Track By Track: Jamie Lawson – ‘Happy Accidents’

English songwriter guides Clash through his return...

Jamie Lawson is perhaps best known through his association with Ed Sheeran.

After all, the south coast talent became the first artist to be signed to Gingerbread Man Records, the record label set up by Sheeran himself.

Yet with a number one debut album under his belt, perhaps it's time to begin focussing on Jamie Lawson as someone working in his own creative universe.

New album 'Happy Accidents' certainly underlines this. It's a fine, creative return, one that builds on the success of his debut while tightening the bolts and tweaking the screws of his songwriting.

Here, Jamie Lawson talks Clash through the making of his new album…

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Sunset Sound Studios – LA. This is where the album was recorded. You may have heard of it. All The Doors records were made here as well as those of James Taylor, early Prince, Elliott Smith, Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Natalie Merchant, Sheryl Crow and Counting Crows. All of them million selling records, some multi-million selling. They have all the gold discs filling the walls as you walk in.

I have to admit, for the first two weeks I was a little intimidated by the place. Singing in the same vocal booth that Jim Morrison had sung in, it felt like the ghosts were still there, just watching me, keeping an eye on me, just around, the weight of them. It was weird. I couldn’t work out why I was there.

Why was I, a Plymouth born St Budeaux boy, in sunny Los Angeles working with Joe Chiccarelli as my producer, with Roger Manning Jnr and Matt Chamberlain as part of my band, recording at one of the most legendary studios on the planet? I still don’t know, but I’ll be forever grateful.

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'A Little Mercy' (Jamie Lawson & Simon Aldred)

'A Little Mercy' was written with Simon Aldred of Cherry Ghost. I’d been listening to his album Herd Runners a lot and really loved it so writing with Simon was a real highlight for me. It was recorded in LA on the day Trump became president. As you can imagine the mood was pretty low and our American friends in the studio were stunned and shocked to say the least. It seemed like the perfect and only song to record on that day.

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'Can’t See Straight' (Jamie Lawson, Ed Sheeran & Johnny McDaid)

'Can’t See Straight' was written with Johnny McDaid and Ed Sheeran. We’d already written one song in the morning out at Ed’s house and after lunch Ed came back saying, “We should do a song like this!” and started playing the chords and rhythm of the chorus. I’ve never seen anyone write as fast as Ed Sheeran. We traded chords and lyric changes like a tennis match with Johnny as the umpire deciding which idea would work best. I think it was done within the hour.

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'Tell Me Again' (Jamie Lawson & Alex Hope)

Tell Me Again was written in Los Angeles with Alex Hope, who’d written a couple of great songs with Troye Sivan. Alex had come up with this cool, moody piano riff which I loved but we were struggling to get the lyric right. The only place to get food close to her stuffy studio room was a Dunkin’ Donuts type place and I needed tea. The breakthrough for the chorus came while crossing a typical busy LA road, fearing for my life and sipping my tea. “Tell me again cause I can’t contain this feeling my heart could explode…”

The strings on the record were all arranged by Patrick Warren. On the night before recording I was heading back from the studio listening to Bright Eyes in the car and the string arrangement sounded really cool. I looked it up and it was Patrick who’d arranged them. I told Joe the next day and it turned out Patrick had already been booked for my sessions. I love that.

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'Fall Into Me' (Jamie Lawson)

The recording sessions for this record took place in November 2016 and again in February 2017. On reflection after listening to the first batch of recording where we’d recorded 15 songs I felt I was missing a song that could drive a little. I wrote this song to that specific brief, which I don’t think I’d ever done before.

Roger Manning Jr is a musical genius, keyboard whi`z. He was a member of the legendary cult band Jellyfish and now plays keys for Beck. As you can imagine he knows his stuff. He’s all over this track and would pull out magical moments that reveal themselves over numerous listens, adding layers of depth to the songs. It was a real honour for me to have him on this record.

'Don’t Say You Don’t If You Do' (Jamie Lawson)

I remember being on my first tour with Ed and he asked me – do you still get excited about writing songs? I told him I was in the middle of writing something at the moment and if I get it right I’ll be really chuffed and he gave me this big grin as if to say, that’s great, I can still be doing this in 20 years time! It was this song but it took me another six months to finish it.

Joe Chiccarelli, as a producer who’s worked with legends such as Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, Morrissey, American Music Club, Etta James (the list is endless, seriously, look him up, I put money on it that one of your favourite records was produced by Joe Chiccarelli), knows what he’s doing, and with this song he took some of the chords out, which I thought was really unusual, but it made it all simpler and helped it to flow a lot more.

Then he swapped the middle eight and the instrumental around so the instrumental comes before the mid eight which is also a bit of a strange move, but it works brilliantly and the trumpet solo makes me smile every time I hear it.

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'Miracle Of Love' (Jamie Lawson)

A song about loss and losing someone, about wanting to help but feeling helpless. I love the soundscape that Roger came up with for me to sing over, all distorted and gnarly. It fit perfectly.

