jamie campbell bower is here to tell you 'it gets better'
i-D talks to the the actor and lead singer of Counterfeit about his band's changing sound, mental health, and his new role in the 'Game of Thrones' prequel.
Photo by Piper Ferguson.
It’s two days after the Reading and Leeds festivals, where Jamie Campbell Bower played the main stage with his band Counterfeit for the first time. He’s still giddy from the excitement of it. “I had imposter syndrome just before we played,” he admits, with crowds as big as they are. But as soon as they took to the stage, it all disappeared.
Imposter syndrome might be alluded to in the band’s name Counterfeit, which Bower started four years ago after exploring various names and sounds. But if there was any doubt going in as to whether he would be taken seriously as a musician, thanks to his fame as an actor, that’s surely vanished now. The group of five, comprised of Bower, his brother Sam, Roland Johnson, Tristan Marmont, and Jimmy Craig, released their first album Together We Are Stronger in 2017. Today, they premiere the first song off their soon-to-be-announced sophomore album.
“It Gets Better” is an upbeat tune — a clear departure from their earlier work. Together We Are Stronger was a thrashy punk exploit fitted with visuals to match. And Bower once likened the album to being in the middle of a bar fight, filled with adrenaline and smashed glass. After their debut, bands are often at a crossroads: changing up the sound from the first can risk alienating your audience, but continuing in the same vein can lead to dismissal.
Bower took the former approach, shedding the skin of Together We Are Stronger. Rather than trying to slowly warm audiences to the new sound, he’s exclusively playing the new material on this tour without mixing in any songs from his first record. “We were all really nervous going in,” he says of the first show, worried the audience wouldn’t be receptive. “What if they’re expecting us all to be dressed in black and for us to be really sad?” (Bower swapped out the all-black ensemble for white t-shirts and a baseball cap, and, most notably, a big grin throughout most of his shows).
Nervousness quickly abated after one or two performances, as he realized how well the crowd took to the material. “The way that I always felt after playing those [earlier] shows is so different to the way that I feel after playing shows now. I’m much more connected to the audience,” he says. A quick Twitter search confirms that’s not one-sided: after each show, scores of fans took to social media to comment on how palpable his newfound happiness is, how it radiated to each of them.
“This album is way broader in its exploration of self than the last one was,” he says, conceding that it still has “moments of anger,” but is ultimately comprised of “moments of love, tenderness, and sensitivity.” Though the new album could still be classified as rock, there’s something softer about it, like the acoustic love song that seems light years away from his older work. Over guitar, Bower gently sings, “And I don’t want to sleep/Because it feels like goodbye.”
The album is a goodbye of sorts, closing the first chapter of his musical career and moving on to the next. “It Gets Better” is the answer to the question the first album asked: will things ever change? Will I feel this way forever? Through various turns in his life—moving to LA, falling in love, quitting drugs—Bower uses these experiences to proselytize through both his music and online platforms, advocating for openness about mental health. “I’m in recovery, so one of the first things that they teach you when you’re in recovery is to be super honest about what it is that you’re feeling, like guilt, shame, fear, sadness, whatever it is,” he says. “The most important thing is, and it’s the hardest thing to do, is just express exactly what it is that you’re feeling.”
Beyond his own life and experiences, Bower doesn’t speak much about music that’s inspired him, but rather paintings, citing abstract expressionism as having impacted him greatly. “I’m dead into Franz Kline at the moment,” he says. “Writing, for me, has always explored that world, in a way that is semi-automatic writing. Abstract Expressionism is very similar even though a lot of the artists from that movement do studies before they paint, these emotions that you see going into that painting [are] very immediate, and very present.”
Bower has been playing music for just as long as he’s been acting, but perhaps he’s more recognized as the latter thanks to roles in blockbuster films like Twilight, Harry Potter, and The Mortal Instruments. Not to mention he’s been cast in the eagerly anticipated Game of Thrones prequel. “I’ve always been a performer,” he says. “It’s always what I’ve done; it’s always been in my genetic makeup. I’ve never wanted to be anything else. It’s just about putting the creative soulful energy into each particular thing as and when is needed.”
However, Bower doesn’t characterize himself as primarily an actor or a musician, nor does he prioritize one over the other. “It’s about setting boundaries for myself and those around me, and being as honest and genuine in whatever I’m doing as possible,” he continues. “Even now I’m growing and looking for roles and projects that speak to me so that when I’m going into them I’m giving my true true self, because that’s what fuels me, and I’m exploring that through the medium of art in whatever way possible.”
“I tried to paint as well,” Bower adds, sighing. “Turns out I’m shit. Can’t do that." He reflects for a moment. “Fuck, man,” he says. “I wish I could do that.”