The Scotsman Sessions #117: Jonnie Common

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Jonnie Common performs his 2017 song Restless while being circled by a video camera-toting robot vacuum cleaner

“The weekends mean less when you work for yourself, and the self-assessment is endless,” muses Jonnie Common in a memorable line from Restless, his twitchy, brilliant, spoken-sung, awkward-pop ode to the navel-gazing ennui of self-employment, which the Stirling-based singer-songwriter performs for the Scotsman Sessions laid out on the floor, strumming his guitar while being circled by a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner equipped with a camera. It’s a song which could very well have been written about the cabin fever of 2020 in all of its work-from-home strangeness – but it in fact dates back to 2017.

“Restless is a good three years old now,” Common explains, “but I’ve had a few people online half-jokingly point out that it could have been written about lockdown. I thought I’d lean into that and perform it from the bare floor of my half-built home studio with a roving camera courtesy of DJ Roomba, who is literally bouncing off the walls. He is all of us and we are all him. Special thanks to DJ Roomba for pretty much ruining every single take. There’s a lyric that goes ‘shout out to the self-employed’, and I mean it now more than ever.”

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As well as speaking to Common’s restless state of mind, Restless is a song and a performance that also speaks to his environment. Just when home has come to mean so much to us all, Common and his family’s home has become a building site. A major renovation, years in the planning, was set in motion just before lockdown, and has consequently become tangled up in all of the stop-start chaos and confusion of the last number of months. “It’s an old house and we’re having to undo a hundred

Jonnie Common

years of Frankensteining,” he explains. “It has thrown up lots of unpleasant surprises and it’s been set-back after set-back, full of worry and expense. So, in that sense, it’s been extremely on-brand for 2020.”

As such, 2020 has been a far from productive year for Common in musical terms – albeit not when it comes to “big life stuff,” as he puts it, which he has “no doubt will work its way into future songs”.

“Truth be told I hadn’t been in a great place since the end of 2017,” he admits, candidly, “and when things started to kick off in February, I had a significant wobble which nudged me onto medication. I’d been avoiding it forever because I was worried it would stop me writing. Seems daft now. I’m sure a lot of people have found themselves in that boat recently.”

A new Jonnie Common album is near enough completed, however – the product of a couple of years of work which will hopefully see the light of day soon, once he finds the right home for it label-wise. “I guess I can’t say that much about it because, while it’s at 99%, I have no idea how and when I should pull the trigger,” he says. “I don’t know if you’ve heard at all but these, are ‘unprecedented times’.

“I never toot my own horn in earnest, but I will say this album was genuinely hard to make and I do believe the work shows. It’s my best sounding and most cohesive thing yet. Can’t wait to get it out there. If Frankie Sharp is reading this, hit me up, chief!”

Besides his solo material, Common – which he insists is his real name – has also been renowned for a number of collaborations and side-projects over the years including self-styled “not-folk pro-bro rap duo” CARBS together with Jamie Scott. Yet, as looking after his young kids has increasingly come to take precedence in recent years – Common’s wife is a doctor and works long hours – his music schedule has by necessity had to thin out quite a bit. Lockdown in fact represented, he says, “the first

time I’ve slowed work down in years without feeling guilty about it.”

“Knowing that peers aren’t exactly racing past me while I’m elbow deep in Playmobil has been a huge deal,” he says. “That said, I did recently produce and mix some tracks for Ensemble, the songwriting initiative of Wheatley Care, working with young people who have experienced homelessness. Incredibly rewarding work. Amazing people and musicians (including Jamie Scott of CARBS, Martha Ffion, Jill Lorean and many more). That album will be out in the spring. It’s a real joyous punch in the

heart.”

The pay-off from all of the disruption that has come with his ongoing home renovation, meanwhile – quite apart from meaning he’ll have a nice house at the end of it all – will be that he finally has his own purpose-built studio replete with sound booth. Which means that new Jonnie Common material will begin to arrive with swift regularity in future – or so he promises. “I haven’t had a suitable space to make proper recordings in for ages and every fibre of me is looking forward to being able to track at any hour,” he enthuses. “I have a lot of songs out-with the new album that I am champing at the bit to address. I learned a lot about writing, recording, mixing and, at the risk of sounding like a Carrie Bradshaw article, myself while making the new album. Can’t wait to turn off my phone, roll up my sleeves and apply it.”

For more on Jonnie Common, visit http://www.jonniecommon.com/

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