Interview: Jamie Isaac is growing and evolving | Features - Music Crowns

Interview: Jamie Isaac is growing and evolving

Ahead of the release of his sophomore album, (04:30) Idler, London’s Jamie Isaac is gearing up for what looks to be a monumental year.

Heavily influenced by the sounds of jazz and classical music, Jamie continues to draw from these early inspirations and pair them with his dynamic vocal work.

The follow up to his debut LP, Couch Baby, sees Jamie sounding more refined than ever. The South London native’s forward-thinking production techniques are enviable – his ability to create a powerful atmosphere with just a few minimal elements is astounding.

With the release of his most exciting project yet rapidly approaching, Jamie gave us the lowdown on what went into his excellent new record.

“I think mostly what’s changed is that I’ve grown into myself a bit more and I’m a bit more sure of who I am.”

  • Hi Jamie, how is 2018 going for you so far?
  • It’s been a lot of work getting this album finished and ready to go. Now It’s the fun part making the videos and the artwork – all the artistic direction and the creative stuff that happens after the record is out.
  • Has much changed for you in the last two years since the release of your debut, Couch Baby? How has your sound progressed since the first record?
  • In terms of writing that first album, it was all kind of about sitting on your couch and getting high with your friends. It was written about kind of being a teenager inside a twenty-something-year-old’s body. I was still in that state of mind for a while and I took a bit of time out from writing music altogether just to understand myself a bit better. I think that mostly what’s come across in this record is that what I’m writing about has changed. I think I know myself better now and I think that comes across in the production of the music and my lyrics. My voice is a bit more upfront and a bit more clear now and not surrounded by as much reverb. I think I’ve grown into myself a bit more and I’m a bit more sure of who I am. It’s definitely more of a more mature album.
  • It’s clear that jazz and soul have had a heavy influence on your sound. Where did this come from?
  • I’m a massive lover of jazz, it’s my favourite type of music. I love that late ’50s west coast jazz. People like Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker and Paul Desmond have really changed my life. It’s super romantic – very in your face yet calm and relaxing. That’s something I’ve always wanted to draw from. I used to love classical music so I transitioned from that into jazz the best I could. I love sitting with a record player just listening and thought to myself I want to create something like this then pair it with the electronic music and production I love.
  • Are there any other genres of music you draw inspiration from? For example, ‘Doing Better’ from your new record seems to have a definite early hip-hop vibe to it.
  • Yeah, I love hip-hop and that’s kind of how my love for jazz really started. It was digging through samples that early hip-hop was based on – that was like my first real introduction to it. That will never leave me. I’m also a massive fan of film, so the video for ‘Doing Better‘ was influenced by one of my favourite scenes from a car movie. I wanted to draw on as many influences of mine as I could.
  • All your music is very atmospheric, it’s simplistic yet feels deeply moving. Is this a sound you’ve tried to create or has it come naturally?
  • I always wanted to make minimalist music. I think it’s really difficult to write stuff that’s very minimalist, though. It’s quite easy to surround stuff with loads of instruments and make a song that’s filled with lots of elements but It takes a certain courage to just strip things back and expose certain areas. It’s always been based around the atmospherics of the vocals and what I’m saying – the feeling of the music is very important. It’s still catered towards that moment at 3 AM where you’re by yourself listening on your headphones. It’s never going to be music that you play at parties in a room filled with people. It’s in your head and it’s a very personal experience.
  • Where do you produce most of your tracks? 
  • I produce most of them at home. What I normally do is make a demo at home then I take it to somewhere and finesse it. I wrote almost a quarter of the album out in LA. I went out there to write because I wanted to go somewhere that was as opposite to London as possible and see how that would influence the writing. LA is sunny all the time so I wanted to see how that would affect it. There was also a lot of people out there that I wanted to work with and chill with to gain inspiration from. It was an amazing experience. There are songs on there like ‘Slurp‘ that definitely have that Californian vibe. It helped me add that cheesiness and that dream-pop, shoegaze feel that I wanted. Lots of the stuff I wrote out in LA I took back home and worked on there. I like working at home and having the ability to have an idea at three in the morning and doing it. Also, I like to be alone when making music. I’m a bedroom producer at heart and I don’t want to lose that.

