Singer, songwriter, and producer Jamie Isaac’s music is the epitome of chill. Jazz influenced sounds, heartfelt and personal lyrics, and his soothing voice will win you over.
There’s no better way of getting to know someone than knowing what’s on their playlist, so prior to his sold out shows in Tokyo, I interviewed Jamie Isaac on what music he grew up listening to, what he’s listening to now, and the story behind a few of his own tracks.
AMY: I heard that your parents are a strong influence behind why you make music. Growing up, what songs do you remember listening to?
JAMIE ISAAC: My parents are both really into rare groove and soul music. So I listened to a lot of Roy Ayers and, of course, “Everybody Loves The Sunshine”. The first concert that I went to was a Roy Ayers show. My mom really liked Eva Cassidy, so I guess “Fields of Gold”. And also John Holt. He has a track called “After All” that I heard a lot. I also vividly remember listening to “Madamoiselle” by Foxy.
AMY: I also heard that you want to write music for films. Is there a particular song from a film that you thought fit really well with a film scene?
JAMIE ISAAC: I love Bernard Herrmann who did a lot of the Alfred Hitchcock films and Taxi Driver which has the best movie soundtrack of all time. But more recently, there was a song in the film Shame by Harry Escott. There’s a scene where the main character is on the train and there’s a woman opposite of him and it was something that just made me think it was the most beautiful music ever. It’s almost as if it’s mimicking the characters’ breathing.
AMY: Did you listen to the song afterwards without the film?
JAMIE ISAAC: Yes. Do you know when you listen to a song and you think of yourself as if you were in the music video? It’s kind of like that, but even better because you can mold it into your own thing.
AMY: I saw that you DJ as well. What is your go-to DJ track?
JAMIE ISAAC: “All Night Long” by Mary J. Blige. I have to play that song. If I don’t the set is not complete.
AMY: You must get a good reaction when you play it.
JAMIE ISAAC: Yes, every time! It’s always one of the last songs that I play as well. Everyone loves it because it’s such a sing-along song and it’s romantic. My DJ sets are a lot different than what I put out. I like to play a lot of soul, rare groove, garage, and some techno. Just to have fun with it. It’s an amazing feeling to pick songs and just see how people in front of you are reacting to it. Maybe there’s a guy on one side of the room and a girl on the other and they’re looking at each other and you’re trying to pull them together.
AMY: What was the most difficult song to make when putting the album together?
JAMIE ISAAC: I think the most difficult song was the title track “(4:30) Idler”. It’s also the best song that I’ve ever written. For me, it was much more than a song that had a beginning, middle, and end. It was meant to be a soundtrack to the idea of not being able to sleep. I wanted the drums to be big and aggressive in the beginning to mimic the idea of tossing and turning when not being able to sleep. Then the chorus is meant to be very beautiful and sweet. To get the production to tell that story, for me, was difficult. But I’m really happy with how it came out.
AMY: Is that your favorite song to perform as well?
JAMIE ISAAC: Yeah, that song is how we end our sets. My guitarist will do this big guitar solo before we go into the chorus. I think people come to my shows thinking that it’s going to be chill the whole time. But when we play that last song live, I think it takes them by surprise. They all start moving and dancing. It’s a really good dance song.
AMY: I saw that you worked with producer Ryan Hemsworth on your tracks “Melt” and “Drifted / Rope”. How did that come together?
JAMIE ISAAC: I was always a fan of Ryan’s and I just wanted to meet him. Then we went 2 days in the studio together and wrote those songs very quickly. I already had an idea for them, but Ryan did some crazy things with drum machines. We were in this crazy studio in LA with around 50 synths and we both wanted to use every single one. He’s such a great guy and it was really nice just grabbing food with him too. I’m a really reclusive guy so I don’t really go out and see people unless they’re already in my circle. For me to go out and work with these people, it was a much bigger thing for me than just working with them. It was an opportunity to meet like minded people when meeting new people is what I usually stay away from.
AMY: Can you share with us the story behind the lyrics to “Drifted / Rope”?
JAMIE ISAAC: It’s about my inability to keep a relationship going without thinking about the next thing. I have to explain to people that music comes first. Most people you want to engage in romantically don’t like the idea that they don’t come first. There was the whole idea of feeling like I wasn’t being the best version of myself to that person.
AMY: I read that “Wings” was about an experience where you saw a couple eating chicken wings. Is there another song on the album that has a completely random story to it?
JAMIE ISAAC: Yeah, I just saw this moment between a couple where the girl was eating chicken wings and, I assume her boyfriend, was just staring at her smiling, so in love, as she ate. I love how it tied with cheap, fast food culture in a sense where it was like “love at all cost”. And then I kept thinking about that scene for weeks and weeks.
AMY: The song turned out quite romantic.
JAMIE ISAAC: Had to turn chicken wings into a romantic song. And I guess there are a few other songs with unlikely meanings to them, but I don’t think I can get too deep into it here.
AMY: I was also curious about your song “Slurp”. What’s the meaning behind those lyrics?
JAMIE ISAAC: That whole track was about a girl I knew who was heavily involved with alcohol. She was very dependent on it and me because I was trying to help her. I wanted to make it a very cheesy song, but still have the idea of it very dark.
AMY: “Staying with Me All Night” from Couch Baby was the first song I heard of yours, and the reason I became a fan of your music. From there I started listened to Loose Grip MixTape where you collaborated with some of my other favorite artists such as Sporting Life, Rejjie Snow, and Edgar The Beatmaker (King Krule). What are your favorite songs by them?
JAMIE ISAAC: That’s my favorite song from that album too! My favorite song by King Krule is “Portrait in Black and Blue”. I actually heard the song before it was released. I fell asleep while he was writing it and the next day when I woke up I wrote a song that I heard in my dream. But after he finished the song and played it to me, I realized that it was the song that I had heard in my dream. My favorite song by Rejjie Snow is “Egyptian Luvr”. And I’m a huge fan of Ratking, the group that Sporting Life is in, so anything by them.
AMY: Lately you’ve been touring a lot. What’s your favorite song to listen to on the go?
JAMIE ISAAC: “Has It Come To This?” by The Streets. It’s a classic and it’s something that I always listen to on the bus.
AMY: Who’s your favorite artist to listen to now? And what’s your favorite song by them?
JAMIE ISAAC: Right now I love Kadhja Bonet. She was doing a show in LA and I cancelled all of my plans for that day to see her show. It was incredible. I really like “Mother Maybe” and “Honeycomb”.
AMY: And lastly, the last 3 songs you listened to?
JAMIE ISAAC: My drummer Jake is in a band called Maisha. They make amazing music. And my favorite song is “Osiris”. I’ve also been listening to the new Ariana Grande album.
AMY: Were you always a fan of hers?
JAMIE ISAAC: No, I didn’t know any of her music. And for some reason I can’t get enough of her voice. I just saw her song “God is a woman” and listened to it. It’s so good. And the last song that I listened to was Chet Baker’s “It’s Always You”.
Written by Amy.