Teen Jake Bugg is not grumpy, he's just authentic, writes Ed Power
Jake Bugg is showing me his under-arm hair. We're in the middle of a very serious conversation about the fickle, fleeting nature of celebrity and, as the chart-topping, supermodel-dating rocker leans back in a languid stretch, I am treated to an exclusive peak at his lavishly fuzzy man-pits. He's still talking – explaining that he worries constantly that he might suddenly be forgotten or overlooked – and so doesn't notice as I struggle to maintain a straight face. It's just as well I didn't take up his offer of a cup of tea. I'd have spattered it all over my lap.
Blame the super tight t-shirt Bugg has squeezed into ahead of his tete-a-tete with Day & Night. A dapper grey number, it's slightly too small, which is saying a lot given Bugg is barely 5ft 7 and very slight. Every time he moves, you fear something might pop out or poke through.
As well as being slightly off-putting it speaks to the contradictions that are quickly making him a phenomenon: the "grumpy" rock star who has stepped out with a platinum-class fashionista, the kid from a dead-end Nottingham council estate with an eye for the tastiest threads. Not since Paul Weller have slick looks and intense wariness felt like such natural bedfellows.
He would be horrified to be regarded in these terms, you suspect. Musicians have a fetish for 'authenticity' and Bugg is an extreme case. Barely 19 he is at pains to come across as unaffected – a regular bloke with a number one album and a Mercury Prize nomination under his belt. This is obviously the moment he walks into his dressing room and says he'll start the interview as soon as he's been to the loo – which, yikes, is located IN the dressing room. Consequently, Day & Night finds itself hanging outside the cubicle as he does his business, wishing we had remembered our headphones. Later he suggests brewing us both a cuppa. What you see is what you get – for good or ill, he admits.
"People say I can be grumpy," Bugg sighs. "Well, the truth of the matter is, some mornings you wake and you're going to be a bit tired. And, if you are doing loads of interviews, you'll find yourself answering the same questions over and over. I'm a normal person. The type who say I'm grumpy, well, they've probably never met me."
That's fair enough but it doesn't really square with an encounter this journalist had with Bugg last year. We did our best to be polite; he, on the other hand, was monosyllabic with a vengeance.
"It's simple – if a person is nice to me, I'll be nice back. If someone is friendly why would I be horrible back? I will say that there are days I wake up and think 'oh why do I have to do this interview?' I have to give myself a slap – as a reminder of how lucky I am."
He's inclined to look on the bright side. Far from a drawback he believes his perceived 'grumpiness' might be a positive. It demonstrates he is not putting on airs or faking it for the camera. His fanbase – which includes ever increasing numbers of hyperventilating young women – appreciate his honesty, he feels.
"Maybe I can be grumpy," he says, shrugging. "Everybody has their grumpy spells. There is a lot of bullshit in the music industry. If you don't play along, people will say you are moody or whatever. Why would I smile? I'm not a fucking pop star. I'm not going to stare at the camera and give two thumbs up."
He's on the verge of a rant and, seeming to sense it, steps back. In the past six months, Bugg has learned to mind his words. Over the summer he caused a furore when he told a journalist that he regarded One Direction as purveyors of 'meaningless' music.
At one level this smacked of pointing out the obvious (do we truly expect One Direction to be profound?) Still, the comments went off like a cluster-bomb, prompting speculation of a 'feud' between the boyband and the ragamuffin singer.
"I get misquoted," he says of One Direction-gate.
"You've got individuals out there ready to tarnish whatever I say. You have to be careful. I read stuff people say now and, because I understand how it works, I wonder, 'well, did they really say that?' Words get twisted."
His wariness of journalists must also be seen in the context of a high-profile relationship (since ended) with model Cara Delevingne. For a few months early in 2013 you couldn't open a British tabloid without stumbling upon a picture of the two swishing to or from a glamorous bash. He wrote a song, Pretty Lady, about the romance – or, more specifically, how it was reported in the press.
"Everyone would like me to say Pretty Lady is about a specific person. You know who I'm talking about," he says. "Actually, it was inspired by the stories everyone else was creating around it [the romance]. I thought, everyone else is making stuff up, why shouldn't I get something out of it?"
With Christmas approaching, Bugg's label wanted him to issue a 'deluxe' version of his debut album, originally released in October 2012. He resisted but, as as a sweetener, mentioned that he'd written several new songs and would be up for an EP. Someone at his management company suggested he work with Red Hot Chili Peppers producer Rick Rubin.
"They put a request in, not expecting to receive word back. He said yes, which was great," says Bugg. "You hear stories 'oh he's never in the studio, stuff like that'. Well, he was there all the time I was working with him. It was a fascinating experience."
They spent a week together at Rubin's Malibu facility. The plan was to release a quickie pre-Christmas mini album. "We did two songs, then Rick asked had I anything else. As it happened, I had all these other tunes I'd written on the road. It came together very quickly. All of a sudden, we were making a full length record. I think it's right I come back with a second LP. If I was a Jake Bugg fan, after a year, I'd wonder if he was going to put new music out."
Considering how quickly it was sprung upon him, Bugg appears to have adjusted reasonably well to fame. He sometimes wonders how famous he actually is. Days can pass without anyone recognising him.
"I like to keep to myself," he says. "I'm good at that. I don't go out looking for attention. Honestly, I don't know how established I am. I might be walking through a shopping mall and not a single person will pay attention to me. It's always the second you let your guard down that it seems to happen. All of a sudden people are coming up to you."
He doesn't mean to complain. Bugg didn't get into music because he wished to be famous. However, having achieved so much in such a short period, he admits he occasionally lies awake at night worrying his public might lose interest. It fills him with terror to think he might one day end up back in the sink estate in Nottingham.
"This [a music career] is all I've got," he says. "I am quite fearful of losing it. What else would I be doing? I don't know."
The album Shangri La is out now.