Jacob Read aka Jerkcurb is the enigmatic figure making melancholic, hazy music for the disillusioned and the damned. A previous collaborator of King Krule, Jerkcurb has built a cult following over the last couple of years after receiving praise from the likes of Noisey and NME for his teaser track “Somerton Beach”. Beyond his distinctive sound, what makes Jerkcurb so special are the eerie animated visual counterparts he creates for his tracks. A qualified animator drawn to fiction and cartoons, Read directed and animated the entire video for “Somerton Beach” himself. The dream-like animation cemented Read’s creative transition from angry teenage boy to eccentric artist and musician finding comfort in a niche.
Jerckurb’s debut single “Night on Earth” is due for release this August via Handsome Dad Records. The track – unsurprisingly given that it deals with an apocalyptic scenario – is tinged with depression and despair; the vocal is melodramatic and drawling. The production is slow, chilled and has that kind of hypnotic quality that sounds almost as though the music itself is melting. The spooky artwork that accompanies the track was, of course, created by Read himself. One to watch for any one interested in the relationship between music and art and in multimedia creativity, we’re expecting great things from this promising young artist.
You’re a South London boy. How would you say that the city has influenced you creatively?
Probably mostly through the humour. As far back as I can remember; if something bad happens, like you get mugged or something, you can laugh about it. It’s funny. There’s a lot of dreariness, vitamin D deficiency, gentrification – many bad things about this city. But it’s obvious that the best thing about it is the people. So it’s like this isolated feeling a lot of the time, but having friends that are in the same boat or into the same things helps. Like in primary school I was a grunger and I felt very connected to other grungers. I loved Fred Durst and wrote his lyrics all over books and shit. Nobody told me what music to listen to when I was a kid so in a way I can’t really think about anything specifically London that influences me. Most of the stuff I create has more of an Americana feel, or somewhere as far away from London as possible. Maybe that’s the influence of London – to be drawn to other places. London’s incredibly metropolitan and open minded of other cultures at least, I think.
You’re both an artist and a musician. Do you see them as one in the same, and how would you sum up what it is that you do in one sentence?
They are very related. I go for similar themes in both things, I guess. I don’t know what I do and if I did I probably wouldn’t do it. I like to chase the dragon of mystery. Riding on the ghost train. Music to aid the manufacturing of an electric toothbrush.
You animated the video for “Somerton Beach” yourself. How important is it to you to have a visual counterpart to your songs, and is this something you’d like to do for all of them?
I wrote that song with the intention of making an animation for it. It started with the story, about this real life case (look up “Somerton man”) and the mystery surrounding this real beach. I made a story out of that, then the song. I wanted it to all have this green glow sort of feel. The whole thing is pale green, like the glow of a petrol on a night road – this unnatural light in the darkness.
You recently performed at Brainchild Festival. Tell us a little bit about your live show. I’ve seen the clips of you in that mental mask, but would you like to incorporate your animations as digital visuals into your set?
I did it once with an animated backdrop of a windy beach. These crocodiles would walk into the shot and dance and walk out. But it was too much hassle and I don’t have a lot of money and I don’t have a projector or anything. Maybe if I have money I will buy more equipment and do that more. So far I like to turn up to gigs with everything on my back. I am slowly increasing the production value to my live shows. I have been playing some with a full band recently, which adds a whole new thing. I don’t have to spend the gig on the floor stomping on pedals and stuff.
That mask is an upcoming project (but it is a secret).
We LOVE the new track! Clearly you’re all about the melancholic vibes (“Somerton Beach” was inspired by an unsolved death and “Night on Earth” is a sort of twisted apocalyptic love song). Do you find it easier to tackle dark subject matter in your work?
Dark is generally more interesting to me, but it has to be balanced with light. It’s about drama really. I wouldn’t write about my own life because it isn’t that dramatic. No one should care about what I do, or who I am, or how I feel about things. I like fiction and cartoons, which are about getting to the root of the human condition and exaggerating them to their core and purest form. My songs aren’t just made up though; they wouldn’t be genuine otherwise. They do come from my own feelings, real things, just exaggerated.
Your tracks “Somerton Beach” and “Midnight Snack” were really well received. Why are you only releasing a debut single now?
I didn’t actually think about it, I have written lots of songs and play them live a lot but recording is a lot less natural for me. It has to feel right. I have lots of things coming, but it has taken me a while to find a kind of system where I can do this thing. I also did a degree in between “Midnight Snack” and “Somerton Beach”. Which was in animation, so I wasn’t wholly focused on music… and was living in Kingston.
