With his band Grinspoon holding the illustrious title of first-ever triple j Unearthed, well, anything, Phil Jamieson is a key player in the indie crop that has grown up before our very eyes. From rapscallion rock dog sporting a “F*ck Me I’m Famous” t-shirt at the 2000 Sydney Big Day Out to occasional acoustic solo performer and social media hound, Jamieson has ridden the highs and lows of success with grace. Grinspoon’s trajectory as a band never seemed to falter from their very first release, but Jamieson appeared to jump headfirst into the hedonistic lifestyle of a rock star. It didn’t take him too long to come back down to earth, though, and what’s left is a man with a long career ahead of him, a whirlwind tale behind him and an awesome sense of humour ever-present.
With acoustic guitar in hand Jamieson is setting off on a run of solo shows in NSW and Tasmania, and I have to ask whether the two states were a strategic or circumstantial choice. “They’re the people who were prepared to pay, so I was like, ‘Well that’s cool, I will come to where you want me to be,’” Jamieson says with his first belly laugh. “I thought it would be really cool to do some solo shows in the lead-up to Christmas and my agent spoke to some venues who were happy to do it, which was really nice. In Tasmania, Grinspoon didn’t get there on the last tour and they were really angry. Tasmania have really fast internet because they have the NBN so when we announced the tour they got really upset, so yeah, it’s interesting that I’m going there by myself. I’m pretty excited, to be honest”.
It’s a vulnerable position for Jamieson to place himself in: on an empty stage, under lights, with just himself and a guitar. The energy of a gig like this is a far cry from a Grinspoon show – are there ever any nerves? “God, when you say it like that, you’re painting a picture,” he laughs again. “I started doing this about two years ago and I was incredibly anxious about doing it so I brought a friend with me who played guitar and helped me and got my confidence. Then I worked out exactly what I wanted to do. When I first started doing it I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it, how I would tour it or what songs I wanted to do – would I do Grinspoon stuff or whatever – but now I’m a lot more comfortable. It’s still fairly nerve-wracking at times, depending on the audience though. I’ve played places when it’s their buck’s night when I have to explain to them it’s not a Grinspoon unplugged gig. I don’t sample any drums, it’s just me and a guitar, I’m not beatboxing…” he trails off, losing his point as it gives way to further laughter. Obviously breaking it down isn’t a Jamieson party trick.
“I’ve been playing guitar in the band for maybe a decade now and I have, like, one pedal – I get confused. Actually, I get confused just singing and playing guitar at the same time as it is. I don’t need to be worrying about looping and all of that. I have a huge admiration for those people, they’re incredible. Those people who do that, they’ve obviously been one-man bands for a long time, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a band with an awesome guitarist and a drummer and things like that so I was lucky enough not to have to worry about that. I did buy a loop pedal, but I couldn’t work it.”
Singing isn’t a concern, though. Grinspoon have never layered Jamieson’s voice behind a wall of sound. “In Grinners it’s been a clean sound so my voice hasn’t really been hidden. I’ve been hearing myself for years, man; it’s driving me fuckin’ insane. But yeah, I actually pump a lot of reverb through so, you know, I sound prettier.”
A Phil Jamieson solo set is a fluid affair. Nothing’s set in stone apart from the fact he’s not going to bust out a Grinners greatest hits set. “I play it by ear. There was a show I did in Canberra recently, I had a set written down but it wasn’t in any order and people started calling for songs and I was like, ‘Yeeeeah. Let’s play that.’ I don’t really play really popular Grinners songs, they’re just too identifiable. Something like ‘Chemical Heart’, it’s so identifiable to Pat [Davern] and I just feel like if play Grinspoon it has to be something a little more obscure. I’ve been writing some new material, so for this one I’m hoping to play some of that on this tour as well.”
While it may seem like a cliche – rock star picking up the acoustic guitar to slow down the pace – Jamieson is actually stretching himself beyond his comfort zone. But for someone who clearly searches for the humour in all, he’s ready to take a stab at the ageing rock star axiom. “I think what’s happening with, whatever we are in this band, is the people who’ve come along for this journey are getting older too. With Nine Inch Nails and Queens [of the Stone Age] coming out, I really like that idea; just two bands touring together, that would be good, not like a huge festival. I was at Splendour this year and it took me three weeks to recover! Oh my God, I can’t handle it anymore.”
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