„The devil on your shoulder“// Jamie Isaac Interview

Last week Jamie Isaac played at the Waves Vienna festival at WUK. The upcoming singer, pianist and producer, who is currently touring through the world, met with us for a chilled talk without his manager, but with a smile on his face. His music is slow jazz, soul and lo-fi with Jamie Isaacs overlayered, melancholic voice. It needs you to let go, before drawning you into a dream. He spreads a feeling of serenity and calmness, also in our interview.

The Message: Was there anything that year that has influenced you? Could be something that happened to you, something you witnessed, whatever.
Jamie Isaac: I think the thing that influenced me is my housemate Archie, who goes under King Krule, being nominated for Mercury Awards.  That’s probably one of the biggest awards for upcoming musicians in England. Seeing someone so close to me be nominated for that, started a fire in my soul to try and create something that could get me there too.

Can you describe your workplace, which is also your bedroom, for us? How does it feel to be there? How do you get into a workflow there?
It’s a place where you can just mirror what your mind is doing. Sometimes I like my sleeping place extremely clean and very organized. But I always have my workplace really messy and have stuff written on the walls. It’s important to mirror how you want the music to come out, in the place that you make it. Mainly messy, a bit smoky, smells a bit, you know. Coffee and Cigarettes. That’s a musician’s diet though.

(c) Matthias Schuch

Your songs are intimate, you don’t have problems expressing your feelings. What are your experiences in a world, where some people think boys shouldn’t express their feeling.
Since I was younger, I’ve always been around creative people who are ok with sharing feelings, so I’ve never come across that, but I know that it exists. My job is not filled with masculine men, you know music and the arts. Masculine is like the wrong word though. It has evolved. The idea of a manly man, like a 50s guy – it’s not like that anymore. I personally never had any problems. And I don’t really care either, I’m just going to say what I think and feel.

Who decides what a foreigner even is? Countries and political contracts. But that’s not real, it doesn’t really exist. I’m just a person of the world. We just live here, and this right here is home.

Xenophobia is a big problem in the UK. Do you have any explanation, why that is or what could be done to change these feelings?
I think people are misjudging the situation with the labor party, they are getting it mixed up with Antisemitism and Anti-Israel. In terms with Brexit it’s a different point. A bunch of older people won’t actually see the effects of the vote they made. Right now, they want to pick the race of their next-door neighbor, which just can’t be happening anymore. Being a person of color and growing up in London, I never truly experienced racism though. But there are places in the north of England, that really struggle with this. I think it’s because they are very industrial towns, based on factories that have been there for hundreds of years and like generations of dads worked there. Now they are seeing new generations of people coming in and freak out, people are scared. But I mean, who decides what a foreigner even is? Countries and political contracts. But that’s not real, it doesn’t really exist. It’s crazy people even think like this. I’m just a person of the world. We just live here, and this right here is home.

(c) Ronja Neger

Your current album „Idler“ sounds like you had to overcome a relationship, is that right?Yeah, this very long relationship came to a messy end. I wanted to make a clean way out and cover or contradict that. My first Album took me three years to write and Idler took me 6 months. Sometimes you write a song and after the album’s finished, you might not even feel like that anymore. But you’d still have to tour it for a year, like 4 years after you’ve written it. I wanted to write an album, that I can be singing these lyrics and actually feel it at the same time. I was so disconnected sometimes during my last album.

Is music kind of a therapy?
If I didn’t have music I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’m lucky I found something I can channel my feelings into. You guys must feel the same with what you do. It’s about finding something to channel so much of your energy and your creativeness into. There are some people that are just lost and don’t know what to do. Just count your blessings, honestly (laughter).

Is it easier to talk about things you struggle with in person or in music?
Music, because you can hide behind a certain image of yourself. What people think that you should be. The Jamie Isaac music isn’t everything about my person, it’s an aspect of it, I like writing music about. It’s very easy for me to put everything in there, wrap it up, gift-wrap it and give it to people and move on. That’s my way of dealing with the struggles.

(c) Matthias Schuch

Are you a great observer?
If it’s something that’s close to me, I maybe can’t see it as it is. I can be quite self-centered sometimes and see the things only how I want to see it. But when it comes to something a bit greater, other people’s Problems, I can see it. But that’s the same with everyone, you know. I’m lucky in being a person that can dissect what their mind is thinking. I can get upset and understand why and that has helped me. There is people that get very upset and don’t know why.

