Jodie Abacus is 2016’s answer to the golden era of old-school R&B. His voice is a sweet ode to funk and soul, and each song smoothly delivers Michael Jackson-esque melodies with the soul of Stevie Wonder and the ease of a McCartney record. Jodie’s music is defined by honest story-telling and an undeniably vibrant feel-good vibe. Elton John is a fan, and he’s supported the likes of Laura Mvula and Jamie Woon in the past year. With his career trajectory set for great things in 2017, Schön! discovers Jodie’s beginnings and what keeps him going.
There are lots of amazing British artists hailing from South London at the moment. How did growing up in Lewisham shape you as a musician?
There’s a lot of inspiration in my music and how I picture things. Just the different types of friends that I had. People that were doing good and doing bad, some doing both.
You must’ve grown up around a lot of music with your dad being a DJ – is there an artist or genre that influenced you the most?
There were loads. My dad wasn’t just a DJ, he was a train driver [and] had his hands in different pies. I was inspired by anything from A Tribe Called Quest to Elton John, Billy Joel and Michael Jackson. Paul McCartney, Prince, MTV. Stuff that made me curious about how music made me feel.
How did you venture into the music industry to begin with?
I never really liked music class in secondary school. When I got to college I started doing a music technology course [and] started using the equipment in my spare time. I went to college to do acting but ended up writing and making beats. One day I wrote a song, performed it, and everyone was like ‘wow I’ve never heard him sing before’. So I just went with the fact that the feeling was good. I decided I’m going to keep doing it and not look back.
There’s a personal element to all of your songs, what influences your lyrics? Do you write fictionally or from experience?
Normally based on experience but translated into metaphor, or puzzles, so you don’t find out exactly what I’m talking about. My approach to everything is I have to be 100% honest and sincere. When certain people hear certain things they’ll be like, you know what, that’s actually J talking. He’s talking about rainbows and goblins getting their neck slapped on a bridge on a castle wall. You definitely know it’s me talking.
Your sound is refreshingly positive. So it’s interesting that your song, ‘I’ll Be That Friend’ came from such a dark time. Are the positive vibes in your music a form of healing for you?
Most definitely. I needed to write that song in order to heal myself. I was literally saying to myself “I’ll be that friend”. I really, really needed to be comforted because I just didn’t know what the fuck was going on. My mantra is if you want something you have to go through certain things to get it. If the order is high, you’re gonna have to be beaten, and bruised, and dragged through the mud. Your heart gets broken, [you] stand in the dole queue, do this job, wash dishes, go clean toilets and all sorts. With something like ‘I’ll Be That Friend,’ I was in a corner at the piano with stripped wallpaper, crying as I made the song. I literally poured my heart out.
I read that one of your favourite Tupac lyrics is from ‘Keep Ya Head up’ – “got money for wars but can’t feed the poor” – what message do you want people to take when they hear your songs?
It’s really important to think to myself, do I believe in this? What kind of effect is this giving me? If I’m not pouring my spirit into the song there’s no sense in doing it. My message is, no matter what I’m talking about, I want you to get the essence of what my character is. I’m a happy person, very positive, I love human beings. I have a passion for people and trying to understand what makes them tick, where they’re from, what our purpose is. I think its really important that when I’m up on stage, you get an essence of how I feel when I create music – joy.
What keeps you so happy?
Being fearless. Having the notion that you’ve got one life to live. Once you get that in your nut, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you from doing what you need to do. Two years ago I saw Alzheimer’s patients on their bed, dying, withering away, not being able to talk after living their lives. I thought to myself, you know what, I might as well just do this. If there’s anywhere I want to be great it’s to let other people know, especially the young people, that there are possibilities.
What about your new music? How’s the album coming along?
It’ll be released the first quarter of next year. I’m still writing songs, having fun gigging and touring, and trying to get my stories out the best way I can. I’ve got a song called ‘Keep Your Head Down’ out this month. It’s about the flight of refugees. Basically a mother or father saying to his son, even when you get to a Western country, you think they’re going to welcome you, [but] you’ll feel unwelcome at the same time.
And what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received or can give in the notoriously fickle music industry?
Just be honest and be real. I’ve lived torment to get to this place and experience this joy. You’re thinking to yourself am I a fool for loving this? Why am I being told that I’m good but just not good enough? You start to question yourself. I’m only as good as my last song, so I’m continually trying to make the best song I’ve ever made in my entire life. I haven’t made my best song yet. I don’t know when it will come, I don’t even know if it will ever come, all I know is that the effect music has is powerful. But people have to be prepared to work hard, try new things, to go back, to go forwards, to take that cleaning job. Invest in your art. You can be deceived and get lost in your own illusion. A lot of people do and end up being unhappy, especially in music and entertainment.
Words / Shama Nasinde