Honing his musicianship from a young age, Oscar Jerome is garnering attention for his experimental edge and beautifully executed jazzy cuts. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Tom Misch, the Norwich born, London based artist’s work represents the result of immersing himself in the capital’s diverse and rich musical culture.
Oscar Jerome’s sound crosses genre lines in a way that peaks the interest of even those with distinct musical preferences. Borrowing inspiration from the likes of Gil Scott-heron, George Benson and The Clash, the singer doesn’t hide away from paying homage to his favourite acts.
There’s a distinct sincerity littered throughout his modest yet glowing discography, coupled with an ever-present socially conscious attitude that complements his recognisable sonics. Ahead of his headline Dublin show in the Sound House, we spoke to Oscar about his experience touring with Kamasi Washington, balancing his time between his solo work and duties with KOKOROKO and what to expect from his debut studio album.
Where do you think your fascination with music stems from?
It has always been an innate feeling of mine that I should play music, I’m not sure where that came from. My parents encouraged me and all my siblings to try playing instruments and I always heard music around the house especially from my dad but was constantly singing from an earlier age than that. Someone who believes in that kind of stuff might say it was because of the moon.
There’s a range of influences in your music from different genres, who were the artists that made you feel you could take the leap into music?
Jimi Hendrix has to be up there, George Benson on the guitar, John Martyn with the deep melancholy, Rage Against The Machine made see music is a powerful tool and John Coltrane made me want to reach things higher through the music. The list goes on and on….
You studied Jazz at Trinity College of Music, was it equally important to gigging and collaborating outside college?
Trinity was a wake up call in terms of my playing ability, I thought I was the bee’s knees and I got there and was like oh man I SUCK! It was also very inspiring to be taught by and be peers with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the UK. Music College is a bit of a bubble though, all the people you see doing bits now were those that sought collaborations outside both the institution and the genre of jazz. I’ve never been strictly a jazzer, I’ve always been really into all sorts of music and events like STEEZ and Good Evening Arts allowed me to express those things and meet other like minded people.
Being born in Norwich and having relocated to London, did the diversity of the capital influence your music?
100% as a musician I feel so lucky to have spent all my adult life in London. I have played with and learnt from musician from all over the world. Also the rich bass culture that was developed in London that stems from the Caribbean community has been super influential to me.
How was touring with Kamasi Washington, what did you learn from that experience?
That was a really exciting and humbling experience. They are all really nice people. I was very inspired on a musical level but aside from that I’d say one the best things I took away was from Kamasi’s dad Rick…he works out for an hour every night after shows and he really made me think about how to look after my body while on tour. It’s definitely worked for him.
Is there any underlying beliefs or philosophies that you maintain that influence your art?
I’m not a religious person but I do think there are a lot of things that can not be explained that can be reached through music. In terms of the improvising I want to be able to reach those places more and its something I need to get back working on. I also believe as a musician with any kind of platform you are a person in a position of influence and you are obliged to spread positivity. I’ve had messages from people about how even the more melancholy music I’ve made has helped them through some hard times so that’s always good to know and a reason to keep going. I used to be a lot more overtly political, some of my music still has political themes but I also am thinking now its more important to make real actions to influence lives rather than just talk about it and feel good about people praising you for saying it.
How do you balance your time between your solo work and KOKOROKO?
It’s been pretty hard to balance to be honest! There are some great guitarists that also play with Kokoroko so that’s the main way it is possible for me to take time to work on my own music. Everyone in that band has other projects they work with and there is generally the mindset that it is a good thing to stay varied in what you are playing as that’s the best way to develop and reach your potential as a musician.
Do you have any routines you stick by in your creative process?
With the touring musician lifestyle it’s pretty difficult to maintain any kind of routine. When I’m in a time of writing I’ll try and do a couple of hours practice at the beginning of the day and then get on with working on music. When we go away this all goes out the window, I just try and keep my playing up and also see my loved ones whenever I get a chance.
What can we expect from your tour?
This tour I am playing with some incredible musicians, if you have heard the album I just put out ‘Live In Amsterdam’ expect that but a lot better, we have come a long way since then. There is a lot of new music in the set that will be featured on my studio album next year as well as reimagined versions of the stuff I already have out. No show is the same so I can’t tell you exactly whats going to happen, you’ve just got to be there to find out.
What are your plans for 2020?
As mentioned before I’m going to be releasing my debut studio album with some features from some of my favourite musicians and a lot of music that spans loads of genres and a lot of different points in my life. There are plans to take the music to more parts of the world but I can’t give too much away. To be honest right now I’m just trying to concentrate on playing all these shows to the best of my potential which will see me out to the end of the year then I’m going to be a studio hermit for a bit. That’s as far as I’ve got in my mind!
Oscar Jerome plays The Sound House, Dublin 31 October.
Click here for more info.