Robbie Williams is a crude narcissist. Ed Sheeran is an outsider. Sam Smith is sensitive. Alex Turner is an enigma.
These singer-songwriters all have identifiable labels, but do we really know them? Are we finely tuned to get under their skin and understand the character behind the brooding, the snide, the sexual lyrics?
Although social media and Genius Lyrics appears to bring us closer to artists, in the modern era we seem to be even further away. Gone are the days when fans claimed their musicians, where they stayed up all night outside a stage door just to see Keith Richards’ façade flicker or Chris Martin’s romanticism waver. Now, the closest we get to seeing the real personality behind the tenor is a long-winded, revelatory status update or a well-staged ‘behind the scenes’ photograph. I would argue that emotional understanding and connection with our solo heroes is all but lost in the digital age where artists hide behind their social media managers and a 42-character caption. Characters do not reveal character.
Enter JAKE, the singer-songwriter whose Instagram reveals the multi-faceted personality behind the sunstroke singles. His wit, romance, curiosity and daring, exposed through a well defined and celebrated Instagram personality, creates songs blazing with electricity and emotional weight. Segments on his Instagram stories feature ‘The Snack Theory’, which is original and relatable, while the ‘Adventures Upstairs’ series is clever and controversial – showing an artist with a socially conscious and charismatic appetite. He is a storyteller on the score as well, where keen-eyed lyricism tells tales of libations, losing a first love and longing for a second, to a searing cocktail of hook-filled melodies. In this exclusive interview conducted days before the release of his highly anticipated debut single ‘Latitude’, JAKE is upstanding and honest, telling more tales of romance in the twenty-first century. He has an edge, and we are falling for it.
When writing in South Africa, your brand of music was ‘afro-pop.’ How has your new life in Boston changed this influence?
I think the process of change reinforces your influences. That’s why every time I match with someone on tinder, I accidentally drunk-dial my ex-girlfriend. It’s a vicious cycle, but musically it’s exhilarating because I find myself picking up inspiration everywhere I go, and fusing that with what I already know, to try and create something that feels fresh.
What’s exciting now is that the African influence of old is starting to meld with new stories and sounds I’ve picked up along the way, and my ex-girlfriend knows about every successful Tinder date I’ve ever been on.
You have a very established Instagram personality. How did that come about?
It all started with a hangover. Which, I suppose in some way means it must have started with a drunken night out, but you can trace anything back to a round of tequila if you look far enough.
I was completely incapacitated in bed and was turning to other means to entertain myself so I started looking through my iPhone notes. I take down snippets of conversations I hear and things my friends say whilst I’m out [I am terrible company]. Usually, they are taken down as potential song ideas, but more often they are just ridiculous declarations I came up with two drinks in [e.g. ‘if God really does hate homosexuality, why is it called the BI-ble’].
For some reason, on this particular morning, the notes went some way in curing my hangover, so I started posting them on Instagram thinking if I managed to make one person’s day a little better than it was worthwhile. So I kept doing it and kept trying to come up with other ways to make people laugh and ultimately propel me in my quest towards the feeling of accomplishment that comes with doing the bare minimum.
And here we are today. I haven’t put my phone down for 6 months, and I’ve never felt better.
What part will that comedic Instagram personality play in your artist role?
I hope it plays into the observational and storytelling side of things. Unfortunately, when I go through my phone for lyrical ideas these days I have to scroll through 20 notes of my theories on different snack conversations. So at this stage, the comedic Instagram personality is really just prolonging the songwriting process, but hopefully, I’ll find a balance.
Describe your private personality, social media personality and on-stage personality in one word for each
They’re all just exaggerations of each other: loud; louder; loudest.
Or: obnoxious; obnoxiouser; obnoxiousest.
What is the hardest part of being a young artist in the twenty-first century?
That everyone in the 21st century is a young artist.
What does being a songwriter currently look like?
I can only speak of my own experience, but I can tell you it looks like a feeling of overwhelming reward that comes from even the smallest and most awful things because anything could turn out to be a song. So every time I don’t have the courage to kiss the girl, or I move countries from England to South Africa or South Africa to the US, and I’m feeling alone, confused and completely overwhelmed, I just thank God [whom I imagine is a strange twisted combination of Alex Turner, John Lennon, and Taylor Swift] that I have another song to write.
What is the perfect formula for writing a love song?
You’re going to need a bottle of bourbon. Pour half into a decanter and save the rest for later.
Got that? Great.
Now let’s open up a couple of tabs on google chrome:
Your crush’s Facebook profile; the Facebook profile of the person your crush is currently dating; and a photo of Morgan Freeman. That photo of Morgan Freeman isn’t important right now, but it’s nice to have him there.
Mix those ingredients and take all the time you need. That’s the most important component: Time. Sometimes the love song takes 5 minutes, but you want to make sure you’ve got at least 2 years of drunken re-listens and hasty edits as the story progresses to make sure your perfect love song really bangs.
Once those 2 years are up, go back to that photo of Morgan Freeman, and play him your perfect love song. Celebrate with the second half of your bottle of bourbon. This is going to be great.
What is the best love song that was ever written or who writes the greatest love songs?
I’m going to be completely biased because he’s my favorite writer of all time, but it’s got to be an Alex Turner song, hasn’t it? At the risk of sounding horrifically pretentious, I think the real goal for a writer is to say what everyone feels, in a way that everyone can understand, in a way that no one has said before. Most people spend a lifetime searching for that one phrase or concept, but Alex Turner sh*ts them out 10 times in one song!! He’s an alien!! And since you didn’t ask, let’s talk about the opening lyric to ‘Suck It And See’,
“you’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock / and those other girls are just post-mix lemonade”
Give me a break.
What is your songwriting process?
My writing process is that I really don’t stop. I start scribbling ideas the second I wake up and generally get through about 5 fully-fledged songs (lyrically) before that 5th litre of popcorn is consumed moments before bed. I try and exhaust myself and as a result, a lot of what I write is awful, but it does mean that when that great idea drops down from the sky, I’m already warmed up and ready to take it head-on.
Do you think that every song that is about a crush classifies as a love song?
I mean I think every song is a love song to some extent – I’ve certainly never written a song about something I only felt mildly passionate about. Whether it’s a song about the person that cheated on you, the person you’re married to, or how happy you are living in California; that’s all rooted in love.
Exception To Prove The Rule: Carly Rae Jepson – I Really Like You.
What is something fans would be surprised to know about you?
When I eat Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, I don’t actually eat the ice cream, I just dig around the ice cream until I’ve eaten all the cookie dough and then I throw the tub away because it no longer has any use to me. Also that I’m really shy underneath it all, but the first rule is never to admit it.
What kind of sound can we expect from your forthcoming music?
I’m describing it as ‘stories you can dance to’. It’s all just songs designed to make you feel a little better for one minute or more, taking influences from my South African upbringing, my time spent traveling, and my love for a good story. If you listen carefully you’ll pick up some sadness, but my goal is for the music to do its job even if you don’t listen too closely. This is a bit ridiculous but I’ve been trying to draw inspiration from Marvel movies. They’re all super entertaining and suitable for the whole family, but they’re packed with Easter Eggs and darker themes that reward multiple watches. I’m not saying my solo music is the musical equivalent of End Game… I’m just saying I saw it 4 times in the cinema.
If you could tell your audience one thing, what would it be?
Drink your water.
Who would you most like to hear your debut song, ‘Latitude’?
The head of Spotify’s New Music Monday would be pretty great.
‘Latitude’ is out now.