“There were so many things I felt that people had to know. I couldn’t tell someone sincerely because of the social anxiety thing. It’s chronic. It affects just about everything I do in my life.”
Jack Stark is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from the small town of West Calder. As we meet in The Elephant House against the grey backdrop of Edinburgh’s winter, I can’t help but react in disbelief to his words.
Just a few weeks prior, I had watched an overwhelmingly confident young performer engross 600 people at the Queen’s Hall, as his fierce mastery of the acoustic guitar was complimented by a rich voice. The topic of conversation had been the musician’s debut EP Our Winter and Jack confessed that the record had been crafted during a dark period of his life.
“I was having a lot of issues with people. I never even thought about writing my own material until coming up to the winter of 2014,” he pauses to reflect, staring intensely at the wall as though reliving those months in his mind. “For some reason I started falling out with people, whether that be close friends or family. I knew that there were issues going on. I felt like I had to get something off my chest.”
He spent weeks confined to his room with nothing more than his instrument and a notebook. Penning haunting riffs and lyrics littered with imagery, Jack grieved relationships that had broken down as a result of depression and miscommunication.
“I can’t sleep that well. So what better thing to do than sit up until four in the morning with your guitar and write songs about what’s troubling you,” he remarks with a wry grin. “I felt like writing the EP was a battle with myself to try and reconnect with people that I had loved.”
Conscious of the bustling and clattering in the background, he looks up to collect his thoughts, “It was about trying to understand myself and people.”
There is a warmth to Jack’s personality, that means his demeanour acts as a juxtaposition to the inner conflict that he experiences. The acoustic guitarist’s anxiety makes simple social situations, such as walking into a busy café, an excruciating process yet somehow he is able to perform in front of hundreds with the swagger of a seasoned artist.
“If my back’s against the wall, I feel like I’ve got to fight to get out of it and that gives me motivation to give my all on the stage,” he exclaims with a determination to his voice. “That’s probably why I come across as an angry player. The songs are emotive as well but if my back’s against the wall, I’m going to have a lot of energy and emotion to the song.
“I’ve got to use it (the anxiety) somehow, to some sort of advantage. If something is bringing me down and it’s permanently there for good, you may as well use it to your advantage.”
Jack’s handling of a guitar has endeared a concentrated following to his music and he emphasised that the instrument is the foundation of both his writing and performing, “It’s always sitting with a guitar, finding a riff I like and then coming up with a chorus that makes everything open up.”
Songs on his record, such as ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Kalopsia’, fluctuate in rhythm and style throughout, a conscious decision that the musician has made to take his listeners on a journey.
“I’m not a fan of keeping the same tone throughout the whole song. If someone is going to listen to my music, they don’t deserve to be bored. They’re investing time into me and listening to what’s in the corner of my mind, which is humbling.”
His intense playing style has even led people to remind him of the style of instrument he uses, “People say to me, ‘You know you’re playing an acoustic guitar? You know that’s not an electric guitar? You’re beating the shit out of that thing.”
With his overgrown beard and a mild manner that emanates maturity, it’s easy to forget that he is still a student at university. He jokes, as I point out that his degree contradicts the career he is pursuing, “Physics was the only thing I was good at in school. I was terrible at English, which probably isn’t great for a songwriter.”
2016 was certainly a hectic year for the unsigned act, as he balanced his studies with the EP release and an influx of gigs. He performed at venues ranging from Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s and The Voodoo Rooms to Glasgow’s King Tut’s and The Garage Attic. But the musician has lofty aspirations for the future and hopes to build on his growing popularity.
“Whether it’s been supporting bigger acts or playing small venues, I’ve worked really hard. It’s what I want to do. I want to be selling out the O2 ABC and have a huge fan base as soon as possible.”
Heavily influenced by rock bands Jimmy Eat World and Biffy Clyro, Jack stresses that he wants those who support him to be the ones who shape his career. “I want the fans to make me,” he said. “I feel like the best artists have had that happen to them. I put Biffy Clyro on a pedestal because they got to where they are because of their fans, not because of connections.”
With each gig, the young musician has noticed a recurring theme that has encouraged him as he sets out on his career. Afterwards his fans have sent messages thanking him for music that has spoken directly to them.
“That’s all I wanted,” he admits with a smile. “I wanted to speak to people. I want to play to people and I want people to react.”