We spoke to singer, songwriter and guitarist Oscar Jerome before his set at Love Supreme on Sunday, about his musical community, upcoming gigs and how jazz influences and mixing genres are sparking a healthy movement in the maelstrom of modern pop and composition.
Let’s start with your musical past - what was your first band, and have you always liked hip hop, jazz etc.?
I started playing when I was really young, when I was about 8, learning classical guitar and stuff. I was always into quite funky, rocky, bluesy stuff. I loved Jimi Hendrix a lot when I was younger and a lot of rock bands like AC/DC, I used to play in a rock band, doing Rage Against The Machine and all that.
I started doing gigs as a singer songwriter when I was about 14/15, and then I moved to London to study jazz at Trinity College of Music. I was born in Norwich and moved when I was about 18, so I was in the same year as Moses and some other people. And that was sort of a gateway into the scene that I’m kind of involved in now, and just being around these people from South London and it kind of went on from there really.
It feels like there’s a troupe of musicians in London like Tom Misch, Poppy Ajudah, Loyle Carner...everyone seems to be working together. How does it feel to be part of this group that are now progressing and becoming very successful?
It’s really nice to see. It’s satisfying to see all your friends starting to get the credit that they deserve really. A few years ago I’d be like ‘I wish I could do that thing’ and then you do it, and then you’re like ‘OK, where am I going next?’ I’m trying to be a bit more philosophical, because I don’t think you can credit it on your individual achievements, you just need to make sure that you’re enjoying yourself and the way that you’re doing it; that you’re enjoying the music that you’re making but you’re also getting it to the right people.
You’ve talked about seeing music as colours, can you describe how this translates into your compositions?
It’s mostly chord voicings I’ll associate with colours quite a lot, and different keys will be in a different colour. It’s kinda weird. Like a D Minor will be a dark red, or a B Minor 6 will be a purpley-bluey colour. I don’t think about it that much, I can just sort of see it. But I think I also associate those colours with emotions, I associate different songs from different feelings. As with the colour thing, it helps put you back in the place you were when you wrote it. It sounds cheesey, but songwriting is kind of a way of being able to time travel a little bit. You might write a song, and it’s no longer relevant to you at all, in terms of where you were emotionally - say you wrote it about a certain person or a certain headspace you were in at a certain point. I often find if I’m playing a song it can really transport me back to that point. It’s quite a cool way of having a stamp in time.
You've got a bunch of dates coming up all over the UK in September, are there any that you’re particularly excited about?
Village Underground - that’s probably going to be the biggest show I’ve done on my own, as myself. Very excited for that, we’ll make sure that’s a really special show. It’s weird because my girlfriend was asking me where would you really like to see yourself playing in the future, and I said Village Underground would seem like a really good benchmark. I was saying this only half a year ago or something, or less! And then my manager called me up a couple of weeks later and was like, ‘We were thinking about your next headline show - maybe we could do Village Underground?, and I was like ‘What!? Really!?’ It’s huge!
You’ve said before that jazz has gained much more of a positive connotation over the last couple of years, why do you think that is?
I feel that especially in London, but also America as well, it’s becoming more associated with young people again. When jazz started out it was very much the voice of the youth, especially black youth in America. In the UK people have started to mix into the culture of what is going on now. Say in London, you’ve got a huge, diverse community of people living there and obviously there are great forms of music that have developed there, like various types of Caribbean music, grime and whatever, and people are mixing in elements of dance music - obviously a lot of dance music came out of UK as well - stuff like garage, jungle. I feel like people are mixing a lot of those production ideas with [jazz] - they’re a lot more accessible to people. Don’t get me wrong, I love swing and stuff as well, and I’ve played a lot of it. But I feel like a lot of us are making music now that you can actually dance to when you go out, there’s more of a nightlife thing. I think that’s probably part of the reason.
And another thing: I feel like the popular music market has become very saturated right now, in terms of the charts and all of that. Everything you listen to, it sounds like a formula. You listen to popular music even 20 years ago, there were proper bangers in there and you could tell that the people who wrote them had actually thought about what they want to write, and that it actually meant something to them, whereas now everything you hear it sounds like a maths equation. And I think in a lot of people there’s an urge to find something that’s going to stimulate their brain more and take them to a pace that they can relate to more.
Oscar Jerome's new single 'Do You Really' is out now and you can listen to it below. He will be playing a number of UK dates in September, including The Hope & Ruin, Brighton; Headrow House, Leeds and The Village Underground, London - view the full schedule here.