Ahead of the release of his new album, The Spoon, we speak to Oscar Jerome about his many artistic influences, the making of the record and why fame is no longer something he craves.
Oscar Jerome is wearing fish shoes. They’re bright green, and maybe a little flimsy, but perfectly intact. His oversized tux is dripping wet, but that’s understandable given his recent waterside endeavour: canoeing turned into a solo sword fight in the middle of a lake. He’s in Berlin with two of his close friends, filming VHS visuals for what will become the second single, ‘Berlin 1’, from his new album, The Spoon.
It’s midday, weeks later, when we catch up over Zoom – no aquatic attire in sight. “I’m in a bit of a weird mood right now,” Oscar disclaims, laughing sheepishly, “I’m pretty tired from the weekend, I’m just chatting shit.”
It’s been two years since the release of his debut album Breathe Deep, and now the London-based singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist returns with The Spoon, a deep dive into heartbreak, frustration, and ultimately acceptance threaded together through an assortment of narratives. “This is the best work I’ve ever made, in my opinion. The musicians that are playing on it too are sick, I feel like there’s a new maturity to the playing on this record that I’ve never had before.”
Collaborating with artists such as Gareth Locklane, Kaidi Akinnibi and Léa Sen, pristine instrumentation throughout the record crafts a colourful window into Oscar’s world. In some ways, it’s a return to his roots. ‘Feet Down South’ is a little heavier, allowing the music which shaped his childhood, especially Rage Against The Machine, to seep in.
“I suppose you always have to think at the back of your mind, ‘Am I going to isolate people from what they already like of my art?’ But fuck it; if you’re not even going to try as an artist then what’s the point?” It’s an extremely personal record, his niece even featuring on the track.
The project has been a cathartic experience and a way of channelling his emotions: “I like the last tune, ‘Use It’, a lot now because that’s kind of where I’ve come to,” Oscar tells me. “It was the low, wrapped up in oneself place, and then the anger, looking at all of the fuckeries in the world. Now it’s over the hill, riding the donkey into the sunset. Life is beautiful. Life is full of fuckeries, but at the end of the day I’m grateful to be here, grateful to be able to do this.”
We’re taught to grasp onto things and to hold on tight, regardless of side effects. Throughout The Spoon, Oscar comes to terms with the process of learning to let go. “We’re all just trying to grab onto things and control them and that’s not what life’s about,” he explains. He comes back to this point multiple times as we talk, discussing genre, gender, relationships and self-image. It’s both a theme in his music and an ethos he’s trying to live by.
For the 30-year-old, the last few years have been defined largely by introspection. “Probably the hardest part was in the beginning because I was going through a lot of shit and I was channelling a lot of that into this music,” he says, “but it was also very cathartic. I think I moved on from that period in my life because I really went deep into how I was feeling at that time.”
Whilst he’d been involved in various projects before that point – playing in jazz afrobeat collective Kokoroko and regularly collaborating – 2020’s Breathe Deep marked a new era for Oscar, a moment he’d been building up to for years. Fusing funk, hip-hop, soul and indie stylings, the record explored familiar ties, political instability, and a variety in between. “That was a hard time to release an album I can’t lie. I released it in lockdown, I couldn’t promote it; that was my debut album and my life had been very much leading up to that point.”
Thrust into the digital space, where weekends were passed with online shows and eye contact was through a pixelated screen, he left for Berlin. “I took a bit of time out and just switched off. I stopped playing music for a little bit, and was reading and researching quite a lot about history, politics, things I wanted to have a bit of time to look into.”
It was here where The Spoon began to take shape: “I was writing a lot of poetry and then, as the trip carried on, I started renting a studio and recording some music, doing some production. A lot of that was kind of the building blocks which led me to the music that’s become this album.”