“I’m a bedroom producer at heart and I don’t want to lose that.”

  • (04:30) Idler has a lot of live elements and synths throughout. Did you play all the instruments on the record?
  • I play all of the piano parts on the record but I incorporated the band that I use live because I wanted to make a record that used a lot of live drums. I programmed a lot of drums on the first record so wanted to push myself further with this one. The song that really inspired me to do this was ‘Separator’ by Radiohead. The drums are so dry and have no reverb on them – just lots of tone – it almost makes them a melodic instrument. I wanted to make a lot of songs with really dry, in your face drums that make the sound feel more live. I wanted this record to feel more upbeat and something you can move to. I wanted it to be a travelling record.
  • The new record has a real Bossa Nova feel to it, especially on the drum/percussion side, especially in the track ‘Wings’. What encouaged this?
  • Well, I was in San Francisco and I was doing a tour for my last album. It was about two hours before we got a flight and me and my band had some time to kill before we had to head back home. There was a record store around the corner where I re-discovered a record I love. I played it outside and the sun was shining on me and it was this beautiful Californian street and I just remember thinking “this is exactly what I want the next record to sound like”. I wanted it to have this really raw drum sound. It was super simple and romantic and I was searching for a bit of inspiration and it kind of happened to be that. It was like a moment of magic.
  • What’s the story behind the song ‘Wings’? 
  • It was an idea about fast food and the culture paired with it with kind of a love story – which I found funny. I knew I wanted the first lyrics to be about somebody eating chicken, like succulently eating a chicken wing. I just thought it was a funny idea. Someone in a chicken shop in Peckham lovingly looking at their girlfriend whilst she’s eating some wings. I just thought that was the perfect image for this song and it encompassed everything that I kind of wanted to write about.
  • There’s a line in it that says “I’m craving the concrete lately.” What’s the meaning behind this?
  • Craving the concrete” is your love for the city but it’s also like being ready for the idea that you could be no more. You hitting the concrete from a height. I wanted it to be a dark lyric which shows I’m ready for this if nothing that I want happens. This is what I’m ready for. For the whole album I wanted to make the record at some point sound almost cheesy and a bit ridiculous but for the lyrics to be occasionally so horribly dark that there’s a really weird juxtaposition.
  • Who is singing on the interlude ‘Yellow Jacket’? If it’s you, do you have a background in a choir?
  • Yeah, that’s me singing – I was in a choir when I was a lot younger. It was one of those things where without it I would never be doing music now. It really spurred on my love for classical music. I did a lot of travelling when I was younger and as a kid, it was an odd experience constantly being on the road but it made me realise that this was all I wanted to do.
  • Jamie Isaac’s not your real name, is it? Where did it come from?
  • I wanted to make music and put it out on the internet without any of my friends knowing. When you’re fifteen, it’s difficult to do anything without worrying what your friends think and I really wanted to carve my own way and find my sound without anybody knowing about it. I knew I wanted to make my alias a name and it was a name that my grandad had used over time. It’s got a strong family link. It was just something I wanted to do. My friends didn’t even know I made music until my first EP came out. I think they were pretty shocked by it as well. I didn’t want to make music based on what other people like or dislike. That’s something that is so easy to fall in to.
  • What is your live set up like for shows at the moment?
  • So, my live set-up is me on piano and vocals at the front and then we have a guitarist who uses loads of different effects who also sings and then we have a drummer – he’s incredible. Then we have a guy whose sole responsibility is the electronics and the atmospherics. He’s like the wizard of the set. He makes all these incredible delays and atmospherics. But, also for the show at Village Underground, we are working on some massive visuals. We are going to do things like MIDI triggers so like every time a kick hits or the snare hits we are going to have things on this massive screen behind us popping up and every song has a different visual to it. It’s going to be a very immersive experience.

“Sometimes you forget people even listen to your music.”

