South-London based musician, Jake Isaac, is one of the British music industry’s best-kept secrets. With a string of credits ranging everything from production to instrumentation and songwriting, the veteran has had an understated impact on the trajectory of British Pop and Hip-Hop since his late teens.
Working as a session musician, he played for and wrote songs for artists like Duffy, Blue, and Gabrielle. His portfolio and talents would lead to him writing music for his use and releasing a lot of it. Allowing him to showcase his talents by performing and recording a live EP in 2013 titled Back to You. His first major festival came in 2014 when he opened The Other Stage at Glastonbury. With one full-length project under his belt (Our Lives, 2017), his most recent EP came last year, highlighting his impressive work rate more than the need to stay relevant.
Here’s what happened when we sat down with the all-round talented artist:
You seem very comfortable doing soul records. Has this always been the case?
If anything, this has been a full-circle experience for me. I grew up listening to Soul records, singer-songwriters like Paul Simon, anything Motown, all the way to Ms. Franklin, pretty much-drawing influence from that neck of the woods. When I started being a singer-songwriter here, I kind of leaned straight into the folk thing. Then I went from there until I grew a bit older and started drawing from older influences more. As far as the music I make now, I feel more confident in my skin, I’m a black soul singer that makes pop records. I’m still trying to figure it out but that’s where I’m at.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
I did. South London is my home, Crystal Palace born and bred. I feel like what has happened now is there have been a series of events in recent times that have sort of been affirming for me in terms of being Black British and expressing my upbringing on the soul dynamics. Like going to family functions and having my dad play big Reggae records down the hallway or listening to my dad’s old soul records at night while my sister and I tried to get ready for school the next day.
Your father was a reverend. What was that like growing up?
I had a balanced upbringing. He exposed me to a lot outside the faith. I was not sheltered. Experiencing life with him as a dad while growing up in South London where many of my mates didn’t have that, was very important for me.
How much did that play into the type of music you make?
I feel like love isn’t one-sided. There are two sides to every coin. There’s a saying that the best thing you can do for your kids is to love their mother. Seeing how my dad looked after my mum and still does, feeds into how I see myself in relationships or those sort of roles.
Can we talk about your transition from instrumentalist/musician into an artist?
Most of the time I’m not in a hurry to say, oh I wrote all these songs, and I produced all these songs, and I did this and that. I’m just grateful for where I’m at. The reality is at the time it felt like an uphill struggle, it feels difficult for me to celebrate something that has been a push uphill, but at the same time, I’m not at the top of the hill. I mean we all still know people from school trying to rap a few years too late. I’m just grateful to keep going and do this as a job.
Elton John signed him to Rocket Record Company. What was that like?
I was signed to him, his company managed me and I released a record or two under that imprint.
I was lucky you know. I was with Universal at some point. The deal I signed was quite rare really. I signed in Germany but I had a UK team. The terms were basically that I got to produce my album, which was nuts. I’d never seen terms like that except for producers. It sort of felt as if they were saying, “We see what you’re doing, there’s no reason to change it.”
That sort of affirmed my confidence in what I was doing. I have had friends who have been through the majors too and have stopped making music altogether which is very sad and I do not think either of the parties intended that. So when I got signed by Universal and understood the context of my deal, it kind of reinforced my opinion on what I was doing.
What sort of growth have you seen between your first few projects to your EP now?
You know this feels like one big accident. I was a session musician, someone needed some songs, I gave writing a try and those songs ended up being used. Somebody said ‘hey, you’re pretty good at this. So my friend who was in the industry at the time encouraged me to write some pop songs. So he brought me in a session and one of the songs that come out that session ended up being used as a single by the old schoolboy band Blue.
It’s like, you go into a room, meet people, vibe with them, and just write music. That’s the job? Sign me up. I suppose it takes someone to see something in you first before you realize.
If I’m being honest one of those collabs is actually on this project. I wrote a song and she graced it with a verse and blessed the album. I picked up the guitar because I saw it was possible to have black skin, do soul, and be in the mainstream. Let alone as a black woman, in North America and make a global impact.
When people think about that era, they think Traci Chapman, but Indie Arie made it mainstream, and I’d never seen that before. I’d love to do something with her (Traci) as well. I just rate it, there’s something about the musicality where someone can pick up an instrument and still commit vocals to it.
What genres do you think you might dabble into down the line?
My missus is a Yoruba girl. I’m from Antigua in the Caribbean. I think Yoruba culture is so rich. I’ve been to countless wedding parties where I didn’t even know the people. People think of Nigeria and think Afrobeats. But it’s bigger than that, it’s the whole culture, that’s why I think people feel people like Burna Boy a lot. He infuses the culture directly into the music. He goes beyond the music. Obviously having a significant other from the culture has helped me feel this sense of affinity to it and a part of me would like to see what that looks like in the context of a Black British man holding a guitar making similar music to me over these beat.
I remember on one of Ed’s [Sheeran] albums that he did a borderline Ghanaian highlife song after hanging with Fuse ODG for a while. In my mind, if my man from Eastern England can make this then I might as well try. I have a friend that manages some acts out in Nigeria and we have talked it through. You might be seeing one of those eventually.
What is next for you?
Singles for this album started coming out in October. Remember was released recently with Samm Henshaw and Mumu Fresh. Eyes on You and Good also have been out for about four weeks. So the rollout is in full effect, by March we should be ready for release.
Listen to “Gold” by Jake Isaac here:
Words by Abdul-Jabbar Obiagwu.