Interview: Oscar Jerome on Collaborating and Exploring His Craft

Monday, December 9, 2019
Photo by Denisha Anderson

UK singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Oscar Jerome has a vast and expansive musical background. He first trained in classical guitar before studying jazz at London’s Trinity Laban music school. And though jazz has influenced him immensely, his sound also derives for an array of influences, including hip-hop, soul, reggae, dance music and many others. He is also a member of afrobeat collective KOKOROKO. During his stay in Australia, which included an appearance at Strawberry Fields, we spoke with him about his travels, collaborating and some of the things he's hoping to explore with his music.

How has your time been in Australia so far?

It's been great. It's been very tiring, but it's been amazing. The gigs have all been great, I've seen a lot of amazing music, met some very nice people too. So it's been very good.

You've had the chance to travel a bit now, both solo and with KOKOROKO, how has travelling and seeing different parts of the world influenced you?

Usually when I travel somewhere for a period of time I come back with some kind of inspiration to write. Part of it is feeling motivated to get back into the studio after being away playing. I also think it's just hearing different music in different places, I find it really inspiring.

Do you have a favourite place that you've visited so far?

That's a tough one. I love going to Italy but that's more just because I like the food and the wine (laughs). Australia's been great. Also, The States was very cool for me because so much of the music that I love comes from there — I also got to connect with a lot of artists that I really respect and have been following for a while.

London is home for you — how would you describe the music community in South London?

I would say it's very vibrant, very community-led. They're inclusive and it's just exciting — something that's rooted in a long history of music there. Though South London is amazing, it's something that's not necessarily specific there, I'd say it's all over London.

Collaboration is a big part of what you do, what do you enjoy about collaborating and working with other musicians?

I love learning from different people. I enjoy collaborating with older and more experienced musicians that I respect and that I know have studied things that I want to know about. Collaborating can also bring a new perspective on what you're creating. When someone else comes in to work on something that you've written and created, having a fresh view helps a lot. Sometimes when you're working on music, you go over and over it so many times and get to a point where you don't really know what it sounds like anymore. So I feel getting other people's input, of people that you respect, is very helpful.

How much of your creative process is done in solitude versus collaborating?

It's completely varied, but I would say that a lot of it is in solitude, especially the original version of a song. I kind of produce the parts on my own, like the demo, and then I might bring it to the band and play it in rehearsals, as well as try and perform it a bit at some gigs, and then go into the studio or I might then bring it to a producer that I want to work with. But it's varied to be honest, I like to keep it like that because I don't want to be doing the same thing.

Though you're often aligned with jazz, your sound is limitless and comes from an array of places. How important is it for you to not box yourself into one single genre?

It's very, very important, but at the same time, I'm not going to get too worried about it. People can call it what they like, I don't mind. But I'm still just going to keep doing what I want to do and create what I enjoy. But I think the main thing that sometimes worries me with that boxing thing is just the sort of preconception that people get before they hear something. And I want everyone to give the music a chance before labelling it into a certain box. I hope that my music is something that everyone can enjoy.

Is there anything you're currently experimenting with musically, or anything that you're wanting to experiment with?

I definitely at some point want to do writing for some larger ensembles. I want to try and study, and learn more about arranging and maybe even orchestration. That's a real dream of mine to maybe try and take a bit of time to study with someone and get more into that because it's something I did a bit when I was younger, like writing for some jazz big bands. Also bass — it's very time consuming and it's a whole new kettle of fish as they say in England. But yeah, that, and I would also like to maybe try play some different instruments. I want to take a bit of time to learn some more percussion and to be able to work that into maybe my live shows at some point. There are many things, but we'll see what's actually doable.

Creating music in the studio and then playing it live provides two completely different experiences for both you and listeners, what do you enjoy about the unpredictable nature of a live show?

When you're playing the same music every night and doing gigs all the time, you can start to hate your own music and I see that with so many people. So I think it's really important to be able to keep some things open and also just keep trying to switch it up or maybe playing with different people, just for your own sanity. I think it's great that someone can hear a record and then come and get a different experience, because what's the point of going to a gig just to go see something that you've already heard on a record. You might as well just stay at home and not waste your energy and stay on the couch (laughs).

To finish up, what do you have coming up next year?

I don't know if there's a lot that I'm allowed to share to be honest, but there's a lot happening. More gigs, a lot more music, some collaborations with some great artists I really respect. I'm kind of working on a record at the moment. But yeah, it's all a little bit under wraps right now. So I don't want to say too much but expect many things next year.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

Check out 'Lizard Street' by Oscar Jerome below:

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