QSC Aspiring Interview: Jake Isaac on 'Start Again', Glastonbury and self reflection

British soul artist Jake Isaac has been creating tuneful, heartfelt ballads since he burst onto the scene with a handful of EPs and his full-length debut album Our Lives in 2017. The South London singer-songwriter brought classic pop, soul and funk influences together again for his second record, 2021’s Honesty, and now his latest offering: For When It Hurts.

Here he opens up about his musical influences, the meaning behind his self-written, produced and performed single, Start Again (taken from the new album), and explains why he’s proud of where he’s made it to in the music industry.

Where in the world are you joining us from, and what have you been up to?

I’m in Manchester at the moment, having recently moved up here, and I’m loving it! These last few months I’ve been wrapping up my third album, making a lot of it from my studio at home. I’ve also been doing some writing for and working with other artists, both at home and abroad, which has been real good fun. And I’ve also been writing a film..!

That all started in lockdown, when I made my first short film in one day with a small crew on a tiny budget down in Margate, Kent. The film ended up winning a bunch of awards at different film festivals. Soon after that I was approached by a pretty big film production company to act in my first film, and compose the music for it. I think I’ve definitely been spurred on by those two moments. The one I’m writing currently is on toxic masculinity and what that looks like in the family dynamic. So that’s where I’m at, just seeing how it goes really.

When did you realise that music was your calling?

My dad's a reverend, and I grew up in church. I was the annoying child at three or four years old that would be playing drums while everyone's trying to have a cup of tea. Music was a big part of my life growing up – I learned drums and piano, and eventually bass guitar. When I went to uni however I ended up studying marketing, because I was really interested in that. At the same time I was playing in a rock band at uni, coming back down from Cheltenham to London to do gigs as a session drummer. I ended up landing my first music directing gig for Duffy, and I think that was kind of where my songwriting began – starting with writing some really bad love songs in my bedroom at uni.

Then someone heard me singing in a songwriting session, and said they knew someone who would be interested in managing me. A week later that person became my manager, and then two years later I was playing at Glastonbury! That was an incredible experience. That same day I remember releasing my second EP, and it was number one on the iTunes Singer Songwriter charts. Something like two weeks after that I ended up signing to Elton John’s Rocket Music. So the whole come up has been a bit mad if I'm honest, with random moments like that in my journey.

A lot of my songs have come as self reflections of my journey of how to be comfortable in my own skin.

Who were you listening to growing up, and who do you consider to be your main musical influences?

I grew up listening to whatever my dad had in the house, which was often an old American gospel singer called James Cleveland. He loved Paul Simon, especially his Graceland album. And then he had a Mozart compilation that we would listen to in his Volvo when driving long distances. Those early tapes, and then later watching Michael Jackson on MTV, really shaped my life. There was a whole world of music that I didn’t discover until I was older, because we didn’t really listen to the radio when I was growing up.

These days, whenever I’m doing most things, I’ll just listen to old school soul or jazz music. I’m a massive fan of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, so that’s kind of where I’m at. I think a lot of my inspiration in the past has come from my inadequacies in relationships, and I've realised over the years how self conscious I am of my weaknesses, particularly in that area. I feel like a lot of my songs have come as self reflections of my journey of how to be comfortable in my own skin, and show love and communicate. I think that's probably part of the reason why I'm writing this film on toxic masculinity. These days my songs and my art are probably more informed by the world around me.

Can you tell us about your songwriting process?

Someone gave me an upright piano recently, and I’ve got a collection of maybe nine or 10 guitars, so I mostly start with one of those two instruments. I’ll hunt out chords and lyrics and just see what comes, trying to shape the song around it feeling good with just me and one instrument, rather than putting it through production. I feel like if it moves me and I’ve been really honest, with the lyrics, in a room on my own, then that’s a great place to start to build a demo record.

Tell us about your latest single, Start Again.

A cousin of mine who writes songs in her bedroom helped me come up with this one, and I produced it all myself. When I made this song I had this thing in mind that it was the cousin to an older party song of mine called Long Road; it’s high energy and has a lot of angst – I think it came from a place of just trying to do better at communicating, at loving, and doing life with people around us.

I suppose it was also a little bit of a stake in the ground, kind of saying, ‘hey, after this, we're going to go down a bit more of a soulful route.’ So quite literally giving me a chance to start again, in terms of to my listeners and to the people who've been doing this journey with me. It’s definitely one for the festival tents, with big energy.

What have you got in the pipeline?

I’ve got a few more songs being released over the next month or two. My third album For When It Hurts came out on April 14th, and soon I’ll be announcing a tour which will probably happen in November. This time we’re doing the UK and Europe with the squad and my band, with maybe one or two festivals in between. And at some point, I’ll be announcing my new film!

You can listen to the full interview with Jake Isaac on Headliner Radio, here: