The wiry outstretched arm of IsaacO greets me under the bright lights of the SU, commencing the meet up in convivial fashion. Pearly whites are swiftly unveiled in a warm smile.
Isaac is currently coming to the end of a year in Bristol, intercalating from the University of Birmingham as a medic. It quickly becomes clear that his medical pragmatism has had a profound effect on his music, having only properly picked up the guitar and tried his hand at song writing from the first year of university. “I’ve always been quite musical, but never in terms of writing my own stuff or instruments. Until I got to the first year of uni, and all my flatmates had guitars, and I was like might as well get one. So I got a guitar and just started learning on my own, and started writing songs straightaway.”
Perhaps his flatmates are due some thanks, considering that, over the period of the last year, Isaac has supported artists as prominent as Augustana, Billy Lockett and Kimberley Anne (among others), collaborated on a track with The Satin Jackets, and been played by BBC Introducing. The latter accomplishment was the very start of it, “when I did the first track, people really liked it. But, I was just thinking, people like it, let’s just see how far we can go with it. I found out about the BBC uploader thing a few days before, and I honestly didn’t expect anything back. And then they sent me an email saying that they were going to play it, and they were like, “Its beautiful production!”” The feat seems yet more impressive given that Isaac’s first song, ‘Hope for the Best’, was put together on GarageBand. The choice of software was purely out of convenience, and once again demonstrates Isaac’s street-smart way of going about things, where others (myself included) might have downed tools. “I’m a big believer in that. You don’t have to have everything to be able to do something useful. You don’t have to be a master of guitar to play guitar! Use what you got.”
Isaac is modest in discussion about the initial, substantial, breakthrough too, “I think it was a surprise for everyone. At first, in second year, no one really knew I sang or did anything. So at the end of third year, all of a sudden this guy is on BBC, like what?!” Isaac’s next success following this was supporting Kimberley Anne, of 2015 summer hit success on ‘Show Me Love’, in Birmingham. He befriended the vocalist under unusual circumstances, being drafted in from the audience to do backing vocals at a tiny gig Anne was playing in a barber shop. He recalls, “It was the first time being recognised by someone else doing this for real. I guess that was more of a confidence booster. So if I can do this on my own, where’s the limit?”
This is not the only reason one could view Isaac very much as the maverick musician, though. Nigerian in origin, Isaac informs me that he moved to the UK at the age of 11, and this cultural heritage is something which is inherent in his music, in more ways than one. “I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that I sang in a Nigerian accent, apparently I do. I go back to this Nigerian old man kind of voice.” Moreover, his cultural identity has naturally had a significant impact upon his musical influences. “I’ve never really listened to soulful music. I’ve only been exposed to pop, which is when I came here. It must have influenced me in some way, the melodies I write, even if they’re poppy they always have a soul bent on them, in some way.” He expands, “the general themes that I write about, they tend to be a musing thing, musing on life, which is something very cultural, a traditional way of looking at life. Rather than just, love, love, love, love…”
Isaac cites the likes of Afrobeats pioneer, Fela Kuti, as an artist in the ears of Nigerians when he was younger. Blissfully unaware of Fela’s notoriety, Isaac is (perhaps understandably) shocked at my relative obliviousness. However, he accepts that only as recent as this year has the niche underground Bristol scene fully exposed him to styles such as the afrobeats/jazz genre that Fela championed, “it was something I’d never probably listened to until I came to Bristol, everywhere is soul or jazz!”
Isaac does express admiration for artists such as Bon Iver and Coldplay, and explains ‘How to Save a Life’ was his first full exposure to pop music after moving from Nigeria. “That’s always in everything I’m going to do. I just like something I can sing again, something that’s going to catch my eye.” Indeed, and he asserts that the themes they draw upon are “the realities of life.”
As the discussion progresses, I enquire what Isaac’s sights are set on in the future. He addresses the issue with a thoughtful, placid approach, “where I want to go with my music…” Trailing off, pensive, he ponders for a second. “I definitely have to finish my degree.” A wise man. “I still need time to develop. Everything is still… ongoing” Isaac is no fool, and he is aware of the instability of the music industry. In the near future, at least, he hopes to do more recording “not just on GarageBand”, having got a fair few gigs under his belt for now.
Even though Isaac is not exactly the typically experienced mould of a musician just yet, his easy-going demeanour, and productive, pragmatic methods, have already, and look likely to take him far. He is living enthusiastic evidence that a bit of hard work is not the worst place to start.