British folk-rocker Jake Bugg wanted a musical purity for his fourth album, the 1960s-country-flavored Americana experiment “Hearts That Strain,” so he went straight to the source.
He flew to Nashville to track it with veteran old-school producer David Ferguson and seasoned sidemen, drummer Gene Chrisman and keyboardist Bobby Wood. His longtime friend Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys introduced him to the veteran players, and Butcher Shoppe Studio, where he could capture the retro sound he was chasing.
Bugg, 24 – who plays Berkeley this week – found the U.S./U.K. disparity disorienting at first.
Yet once in town, he got into its rhythm, cranking out three finished tunes every 10- to-5 weekday session.
“Nashville has a very strong work ethic, for sure – there, it’s more of a job, and if I wanted a job I never would have picked up a guitar in the first place,” says the singer, whose dazzling punkabilly debut, 2012’s “Jake Bugg,” earned him Brit, Ivor Novello and Mercury Prize Award nominations.
It also brought him under the wing of ex-Oasis leader Noel Gallagher, who first brought him to Music Row to open for him at the Ryman Auditorium that year.
Bugg grew up in Nottingham fascinated by classic American artists. After his hits “Two Fingers” and “Lightning Bolt” (also in a Gatorade commercial) took off, he hoped to spend that credit in exotic Nashville.
Three years ago, he met Ferguson, who offered him an open-ended recording invitation: “I knew I would do it, I just didn’t know when. But the atmosphere there was so relaxed, this ended up being the easiest record I’ve ever made,” Bugg says.
Bugg co-wrote some “Hearts” tracks (such as the Marty Robbins-reminiscent title cut) with Auerbach.
Yet he composed others alone in his London apartment, and then presented the skeletal folk ditties to the stellar backing band for input.
“Just being around those guys was amazing. They told me so many stories, I can’t even remember them all,” he says. “And they taught me to be more self-disciplined and knuckle down, because there was something incredibly satisfying about having several songs done by the end of the day.”
There’s no heartbreak in Bugg’s life these days; for nearly two years he’s been seeing English fashion model Roxy Horner, and he’s preparing to purchase his first London house.
But he’s already plotting his next American-themed album, considering the fabled Buck Owens/Merle Haggard Bakersfield sound.
“So maybe I’ll get out to California a little bit early on this tour,” he says. “I’ll do some writing and just see where that takes me.”
IF YOU GO
Where: UC Theatre, 2036 University Ave., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. March 28
Contact: (510) 356-4000, www.ticketfly,com