Q&A with rising atmospheric alt-jazz music quartet ISQ

Image credit: Carolina Mazzolari Shawcross

House music meets jazz with quartet  ISQ’s latest release via CP Records. The group have returned two years later with a melodic re-imagining of their single ‘L.A.S’ by music producer Urchin. With this release, the quartet have also announced their upcoming album Requiem For the Faithful 2.0: The Remixes to be released on the 21st of May.  ISQ are known for blurring the lines of jazz conventions, showcasing a laidback rhythm that never falls short of emotional weight vocally. 

Pre-save ‘L.A.S. (Urchin Remix)’

Urchin uses sun tinged hooks that scream summertime fun & relaxing sunsets, veering off the path of the atmospheric original. However, the DJ has maintained the sincere lyrical integrity of the single as the focal point. 

Read ISQ’s thoughts about the remix in this exclusive Q&A below.

Describe your sound for us. What do you want people to feel when they hear your music?

We’re an alt-jazz band so think of our sound as a melting pot of jazz, pop, and electronica. At least that’s how Time Out London described our music! We really want to connect with people through our music and hope the confessional lyrics are very relatable. We write honestly about situations that are affecting us at that moment. Our latest album explored the communal experiences of love, faith, and shame.

Which 3 artists have influenced you the most growing up?

So many to mention, too many really. But if I had to absolutely narrow it down to three it would have to be Prince for his songwriting and artistry, Bjork for the freedom of her musical expression, and the divine Sarah Vaughan for just about everything else. 

How did you discover your particular sound?

A lot of trial and error! We basically wanted to create a band where we could write original songs and keep the element of improvisation in both our composition and our live performances. It was common for famous bands in the past to improvise on stage (think of Pink Floyd). And it’s such a shame that you don’t see that very often in mainstream music anymore. The wonderful thing about coming from a jazz background is that improvisation is fundamental to learning your craft, so you learn how to express yourself and react to what’s happening in the moment. It feels like a musical conversation between four people. We’ve really tried to keep that element so that our live shows are always different and also create a space in which to explore and expand our music. 

What are your favourite elements in Urchin’s interpretation of your single ‘L.A.S.’?

When we first heard the Urchin remix of ‘L.A.S.’, we loved the instrumentation that he had chosen and the general atmosphere of the track. It felt like summer in Ibiza! Urchin’s creative use of the existing lyrics and the way he chopped up the vocals really drive the tune forwards. And the guitar breakdown moment adds an element of surprise halfway through the track before it really takes off. 

Tell us about one of the first struggles you faced (as a group or a solo artist) and how you overcame it?

Ha! Quite a few. I think the biggest challenges we faced was how to translate the songs that we were writing, and the soundscapes that we were hearing in our head into a live show. We started out as an acoustic jazz quartet and introduced electronic instruments in our set-up for the third album, and I think we’re definitely closer to achieving that. I think defining our genre was another struggle. We’re four jazz musicians who love writing and playing lots of other music besides jazz! Our sound might be seen as too pop for the jazz world and too jazzy for the pop world, so we are stuck somewhere in the beautiful middle! We’ve overcome it by staying true to the music that we love writing and performing and not changing our style to try and fit into a particular mould. 

What are the most important pieces of equipment to you?

It’s quite important for our sound to perform with an acoustic piano, so I would say that is at the top of the list. And all the added electronic toys that we have added for our live performances like bass pedals, synths, electronic drum pads, and a vocal-effects unit are pretty fundamental to our sound now. But personally, I’d have to say my piano at home is my most important piece of equipment as that is where I do most of my writing and messing about.

Music for the individual or the masses – which do you want to create?

Both. All. Everyone! 

Do you have a favourite memory of your career so far?

We played the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of years ago. It was sold-out and was such a great evening. There’s something special about playing in such an iconic venue, you can really feel all the incredible creative energy that has been through those doors.

This single will feature on your upcoming album. What motivated you guys to compile a remix album two years after your last release? 

We had been thinking about releasing a remix of a few of our songs for a while now, but had never found the right moment to explore that idea. When lockdown happened last March, we decided to do it and started thinking about which song we would choose to remix from the latest album. We found it really difficult to narrow it down to just one song. Richard (double bass player) jokingly said that we should remix the whole album and I thought it was a brilliant idea. We had a think about potential collaborators for the remix album, made a few calls and the rest is history.

If you could work with, or perform alongside any artist living or passed, who would it be?

It would have to be Prince. He was such a unique artist, a musical visionary, and such an incredible performer and songwriter. His discography is so varied with so many great songs that he wrote both for himself and other artists. Dolly Parton is another favourite. An incredible songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, she’s still going strong at 75. And any woman who has managed to stay on top of the music business for more than 50 years is a legend!

What kind of message are you trying to send with your music?

The message has definitely changed since our first album, as the world around us has changed a lot in these last 10 years. I think truth, acceptance, and hope seem to be at the foundations of our songs and also the main reason why we write and perform music. 

What can we expect from you in the near future? Any upcoming projects or gigs in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about?

Our remix album, Requiem For The Faithful 2.0 : The Remixes will be released on the 21st May. And we have four singles coming out leading up to that, starting with ‘L.A.S.’ on the 5th February. As far as live performances go, everything is so unsure at the moment, but we are definitely going to try and live stream a few shows in the next few months. We have also already started writing the next album so watch this space…

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