You’ve previously cited Roy Orbison, Delia Derbyshire and Liz Harris of Grouper as strong influences. Are there any new artists you’re excited about right now?
Outside of the people I know personally, I don’t follow too much new stuff. To me it all comes and goes quite quickly. But I guess recently, or in last couple of years, I have been really into Jerry Paper and Sean Nicholas Savage. Two good songwriters – Jerry Paper makes this kind of goofy music about isolation in the digital age. Its incredibly funny, cartoony and tragic, and there’s a consistent narrative that runs through all his works. I love the aesthetic too which is like it you took The Critters (West coast 60’s pop band) and played it on a sega megadrive or something. I like the juxtaposition of these really unrelated eras and cultures, that’s something I relate to. Sean Nicholas Savage just writes great pop songs, and nothing is better than a great pop song.
Also my other band Horsey just played a gig with this New York band Show Me The Body who have this raw New York energetic thing that was really refreshing to me. Like the best parts of No Wave with more of a Hip Hop feel. I’m excited about those guys. It seems kinda unpretentious and real, and that’s a really important thing I think.
If you could pick anyone in the world to collaborate with, who would it be?
Larry David. We’re both New York Jews (from my mother’s side). We could make a sitcom called Jerk Curb Your Enthusiasm. No idea what it would be about. Musically, I’d raise Pete Drake from the dead and get him to sing his talking guitar thing over a song. It would be produced by Joe Meek, who I’d also raise from the dead. I’d have to have that ability too. I’d love to write chords to songs like that. Or I’d collaborate with KK Slider from the video game Animal Crossing, does a video game character count? I like that synthetic vocal stuff, especially when it sounds like it has a soul, inhuman but human at the same time.
How do you go about making music? Does the music come first or do you always consider the visual simultaneously?
Trying to catch myself off guard initially. Picking up the guitar when I can’t sleep, my brain is in jelly mode so the best stuff comes out. Sometimes I’ll try and channel an environment or space first of all, before a sound. Like watching a video on silent and try and soundtrack it. I used to try this to Koyaanisqatsi (that 70s ‘ambient’ documentary film) – very beautiful and also strange and kind of depressing. Or on YouTube, I’ll just watch a video that someone has filmed on a theme park ride, or walking round a shopping mall and see where that takes me. I think spaces are sort of important to me, like what kind of space does the song fit in? Where am I? Is it a really large space or is it intimate? Confusion is good. Like, I don’t want this song to be really mellow I want it to be a bit mellow and then maybe a bit sinister. Juxtapositions. Nothing is really one or the other.
You’re clearly subversive creatively, but your sound is still relatively accessible; do you see yourself cracking the mainstream?
I don’t know what the mainstream really means, like NME front-page stuff? I always thought my stuff was too subtle to really make any kind of dent on anything. But I am totally fine with that because most the shit I like is very niche and boring to most people.
Artists and musicians alike now have to utilize social media professionally. I noticed your far more active on Instagram than on Twitter. How important are these platforms to you?
Instagram is better because it’s just images and I never really have anything worthwhile to say on Twitter. I do read books, so I’m not illiterate but I don’t really see myself as someone who is wordy and if It’s boring things, like my opinion on something, why would I feel the need to share it to the world? Privacy is a scarce source and it is all we have left human beings of 2016!
Anyway Instagram is important to me because I can look at stuff from around the world that interests me.
You’ve fronted two bands in the past (Dik Ooz and Words Backwards) and have been involved in several collaborative projects. What spurred your decision to go solo?
It started as a kind of antithesis to the music I was making with the bands, which was always very unsubtle, negative and loud. Angry teenage boys without girlfriends. I still wanted to do that, but maybe if I tried to channel another energy I could get somewhere too. The softer side. It started as a way to help me sleep. I never slept good at any period of my life really. So to wake up in the morning I’m gonna put on Big Black “Songs about Fucking” or Butthole Surfers, or something loud, because I didn’t sleep well and need to function. And then in the night it’s like I need Grouper or William Basinski or something, so I can put a sound blanket over myself and try and fall asleep. So these two sort of parallel. Jerkcurb is soft and very intimate, I want to relax people in a way, sedate them or something. If people say I loved your set but I can’t remember anything about it because it was a blur then that’s a compliment to me.