Words by Tom Frodsham.
South-East Londoner Jodie Abacus has been on an upward curve since his sunny side up single, ‘I’ll Be That Friend’, emerged in demo form on Soundcloud back in 2013. He soon found fans via national radio play and re-released the single with a suitably smiley YouTube video this summer. With an as-yet-untitled debut album due soon, Abacus headlined Deaf Institute in September and was back in Manchester recently as the tour support act for Corinne Bailey Rae. Before the Albert Hall gig, BagThing caught up with him for a chat about the Elton John, X-Men and colourful music.
At BagThing we love everything about live music. What is it about performing live that you like best?
The thing I like about performing live is being able to tell my stories to the audience and relive the situations, knowing that I’m viewing it from the bubble of the stage.
You’re in that moment?
I’m in the moment, I can relive the moment, but in the safety net of this bubble that I’m telling the story to. It’s almost as if it’s Charles Xavier in X-Men. It’s like telling the story and everybody can look and see what’s happening. Sometimes that bubble breaks and you can get taken back to that place and you can get emotional.
It’s a wonderful thing, to know where you were and know what you were doing. Being able to sing and hear it sung back to you – that’s amazing.
If you could to describe the Jodie Abacus sound to the readers of BagThing who may not have heard it before how would you describe it?
I’d describe my sound as being refreshing, humorous, honest, sincere and fun.
I get that from your music. I feel like your music has a really strong 70s soul sound to it. What artists from that era, if there are any, have influenced you most?
Guys like Doobie Brothers, Bobby Caldwell, Stevie, Elton. Yeah, Elton.
I’d describe you like what John Legend and Elton John’s love child would sound like. What do you think of that?
You know what? I’ll take that and run with that. I might even use that as an example myself. That’s dope.
I’ll copyright that then.[Laughing] Yeah, you should do that.
What was it that first inspired you to make music?
I started off producing first, then realised that I could write. Then I realised that I could sing, and that I could sing the music that I was writing. But back then my production was better than my writing and singing. Then my writing got better and my singing got better, but I’d still class my writing way above my singing and production stuff.
And it grew from there?
Yeah. So then what made me latch onto it was my mum and dad divorced and I needed that outlet, so that was the thing that was making me happier at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t really like music in secondary school, didn’t like music class and I don’t really enjoy the science of it. I just know how to feel it and I know how to put music together and tell the stories and stuff like that. I’ll get there eventually when I get that little dyslexia part out of the way.
What can we expect from your upcoming debut album?
Just really intense emotions, either way. You’ll feel a level of anger, you’ll be provoked. It’ll be a bit provocative. You’ll feel sadness, emotion and mostly the end result, the end thread through it, is joy.
Do you have a name in progress for it?
There is a name for the album… no one ever tells me not to say anything.
You’re going to keep that one to yourself?
It will be called… I don’t know if I should mention it though. I’ll keep it secret!
Something I’ve noticed about your creative direction is that everything seems very colourful. Your music videos are colourful and bright. Even your artwork is colourful. Is that a conscious decision? I think it makes you come across as a joyful artist to listen to.
Yeah, there’s a lot of sincerity there. There’s a lot of songs people haven’t heard as well, a lot of stuff to do with the joy. There’s a contrast as well. I might be singing about something that sounds happy, but really it might be a bit of doom in it. If the music doesn’t give me goosebumps, I won’t do it. I think that’s really important. So how it comes across and how people see me personally as a friend, that’s my personality that comes out in the music. Before you hear any of the lyrics, you say, ‘That’s J’.
What music or current artists do you love right now? What’s influencing your sound right now?
There’s nothing really influencing my sound directly who I can say I’m trying to be like. It’s people that I admire dearly for their technique and the way they sing, like Sampha, an American guy with a really cool voice. He also sings with a dance act called SBTRKT. Michael Kiwanuka and other guys who sing with a really cool technique. Kwabs and all those guys. Great artists, people I admire and the pedigree of people like Adele and Ed. You get inspired by their stories.
There’s two more dates on this tour with Corinne. What’s happening for you straight after?
There’s stuff to do with YouTube, more gigs. All kinds of things, sessions, continuing to write music. Because what happens, what people forget to realise is you continually make music, always in the studio.
People can forget that and how much recording you have to do…
Yeah, you don’t just get signed, and sit on the side and make 10 songs and chill out. You’re in the studio. It’s packed out, you go there, go there, go there. But I enjoy it.
Is that your favourite place? You can sing and be creative and write…
Yeah, it is my place, because it’s what I’ve been crafting at for a very long time, so it’s really, really, really important to me. And I really want to win. I can see it in my head. It’s a crazy feeling. The passion I have is insane. It’s not just that, but I want to inspire other people to do it as well. What’s the point in doing all of this if it’s all in vain? You should be able to influence other people all around you, not just yourself. It’s not just about you, or else everything else is a waste of time.
Jodie Abacus’s forthcoming debut is due soon via Household Records.
Read about his supporting slot with Corinne Bailey Rae here.