The south east London singer and producer spends a night at the races with King Krule and Rejjie Snow in his Dexter Navy-directed new video
Twenty-one-year-old Jamie Isaac is a singer and producer from south London. Despite his relatively young age, Isaac is extraordinarily gifted – he’s a classically-trained pianist, has a choral singing background, and was accepted into the selective, prodigious Brit school. There, he was classmates with Archy Marshall (best known as King Krule), and the two struck up a friendship. Today, Isaac – alongside Marshall – is part of a loose collective of friends and musicians based in south east London making warm, soulful, intimate, slightly melancholic music that also includes artists like Jesse James Solomon, Jadasea and Black Mack.
After releasing a couple of EPs between 2011 and 2014, Isaac returned this year with the Loose Grip Mixtape, a collection of tracks showcasing Isaac’s more confident new sound and boasting guest appearances from friends like Archy Marshall (under the name Edgar the Beatmaker) and rapper Rejjie Snow. The mixtape is a precursor to his debut album Couch Baby, released July 8 via Marathon Artists.
Ahead of the album Isaac has shared an extended video combining Couch Baby’s “All My Days” and a Rejjie Snow-featuring remix of “Last Drip” from the Loose Grip Mixtape. Directed by Dexter Navy – who has previously directed videos for Kanye West and A$AP Rocky – the clip traces a day in the life of Isaac and his pals, hanging out, chatting shit, smoking weed, and visiting the dog tracks. “Me and Dex hit it off straight away,” Isaac explains, “He understood the music and had a great image in his head, having us just chatting and sitting around, just chilling. He knew exactly how to put the music across in film.”
Jamie Isaac will play an album release show at south London’s Bermondsey Social Club on July 12, tickets for which are available here. We caught up with him over the phone to discuss his music, his school days, and his album.
When did you first start making music?
Jamie Isaac: I started this project in 2011. At that time I was just a teenager in his room with a laptop and a piano, trying to make some sort of electronic music – which thousands of people try to do. I didn’t really know what I wanted to get out of it. (I’m) classically trained (and) I did some singing when I was younger, so that helped a lot in terms of how I wanted it to sound. In the beginning, the stuff I was making was kind of choral-sounding – it was a mix of (that) between weird classical, and then I got more into jazz, so it kind of went that way.
Does your choral background have any influence on the music you’re making today?
Jamie Isaac: I guess I lost that element of it, but in terms of the voicings of the piano, the kinds of harmonies I want to put in, and the way it’s produced – kind of ethereal and vast – that’s what you get with a lot of choral music. It’s very deep-sounding. I definitely wanted to carry that through with all my music; I think that’s a great part of classical music.
You went to the Brit school, right? What was it like there?
Jamie Isaac: I did music there. I dropped out – it wasn't for me. I met amazing people there and all my friends now are from there.
Why’d you drop out?
Jamie Isaac: It got to a stage where I thought I’d gained as much as I wanted to at that point. I went to a class called ‘songwriting’, and I thought it was the most ridiculous class ever. It’s like, how can you teach someone to write a song? You can’t really do that. I thought it was all a bit contrived.
Did you feel like they were trying to mould you into anything?
Jamie Isaac: No, they give you the freedom to do what you want to do. Obviously you get those female singers that come out every single year and jump on a big producer’s track and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, she went to the Brit school’ – you always get those people. But you also get a lot of people who are amazing at art and do really well for themselves in the art world. There’s a subculture within that school that thrives.
What were some of the major lessons you learned there?
Jamie Isaac: Just how to rehearse properly, and how to get along with other musicians. When you come from a school where I do, in Croydon, you go to a music lesson and normally people just doss around – they don’t do anything, they just mess around on a Yamaha keyboard and go on the DJ setting. They just piss around. But being the only kid in the class who liked music and actually really wanted to do music (for a living), and then going to a school where there’s 30 people picked out of thousands to go there, you’re like, ‘Oh shit, everyone who’s here wants to be here and everyone’s on a really good level.’ It teaches you how to interact with musicians.
How did you start producing?
Jamie Isaac: I don’t know why I wanted to produce. I definitely know I wanted to take full control of my music. I wanted to be the person who wrote, produced and mixed the songs, all the way through to the end. Also, you can create whole songs in your bedroom – you can have the finished product straight away, which is always a good feeling. You don’t have to go into a studio where the producer’s like, ‘Yeah man, let’s put some drums on that’ and you’re just like, ‘Well…’ Generally (if) you’re doing everything in your bedroom it’s all very organic.
Why did you decide to make a mixtape?
Jamie Isaac: I hadn’t released music in a long time – for, like, two years – and I saw it as a bit of a ‘thank you’ to people who had actually stuck by the music, patiently waiting. I didn’t want to just come along and be like, ‘Hey guys, I know you haven’t heard from me in two years, but I expect you to buy my album.’ I wanted to have a free project that gets all my friends together, people from south London who are doing amazing work at the moment who are not getting as much press or hype as they should do.
Tell us about some of those collaborations.
Jamie Isaac: They’re just a group of friends. We smoke together, we go to the pub together. We chill most nights. It wasn’t very hard to get them to do the mixtape, because I would just be like, in a room, and I’d be like, ‘Do you want to jump on this track?’
What can you tell us about your new video?
Jamie Isaac: We’ve got two songs on it – one from the album, and one from the mixtape. I just basically wanted to get people that are on the mixtape in the video, so I’ve got Archy, I’ve got Rejjie, I’ve got Jesse James. I just wanted to make a very relaxed video. The stuff I’d done in the past was very stylised, and I wanted to make something a bit more like me, something that was a bit more honest, so people could have an in look into how we chill and the vibe we’re going for.
What can you tell us about the album?
Jamie Isaac: I was very excited to do my first extended piece of art. I thought of it as kind of band-orientated and less electronic. I wanted it to be great for a live performance, so I gravitated more towards having more of a live vibe going on, and definitely more of a jazzy vibe.
Couch Baby is out via Marathon Records on July 8