South London in summertime is something else; the streets are a little busier than usual, the parks are flooded with skaters and folks go topless trying their best to chase down even the slightest of tans. Suddenly the type of people that usually occupy these urban spaces are exchanged with strangers, people who arrive like tourists intrigued by the underground buzz that so famously surrounds these ends.
In the midst of all this we find South London born, Jamie Isaac, who perceptively states that “All the people who live in Peckham now, wouldn’t be seen in Peckham 10 years ago.” It definitely feels like times have changed in these areas and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate but what is truly undeniable is that the talent that is seemingly suddenly sprouting from these areas has always been here; it’s just that now people are choosing to document it. As Jamie puts, “It’s only a scene because people call it a scene. It’s always been here though since I was young… It’s only in the past 5 years that people have started writing about it and shit.”
Jamie Isaac is an alias, one he created as a cover so he could put music freely on Soundcloud, without judgement from anyone around him, and so his sound wouldn’t reflect what his friends liked. Trusting his own taste in music and drawing inspiration from Jazz musicians like Chet Baker, and film composers like Bernard Herman, has allowed Jamie to free flow through genres whilst still maintaining a constant vibe, yet there’s always been a classical choral atmosphere to his music. It’s something that he acknowledges has been there from early on in his life, “I was in a choir when I was younger. Do you know when you go to school and you sing in the assembly, I just used to love that so much. And then my music teacher was like ‘hey do you want to do this but outside school and have fun doing it?’ I was like ‘fuck yeah’ and I did it”.
“Jamie Isaac isn’t me as a whole person, it’s just a part of my personality. It’s just like a dark side of my personality, this real sad element of me, but it’s not like I’m going around crying.”
Born to Burmese and English parents, although Jamie wasn’t consciously aware of any direct influence on his music at the time, going to his nan’s house to play piano was the journey that took him deep into the roots of classical music. But it was his dad’s taste in soul, rare groove and funk that left an unexpected impression on the evolution of his own sound, “I remember my dad playing it when I was younger and I was really into classical music and thinking ‘this is stupid music, classical music is the only music, if you’re really intelligent this is what you do’. That’s made its way into my music so much more than I ever thought it would, even when I released my first EP, never thought it would creep in as much as it has really”. His latest single ‘Maybe’ is a kind of homage to old soul, and it was the first time his dad was “mad into” his music.
It’s clear from here that Jamie’s music is a reflection of how he’s grown as a person, and his surroundings have played a big role in his life in more ways than one. However, it seems for this new album, London was too familiar a place to draw new inspiration from. In the making of his forthcoming album, ‘(04:30) IDLER’, Jamie made his way to LA to aid the creation of his project, because as he says he was looking for somewhere that was “dry, hot and just weird” – and it seems Los Angeles lived up to it. “In LA, you can ski, you can go to the desert, you can surf, go to the beach and hike up mountains – all in the same day, if you want to, if you get up early enough. No human being needs that amount of things to do and that’s why they’re just so happy… Here it’s like ‘Do you wanna go to the pub?’ nah cool, oh that’s it”.
Since his debut album ‘Couch Baby’ in 2016, the 23-year old producer and songwriter has been occupying different spaces musically, and he’s all too aware of the kind of space his music holds for his fans, “My music is never gonna be the music that you play in a room filled with people at a party and it’s never gonna be shit that you play at a club. It’s always gonna be you by yourself with your headphones on – I always want that.” But now Jamie is ready to illuminate something lighter especially now that he feels more assured in his sound, he hasn’t changed how he writes his songs but now he wants people to feel a certain type of way, “I wanted it to at least kind of crossover into something that people could listen to as a group, something that you could actually move to and dance to a bit. Cos when I was doing shows from my last album and I was travelling a bit to do it, there was something about the crowd not moving as much and I was like ‘bruv I just want you to move a bit’ and I felt like I have to make that music for that to happen.”
