Dave Jakes is one of the greatest vocal talents to emerge in British rock music for years, but is proof that no matter who you are it's never too late to learn; "I only really started learning how to play guitar properly when I turned 40," the former Lonely The Brave singer admits to us as we talk about the creation of his debut solo release.
Dave describes the songs on his self-titled mini album (preorder) as "fairly new" due to his developing guitar skills. And they was discovered in an unlikely scenario too. "To cut a long story short, I was over in America with my daughter and her Mum visiting relatives," he explains. "We'd bought my daughter an acoustic guitar which just sat in the corner for a few days. I had a bit of time to kill so I bought myself a chord book and set out to learn all I could. It took a while to work out hot to go from a verse to a chorus, but Been In My Dream was one of the first to come out once I'd got things going."
To create such sublime work from humble beginnings feels typical of Dave Jakes. When his talent fully emerged on Lonely The Brave's debut, The Day's War in 2014, it was a strikingly emotive voice that took the spotlight on a contemporary classic album.
Dave is a very special singer; soaring, sincere, fragile and powerful with lyricism moving from the opaque to universal. The impact was in its own way akin to Dave's influence Eddie Vedder on Pearl Jam's Ten; there was nobody else singing like this in UK rock.
Dave parted ways with the Cambridge band amicably in 2018 for mental health reasons. He had grappled with performance anxiety and fans wondered understandably if they would hear his voice again – Dave Jakes (released December 11 via By The Time It Gets Dark) provides the welcome answer. And its collaborative nature with other musicians including The Last Dinosaur and producer / engineer Matty Moon also gives it a band dynamic.
"I was originally going for a really sparse sounding record. Just a couple of guitars and vocals," Dave explains. "It was Matty Moon who really pushed things for a bigger sound. James and Jay from the label were really great with their ideas on building the songs as well. I think looking forward to any future recordings, the more instruments I could get involved the more I'd enjoy recording."
The songs find Dave showcasing the stunning versatility of his pipes; while Caterwaul has the anthemic dynamic LTB fans will enjoy, it's a pleasant surprise to hear his voice alongside the harmonies of Melissa Baker and Grace Kuhl elsewhere.
"Im really happy they're on the record," says Dave. "They've added another cool dimension to the songs. I demoed something a while back and was really keen to have a female vocalist doing quite a bit of the lead vocals through it, so that's something I'd like to come back to.
"A lot of my favourite records over the last few years have been female vocal led - First Aid Kit, Haim, Christine and the Queens. I listen to a lot of Taylor Swift with my daughter and I think I like her more than what she does, she's more of a Katy Perry fan."
Dave's surroundings also played their part influencing the album – he was working on music from a mobile home in the Cambridge Fens.
"I definitely think it has a role in my writing. There's a lot of what's out here that are in my lyrics - birds, big skies, rivers, fields, nature and I guess our lives are quite a bit different from people growing up in a city.
"I go to my local river every day and park in the same spot where we used to be from the LTB song River River. It's really flat out in the Fens. I used to live in Camden for quite a few years and although I really liked the place, I think I'm more at home walking through muddy fields in my wellies with the cows."
Lyrically he's still a fascinating wordsmith. "I think they're fairly similar to the band day," Dave adds of his writing."Maybe a bit more personal. I keep trying to write about other people’s lives - like Springsteen does so well - but I can never really get it to work. Think it’s a bit harder to get the emotion out!"
Guitar isn't the only new skill Dave's been getting to grips with as a solo artist either. "I've been playing around with a lot of synth sounds this last year, so it’s something I'm getting interested in," he reveals. " I know its being done to death at the moment - the 80s synth sounding records - but I might try and put a bit of a spin on it.
Dave's also moved from the acoustic to electric guitar as a songwriting muse. I'm borrowing a PRS guitar at the moment," he says. "I tried writing with a Les Paul, but it was too gnarly for me. I think I need to change the strings on the PRS as it’s not sounding quite right. Think they've been on there for about 5 years. It'll be a first for me - changing strings!"
