AMERICAN IDIOT Phil Jamieson of suburbia

Green Day’s monumentally successful Broadway musical American Idiot hits Crown Perth this week, running from February 2 – 11. NATALIE GILES had a beer with star Phil Jamieson ahead of the tour to talk all things Grinspoon, Green Day and mental health.

How did the Grinspoon reunion tour go in 2017?

It went really well! We did two shows in WA – we played Dunsborough then at Metro City. It was nice to play. It was nice to be celebrating the debut of our first album, Guide to Better Living, as it was the 20th anniversary, so it was 20 Years of Better Living, and we played that record from start to finish. It was a lot of fun to be playing old material. I had a fun time, so that was the main thing.

Our editor actually reviewed you guys, and apparently you called Perth your favourite crowd…

Well, yeah, the Metro City gig was super silly weird. Like, it was crazy. I definitely don’t say that every night. The Perth crowd was next level crazy, I guess maybe because that venue, whilst maybe not comfortable for punters, looked amazing from where I was, so you just keep looking up and there are just people everywhere. It’s like Beyond Thunderdome or something. I had a particularly enjoyable night that night, and I definitely don’t say that about every night.

But did you miss playing live with Grinspoon?

No, not really. We finished playing live together in 2013, and I think we needed a break. I think Grinspoon needed a break. Then we toured and people came, and they clapped and danced and got drunk. It was great, though. I didn’t realise that people had such affectation for the band. That was flattering and quite humbling, to be honest. Going out and playing and seeing people come along, and buy t-shirts and stuff, that was just really nice. So yeah, maybe I miss that a bit.

How were your surprised by that?!

I guess I was surprised because when Guide to Better Living was turning 20 they wanted to put it out on vinyl and I was like, great idea, let’s do that and not tour. They wanted to tour and I said no, and they said yes, and I said well then let’s do really small venues like we were doing in 1997, like The Rosemount. They said no, but that was what we would have played in ’97. We would have played a small venue. Let’s do that! Then they rolled out this massive tour and I was like, nobody’s going to be interested in this. But they were. So it was a surprise, and it was really nice and I got all the warm feels. But the biggest challenge after that was making the show good. So we had to make sure that the songs we’d written in 1996, half stoned and half pissed, were delivered with the same vitriol and enthusiasm and energy as we could deliver in 2017. That was my most important thing. It wasn’t a cash grab or a sell out or anything, I just wanted to make it as important as it was back then. That was the biggest challenge.

So as you’re getting older, has the focus shifted?

I did the American Idiot production back in March, so I felt like I adapted some of what I’d learnt from the theatre to Grinspoon, so I think I took it more seriously than I would have prior to that.

Do you consider yourself a fan of Green Day?

Well, yeah, I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. I think Dookie was about ’94, when I graduated high school, and those songs were really amazing to me at the time. Then I kind of lost touch with them until about American Idiot in 2004, and I was like wow, this is an amazing statement and really great song writing, and yeah, a rock opera, which is really difficult to write. Some of those songs have seven songs within them, like Jesus of Suburbia, so it’s really impressive work.

How familiar were you with the stage version of American Idiot before coming on board?

To be honest, I didn’t know much about the musical at all, but when I got the email in January (2017), I immediately said yes. It just happened. It fell in my lap and I just went, why not? What could possibly go wrong? Then I turned up to rehearsals and realised that a whole fuck load could go wrong, and I had a fairly steep learning curve. God, there was so much to learn.

What did you find the most challenging about working on a musical compared to other stage performance?

I guess in rock and roll, I like mistakes. Mistakes aren’t celebrated in theatre, they are definitely frowned upon, as is any kind of improvisation. It’s just different. The singing was hard, much harder than I expected, and also using props, the movement, making sure I’m hitting my mark… just everything! (laughs) Everything was different, because in rock and roll, I kind of call the shots and in theatre, someone else is calling the shots. It’s a great challenge, to learn, but it took a while for me to get a grasp on it, and also to get into character and learn how to act in a very short period of time. It was fun, though!

You’re a pretty charismatic dude with great stage presence and experience already. Surely acting comes pretty naturally?

Well, no actually! Acting is actually quite difficult because there’s a vulnerability with acting that I needed to learn. And my character is quite vulnerable but also quite heroic as well. There’s a few layers that I had to get in touch with. To be honest, I thought I could just play myself, but no, that doesn’t work. I’m St Jimmy, so I had to learn to play St Jimmy. It literally took about six actual performances of the musical itself before I really got it. I was learning as I went along.

There’s obviously a lot more depth to the musical than folks may expect. Can you explain the narrative to Perth audiences please?

So it’s a fictional narrative about three young men in Jingletown, USA – it’s basically Shitsville – and they want to get out of the town. One of them goes to war in Iraq – it’s set in ’04. One of them comes to the city and meets me, St Jimmy. And one of them stays home after he gets his girlfriend pregnant. So they all end up splitting up. It’s a coming of age musical, so we’re following these three young men’s characters through war, or staying at home, or in the city, and it’s in the city that Johnny meets Jimmy. And I kind of encourage a hedonistic path for him to follow, and all of the ups and downs that come with that. So that’s it in a nutshell, all set to American Idiot and Twenty First Century Breakdown as well. It’s a really moving piece of theatre, and there’s even a love story in there as well. It will make you laugh and cry.

American Idiot the record was written in the Bush era and post 9/11, but the writers have incorporated elements of Trump’s America in there as well. How does that play out?

Well yeah, the record was written in ’04 and it was about media saturation and idiocy and who would have thought that in 2018 we would be talking about the same things? I don’t think the parallels are that hard to draw between this administration and the Bush administration.

Finally, your passion project, the Rock and Ride tour for Headspace, is really inspirational, but can you tell us what drove you to raise awareness for youth mental health?

It’s like physical health, right? If someone’s got a broken arm, that’s important. If someone’s got depression, it’s the same thing. You’ve just got to try to reduce the stigma. I guess it’s a balance, I hate that word, but it really is about finding a balance. I mean, in the music industry, or any creative industry, we see things slightly differently, so to have some sort of compassion for that is healthy and helpful. And in regional areas, it’s not always acknowledged, so it just felt like the right thing to do.