- Photography by Mr Dima Hohlov | Styling by Mr Jason Hughes
- Words by Mr Chris Elvidge, Senior Copywriter, MR PORTER
With his long hair and trademark black preacher hat, Mr Jamie N Commons looks rather like he's just stepped off the set of a Coen brothers movie. He bears a passing resemblance to Mr Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, too. Or Mr Jack White in Cold Mountain. And, from certain angles, he looks a little like Mr Michael Pitt's depiction of Mr Kurt Cobain in Last Days.
It's an occupational hazard for a musician who wears his influences so proudly on his sleeve. But the truth is that the Bristol-born 24-year-old looks - and sounds - like rather a lot of people. That remarkable, rasping baritone, so at odds with his tender years, conjures up the vocal style of Mr Gregg Allman or Mr Tom Waits, or even a late-career Mr Johnny Cash; his songs, meanwhile, are so steeped in US musical tradition - from the sparse, gospel-inspired blues that marked his debut EP, The Baron, to the barnstorming, foot-stomping, fuzzed-out rock'n'roll of his latest, Rumble and Sway - that listing the names that his music brings to mind could take you all day.
There are no doubt those that might be suspicious of someone so young, born on the wrong side of the Atlantic, and boasting such an authentic sound. But although his style may be unapologetically American, Mr Commons is no tribute act. He's transcending his influences to carve out an identity that's all his own.
"It started when I moved from the UK to Chicago, when I was seven, eight years old," he tells MR PORTER, when asked to trace back his musical roots. "I lived there until I was around 14. Back then I was probably listening to more music then than I am now." It sounds like an appropriate beginning for a burgeoning bluesman, but although he describes them as his formative years, he's refreshingly honest about his time spent there. "It's a better story than it is a reality," he laughs. "Growing up in Chicago, hanging out in blues clubs and listening to Muddy Waters? Nah. I left when I was 14, 15, so I wasn't really out on the tiles. But you absorb a lot. It helped that almost anywhere you go in America there's a station that plays just late 1960s and 1970s rock. It seems as if everyone in the US, even without trying, has a background knowledge of this music."
It's from the US, in fact, that Mr Commons has just returned, having completed a seven-week tour - his first in the country. The "litmus test" of playing American music to an American crowd seems to have gone rather well. "It went fantastically well, actually," he beams. "It was a big boost - we got better reactions than anywhere we've had in Europe." Confirmation, if it were needed, that Mr Commons' star is on the rise. This seal of approval from grass-roots audiences comes shortly after being featured prominently on the soundtrack to the hit TV horror drama series, The Walking Dead.
Mr Commons describes "Lead Me Home", the brooding, atmospheric track that features in the show's new-season promotional campaign, as "about as dark as I go" - and while he admits that it's an important part of his repertoire, he's quick to point out that it's not his typical style. "The idea of going on the road, just me and a guitar, and singing heavy, confessional songs? When I'm older, maybe. But right now I just wanna get people dancing. Take 'Rumble and Sway'," he says, of his latest EP's rambunctious title track. "That's about the social dynamic in a strip club. I mean, I'm not a big fan of strip clubs," he says. "But there hasn't been a good strip club tune for what, 20 years? Really, I can't think of the last one. Mötley Crüe, 'Girls, Girls, Girls'?"
Make light he well might; times are looking bright for this young musician. A full-length album is on the way later this year, which promises to take his sound in a new direction by blending in elements of hip-hop. "Hip-hop production is so clinical, but the blues is so loose by nature - the challenge is to make something unique that brings both together, but that can still be classified, first and foremost, as blues," he says. He is also rumoured to have been sampled in an Eminem track, due for release this summer - an endorsement that could do for his career what 2000's "Stan" did for Dido's. Mr Jamie N Commons, hold onto your hat: it's shaping up to be a very exciting year.