saying that togetherness and unity, is what Counterfeit is all about?
Jamie: Absolutely, togetherness and unity and acceptance is what we are all about. I’m no religious, but we are all about unity and we are all about everyone. We are all about love, I may be angry, but at the end of the day, we’re all about love !
What are your three favorite songs on “Together We Are Stronger” and why?
Jamie: Track one, “Washed Out”. I love that song, I’m so happy that I wrote that! (laughs) I feel so good to know that I did that ! It’s massive, with a big chorus. I love that, I love harmonies and chorus. That track is just great.
“As Yet Untitled” is another massive track on the album for me. Everybody in the band gets a moment on it. There’s certain drum solos on it and Jimmy gets to really shine and Tristan gets to shine, everyone gets to shine vocally. I love this kind of song, where it’s just the whole band coming together.
If I have to choose one more, I would probably go for the last song on the record, “Letters To The Lost”, just because it’s so deeply personal to me and whenever we play that live, it’s such a pleasure and an honor to be able to play that in a room full of people and to really connect with people who are going through the same thing.
How did the writing process go?
Jamie: I tend to write alone, I tend to do a lot of work on my computer by myself. I live in London so I don’t have the opportunity much to be able to grab a massive guitar and wail. When you live in London, it’s pretty difficult to do that. (laughs) I tend to wake up super early, start writing at 7 AM or 6 AM, and then by lunchtime, I’d have the bones of an idea for a song and I’d send that over to the guys and if they think it’s cool, then I continue to work on it. Mainly by the end of the day it’s done, but the writing process has been going on forever. I carry a notebook with me pretty much everywhere I go. I do a lot of like automatic writing, I just write things down when ideas pop into my head, whether it’s phrases or words. From there you can pick out certain moments.
When we see you guys live, it’s hard to not be struck by how intense, loud and explosive you are. You really succeeded in capturing this raw energy to put it in the studio album. How did you manage that?
Jamie: How did we manage it? (laughs) I’m not really sure. It was definitely something that we were conscious of when we were in the studio. We were fortunate enough to be able to go out and do five tours last year before we even started making the album. Going into the studio, there was very much that feeling of “this need to sound and feel like it did live” as well as have a sort of polished, more modern production. A lot of the old punk records that you listen to, they kind of sound like they were recorded with a sock over the microphone, which is cool, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to add more edge to it, I wanted it to sound glossy. In terms of technical stuff, we don’t really use pedals at all, on the record. I think there’s like one or two times where a wah pedal is used but in terms of how we recorded, it’s just straight out of the guitars. Nothing went in the computer, it was all very analog, even if it was recorded digitally, it was still an analog record in terms of the sound we were using and the studio that we went to as well. It’s a small and great studio. The guy who produced it, Thomas Mitchener did some work with Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes, he produced their record and he has been around the whole suburban punk rock scene in the UK for a long time. He got it instantly and we knew that he would get it. It was a combination of the gear that we used, we used Blackstar amps, Gibson guitars. It’s straight up, this is how it sounds, if it doesn’t sound right, well, it doesn’t sound right! (laughs) We worked hard on our live sound before going to the studio so we were able to tame it.
The lyrics of the album seem to mainly deal with anger, bitterness, and raw honesty. Do you have to be an angry or brutally honest person in order to make punk rock music?
Jamie: When I was writing the record, I was in an angry phase, I needed to exorcise those emotions, those feelings, those demons. But then, upon finishing this record, there was an overwhelming feeling of hope. So I guess the storyline of this record is like “anger is cool, if it’s just an emotion, it’s something as valid as happiness. Aggression, however, is not. It’s something you should be cautious of”. The expression of the emotion anger and aggressiveness is obviously sometimes misplaced. In order to make punk rock, do you have to be angry? I don’t think so. There’s a lot of punk records that aren’t angry. That’s just what we wanted, that’s what we did, like I said, we never really set out to try and be a punk rock band. I don’t think you have to be angry to be in a punk rock band at all, it’s more like a feeling, like “let’s make rock n’roll”, like a lifestyle. (laughs)
Punk used to be dirty, with a strong spirit of protest, but nowadays, it has become marketable, fashionable. Do you reckon that, because of that, today’s punk rock bands are less focused on social issues, and are moving away from the aggressive attitude that used to be synonymous with punk?
