Three days before his (third) sizzling sold-out show at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, Jerome Thomas welcomed me into his Dalston home; which also acts as his studio. On behalf of WFA x Genius, I wanted to discover the story behind his three latest singles before hearing them live. This towering, mellow singer-songwriter blew fans away on the popular Youtube platform: COLORS, with nostalgic hit “1989”; produced by frequent collaborator Warren Xclnce, which has attracted almost 50,000 streams on Spotify. Yet, as the rain poured down, the smoke curled up from his chocolate-coloured sofa uncovering his honest thoughts on UK industry representation, his eclectic soul/jazz fusion sound and what makes up the true essence of Dalston.
The first thing any new fan notices is ‘FOE’ tagged on all your socials. This stands for your “Freedom of Expression/Fusion of Everything” movement, what does this mean to you?
“Fusion of Everything” comes from me hearing so many different types of music growing up. My mum would play soul and rare grooves, [my] uncle would play hip-hop from the 90’s and jazz. I would go to my auntie's [house] where she’d be playing jungle and house and my grandma loves reggae and calypso. I loved it all and was recording a bunch of different things then realised: all of these things make my one sound! I just got tired of trying to box it into one genre. It’s a fusion of everything and it’s my freedom of expression. It’s a place where I can show you the many layers of me.
You speak passionately about avoiding being boxed into one genre, how do you experiment to ensure that doesn’t happen?
First of all, I don’t listen to radio. I don’t really watch TV, so I don’t get a lot of outside influence aside from what I choose. When I create, I almost shut everything out because a lot of the time you get influenced by what’s going on now and what you think people are gonna like. I try to say, “What do I like?” instead. Comparison is the thief of joy so just know that, what is for you, is for you. I don’t feel like music has any boxes, someone said it and made it a thing. I feel like all music is soul music, all music is “FOE” music baby.
With the UK music scene flooded with Grime/Drill orientated platforms, do you feel like UK urban platforms are giving you (a soul singer) the attention you deserve?
No, I feel like the UK music scene is very much still caught up in America. It’s like America has to co-sign it before we do, even if it’s UK bred. I think it’s sad. There isn’t a lot of platforms for the kind of music that we do, and I feel like it needs to change. I feel like there’s so many new artists coming up now, that have grown up like me, who are paving the way for themselves and making their own platforms. If they’ve not been created for you, then who will? You’re gonna have to do it then.
When I create, I almost shut everything out because a lot of the time you get influenced by what’s going on now and what you think people are gonna like.
When confronted about this topic some UK platform owners have claimed they are simply meeting “public demand”. How would you respond?
That doesn’t make sense! How can the public decide what they want before they’ve heard it? You are the ones that show the public, in order for them to like something. So basically - this is how they end up giving people what they think they’re gonna like. Regurgitation. It’s sad man.
Let’s talk about your three latest singles: ‘1989’, ‘Didn’t Know’ and ‘Stranger’ all produced by Warren Xclnce. What story are you telling with these banded tracks?
‘1989’ is the romantic feeling of love, when love is great and at its best: pure bliss, sex and passion. ‘Didn’t Know’ is where the rose-tinted shades come off, so it’s like what love really entails… all this jealousy and other stuff that comes with it. Whereas ‘Stranger’ is like the demise of the relationship. It’s like I don’t really know who you are anymore after all this - we’ve come from this fantasy to reality, to the end.
Tell me about the creation of those three tracks, are they part of a bigger project?
Warren sent me ‘1989’ first, so I recorded that and it’s so funny because the way they work together wasn’t purposely done. They weren’t recorded in the same period. It just so happens that they matched and that’s how I go about creating my EP’s, it’s about finding a story from all the stuff I’ve made. I’ve built one (studio) in my room, all my stuff is recorded there. I treat it like it’s a proper session, get myself into a [working] headspace otherwise it’s like I’m in my bedroom.
Do you have any plans to tour? And is there anyone you’d love to tour with?
D’ANGELO! Of course. Anderson Paak., Masego, Jazmine Sullivan. She needs to come back on tour, she’s nuts! After Thursday we’ll have three sold out shows so yeah, I feel like that’s the next step. I’m dying to get out there and do a festival stage. I just wanna be out there and connect with people and create the FOEnation!
Do you have a dream festival you would love to perform at?
AFROPUNK! That’s my vibe man, I hope they haven’t done the line-up yet because I’d love to be on it universe! Please! I made a vow to myself and said I ain’t buying no damn ticket, I am going to perform at it.
As a born and bred East Londoner, do you any have feelings about the sweeping gentrification taking place?
Upset! I mean it’s a double-edged sword, because yes, the crime rate has gone down and Dalston’s a much friendlier place – it’s lovely. But you don’t solve problems by picking up people and just moving them somewhere else. You’re just forgetting that the culture of Dalston is the people of Dalston. So, once you take that out it’s just a shell, an empty shell.
How do world issues like gentrification affect your music?
I feel like the weight of the world can get on you. Facebook, I limit that shit. There’s a lot of perpetuation of negativity on that and I’m a Pisces, I’m sensitive and it affects me! Sometimes it comes to a point where I’ll write about it, but I like music to be an escape. If there’s a world issue I wanna try and put a positive spin on it or create some sort of light of it.
So, what can fans expect from you in the coming year?
I’ve got another single coming out, called “Body”. We’ve just called Kojo who’s in LA working with Masego actually. And then we got another tune called “Birthday (Swing Low)” which will hopefully hold people off until my EP, coming out in November.
Finally, what can we expect from your third sold out show?
I feel like we’ve stepped up levels, I’m just excited to show people what’s been going on and what I’ve been doing and what’s to come. I want them to leave feeling like they’ve experienced something life changing – not like just through the music itself but just through being there and feeling the vibe. I want them to feel good… happy.
Want to know more? Read what we thought of Jerome's show below.
Amidst the sea of bodies swaying to his every note in a dim UV lit cube, I can confirm: we certainly felt the vibe. With a full horn section, DJ, drums, guitarist, and cross-legged keys player all crammed behind him, Jerome’s beloved FOEchestra gave us their all. Opening with an up-tempo rendition of “The Stone” from (2016) EP Conversations, calypso style drums signalled that this was no statue show. Dreads swinging to the beat whilst tropical green and amber light danced on his vintage oriental silk. A look.
North London rap saviour Coops was later invited to the stage for their collab: “Chasing Paper” which effortlessly shut the place down. Coops has a flow that old school hip-hop heads crave, boasting razor sharp delivery during “That Jazz”; giving Jerome enough time to raid Marvin Gaye’s room and pull on a pair of turquoise satin trousers. Floating over the horn section with a mix of low-range vibrato and heavenly falsettos, “1989” was a vocal highlight ending with a fitting ‘Usher knee-slide’ moment. Interaction with the audience can make or break any performer but Jerome had no qualms, regularly hopping into the crowd to serenade fans or simply to mosh during bass-filled breakdowns.
During “Body” his upcoming single, we were served hypnotic riffs alongside haunting vocal runs which could stay with you for days afterwards. Not every artist can have a whole venue in the palm of their hand with a track recorded in their wardrobe. Yet whilst bathing in a tangerine and lavender sunset glow and you know… Hoxton’s screams, Jerome couldn’t forget to dedicate a loving track entitled “Mamma” to his proud Caribbean mother and grandmother; whose old vinyl, cassette tapes and £5 soul CDs raised him and made this dream possible.
Jerome is an artist with his eyes on the prize. Nothing can deter him from where he wants to be and we can't wait to see what the future holds. Be sure to keep up with him on his socials below.