Hailing from South London’s Lewisham, musician Jodie Abacus is pretty much as down-to-earth as they come. His no airs and graces nature, allows you to connect with him instantly. From his music, to opening up about the struggles some artists face working in the industry. We enjoyed a chat with him following his special acoustic gig for Casio Music’s Learn To Play Day last Saturday, to learn a little more about the man and his craft.
Hi Jodie, it’s nice to meet you. How did you find the event?
Very intimate. Normally I would scout out the area or the place, go online and be settled with the environment, but I failed that today. I was more concerned with trying to clear my voice, I had a problem with my voice this morning. I had this mad sinus thing going on, but I was like, ‘no matter what happens, I’m gonna plough through’.
So we’re here for Casio music’s Learn To Play Day – how important do you feel that events like these are for the future of the music industry?
I think it’s good to be able to share your experiences. It’s really important. As an artist, sometimes you feel isolated. People don’t realise. You’re surrounded by all these things where you have to turn up and be smiling all the time. You don’t realise that when you’re an artist, you go home and you cry, you sob. It’s not like a normal job. It’s a tough thing. Like you can do this, you’re really good, but ‘how comes I’m not getting more money’. You don’t understand why things aren’t the way that you really want them to be. But it’s important that people share these experiences and find these keys to top them up and make themselves feel better or understand the meaning of what they do. It should be important to themselves and should be the thing that they love, rather than just chasing after money or all of those things.
And pay it forward as well.
Yeah, pay it forward all the time. This is what I’m saying. What’s great for me, I came from a background of doing both music and working with young people and children. So now I’ve kind of come full circle in a way, because whilst everything is going on, it’s exciting to look at these 8, 9… 13 year olds and be really as honest as I can be to say ‘yeah you are gonna cry, you’re gonna have these moments, It’s gonna be really hard’. You are gonna tell them the truth from the start, but just know that there’s a way out, and then give them these little keys of experience.
From an artists perspective, what advice would you give to those young people hoping for a career in music?
Stay true to yourself. Love yourself. A lot of people don’t love themselves. A lot of people enter into music for the wrong reasons. You have to love your craft. I do it because I love it and I do it because it makes me feel good. It’s like a little bit of medicine. Being able to relive things, no matter if it’s a bad song. Be in there for a minute and come out, and appreciate the fact that I came out. There’s beauty in it. I’d be a fool to not admit that there was something spiritual about doing what you do. People don’t get up in the morning and listen to positive music for no reason. It lifts you. Do you know what I mean? And people don’t listen to certain music where it makes you angry for no reason. It’s being able to channel that and make it out the other end and think ‘do you know what, this makes me happy’. And it’s worth more than dough. It’s worth more than cash.
Yeah especially at the beginning, you have got to keep going with no funds. It’s just your passion that carries you.
Yeah. Also, you have to believe in yourself. You have to. Like a lot of people, they do music, but they’re not prepared to put in the money. It’s not gonna fall in your lap. You’re gonna have to separate something. Get an instrument. There’s people talking about how they wanna do this. I’m like ‘but have you got a mic? Have you got keys?’
Looking back, would you have done anything different in your own career?
No. I’ve had to go through a lot. I know what I want, I’m not gonna lie. I know exactly what I want. Of course I want money. I want to be able to keep a roof over my head and eat, go places and do things. But the most important thing, I know, is that [my music] has either healed people, or made someone’s day who you have never met before in your whole entire life. I got this thing that when you wake up in the morning I think ‘what am I gonna do this morning that will benefit mankind?’ you know? What am I gonna do, what can I say. The first thing I have to do is try and level out myself and make sure that I’m right. Then everything else will kind of emit from that.
What I like about you, is what you said earlier [during the event] about don’t judge people, because I was taught that at an early age. Everybody’s got their own story and everybody’s somebody’s son. So when you’re walking along the streets of Catford and you’re seeing these people, there’s a reason [they are where they are] and it can happen to anybody.
It’s true, it’s true. And on top of that, what makes me grateful is I never chose to be me. I’m in a position where I’m fortunate that this all happened in the way that it has and it makes me appreciate life a hell of a lot more. And try to understand people so much more.
Let’s talk about your debut album Take This And Grow Flowers, released late last year. Congratulations on it. Are you pleased with the way it was received?
Ah very pleased. There was a lot of thinking that went into making it over a span of years. Even the song ‘Take This And Grow Flowers’, that was the last song that went on there and I was like ‘that’s what I’m gonna call the album’.
Some of the songs are quite deep and personal to you, yet the whole album still has a really upbeat and feel-good vibe to it. Was it a conscious effort to create songs that felt that way?
No. I think that how it’s translated and the energy that’s attached is probably my outward energy and my whole outlook on life. I make it on feelings. The way I make it sounds like how I am, if you know what I mean. I think that’s really important.
What would you say is the most personal track on there?
Everything happens for a reason. Even just to have an album out that people can listen to is amazing. You wouldn’t understand the stuff that you have to go through to just to get that out, the stories and everything.
And putting something so personal out there to be judged. It’s a big thing.
Yeah. It’s gonna be judged. You will be judged. You’re gonna be criticised. People are gonna say shit. It’s almost like you have to put this Teflon suit on you. And you’re gonna get hurt.
But you’ve got to risk that in order to move forward, right?
You’ve got to risk it, yeah. And tomorrow’s another day that will go away, but you have to keep pressing on, because at the end of the day when someone messages you and says ‘that made my day’ or ‘I was in Lebanon and I heard your song Keep Your Head Down and it done something to me’, do you know what I mean. When you enter into it with honesty, it comes back.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
The albums out. There’s been loads. I’m thinking about shows and stuff like that. But I just think that the main highlights are the messages and the things that people say to me. Because I’m connected, no one else is writing the songs. I’m connected to my own songs. So when you’re at that place, you’re telling young people, or anyone else who wants to have a piece of the music industry, the most important thing is your love for it. Money is gonna come and go. I love listening to older people, because they’ve always got that key. I had pneumonia and nearly died, I was in hospital for a while and got talking to people on their deathbed. So it kind of put things into perspective and it’s like ‘what are you going to value most? Money that just comes and goes, or the thing that you’re going to enter into’. All of this graft and everything makes sense at the end of the day. And it helps other people.
How do you feel that your music has evolved since you first started out?
Big time it’s evolved. But also I listen back to really old stuff. Because back then I was more experimental. I listen to those things, because I wasn’t afraid. So it kind of gives me the energy to be like ‘OK, stay on track’. Because people can lose the whole vibe of how they started, you know, and you can’t please everyone. It’s changed, the lyrics have changed. I think a lot more.
What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
To make loads of tunes. Literally this year my eyes have rolled back into my head and I’ve been making loads of songs. Not even been consciously thinking, I just been going studio. Finish. Come back. And just getting it done. There’s going to be a new EP in a month, I’m just gonna release it. Then at the end of the year I’ll release another album. It’s coming thick and fast.
Good luck with everything. It was really nice talking to you. I look forward to listening to the new music and seeing you at the Jazz Cafe in May.
Thank you, yeah you gotta come. You’re gonna love it!
Tickets to Jodie’s upcoming show at the Jazz Cafe on May 9th can be found here
Interview by Demi Leigh
Read our live review of Jodie Abacus’s recent performance at Casio’s Learn To Play Day here