Jamie: It’s an interesting question. Are modern band going away from it? I don’t know. We’re certainly not moving away from it. We are certainly aware of our surroundings and what is going on in politics, and we do address that, in part, in the album. But are we becoming more commercialized and more successful? I don’t see any real damage in that, as long as it’s coming from a place of honesty, as long as the art itself is always coming from the true nature of what it is that you’re trying to represent. I don’t think that’s bad at all. I think the consumers, the people out there nowadays, they’re not dumb. People are smart and I think that anything that is false is quickly disposed of within today’s society. I think that happened throughout time, I guess, in terms of art. The art that sticks around is the art that’s true and honest. If someone comes around and do something that isn’t real, they’re not going to be around for a long time. They’ll come and go.
The music industry is going through a pretty tough time right now, but at the same time, thanks to social media, it’s easier to make your music heard. For example, the last time you played in France, you played in an almost sold-out venue even if you had never played here before and you had only an EP at the time. Do you still feel like it’s harder for new bands to make it nowadays?
Jamie: I don’t think it’s necessary to have a major record label behind you nowadays. Like you say, the music industry is in a state of flux. We were very fortunate enough to be able to hold on to our ideas, our vision through the label we ended up going with, which is Xtra Mile. They’ve been very supportive of our very clear vision I think. You can get involved with a major label and they start to take things over, and they start to do things that you’re not particularly happy with and blah blah blah, all that stuff. You end up just becoming a marketable product and it’s the opposite of what it means to be a band.
Social media is a great tool. It allows you to put your message out there, more so than when it wasn’t there. But just because you can put your message out there doesn’t necessarily means that everybody is going to like you. You have an amount of followers that’s following you, they’re not all going to dig your music. There is certainly a percentage of the fanbase that I have from before that definitely aren’t going to like the music. I think that it’s cool, it’s a great thing and allows you to really show who you are as a band, and show your vision, everything, from the music down to the heart.
What were your biggest musical inspirations for the album?
Jamie: It’s a toughie, there’s a lot! I grew up listening to pretty much everything. When I was a kid, my parents were both in the music industry so I was able to listen to so many different types of music and be very accepting. The first time I heard punk rock music and experienced punk rock music live, it was such a kick in the face. When it came to writing this record, there wasn’t really any major band that I kept going back to. We all grew up on bands like Green Day. We’re all about 28-27, so “Dookie” was a huge record for us growing up, and then there was what would be considered the pop punk movement as well, blink-182 and all that kind of stuff, so I guess there is that kind of element to it as well. But we also love bands like Gallows and other British bands like Biffy Clyro, American bands like The Bronx. I would also go back further. I love the old school rock n’roll, I love the whole vibe, like Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses. I love that whole massive rock star scene, I think it’s great. We weren’t trying to sound like that, but we definitely wanted to catch the vibe of that kind of movement and just, make cool, proper rock music ! (laughs)
Art is always the result of personal experiences and eclectic inspirations. Is there any other things that you do in your everyday life that feed your creativity?
Jamie: Everything I do feeds my creativity. Over the past three years, I grew up, I was more aware and I became more in touch with my surroundings. My inspiration just grew and my love for life just grew. When you’re a kid and you’re about 16 or 17, you’re very open to everything and new experiences and everything excites you. When you get to about 20, it starts to fade because the pressure of the world starts coming on you. I started to fight actively against that and sort of shut off from it because it’s a weird feeling when you don’t find things exciting anymore. And then I got to 25 and completely reevaluated my life, I was like “let’s try to get back to that childlike state, to that feeling of everything is exciting and taking in new experience” and that helped me a lot to get more creative.
But in terms of what I do on a day to day basis, sure I go to shows, I love going to galleries. Recently, I went to the New Museum in New York and saw an artist called Raymond Pettibon. He did a lot of stuffs for Black Flag. That was hugely inspirational to me. Obviously I knew his work beforehand, Black Flag is a big band for me. That was a truly amazing experience because when I was a kid, I used to do the same kind of things that he was doing and still does which is just crazy and weird paintings. It doesn’t have to look the best thing in the world, but as long as there’s imagination and the heart is there, then it’s real. That was a recent experience when I was like “fuck, I should just keep doing that, fuck what anybody else thinks, let’s just crack on and be weird, just be weird!” (laughs)
What did being part of a band teach you about yourself?
