In March 2013, Jodie Abacus was at his lowest ebb. After running himself into the ground working two jobs, he ended up in hospital with pneumonia. Then his girlfriend dumped him. “I felt like I just needed to give myself a hug,” he recalls. “A hug would have made me feel like it was alright.”
When he got home, he sat down in his room (“full of stripped wallpaper, a mattress and a keyboard”) and wrote that hug, his breakthrough single ‘I’ll Be That Friend’, officially released later this month. The upbeat soul jam was inspired by a good friend who’d come to the hospital, lent him a laptop, brought him food and been there for him when few others had. “It made me realise what it means to have someone,” he says.
Fast-forward to summer 2016 and you’ll find Abacus racking up streams into the millions. Following two big tour support slots, where his sunny stage presence won over Laura Mvula and Jamie Woon’s crowds, he’s also been playing festivals, from Secret Garden Party to V.
With his debut album pencilled in for early 2017, he’s been working with enviable collaborators like Adele’s mate Tobias Jesso Jr, Bristol house DJ Julio Bashmore and LA producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, Beyoncé). But his music also draws on a range of classic influences – he emphasises the amount of music played at home when he was younger by his mum and DJ dad (think Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Billy Joel).
That makes his standards high. A song needs to give Jodie goosebumps if he’s going to let others hear it. Or, as he puts it: “I’m gonna make sure your butter is buttered right to the edges of your toast.” This might explain the weightiness of his lyrics, about porn stars, unpaid debts and a tragic party girl. “I want to know my music changes people’s lives,” he enthuses. “Songs that stop them from taking a bullet. I want it to be the truth.”