One of the UK's brightest voices on growing up in Nottingham, revelations and performing for the King
If you don’t think you’ve heard of JERUB then you probably have. Gideon Akpovi has had quite the year, with his cathartic pop being used on several TV placements (yes, the teary break-ups and get togethers on ITV’s Love Island), while in May the Nigerian-born, Nottingham-raised singer had the honour of opening for the King’s coronation ceremony alongside the likes of Fatboy Slim, Take That and Katy Perry.
We caught up with JERUB to hear some of the lessons he’s learnt over his short but fast-moving career.
Tell us a little bit about growing up in Nottingham and some of the venues that helped kickstart your career?
I’ve been in Nottingham since I was ten, so most of my life really has been spent in Notts. It’s got a really, really cool music scene and a rich music history. When I was younger, I used to play a lot in a band with my brother and a friend. I remember we played in a venue called The Maze. It doesn’t exist anymore, but back then everyone played The Maze. It was just one of those those venues that was so accepting of all music. I guess when I started doing music properly, which was like 2019, I started going to Acoustic Rooms – that’s where I played a lot of shows, learning how to do live music and how to get comfortable with playing to people and trying out new songs.
What’s the biggest venue you’ve played in the city now? Have you got to Rock City status yet?
I have played at Rock City, yeah, I played there a couple years ago for Beat The Streets Festival, which is quite cool. There’s Splendour Festival too, so it’s nice to play homecoming shows for sure. I went to Splendour a couple of times growing up and I never thought I’d be there. At that point I didn’t think I was gonna do music.
The latest EP is called Finding My Feet. Do you still feel a bit like you are finding your feet in your career?
Yeah, definitely! I think with music, what I’m learning is that there’s no “arrived” status. There’s no, ‘I’m there.’ Or in life, to be honest with you. I think the aim for me is just to take one step at a time and keep getting better. In many ways you figure things out as you go along and you do find your feet in some areas, but there’s no moment where you feel like you’ve arrived. You kind of just take it step-by-step and keep figuring it out. Keep loving it and keep doing your best as long as you can.
That said, can you think of some of the best lessons you have learnt in this short space of time?
I think music sometimes is like chasing a well in the desert. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that illusion, where the well looks like it’s close, but it’s further away than you think? I think music is kind of an illusion sometimes. You can get lost in the stats… I mean, those things are great measures of growth, don’t get me wrong, the streams and all of that are great ways to be proud of yourself and be grateful. But if those become the main thing, you kind of get lost in the desert a little bit. I think also learning that the most authentic songs, the most authentic moments, the real unpolished moments live or in vocals or in recording, are probably the ones that are the best. That’s a recent lesson to be honest with you, because I’m like a mad perfectionist. I want everything to be in its box and clean.
But you know, the things that connect with people’s hearts are the broken, dirty, clunky moments. Some of the coolest moments I’ve had have just been when it’s a little bit messy, it’s a little bit clunky, but it ends up being a beautiful moment and a beautiful memory for people to connect with. And the final thing I learned, actually, I saw a video of Jacob Collier talking about something that he learned from Quincy Jones, which was be warm, over being cool. I heard it a couple of weeks ago, and it just stuck with me recently. Because you know, sometimes in music you want to be cool. I want to be the coolest thing that’s out there. But being a warm person is probably more important.
The EP has some pretty sore and sad revelations, like “I wish somebody could have told me growing up was feeling down”. But you describe some of the “wholesome” revelations too. Could you share some of those?
I think that line was a time when I was kind of lost. Not lost, but I was finding my feet. I’ve just finished uni, I’m doing music more and all of a sudden there’s more pressure. When I was at uni, I was kind of just doing it on the side and there was no expectation. Now there’s all the things that come with success. Not that the pressure was getting to me, but it was playing on my mind, and I was also thinking, am I good enough? Am I doing the right thing? Then you’ve got everything else in life to deal with, being a human being, being a good brother, being a good friend, being a good partner, all of these things. And I was just like… this a lot.
Sometimes I think about when I was younger; you just have no responsibility and you want to get older but, actually, growing up isn’t always feeling up. Sometimes it’s feeling down. So that’s that lyric and I guess some of the other revelations come in a song called ‘Chase Clouds’. “Give me real things I want the simple feelings, Laughing just for no reason”. It’s really simple, but it was just me being like, I could have my head up in the sky and look into the future, or I could choose to be present right now and enjoy the real moments of life.
Not that you don’t deserve them, but as we’ve mentioned things have happened very quickly. First there’s the Live Lounge competition, then TV placements and festival slots and the coronation. Do these surprises still keep feeling as novel to you as the first ones? Do you still get that buzz?
That’s a really hard question. I’m not the kind of person who gets buzzed anyway. Not in an arrogant way, more that I’m more methodical and pragmatic. I don’t really get excited, which is definitely a character flaw. But I usually get to what I’m doing and then get excited, so I’ll get excited on the day before I go on. I think it’s probably a defence mechanism to be honest with you. It means I don’t get nervous or overthink everything. For me, it’s not necessarily about the novelty. Everything is a reminder that a lot of people don’t get the same opportunities. I’m just really, really grateful that, for some reason, I get to have all these open doors and all these cool things happening in a short space of time.
You might be sick of talking about it, but if you could relive the coronation performance again for a moment…
Yeah, that was the most nerve wracking thing I’ve done. I was a bit dry-mouthed before the performance, but I don’t really get nervous before I do live stuff. I get nervous for other things, but for live shows I’m usually good. But I was moving about, drinking a lot of water, and I’m like, what’s going on? Why am I drinking so much water? And I realised Oh, I’m nervous! My throat is getting dry, that’s what my body’s doing. I’m nervous because 500 million people are watching on TV! So it made sense.
As you said, that’s a huge audience. Obviously it must be a great feeling to be able to share your music like that. Likewise, you’ve had a few tracks on Love Island. How do you feel about TV spots like that?
I guess for me those moments are just another opportunity for people to hear my music, my voice. Again, it’s one of those things where not everyone gets this opportunity, so I’m really grateful that that I do.
Your choruses feel like a kind of a defining part of your music. They’re always big and anthemic. Has that always been a big feature of your songwriting?
I think the first song I wrote was a song called ‘Hold on’ and the second was called ‘Paint Me In Gold’. Looking back, I think they’ve always had an anthemic feel to them. I don’t know why, it’s just kind of like how I write. The songs just end up feeling really anthemic.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year? It’s already been quite a big one...
I’m going on my first European tour with JP Cooper in September and October, so I’m really looking forward to that. I’m getting ready for that in the back of my head. I’ll probably be releasing some more music before the end of the year too, so I’m finalising some of that. More live music hopefully, I’d love to do a show in my hometown soon, fingers crossed.