NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Bugg is taking the next step in his personal British Invasion plan this week, flying in to play at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
Bugg has been working the crowds in America since the release of his second album, the Rick Rubin-produced “Shangri La,” late last year. He wrapped up a headlining tour of sizable theaters with a rousing sold-out show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville earlier this year, hit “Ellen” and “American Idol,” did a flyby of the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, last March on his way to the West Coast to play for Jimmy Fallon on Late Night.
Bonnaroo starts a small run of festivals and theaters, and later this year, he’ll open a run of dates for The Black Keys.
“I just love touring the States and seeing everything,” said the 20-year-old roots rock-influenced singer with the raspy voice. “But you can’t tour it if you have nobody to play to and the thing with festivals and the like is not everybody’s there to see you, so it’s an opportunity to make some new fans and build your fan base.”
Bugg has been using his journeys to gather ideas for a third album, and the trip to Manchester, Tenn., for this weekend’s festival won’t be his only trip to the area. He plans to return later this year and visit Memphis, home to many of his influences, such as Stax Records.
“You go into places like that, you don’t know how it’s going to sound really with the thing that you do,” Bugg said. “You know, I might go in there and it might not be happening or I might go in there and really love it and just get inspired and just want to spend some time there. It’s just about enjoying myself sometimes. I just want to enjoy myself and go trace back some of my musical roots and my heroes and stuff like that, and just see what happens.”
This musical tourism paid off for Bugg on “Shangri La” as he collaborated with new friends in new locations. He traveled to Robert Johnson’s crossroads near Clarksdale, Miss., while recording at Memphis’ Sun Studios, and he came to Nashville to plug into the mainstream country music songwriting machine on Music Row where the magic number is three songwriters in a room with a recorder.
“Some of them write two songs a day,” Bugg said. “I went to see some of those songwriters and I felt like for them it was another day in the office. You get in there and you press play and, ‘Try to sing something into this,’ and I’m like, ‘No, pal, that song has no relevance to me.’ I’m not going to sing something I don’t feel like I own because I won’t be able to sing it live and express it how I want.”
He fled the Row and found safe harbor in The Raconteurs singer-guitarist Brendan Benson’s studio. He added frequent collaborator Iain Archer to the mix to bring the magic number to three, but had a very different experience.
The sessions produced album standout “Kingpin” and two other strong songs.
“Jake’s kind of a rare bird,” Benson said. “He’s so young, but he’s got this kind of old man wisdom about him in his lyrics.”