Since the release of his studio album The Wilds last October, Henry Jamison has reluctantly gained a reputation as a modern-day bard. His press releases stress how his ancestors include George Frederick Root, a songwriter during the Civil War era, and John Gower, a medieval poet and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. Pair this family lineage with Jamison’s philosophical lyrics and cable-knit sweaters, and it’s no wonder media outlets have painted him as a man destined for folk songwriting.
Ask Jamison himself, however, and he’ll insist that “I don’t need to be thought of in this poetic lineage way.”
“I wouldn’t want to diminish its importance, but overall, it’s largely irrelevant,” he says.
Instead, Jamison hopes to be known for his temperate vocals and the “happy-sad vibe” of his songs, a sound that becomes abundantly clear when listening to the tranquil, plaintive tracks of The Wilds.
In “Through a Glass,” soft, thudding drums and bright guitar accompany Jamison as he sings, “God-God-God damn the girl was fine / And I was glad to call her mine / She weren’t mine and I weren’t hers / I lost her at the five-and-dime.” Like most of the songs on the album, “Through a Glass” contemplates the instability of love, but from the perspective of someone looking back on a long-finished relationship. However, Jamison clarifies that “this song was written as the events were happening. It was a breakup song that I wrote before we broke up, but I wrote in the past tense.” Writing as a person reflecting on a distant old lover, Jamison intermingles the fresh anguish of his songs with the thoughtful resignation of someone who has already seen the end.
Not to say that The Wilds is composed of solely heartbroken dirges. While Jamison irreverently sums up his album as “me being like, ‘She did this, she did that, I was sad,’ ” a number of his songs emphasize broader themes such as the connection between nature and the mind. For example, the eerie “Black Mountain” depicts “nature imagery that is both the real thing and also symbolic.”
“I didn’t even know this when I wrote the song, but in medieval alchemy there was this phase where people were trying to make gold called ‘The Call of the Black Mountain,’ ” he adds.
“The ‘black mountain’ phase of was when the gold became this blackened, disgusting matter, but it’s a necessary phase on the way to becoming gold,” Jamison says. “And I didn’t even know all this when I wrote the song, but then strangely the metaphor works out in this cheesy way where I go through this necessary valley and darkness on the way to self-realization.”
Despite highly confessional lyrics, Jamison isn’t concerned about risking the privacy of his own emotions.
“Never do I feel like I’ve opened the book too much or that people are seeing too much,” Jamison says. “And as I keep making music I’m just going to have to show more [of myself], so I better get used to it. Even if sharing were problematic, I would have to get used to it if I wanted to keep making records.”
As for maintaining his own emotional well-being on tour, Jamison is quick to differentiate between his extroverted stage presence and his internal self. “On stage, I’m up there performing, and I’m talking between songs, but I’m grooming it all and presenting a version of myself on stage,” he explains. “I feel no qualms about singing personal songs even if they were written in an emotionally charged way. I’ve already placed the emotion into the song when writing it, so I don’t need to feel it again when I perform it. It’s not as if I’m performing these songs in a numb way. It’s more like, ‘Here’s the song, here’s how it goes, but it’s not going to get to me in a way that’s painful.’”
As our conversation comes to a close, Jamison remarks that his final comments should be “something cryptic.” Giggling slightly, he pauses a moment before proclaiming, “We reflect without reflecting,” and thus concludes the interview with his characteristically pensive, yet tongue-in-cheek, introspection.
Henry Jamison, Saturday, March 10, 7:30 p.m., at the Great American Music Hall. $20-$22; slimspresents.com