  • You mentioned in an interview a while back that playing live shows made you feel a bit uneasy and anxious. Is this still an issue or do you feel more comfortable now on stage as time has gone on?
  • It can be difficult. There are times where you wake up on the morning of the show and you just want to cancel it. You think I can not be in a room with a thousand people with all of their eyes on me. I can’t bear the thought of that. Especially the way the music has developed, in my bedroom and lyrically. It’s you in your room at three in the morning by yourself then going to a room where some people are singing it and looking at you. Sometimes you forget people even listen to it. You put a song out into the world and people might listen to it and people might not but you forget they do and some are emotionally invested in it. It’s very difficult sometimes to face that. I can get super anxious. Sometimes it’s just very difficult to distance myself. I think there’s a difference between a great musician and a great artist. Sometimes I lack being able to be that artist who is all over their Twitter and their Instagram and being a proper influencer. I’m just kind of that kid in his bedroom who doesn’t really know how to socialise. It can be a difficult thing but once you get on stage and you get that same buzz that you can’t explain it’s amazing. It’s a love-hate thing. Also, you know what it is? When you’re a musician you have to remember it’s part of the job. You just have to go through it. It’s the hard part of the job you have to get through. You couldn’t make a career out of never doing live shows because you’re too awkward. If you want to make it a part of your life you have to go through those parts of it. It’s stuff you wrote about from yourself. It’s not like you’re talking about a book you’ve read, it’s an experience that you have had. There’s a thing that Chris Rock said which I thought was really funny. It doesn’t relate to me directly but for comedians to get in front of a thousand people and make them laugh or talk to them is like a weird superpower. That’s more freaky than being able to do other things. Commanding a room is so much weirder than anything else.
  • Where are you based at the moment? Are you still living in London? 
  • Yeah, I’m in Peckham. I’ve been living there for about four years now. I was born in South London in Croydon but I’ve been around south east London my whole life and now I’ve decided to reside here. It’s a great area with a lot going for it.
  • You live (or lived) with a number of other talented musicians (Archy Marshall for one). Have you found that being surrounded by such artists has influenced your sound and impacted on your creativity?
  • Me and Archy have known each other since we were kids. He’s actually one of the people I tried to hide my music from at the beginning, as well as other friends, because I wanted to keep this separate. I think that over time it’s helped my creativity but we are both very respectful of each other’s music. We both record at home and do a lot of writing there so there’s a lot of crossovers. We listen to each other’s music and talk about each other’s records before they come out. We’re very respectful of each other and we’re very respectful of one another’s opinions. I think overall, the one thing I love is being surrounded by amazing musicians. It’s crazy because these are people I grew up with and suddenly we’re all doing our music and it’s become a thing. It’s really surreal for all of us.
  • Can we expect to hear more stuff from you, Archy and Rejjie like we got on the Loose Ends project?
  • I think for this record I wanted to keep it as a more solo thing. I wanted to pave the way for myself with this one. I didn’t want to rely on other names to help me out. I felt like it was important for me to do that for myself. I think for the last record it really worked because of how the record was written and I think for this record I’m in a different place. For now, I doubt we will do something like that again but in the future definitely. I mean, me, Archy and others worked on tracks together for this record that didn’t make the final cut. There are things in the pipeline and loads of things that could come out in the future.
  • Is there anyone from your creative circle of friends that we should be looking out for this year?
  • Yeah, so there is a band called WOOM – all really good friends of mine and they’re supporting me at my show at Village Underground. They’re a choir. One of them plays the guitar and the rest sing. It’s just the most beautiful sound. I think they’ll do really, really well. They’re incredible singers. They have such a vibe about them you should definitely check them out.
  • Will you be touring behind the new record? Do you have any exciting projects in the works for the rest of this year?
  • I’m going to be doing three shows instead of doing a tour. I wanted to do three major cities instead of the normal route of travelling across the country in a bus – that can be pretty draining. I definitely wanted to do London and then we chose New York and LA. In the future for sure, though. I’m working on new music and I’ve been writing stuff with Nosaj Thing. I’m looking to release something later in the year by myself too. I’m constantly writing.
James Cooke

James has worked on the production side of the music industry for many years gaining releases on a number of record labels around the globe. Alongside James’ personal music projects he has trained as an illustrator, designer and a creative marketer. Taking on the role of marketing/editorial assistant at Music Crowns, James spends his days covering new and underground music creating content for our audiences through well thought out reviews and features.

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