Jake Bugg had a specific routine when recording his second album, Shangri La, at producer Rick Rubin’s Malibu studio by the same name: “Wake up about noon, have a cup of coffee,” the 19-year-old U.K. singer-songwriter tells Rolling Stone, his Nottingham accent coming through extra thick. “Then go in the studio, record two or three tracks a day, and embrace the nighttime.”
Bugg, born Jake Kennedy, broke out last year with a U.K. chart-topping debut album full of folky, backporch melodies and a whip smart croon that recalled early Bob Dylan, vintage Johnny Cash and Harvest-era Neil Young. It also had many quickly championing Bugg as one of the finest new songwriters of his generation. But Bugg feels Shangri La, due on November 19th, is a much more cohesive project. “The songs on the first album were written over a course of years, whereas these ones have all been written in the last year,” he says. “And plus, they were all recorded by the same guy in the same place.” Additionally, Bugg says he’s a far more proficient singer than when he recorded his debut – a direct result of nonstop touring over the past two years: “I feel like my voice has got stronger. I could tell in the studio even the second time in Shangri La from my first time it felt like it had improved.”
The singer linked up with Rubin after his management reached out to the producer, never expecting him to agree. Rubin wasted little time getting down to business. “The first time I met him he just grabbed me an acoustic [guitar] and wanted me to play some songs,” the singer recalls of an early-summer session at Rubin’s studio. The singer-songwriter had already accumulated rough sketches of tunes while touring, but the producer, he says, helped him channel them into concrete songs. “Rick just kind of dragged them out of me,” Bugg said of several new tunes – including the bluesy “Slumville Sunrise,” which Rolling Stone premieres here – “so that I could create space for even more songs.”
The pair had initially planned to record two tracks together: “Slumville Sunrise” and “Broken.” But Bugg was inspired enough by working with Rubin in his Zen-like surroundings that he returned to Malibu for two weeks in late August to finish recording his entire new album with a crew of seasoned musicians, including longtime Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas. (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith had recorded with Bugg during his first session at Shangri La, however due to touring commitments he was unable to return in late August).
Fans first got a taste of Shangri La on the punk-y debut signle, “What Doesn’t Kill You,” which Bugg says was something of a fake-out: the song is far heavier than anything else on the album, and the singer wanted to throw listeners for a loop. “Music is about breaking rules,” he says, citing Young’s infamous scuffle with his record label, Geffen Records, over his 1985 country change-up, Old Ways.
Bugg also shows off his previously underexposed electric guitar prowess on the new LP – as on the taut, rockabilly-drenched middle-eight section of “Slumville Sunrise.” Is Bugg concerned how people will judge his six-string skills? “Everyone likes to think they’re Jimi Hendrix once in a while,” he adds with a self-deprecating laugh. “Even though they never will be.”