Previously praised by leading talents such as Sir Elton John and Sting, the South Londoner Jake Isaac take his soulful expression and sumptuous songcraft to a new level.

‘For When It Hurts', out April 14th, is a record which sees Jake starting conversations about the issues which men often keep under wraps. He embraces the vulnerabilities that come with love and loss, with fears and failures, with hope and helplessness, and provides a safe space and touching antidote to the toxic masculinity that’s sadly in vogue. Musically, he fuses an authentic soul voice with the craftsmanship of classic songwriting which encompasses jazz arrangements and orchestral, semi-classical flourishes - with Jake producing and recording every instrument that features on the album.

Jake Isaac started his musical journey in church, inspired by his father, Rev. Les IsaacOBE, the founder of the Brixton community charity initiative Street Pastors. Cultivating his multi-instrumentalist skills over the years, music was immediately his path and his career started in his teens as a musician, songwriter and marketeer - all of which underlined to him the importance of making a connection with your songs. Debuting with the ‘Our Lives’ album in 2017, Jake’s subsequent highlights have included the 2021 release of his second album ‘Honesty’ (followed by a Deluxe Edition) and a landmark show on Glastonbury’s Other Stage - leading to over 150 million streams to date.

For When It Hurts, begins with a question. “How are you? No, really?” asks Joshua Luke Smith, a spoken word artist from Bath. With those two extra words attached to something we say to each other every day while rarely stopping to listen to the answer — or to demand a real answer — this South Londoner who fuses a soul voice and sensibility with the craftsmanship of classic songwriting has made an album for the modern age.

“I’m leaning into vulnerability,” says Isaac. “The last album was called Honesty and I wanted to push that boat out a little further, especially as a black man from South London. I’m swinging the other way from the toxic masculinity that we tend to see throughout society. How Are You? is a scary question, so I thought it would be great to start the conversation with that. If I’m the artist who needs to talk about these things, then so be it.”

As Isaac sings against stark, pretty acoustic guitar on How Are You? “It’s easier to lead an army than to pour out your soul like water.” For this album he has indeed poured out his soul, such as on When It Hurts, a beautiful love song with a feature from the Italian-English singer Jack Savoretti.

There are songs about family, such as Still Have You. “I wrote that on a Sunday afternoon, sitting by the kitchen table with the washing machine on in the background and the children playing in the garden, and it was about the realisation of what really matters. The older I get, the more I think: I might not be as rich as Mark Zuckerberg, but kids, my missus, a roof over our heads… I know what’s important.”

And then there are songs about life itself. Remedy came from Isaac driving up the M6 and thinking about what gives us hope, what keeps us going. “Remedy is straightforward, and it’s got a groove on it,” he says. “It’s the upbeat one.” A conversation about losing a close friend to cancer begins Where There’s Life, which ends the album, and all of this contributes to something uplifting and purposeful because it is the product of lived experience. Isaac’s rich voice, deep musicality and, above all, soulfulness, meanwhile, makes it a pleasure to listen to.

“I’m a bit of an empath,” he explains; “an enneagram four. Growing up, it was: mate, why are you such a mush? I was asking questions, figuring out the pathways through my brain, and now this record is me saying: actually, this is how a man really feels about the ebb and flow of life and relationships. The way we live outside stems from the turbulence of home, because home is where the relationships are nurtured. That’s why there are so many songs about love, and why the album is called For When It Hurts: because when things at home are not OK, it affects everything. These are songs to help people when times are crap. And the past few years have seen a lot of crap times.”

By his own admission, Isaac finds a lot of things hard to say — as do so many men — so he sings about them instead. Music has been his form of communication since the age of three, when he started drumming in church in his Crystal Palace neighbourhood. “My old man is a man of the cloth and I grew up around music, with the whole fraternity of church, and then my first experience of the singer-songwriter world was hearing Graceland by Paul Simon in my dad’s old Volvo Saloon. I had a heart for good songwriting from that moment on. By sixteen I had grade eight drums, and I was teaching myself to play bass, keys and a bit of guitar, when someone suggested I should have a go at songwriting. It all started from there, really.”

By nineteen Isaac was working as a session artist and a songwriter for artists as diverse as Blue, Gabrielle and Duffy, while also holding down a job as a record label marketing manager, all valuable experiences for a life in music. “The main thing I learned is that people respond differently to the machine. Some artists get picked up by a major label and forget what it is really about, which is connecting with listeners. If you have five fans or 15,000, those people are the most important to you, not the people in the industry. That was the big lesson. As a drummer, at the back of the stage, I could see how people got derailed.”

Eventually the desire to be an artist in his own right took over, leading to a solo spot at Glastonbury’s Other Stage, endorsements from Sting and Elton John, and 2021’s Honesty. And he’s been honing his songwriting and unique voice along the way.

“The older I get, the more I start a song by sitting with a guitar or piano and just seeing what comes out,” he says. “Nowadays I’m carving time out of my day to stop and pick up a guitar and work on a song, usually late at night when the kids have gone to sleep. There’s something precious about making time to be creative. It puts a value on it.”

You wouldn’t know it from listening to its jazz arrangements and orchestral, semi-classical flourishes, but every instrument on the album was played by Isaac. “It doesn’t mean it’s any good! I’m self-taught and one thing leads to another: keys were my second instrument, then bass guitar. I learned by playing along to my dad’s CDs.”

Now, alongside putting the finishing touches to For When It Hurts, he has been writing a film script, a redemptive story about fatherhood and family dynamics, and he was cast in a secondary role in an as yet unnamed feature for Netflix.

“That was a curveball,” he says, with an infectious laugh. “I got a call to see if I was interested in making music for a film and I said, yeah, sick,” he explains. “Then they asked if I was interested in playing the artist who does the music. It is about a day in the life of a streaming curator who is having a mid-life crisis and I thought: why not? Nothing interesting happens in life without taking risks so I went for it. Working on films as opposed to music requires a different headspace but the same heart space. The emotion is key.”

Jake Isaac is at the forefront of a British soul renaissance that has grown by stealth. Friends like JP Cooper, Jacob Banks (who sings over the semi-classical arrangement of D-Low) and Michael Kiwanuka are doing similar things, albeit each in their own way: aiming for lyrical honesty and finding the emotion in the music to complement it.

“Modern soul is making a comeback and I’m here for it, mate,” he concludes. And what marks Jake Isaacs out in particular? “What I do is South London soul. There’s a different energy down here and you can feel it. We’re touching the tip of the iceberg, man, and I’m pumped about it.”

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