Jamie Campbell Bower is known for his voice. As Vecna on season four of Stranger Things, his menacing baritone became nightmare fuel for the characters and the audience. As much as the visual of Vecna endures, it’s his voice that cuts through the season. For those who have been following Bower for a while, it should come as no surprise that the British actor can produce a grabbing vocal. In addition to showing off his beautiful timbre as Anthony in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd film, Bower was the frontman for U.K. rock band Counterfeit from 2015 through 2020, before it disbanded during COVID.
Now he’s back to making music — this time as just “Jamie Bower.” His latest single, titled “I Am,” strays from Counterfeit’s indie-rock modality and veers into a country-western style evoking Johnny Cash and Charlie Daniels. Bower says that he has always loved that “those guys emanated soul and spirit through music,” and that’s his new musical aim. Also looming large are Nick Cave, whose work Bower idolizes, and Tom Waits. “I’ve always written some country and western music. I love the structure of a country song. It’s always very fun to go into; it’s classic,” says Bower of his melting pot of inspiration. Coinciding with our exclusive premiere of his music video for “I Am,” Bower told Vulture about his affinity for villains and the potential connections between his work on Stranger Things and his new musical persona.
What’s your musical history?
I used to play in a rock band called Counterfeit, and that was very DIY. Then we gained interest from the major music world, everything moved very quickly, and it felt very out of my hands. At the beginning of the pandemic, Counterfeit just dissipated. Everyone was doing something new, and I was left in this solitary world with quite a lot of sadness, grief, and darkness. But I love sadness, and I love grief, and I love the darkness.
How would you describe the larger musical project that you’re currently working on?
I have two different things going on right now — both in the world of Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio. One of them is in this more country world, because I can be instinctual and create an immediate sonic vibration. I’ve always written country and western music. For me, it offers the opportunity to be very instinctual. With this song, the guitar was the first thing that I came up with. The vocal was all done in one take, and the video was shot a week after. I came up with the track, sent it to my team, and I was like, “I love this. Can we get a video together?” We managed to find this incredible director, we pulled a video together, and now we’re releasing it. That’s what this style of music is really offering me — instant creative process.
The other side is not necessarily going to be an album that would be toured; it’s more of an experience. I’m working on those two things in conjunction, but they’re both discussing the same themes.
Why do you invoke American symbols of religion?
How do you mean “American”?
There’s a certain “Devil Went Down to Georgia” quality to the music video.
Yeah, 100 percent. That comes back to my love of country music. It’s this idea of the blues and B. B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny Cash — all these guys who emanated soul and spirit through music.
As far back as I can remember, whenever I picked up a microphone, it was harder for me to sing wholly in a British accent than to just wail away and drop my T’s or bend notes so it almost sounds American.
Your voice in this is different from how it was in your previous music. How did you find it?
It’s ever evolving. This song is written from the perspective of the Lord of the Underworld. I’ve come to realize that my baritone register is something that’s very much who I am. I don’t have to force it out; it’s there. What I’m trying to capture is a truthful, honest vocal. On this song and on everything that I’ve released thus far, it’s been this really honest performance. You can hear that.
Hearing you talk about a deep baritone voice and being Lord of the Underworld, I’m of course reminded of Stranger Things. Is your current musical persona related to your current television persona?
I would say that none of it is a persona. People have asked me in the past, “What draws you to supernatural projects?” I’m gonna be honest with you — those are not the only things I audition for. I’ve had music producers be like, “What you’re doing is so intelligent, because you’re really tapping into everything that’s going on,” and I’m like, “I’m not doing that.” There’s no point when I sit back at the end of the day and think, How can I tie these things together? I’m just gonna be unapologetically myself, and we’ll see what happens from there.
I think of you as an actor who’s been involved with a lot of very large-scale projects: Harry Potter, Twilight, Stranger Things.
She’s a whore.
Those are your words. But I do think it’s interesting that the music that you’re currently writing is independent and small scale.
I’ve been very lucky that 99.9 percent of the work that I’ve done has come from incredibly creative individuals, whom the studios have looked at and gone, Oh, this person has a talent. We think that this will connect with a wide audience. These incredible auteurs and writers that I’ve worked with have this “build it and they will come” attitude.
But with the “build it and they will come” attitude, you’ve already built it with Counterfeit, and you found it difficult when they came.
At the time, I hadn’t learned to say no to things. I have a very interesting relationship with … myself? And with whatever it is that’s out there. If I make a mistake or I’m chasing the wrong thing, I get told pretty fucking quickly to sit down, take a beat, and reevaluate.
Who’s telling you to sit down?
I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. It’s just been that if I’m chasing the wrong thing, I will often feel very sick. Toward the end of Counterfeit, I felt like I didn’t have power within me. It took a good shit-kicking to get that power back. That’s what I’m talking about with this idea of darkness — the loss of everything in order to find your own truth, find your inner strength.
While you acknowledge that there’s a darkness, I’ve heard you say that you can’t consider Vecna a villain. Then in your music video, you’re playing a villainous preacher. What is your relationship to villainy?
With Vecna, what he went through led him to become the person that he is. And this is my relationship with Vecna — we’re not talking about fucking Bolsonaro, who is a complete cunt; I’m talking about Vecna and Henry. As an actor and a performer, I have to go, Oh my god, come here. Let me love your inner child. Let me understand you rather than judge you. I can’t go, Oh, you’re just a twat.
What I’m about to say is risky. Sorry, Lindsay Simon (my manager). There are certain scholars who do not consider themselves Christian and who believe that Lucifer and Jesus can be the same person. It’s this idea of one of the fallen sons of God coming to Earth, but maybe Earth itself is Hell. Lucifer in the Bible is cast out of Heaven, because he is trying to say to God, “Yo, dude, if you love all these people, why are you treating them so badly? Why are you not more understanding? Why are you not kind to them?” And God’s like, “Oh, shut up, get out.” And Lucifer’s like, “Well, now I wanna have a war with you.” I feel like, often, when people hear the word darkness, they are very afraid of it. They consider it to be evil, but I don’t. I think that they are necessary parts of all of us that dwell inside of every single person.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.