Then there's the age-old DAW learning curve; "I wrote the first demos of the tracks from the EP on an acoustic, but I haven't really been playing it a great deal since. I've just been getting my head around writing with an electric and my keyboard recently. I enjoy writing with Logic Pro, but I really need someone to come round and explain to me how to use it properly. It's a bit much at times."
We know that feeling! But if his main instrument will also be his voice, that's been through some changes too – some of By The Time It Gets Dark's songs were tracked before and some after Dave quite smoking. With audible differences.
"I guess it's good for the gruffer stuff," he admits when we ask about the upsides and downsides for his voice. "But I'd have had some real struggles trying to hit some of the high stuff from the recent recordings that we done. I'm still vaping a fair bit, but it doesn't seem to affect my vocals too much. I shouldn't be smoking at all really. I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic for 20 years."
The anxiety caused by the experience of performing the bigger shows Lonely The Brave were booking as their profile rose was a factor in Dave's decision to part ways with the band. Before we talk through the key albums that have influenced his music so far, we can't help ourselves asking if there might be a way for him to perform these new songs on his own terms in the future?
"I've been thinking about doing a small Cambridge show at some point next year," Dave reveals. "Maybe jump on a support slot with someone. Thinking about trying something with just a backing track to sing over, to start with. I'll have to see how busy everyone is from the recording and if they'd want to do it. I definitely won't be doing anything that gets me all stressed out like before though."
1. Various Artists – Rocky IV soundtrack (1985)
"This was the first album I ever bought. I haven’t many memories of my childhood, but I can remember really clearly picking it out from a stand in Tesco's. It was on vinyl and I was heavily into it. No Easy Way Out is still a big one.
2. Richard Marx - Richard Marx (1987)
"He was the first artist I was really into growing up. I think I bought his first two albums around the same time. I still really like them. I’ve been trying to get the guitar and drum sound on my Logic Pro home recording that you hear on the albums but haven’t had much luck!"
3. Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)
"I guess some people know of how much I love Pearl Jam and how Vedder’s shaped my singing. It’ll always be my favourite album of all time.
"I’ve read quite a bit about the issues the band had with the apparent overproduction of the album, but the original version will always be the one for me. I’ve listened to it hundreds and hundreds of times. The remastered version was quite interesting, though."
4. Therapy – Troublegum (1994)
"I was listening to a lot of really good British Rock during the mid nineties. Loved this one, but the albums being put out around the same time by the likes of The Wildhearts, Terrorvision, Reef and 3 Colours Red were all big ones for me. A really cool time for British guitar music."
5. The Almighty – Powertrippin'
"The record that got me into the heavier stuff. This and Megadeth - Countdown To Extinction. I went to see The Almighty at one of my first gigs at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge. Got a bit carried away and did some sort of crowd surfing."
6. dEUS – In A Bar, Under The Sea (1996)
"In my early twenties I used to live in an out building at my folks place. Used to have loads of my village mates around with my brother most nights for a drink. I used to sit in the corner - not saying much - and be in charge of loading up the tunes in the CD player. I always ended the night with Dissapointed In The Sun."
7. Hundred Reasons – Ideas Above Our Station
"This one was quite a gamechanger for me. I think Colin Doran’s vocals are some of the best that have been put down on a British Rock record. I met [guitarist] Larry Hibbitt through Lonely The Brave, a while back, and was a bit star struck."
8. The Strokes - This Is It (2001)
"I got pretty obsessed with this when it came out, as many others did. It’s pretty perfect from start to finish. I’m hoping to see them live at some point next year."
9. The Streets – Original Pirate Material (2002)
"I remember this coming out around the same tune as The Strokes record. It was the first time I’d really heard electronic music that I was really into. He’s a very talented fella. I’ve been in some states listening to this record."
10. Bruce Springsteen – Magic (2007)
"I haven’t really heard much life changing music over the last 15 years or so. Many albums that I’ve really liked, though. This Springsteen album was pretty important when I was going through a pretty rough spell around the time it came out. I love all of Springsteen’s music, but this one’s my favourite of his. ‘Long Walk Home’ is just lovely."
Dave Jakes' self-titled mini album is released via By The Time It Gets Dark records on 11 December. For More info visit Bandcamp