The imagination of childhood is both too intense and innocent for the average adult to comprehend. It's a world of novelty and strange combinations, of roads peopled with ghosts and demons stuffed in wardrobes. Of shadowy men drowned at night, alone at sea. By the time adulthood rolls around, some of those images are still imprinted in your consciousness – or in the case of 25-year-old animator and musician Jacob Read, released in his music and videos, which are full of the strange mysteries of youth.
Known to the wider world as Jerkcurb, Read has been a consistent figure in southeast London's music scene for years, having spent his entire life between the area's East Dulwich/Peckham bleed (aside from a three-year hiatus studying in southwest London). Keen-eared listeners may recognise his name, referenced at the start of King Krule song "Rock Bottom". Or perhaps you've seen him perform with Horsey, a four-piece whose tunes skirt between weirdo rock and melodic noise band territory. Stretch even further back and there's early band Words Backwards and DIK OOZ, a project with both Archy and Jack Marshall. But it's arguably his music as Jerkcurb that stands out the most. In truth, it's not been a meteoric rise. It's an output that's taken time to mature, honed through innumerable live sets and semi-sporadic releases from its origins in late 2012. Yet each succeeding track, video and gig has laid the foundations for a burgeoning cult status.
When we meet in a pub in Nunhead he tells me, with a smile, that he was initially fascinated with "Batman comics or The Simpsons, or any other standard young people stuff that was floating about around that time". Over time, this fascination turned to more obscure things like the weirdoscape Americana of Ween, DNA, James Chance and the twisted death-country bard Eddie Noack. You can hear these influences seep into the bones of his oeuvre, particularly in the rich guitar loops of "SFM'" (below) which purports to be a "Ween cover", despite actually being an original track.
That these are American influences is no accident. Read is half-American and half-English, something he outlines as "fortunate" because of the long summer holidays he spent visiting family in Brooklyn, New York. These trips helped him hone a talent for storytelling and myth, which later fed into his unearthly, almost mystical lyricism and cinematic visuals. "They're all Jewish-American New Yorkers," he says of his mum's side of the family. "Two of the key things for them are comedy and storytelling. My aunt was the greatest storyteller. I remember me and my cousin loving these stories that had been passed down through multiple generations." This keen sense of mystery became tinged with melancholy as getting older "you're still trying to capture that sense but it gets harder. You know that bit more about 'real life' and how it maybe isn't as exciting or odd as you thought it might be".
Is Jerkcurb, then, an attempt to cleave back that sense of mystery? Yes and no. That wasn't his conscious goal, he says, when he initially started exploring creative outlets in his earlier teenage years. Back then, it was more about simply making music that reflected his interests or influences. Or, more often, just about "putting stuff on MySpace and sending it to a girl I was trying to chat up. It was a bit like 'Hey, I can't really speak to you in real life, but if I send you this, you might think I'm a deep guy'. As things progressed in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Read tells me he developed a sense of confidence that perhaps dissipated when he went to university in 2010. "When you're really young and you maybe have one good tune, it can be a bit of a fluke." He ended up taking a brief self-imposed hiatus as "you need that time to grow and understand that it doesn't translate to having a full album's worth of stuff. I feel like unless you're someone like Archy, who had the tunes from really early that all retained their quality, it can be difficult. I did a couple of tunes for fun and thought, 'oh fuck, is this something I should be doing as a career?'"
He self-released his first fully-formed track "Midnight Snack" in 2012 on Soundcloud, and it would have been the first time most people came across Jerkcurb. With its sparse drums and expansive, multi-layered guitar set to Read's vivid lyrics, it speaks of intense yearning and bittersweet melancholia, of being trapped in a fog of anxious sleeplessness. Since then, he's released a drip feed of several contrasting tracks. The darkly tropical "Somerton Beach" (below) a beguilingly creepy Christmas cover of "Walking in the Air" and singles "Night on Earth" and "Little Boring Thing", themselves tales of fractured love and deep longing.
To describe the music he creates is to risk leaning on the drudgery of buzzwords: nocturnal, dreamy, brooding. Densely layered, reverb-laden guitar competes with complex vocal harmonies and sparse drums to create a sound that brings to mind both an artist like 60s cult figure Pete Drake ('the man who made his steel guitar talk') and the weirdest parts of Tom Waits. Singles often come complete with painstaking visual accompaniment in the form of illustrations and – in the case of "Night on Earth" – an ambitious video creating an off-kilter 1950s prom. These prominent visual elements are no accident: Read studied at Kingston School of Art from 2011 to 2013. His illustrations often carry the same motifs as the music, with images of lonely parking lots, unpeopled motels and densely-coloured shadow worlds. And so listening to him almost immerses you in that rich, self-contained environment. Every song and image, you feel, has been made by an artist comfortable with the nocturnal shapes he weaves into the fabric of both his music and visual art.
There's a sense that over time – as with anyone creating anything – Read's ambitions have ebbed and flowed. He tells me he's now relishing a period of relative tranquility. Yet self-imposed deadlines have their own problems. Namely the lack of distinction between "fun and work", as Jacob puts it. It's different to the sense of pressure he'd felt earlier, arising from "a few meetings with bigger labels", that he concedes he "might not have been ready for". That in turn made Read question what he was doing. And yet, in positive terms, "even though I stopped making music for a couple of years, when I started again it was at my own pace." Taking this time with projects meant that their scope and ambition could increase too.
One of the latest singles, "Voodoo Saloon", is a case in point. What started as a "pretty self-indulgent" sketch of an idea toying with multiple harmonies and dark country-inflected tones soon became a mini-epic, set somewhere in a demented purgatorial state. The video (above), which we're premiering here was directed by close friends and local directors Michael and Paraic Morrissey (aka, CC Wade/LL Burns). It's a vast, formidable piece of work. As the directors behind the video for King Krule's "Octopus" and Horsey's "Arms & Legs" (among many others), their grasp of the strange interplay between humour, darkness and seediness is an ideal match for the grand vision of the track itself, a three-part tale of claustrophobia and denied redemption.
With its off-red scenes set in what appears to be a vast, airless desert wilderness, in a sense it's the perfect encapsulation of what Read is all about. It's a video that suggests all of the weirdo Americana that influenced his earliest days animates the palette of his current releases. Finally, it seems like the perfect time for Read, an artist with all the elements to become a cult favourite in the mould of his own favourites from times past. In an age where mass recognition is possible through one successful tune or EP, he represents a slow-burning alternative. His imaginative and strange body of a work speaks to the deep-dive and total immersion. The future you envisage for him is one of carefully crafted albums and a dedicated live following. A semi-secret shared by the converted. At its core, a music that speaks to the long, lonely night; a rich darkness that has in Jerkcurb a worthy chronicler.
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