Phil Jamieson’s diamond hoo-ha

Early last Sunday, the veteran Australian pop-metal band Grinspoon fronted up to Byron Bay for one of the most contentious Splendour in the Grass festivals in memory. Singer Phil Jamieson says he became “a platypus” – the rarest sighting possible. “I spent 90 minutes on the grounds, and 60 of that was on stage. I drove in, in my own car, got up on stage and left,” he says.

When Jamieson says the event was “a little bit tricky”, he is being diplomatic. “I was just ducking and weaving, getting up to do the best job I could possibly do. It was hectic but I just kept my eye on the prize. We got it across the line, I think. But if you went there as an 18-year-old and that was your first festival experience, you would be battle-hardened.”

Jamieson, 45, wears a few battle scars of his own. Grinspoon have been active for 27 years since forming in Lismore, northern New South Wales. There were seven albums – the latest being 2012’s Black Rabbits – before the band took a break, reuniting for tours with Cold Chisel in 2015 and supporting a 20th-anniversary reissue of their debut album, Guide To Better Living, in 2017.

Now Jamieson is releasing his debut solo album, Somebody Else. He notes that Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, the Living End’s Chris Cheney and the Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele have all done the same in 2022: “Look at all these alt-90s kids coming through with their adult contemporary hoo-ha!”

This sort of self-deprecation comes naturally to Jamieson. He doesn’t love talking himself up, something he again puts down to stereotypical Generation X reticence. But “adult contemporary” makes Somebody Else – recorded and produced with Holy Holy’s Oscar Dawson – sound like a lot less fun than it is. It’s a hoo-ha all right, but the emphasis is on bright, inventive, hooky pop.

It might surprise fans (and non-fans) of Grinspoon’s heavier material – and he might give himself a bit more credit, too. There are just eight songs on Somebody Else, written over a decade. Many more hit the cutting-room floor. “I’m my hardest marker, so I’m really tough on material,” he says. “To get those eight songs together was pretty tricky.”

He confesses to anxiety about releasing a solo album. “When you’re doing something on your own, you don’t really have a fall guy to say, ‘That’s a terrible idea.’ They’ve been my songs for so long. I would play them live and no one would know whose they were.” There’s that self-deprecation again. “And pretty soon they’ll be everyone’s.”

In 2017 and 2018 Jamieson played the role of St Jimmy in the Australian stage production of Green Day’s American Idiot. “I learned so much about work ethic, and taking a bit more more pride in what I do,” he says. “You know, as a slacker Gen Xer you’re like, ‘whatever,’ but theatre’s not like that. Everything’s like, ‘YEEEEAAAAHHH!’”

Singing night after night forced Jamieson to take better care of his voice, and he paid more attention to stagecraft. “I started to put a bit more thought into what I do and where I move on stage – more theatrics, more costumes and just fun things I didn’t think about when I was singing on Recovery in 1997.”

It came through in Grinspoon’s shows, and the band entered a studio in March 2020, the month that everything changed – but it’s unlikely anything would have eventuated from those recordings anyway. “It wasn’t really gelling,” Jamieson says. “I had these songs on the bubble already, and I didn’t want to force this stuff on Grinspoon if they didn’t want to release it.”

The title track of Somebody Else is a good example of a song that might not have worked with the band. He describes it as “shiny” – and there was no wish to darken it. It opens with the chorus. “I can’t think of a song in Grinspoon’s repertoire over 25 years that opens with a chorus. I was trying to think about songs upside down.”

But Grinspoon will carry on. “I love the band so much, and we have been very fortunate to play to so many people and to have the back catalogue that we do, and for people to still respond to it in such a beautiful way,” he says. “I just couldn’t write any new Grinspoon stuff without getting this out of the way. I just had to, for want of a better word, purge.”

First published in the Guardian, 29 July 2022

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