Jamie: That I need to shut up and listen more.
You’re not only the leader of one of Britain’s most exciting new bands, you’re also an actor. Is it hard to find balance between your two careers or, on the contrary, it helps you to get away from your own art, get out of your own head and take a step back that’s beneficial for your creativity?
Jamie: That’s really nice! Thank you so much by the way, the question’s really nice! (laughs)
Yeah, I guess it does. It gives me this opportunity to escape these characters that I’ve been holding on to sometimes. But in terms of like, do I find it’s hard to balance the two? No, not really. I love to work. Whereas before between movies I would just be sitting around, going out and just doing 20 year old stuff, now I’m like “actually, do you know what, let’s put all this time and effort and put it into the band”. Sure, I don’t get to go on holiday much, but fuck it, what can I say, I’m out there playing rock n’roll with my friends (laughs) I love it, it’s great!
What is your proudest achievement as a band so far?
Jamie: This record, is our greatest achievement. I mean that from the bottom of my heart, we got a hard copy of the vinyl yesterday. We have done everything on this record, I shot the cover, everything is designed by us, even the little details that I don’t think people will even really notice, that comes from us. We all sat down and did it together on my computer, in my flat, at home. So this record is ours, it’s an amazing thing that we could hold and look at, the body of our work, both visually and sonically, so it’s huge. It’s our greatest achievement for sure. I’m so proud of every single one of us, that we’ve been able to do that.
Do you guys have any kind of ritual before you play a show?
Jamie: Until 5 minutes before, I’m like genuinely stressing out, walking around the back of the venue freaking out. (laughs) But then about 5 minutes before, we all start hugging each other and getting ready. Jimmy, our drummer always leads us onstage. We all get in a circle and Jimmy goes “let’s fucking go for this moment”. That’s our ritual. I haven’t really tried meditation or like, burning candles yet (laughs) I haven’t got to that stage yet. So it’s always getting together before the show.
You guys are going almost everywhere in Europe, but your tour is not stopping by France yet. Can we hope to see you in France anytime soon? Even a festival maybe?
Jamie: We tried to get a show, we did a great show in Paris, last January. It was amazing, it was an incredible show, it was the last show of the tour, the vibe was intense. I think playing live music in that city so soon was such an honor for us so we tried to book a gig in France with this tour, but there was no venue available in Paris! (laughs) I shit you not, there was nowhere to play, we were penciled in for like four fucking different venues, and each one was like “I’m very sorry, something else came along” so we did try. In terms of festival and stuff, I want the people from Rock En Seine to know that we want to come and play. We want to play that show, that’s what we want to do. So if anyone is reading, I want that to be known, Rock En Seine, we’re coming for you, to put some fucking show! (laughs)
OK, we’re going to try to tell them that they need you to play there! But we don’t get how you couldn’t find a single venue in Paris, we’ve got so many!
Jamie: I know, but I shit you not, we asked, but we couldn’t get one! I promise you we tried! But we will come! France, we are coming for you, I promise!
That’s a good news for all your french fans! Actually, we spoke to Team Counterfeit France, and they wanted us to ask how could they help you to get more recognition?
Jamie: That’s so sweet of them! I’m amazed by any support to be honest! (laughs) If they wanted to help us out more, I guess spread the word, tell your friends! Social media is a great tool, but at the same time, you only exist in a bubble in social media, it’s just the people that follow you. So word-of-mouth is still a massive part of what we do. If you can go everywhere and tell your friends about us and play them the record, that in itself is enough. Spread the message, spread the word! And if you feel like spray-painting a wall or two, I’m not against that! I’m not saying, do criminal damage, but if you’ve got a wall that belongs to you, or a neighbours, by all means, spray it! (laughs)
Last question and then we let you go back to work: our website is called “RockUrLife”, so what rocks your life?
Jamie: My friends, my family and playing live shows. My loved ones rock my life more than anything else in the world.
OK, we’re done! Thanks a lot! Congratulations for the album and have fun on tour!
Jamie: Thank you so much, have a good day, bye bye!