credit: Ashley Rommelrath
Jamie Isaac is a 21-year-old artist from south east London; leaving school alongside longtime collaborator and housemate Archy Marshall (aka King Krule), he gained notoriety through a string of low-key EP releases, performances, remixes & features. Since 2014’s ‘Blue Break EP’ he has been locked away harnessing the sound that has taken this classically trained vocalist and pianist into the hazy no-mans-land between jazz, R&B, soul, hip hop and electronica. ‘Couch Baby’ is the stunning summation of the young talent’s journey so far.
As a self-sufficient producer and composer he describes his own music as “brooding, cinematic and minimalist.” This soundscape, which sways from ambient melody to head bopping grooves has already won him many fans in high places like Zane Lowe, Pitchfork and Huw Stephens. The debut record, with its ear worm crooning, and emotive depth and palette, sounds as natural next to the trippy jazz of Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat as it does the spacious atmospherics of The xx.
Three years in the making, ‘Couch Baby’ has been a “calming outlet” for Jamie. It’s the latest in a string of releases from him and his friends in the SE LDN crew that have collectively defined the areas new sonic trademarks, “Other artists say they’re from south London, but they haven’t got the south London sound. There’s a certain feeling that you have to get with it, it’s a certain mellowness.” As well as Jamie and Archy, the extended family now also counts the likes of rappers Rejjie Snow, Jesse James Solomon and Jadasea amongst their ranks, as well as producers Black Mack and Mr Malarky.
The tight-knit crew has been hanging around with each other since they were 13, Jamie credits their symbiotic nature with developing his tastes, “We sit round each others, we smoke together, we play video games together, we talk, we debate. All of this stuff, it helps mould the sound. You can’t get a sound, you can’t start a collective without actually knowing each other inside & out.”
As with previous releases, ‘Couch Baby’ leans heavily on jazz, ambient soundscapes, and the classic artists Jamie holds dear, Marvin Gaye (“always”), Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Nancy Wilson, Blossom Dearie, what he calls the “west coast, late 50s / early 60s golden era of jazz.”
However, the progression from Jamie’s previous work was in his determination to make something more succinct, “a lost less ambient,” to draw from more contemporary, pop-driven influences, “early 00s R&B… Usher, Omarion” and most importantly to stick his head above the parapet in a world where electronic music is constantly on the rise and average bedroom producers are endlessly tinkering with their Soundcloud loops, “I wanted it to be a good album I could perform live. I wanted to hone in on the lyrics more.. I’m growing up now, I’m sure about what I wanna say, I’m not nervous about it, I think the sound has matured in that way.“
The process of creating the album wasn’t rushed. The weight of the debut always heavy on his mind, each song was completely mapped before he made it to the studio to complete this self-produced collection, what he calls, “My first extended art piece.” And as with every other song he’s written, it all began at home, “I always start at the piano, & then I work some beats over it, I end with the vocals.”
Songs such as ‘All My Days’, ‘Know U Like Me’ and ‘CNT U SEE’ form the foundation of the album, but they were written 3 years ago, more recent compositions such as ‘Last Drip’ perfectly envisage the wide spanning spectrum of influences and styles present in this body of work. A unique sound reflective of the SE collective he’s born from, in his own words, “It’s something you can’t quite put your finger on. Other people try and recreate it, and it just sounds shit.”
Upon completion of the album Jamie invited friends from his prolific collective to remix his efforts into what would become the ‘Loose Grip Mixtape’. A stellar cast, including King Krule, Rejjie Snow, Jesse James, Jadasea, Rago Foot, MC PINTY & Mr Malarky feature & it was launched with a riotous, dance floor caving Boiler Room – the first time the SE collective have all appeared on the same bill
In reflection Jamie describes the night as the biggest milestone of his career so far, a Boiler Room alongside all the mates he grew up with, on his own terms, in his own area, streamed live to thousands, “We used to get told that we were just lazy stoners, that nothing would amount, now look. We’re still lazy stoners, but now we’ve defined an area with our sound. We need to keep on going, we can’t leave it up to anyone else to takeover.”
Jamie Isaac’s debut album, ‘Couch Baby’ is released 8th July via Marathon Artists, it is preceded by 2 EPs - 2013’s ‘I Will Be Cold Soon’ & 2014’s ‘Blue Break’, & the 2016 ‘Loose Grip Mixtape’ - for now a stream only release that will be exclusively available as a free accompaniment to ‘Couch Baby’.