Would you like to say something about struggling with insomnia?
It’s something that I always wanted to talk about and wanted to put across in music. It can be a real beautiful thing. The devil on you shoulder. You can think super creatively and surreal, I like that aspect of it, even though it is hard. I just struggle with it a bit. I also hardly sleep and it’s difficult. Sometimes I’ll be speaking to somebody, who is looking me right in the eyes, and turn around, because it doesn’t feel like they are talking to me. More like they are talking through me. I feel like they are not connecting with their words. It’s super-weird but I kind of like the feeling.

Do you like being in front of a camera? Your music videos have a very chill feel to them.
Most of the time not really, but I accept it. I get a lot of friends doing my music videos. I’m shooting for a Cover on Wednesday and the only person I want to shoot it is the girl that I am seeing right now. I need to be in a chilled environment.

How did you like performing at the „Colors“ show?
It’s weird, because you don’t have a color. It’s green screen, which I didn’t know so I walked in and was like: Is this my color? Green. You wear headphones and there is a bunch of people in the room, who can’t really hear the music. They can only hear you singing and that’s a bit awkward. Really intimate. I really like Colors and that was something I wanted to check of the list. And I also really liked Berlin.

Have you found the sound to your live performance yet?
Transposing something that I make at home to making it live is always going to be difficult. You never know, if you should just play the beat and play along with it or try to get a band in. We are 90% band. I really like the idea of adding some background singers too. But other than that, I think the band is super tight, I have amazing musicians playing with me. There is only so much connection that people can have to someone standing there with a backing track. If there is five people on stage, all invested, playing, into the music, they can switch it to a more visual performance.

Did you ever feel the need of learning another instrument than piano?
When I was younger I always wanted to play the violin. I just love the sound of strings, I kind of come from a classical background. Other than that, maybe more guitar. It’s very difficult to play the piano because you can’t just be in a bus with your band and take out a piano. Maybe like a keytar. But if you have an actual guitar you can play anywhere. Also, all girls like guitarists. It’s not fair, piano is just not cool man (laughter).

Any hiphop-influences you’d like to talk about?
I was a massive fan of Pete Rock, really big fan of Madlib and J Dilla. Those kinds of dusty, old beats that people were making on their MPC’s at home really inspired me. More recently I’ve been reading into JPEGMAFIA. Do you know them? This shit’s crazy. I bumped into a friend in LA who took me to his crib and put on a record of this new guy never heard of. It was JPEGMAFIA’s album and I promise, it’s insane, it’s so glitchy and he does the production all himself. I had the same feeling the first time I ever listened to James Blake or Mount Kimby. The production is so on point. Definitely listen to that.

You said you’d like to work with Noname, did you listen to her new album „Room 25“?
It is cool, in a way that it’s really live-sounding and has more live drums in it. I heard it before it came out because we were doing a thing together, where she was going to be on a project of mine. Just the timing didn’t work out because I needed to release something quickly. It’s still in the pipeline though. I went to see her live in London a couple weeks ago, it was amazing. She has contact to great beatmakers because she is in the same crew as Chance The Rapper and so on in Chicago. I’m just in love with her sound man. It’s super cool and smooth.

The live drums is something you wanted to do too.
Exactly. I could see her development, because that’s something that I wanted to do too. Go from quiet electronic key beats, kind of sampled beats, to something that was more live and could be transposed live. Her music’s very jazzy. I put on to that music from my drummer, who is an amazing jazz drummer.

Jazz music is right in your face, yet soft. Does that fit to your music as well?
It’s meant to be the music that you listen to when you go home at night. Like 3am, on you bed with your headphones on. I think that’s something that is quite powerful in terms of the aggression toward it. The softness of it, that’s quite intimate about my music. It doesn’t necessarily have to sound aggressive for it to bring out aggressive niches in you.

Do you have any plans for more music right now?
Yeah, I’m doing some projects with Nosaj Thing. I’m going back to the studio on Monday for five days, doing like a four-track-EP and lots of music for the end of the year. Some of it’s going to be a little dancy and some is going to be really low-fi jazzy, hip-hoppy.

Are you a great dancer?
I love dancing so much. I love soul music and rare groove and Hip-Hop. I go out and listen to soul, groove and disco and twirl to it and stuff. I love that.

(c) Matthias Schuch
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