The cultural differences between the laid back nature of London and the up-tempo surreal landscape that is LA, seems to be exactly what Jamie needed as this project has taken a turn away from his usual mellow tones and ventures more into dreamy, soulful and experimental avenues. ‘(04:30) IDLER’ is, as Jamie describes it, “an album about my inability to sleep.” In the process of making the album Jamie realised that he was writing all his songs around the same time at night, around 5am, and yet his songs seemed to vary so much from each other stylistically. Each song was a reflection of the wavering mental and emotional states that he occupied in the process of making each new track. “The whole idea was to try to make you think about those times when you’re thinking of nothing and everything, at the same time”, he says. On completing the track ‘(04:30) IDLER’, Jamie decided it would be the right title for his album.
The album plays dynamically as a film score and Jamie highlights that the detail is actually in the production; “Most people don’t see production as storytelling, but I really do,” he says, entailing that in this album the audience should expect not only meaningful messages in his songs but should also look out for the subtle nuances in the production of each track as there’s a reason for it all.
As we continue to talk, taking in the surroundings of the famed Peckham Rye park, two dogs run up to Jamie and he laughs in amazement, asking us “is that a smile?”. It seems Jamie is at home here – as he should be – but, it begs the question: how is he dealing with the demands and pressures of fans and their high expectations, especially now that the spotlight is shining in his direction? Jamie admits that the pressures do get to him “You’re in the studio and you’re like no one’s gonna like this shit… But you have to trust your ear… Otherwise you won’t make anything”.
Jamie counts Rejjie Snow as a close friend, and shares a house with Archy Marshall (aka King Krule) who he’s known since they were kids, and it seems that being surrounded by the calibre of friends he has around him, has prepared him for handling the stresses of fame. “People come into your life a lot when you make music, they love being around you.. but me and Archy have been around each other since we were kids, that’s some brotherly shit.” But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss the good old days of pub shows and audiences of friends only, he reminisces, “The thing that I miss is, when you used to do small shows at the beginning, you were trying to get people to like you – which was fucking horrible – and now you’re performing to keep them liking you.”
Seeing your friends rise up the ladder of success in the same field as you, for some, may lead you to move more in the direction of their style of music, however, Jamie highlights how important it is to him that he and Archy remain in their own lanes stylistically despite drawing inspirations from the same sources. “We make music together and it never gets released. We make music most nights together, in our studio at our house, but that’s just for fun when we’re smoking. I won’t even hear it the next day, like it’s just there and then. And then we close our doors and then make our own music, it’s not like he’s there when I’m making mine, and I’m there when he’s making his. We both have our own separate space and we don’t try trip on each other toes, otherwise it’ll just get messy.”
“I love making songs and I love writing for people, in the long run my real goal is to create soundscapes for movies.”
Even though Jamie has adjusted to the life of an upcoming London born talent, he’s not in it for fame or for seeing his name in lights. As Jamie puts it, “I’d rather people not even know who I am… I’d rather them just listen to the music.” As far as he’s concerned he’s already achieved his main goal; “The only thing I’ve really wanted to do is live comfortably making music and I’ve done that.” Jamie is here to change what it is to be an artist; instead of having dreams of selling out the biggest arena there is, Jamie is waiting for his chance to cross over from making electronic jazz music into film scoring. Although he would “love to perform at the Royal Albert Hall”, because it’s “fucking classy”, that’s mainly a little something he’d want to do for his parents.
As our conversation draws to a close, it’s the right time to talk about the future, “I’m not distancing myself from electronic stuff, but just kind of use that like icing sugar on the top… and push myself in making new sounds.” Jamie explains that the musical direction he wants to go into next is a more soulful one and his sound will continue evolving; “You can’t go backwards you can only go forward,” he says.
There’s no doubt that Jamie Isaac will go on to hone in on his craft and inevitably it seems as though no matter how much life changes around him, his method will remain the same and a part of him will always be, authentically and unequivocally, Jamie Isaac.
Jamie Isaac’s second album ‘(04.30 IDLER), will be released via Marathon Artists on June 1, 2018 and you can catch him live at his headline show at Village Underground on the June 12 in London.