Specifically, he’d been reading a lot of James Baldwin, Keats, and, with recommendations from his Dad, Marxist literature. This was during the peak of the coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, and he delved into the works of Ta-Nehisi Coates. With his music so heavily influenced by Black musicians, Oscar is conscious of the space he occupies. He later tells me: “There was a point where I questioned if this is really what I should be doing. I think it was when I was first understanding what cultural appropriation was and I was like, ‘Am I doing this in the right way?’”
“But I think it’s important for you to get the difference between appropriation and appreciation right, there’s wearing something as a token and actually trying to involve yourself in uplifting the culture that you love.
“I think it’s important to give back as well. I think it’s important to get a balance of being aware of the joy that you bring to people, and that people come to you for release as well – an escape from all of the fuckery that’s going on in the world. That’s why I often make a point of talking about certain things within my music that I think have a much more long-lasting effect, and doing things outside of my music life.”
Following Berlin, he returned to Norwich, staying in a shed in the family garden to finish writing the album. “That was a very isolated time, everyone was isolated. I was just in the countryside, in a shed, in the snow. It was hard but good.”
Oscar was in fact raised in Norwich, a small city in Norfolk surrounded by countryside, before moving to London to study jazz at Trinity. “It was a great place to be a kid. You had a lot of freedom, you could run around and be out all day and in certain areas, it’s very safe—at least for a kid.” It was here he became involved in a jazz youth music orchestra, led by Josh Daniels. “He taught me a lot as a teenager. There was quite a regular stream of young musicians going to jazz college in London, so it became a known path for me”
“When I look back to certain things in my childhood I think, ‘Wow, people had some backward views,’” he adds, “I experienced a lot of violence in that city; not necessarily toward me, but definitely towards the people around me.” Despite this, it instilled an appreciation for a mixture of things – from nature to raves – that’s become a part of him.
“A lot of my friends from the inner city are almost afraid of the countryside because they don’t understand it and they don’t feel like it’s for them. And that’s a massive problem with this country, especially for POC, the countryside is not made accessible to a lot of people. But we’re all nature, and it should be accessible to everyone. I feel very lucky that I have that connection and I actually try to give that experience to a lot of my friends from here.”
Whilst these experiences were influential, Oscar’s intentions, particularly surrounding music, have shifted since he was younger. Though he was previously enamoured by ideas of fame, he’s now focused on connection and comfortability. “Being known and put on a pedestal can be, in a lot of ways, more damaging to your sense of self and mental health than it can be beneficial.”
“Now what I want from life is to be comfortable, surrounded by good people who are healthy for me to be around. Music is something sacred. I believe in some kind of higher power, and I definitely feel that through music. There’s this kind of deeper purpose behind the music and I’m trying to get back to that.
“I want to get back into this deep, telepathic musical thing. You can’t really put that experience into words. It’s so much deeper than anything we see around us, so much deeper than this capitalist bullshit.”
We often take things at surface level, which Oscar has all too well become accustomed to. He’s wary of being boxed in, whether that be by being labelled as a jazz musician, tied to social media or, more broadly, being judged by his artist persona. “I find this genre thing frustrating because my music doesn’t sit in any genre and I never even consciously think about that when I’m creating,” he explains.
“I was playing this show in Germany, and this guy was like, ‘I was trying to get my friends to come to your show because ‘I’ve been a fan of your music for ages and I sent them your Instagram and they were like, ‘Oh he looks like some kind of rockstar guy.’’ They made a judgement about what kind of person I was going to be before they even listened to my music.”
“Some of them still came and were like, ‘Okay, that was completely not what I expected.’ And it’s like yes… That’s what happens when you judge people before you get to hear them out,” he details, “but we’re all guilty of it”.
As he prepares to release The Spoon later in September, assuring me there are a few “cool trips in the pipeline” even if he can’t discuss them yet, Oscar is excited to make his return. “Now things have opened up and I’m around people with a healthier mindset that I have learnt from the last few years, I’m looking forward to easing into this new way of seeing things but with the old way of having fun.”
The Spoon is out on 23 September.