Interview: Phil Jamieson on stepping from rock n roll into musical theatre with American Idiot

Having led one of the country’s most beloved rock bands for over 20 years now, Grinspoon‘s Phil Jamieson is well used to stepping out on to stage with thousands of faces looking back at him. Which is why it might seem like a natural fit for a performer such as he to join the cast of American Idiot, the wildly successful rock musical that has recently been brought to life in Australia.

As we found out this week, natural isn’t the word Phil would use to describe his introduction to this musical theatre world.

Ahead of American Idiot‘s debut in Adelaide this month (January 19th – 28th), Jamieson caught up with us to walk us through his time in the production so far and how the experience has changed his perceptions of performance and what it means to be switched on for long periods of time in the medium.

“It was fairly foreign to me when I first stepped into the room in February, 2017!” he laughs. “They’re all musical theatre people; they’re all beautiful, they can all do cartwheels, they can all sing, they can all act, they can all dance! I was like, “What hope do I have?!” – I looked at Chris Cheney, who I was sharing the role with at the time, and I was like, “Chris, what are we doing here?”. He was like, “I don’t know, they’re all very good, aren’t they?” They’re all really good.”

Phoebe Panaretos, who plays opposite me in one of the leads, took me aside and said, “Look – we all feel the same way, we all feel a little bit inadequate in the first day of school camp.” That was really reassuring, that someone as proficient and experienced as she is in musical theatre, was being comforting to me as well. That was really lovely of her to say that. The friends I’ve made in this world will be friends for life, it’s really nice.”

(Credit: Dylan Evans)

“I learned a lot during the first season in Brisbane,” he admits. “Techniques that I probably should have learned years and years ago, but wasn’t considered to be too dignified. Vocal warm ups and stuff, bits and pieces like that, that I always pooh-poohed a little bit. I’ve taken a little more pride in my work. The machinations of what I have found is the AV for example, is stunning. It’s next level, what is happening behind the scenes, but also with the band and what they do. A lot of it is done to click or to a midi trigger; it’s just so complicated.”

“What I’ve found is to take my role, while it is small, it is a key role, and make sure that I’m always on. You can’t have a shit night in this gig. I’ve always tried to support the cast as much as I can, on and off stage, and be really present when I am performing. I’m part of the team, in a way.”

For fans of Green Day, the story of American Idiot is a familiar one, but as the musical has taken off since it’s Broadway incarnation struck success in the US – now a Tony Award winner – American Idiot has attracted a crowd all its own, becoming an entity that can be approached with no pre-requisites.

“I think it stands completely on its own merits,” Jamieson agrees. “In saying that, I can never listen to “Whatsername” and “Extraordinary Girl” the same way again. The characters are so intertwined with those songs specifically, for me. The funny thing is, a lot of people come out of the show and go, “Oh gee, I never knew Billie Joe [Armstrong] did all that stuff,” – they think it’s a non-fiction tale of the Green Day band members and it definitely is not. I think that’s the most common thing that’s said, “Billie Joe was pretty crazy,” and I’m like, “No, no, that’s not him”. I think that’s the most common misconception somehow, that it’s the true story of the three band members.”

“I knew that he was a gun songwriter, that’s obvious.” Jamieson continues, as we look at the way Armstrong has crafted the American Idiot universe. “You walk out of the show from me doing this role, you walk out of it with a deeper appreciation of just how skilled he is and how much depth and thought went into the making of the 2004 record American Idiot. When I was watching it back in tech in dress rehearsal, because I’m not on stage all the time, I took the opportunity to have a look out the front and see what the audience will be seeing, there are some really funny bits!”

(Credit: Dylan Evans)

Adelaide audiences are in for a treat when American Idiot comes to town, as Jamieson’s role of St. Jimmy will be shared by newcomer to the cast and fellow Australian rock favourite, Adalita. Along with The Superjesus‘ Sarah McLeod, Adalita joins Jamieson in bringing the role of this devilish, rebellious alter-ego to life on stage.

“I’ve always been a fan of Adalita, since I was 15 years old and buying Magic Dirt EPs” Jamieson enthuses. “I am really excited; I won’t be able to see either of them do it, due to availability, which is unfortunate. I was lucky enough to see Chris to St. Jimmy in Brisbane before I took over and he was really good. I really like the fact they have two females and two really powerful, really talented females, doing this role. It’s going to open up a totally different dynamic, I believe, with the lead Johnny and St. Jimmy. I wish I could see it, I’m just thinking about it now, how great it’ll be.”

“I’m really excited that we get to do a proper season in Adelaide,” he adds.
It’s a good two weeks down there and over in Perth as well. It’s a good opportunity to get really stuck in. Sydney is so short because of availability of theatres, so I’m treating Sydney as a pretty serious dress rehearsal, which is weird, because it’s the bloody Opera House! It took me about six shows to find my feet in Brisbane, to be honest. I’m hoping that it’s quicker; we’ll be definitely hitting our straps when we get to Adelaide.”

American Idiot premieres at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide on January 19th. For more information and ticketing details, head on over here.