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'Falling In Love' (Jamie Lawson & Andy Burrows)

So this is a bit weird… I got to do the Late Late Show in the US with James Corden, who’d been a big supporter of 'Wasn’t Expecting That'. It was a big deal for me and of all the talk shows and late night shows that I got to do this one was my favourite. Talking to him after the show I told him about making the new record and wanting to write with other people and he said to me – “Right there’s two people you’ve got to work with, Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol and Andy Burrows.”

I obviously knew about Snow Patrol but hadn’t heard Andy’s songs and so James played me a Tom Odell track from his new album (that wasn’t out at the time) that Andy had co-written which sounded beautiful.

Skip forward a couple months and I’m on the same bill with Tom at a festival in Germany somewhere and Andy is playing drums, I introduce myself, tell him the story, we get on, get together and write this tune.

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'Time On My Hands' (Jamie Lawson & Dave Bassett)

I had this line in my notebook, “I’ve got time on my hands and you on my mind, oh what a mess I’ve made!” I took it to Dave Bassett who’s co-written songs such as Ex’s And Oh’s with Elle King and Fight Song with Rachel Patten – he liked the first part of my line but not the last. We wrote a summer song, an easy song, a song you don’t have to think about, a pop throwaway in the best sense of the word, like 'Shiny Happy People' or 'Daydream Believer'. We wrote a song with sunshine in it. At least, that’s how I hear it. We even put a sax solo in it, I mean, how cool/uncool is that!? It’s a fine line but it makes me smile.

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'Sing To The River' (Jamie Lawson & Chris Braide)

Co-writing is a strange thing, to lay yourself open to a complete stranger is a very odd thing to do. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. This is probably the most personal song on the record, written with a complete stranger in a strange place and there I am talking to him about how, after my father passed away twenty years ago, I would sing to the river as some form of release or therapy.

I’ve never really written about my Dad’s passing before either so why it came out here I’ve no idea, but I’m very glad it did, and very grateful to Chris Braide, who’s written hits with Sia and Lana Del Ray, for allowing it to happen. The backing singers on this are the Arnold Singers, they’ve been singing for years, backing up the greats. They sing with James Taylor, a hero of mine, to this day.

Incidentally, after my father died I would listen to James Taylor’s 'Carolina In My Mind' and having no idea where Carolina was I would think of my Dad as being there and in the fade out of the song.

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'He’s Reading Helena' (Jamie Lawson)

This whole song took place on a flight on my 40th birthday from Amsterdam to Los Angeles. An older couple next to me, he was reading Helena by Evelyn Waugh, his wife put on a film and then fell asleep, and that was it. By the time I’d landed all the lyrics were written. The noise scape at the beginning of the track came from David Schwerkolt, one of the assistant engineers at the studio who had all these field recordings from airports, we mingled that in with some of Roger Manning Jnr’s effect pedals and sound pads.

Roger Manning Jnr said the coolest thing to me whilst recording this song, after playing something in the studio he came in to listen and said, “Jamie, I love this song, it sounds like a lost Simon & Garfunkel B-side.”

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'Letter Never Sent' (Jamie Lawson)

I wrote this as if I were trying to write a Ben Folds’ song. I failed obviously because who can come close, but I still really like it. If you listen closely you can hear a Dorothy Parker quote – we had to pay £250 to the Dorothy Parker Estate to use that. Matt Chamberlain is a drummer of some note. He has played on some the biggest and best songs ever recorded.

Amongst others Matt has played with Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant, Soundgarden, Ron Sexsmith, Ed Sheeran, David Bowie, John Mayer, Alanis Morissette, the list goes on. You will have definitely heard some of Matt’s drumming.

Sitting around on a lunch break one day I asked him – “What’s the most famous song you ever played on?” he thought about it, and casually mentions, almost as if he’d forgotten, “Oh, I played on that soundtrack, Frozen?” Let it go, let it go… amazing. Now you know you’ve heard him play.

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'The Last Spark' (Jamie Lawson, Johnny McDaid & Gary Go)

This was written with Johnny McDaid (Snow Patrol) and Gary Go. I remember sitting with them before the session having coffee and saying, “Um… I’d really love to write something slow and gentle,” and Johnny, turned to me and said, “Jamie, I love you! People always want to write upbeat pop shite!” We wrote this, it’s beautiful and I’m very proud of it. I wrote the initial chord structure whilst on the video shoot for 'Don’t Let Me Let You Go', killing time, messing with chords.

I think a lot of writers would have asked me to straighten these chords up, they are pretty unusual, strange minor changes and flat diminished chords, but Johnny went for it straight away, and that’s what makes him so great. Gary Go hit that beautiful note in the chorus and it’s a shame he doesn’t sing more, the world deserves to hear a voice like that.

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'Love Finds A Way' (Jamie Lawson, Kim Richey & Henrik Irgens)

I’ve written with Kim Richey a few times now, I love her songs, so well crafted and not a word wasted. We wrote this with Henrik Irgens as well, he’d played us these piano chords, I heard yearning and melancholy in them but also a sense of hope, right up my street. We were in a studio and ran out of time before it was finished. We ended up completing the song in the dark stairwell of a pizza place in east London before meeting friends for dinner, barely able to see each other.

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'Happy Accidents' is out now.

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