by Ziggy Merritt
Since 2011 the name Jamie Isaac has steadily been gathering clout among contemporaries of his age who have dabbled in the post-dubstep era popularized in part by artists such as James Blake and Nosaj Thing. Not content to follow in their exact slipstream, the London-based artist infuses his songwriting with layers of ambient jazz that add color to the often darkly romantic urban landscapes he depicts. Such elements were explored in detail on his debut album, Couch Baby released in the summer of 2016.
But in 2017, those talents cross the Atlantic to debut in the United States for the first time, with a stop at Boot and Saddle kicking off a mini-tour that ends with an appearance at SXSW in mid-March. In the leadup to his debut here I had the opportunity to talk with Isaac about the recent tour as well as Couch Baby Revisited, a remixed version of his album done with friends and collaborators in North America such as Allan Kingdom and Sporting Life.
“I kind of just got told it was going to happen,” he says in response to hearing that a tour of the U.S. was being put together. “It’s always one of those things, especially if you’re a British artist, it’s always something that crosses your mind, y’know? Go to the U.S., have a tour. It’s quite a romantic idea. It was such great news when I first heard it and it kind of took me back a bit.”
If anything, Isaac’s proper debut in the states is a chance to experience the rhythms of the unfamiliar, having not been back to visit North America since his childhood. “It’s weird especially when you’re from an English-speaking country going to another English-speaking country and seeing how their culture is completely different,” he says. “I haven’t been to the U.S. since I was a kid. There’s so much that’s happening in the U.S. at the moment between artistically and politically. I’m just kind of interested in how people are moved and do move physically to the music and how you move them. There’s so many different elements.”
The opportunity of a tour naturally invited reinvention for a debut steadily approaching its one year anniversary. In that pursuit a re-release of the album featuring remixes from friends and label-mates was created and recently kicked off with a surprise cover of Alicia Keys’ “Un-thinkable.”
“I always thought it was sung so amazingly, there’s so much feeling,” he says in making this cover. “If I am going to do a cover of a song, I want it to be a simple song. I don’t want it to be something that, if I covered it, it would be automatically judged. I want it to be something that could flow warmly and would compliment the sound I already have.”
But the idea for this had been gestating for quite some time as he revealed. “I think I had been thinking of making a cover of this song for so long that I already knew exactly how I was going to do it. I was going to strip it back, make it more vocal percussion and make it quite sparse,” he says. “When it actually got to the point of making it, it happened in, like, a day. It’s more like a midway of me adapting to her sound: trying to take that song down to a level that people who enjoy my music would be able to relate.”
Likewise with Couch Baby Revisited these remixes are a chance for others to strip back and reconfigure his own music into something just as relatable and exciting as the original. “It’s a bunch of remixes with people that I’m really fond of and people that I actually know,” he says on the album. “If I was going to do a U.S. release of the album I wanted it to be supported by people that liked the music and supported by U.S. artists that I liked also. In the eight months since the album came out I’ve been thinking about how the hell I’m going to approach another album so it was kind of nice to take a step back and almost give the music over to my friends and say ‘hey run with this, see if you wanna add something to it’ and I think it’s really added something that i couldn’t have done by myself.”
Jamie Isaac performs at Boot and Saddle on March 2nd with openers Olukara and JUSTPROCESS. Check out the video for the remix of his track Last Drip featuring Rejjie Snow just below.