In 2015 and 2016, we in the SubModern world were introduced to Jackson Phillips a.k.a. Day Wave through his first two EPs, Headcase and Hard to Read. In May of this year, Day Wave’s full-length debut, The Days We Had, was released. I recently got to chat with Jackson about his background and the new album, and to record he and his bandmates performing stripped down versions of some songs for our latest SubModern Session, which you can listen to here.
FMQB: Tell me about your musical background.
Jackson Phillips: I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. I started playing drums when I was nine and started playing in my first band around fifteen. Then I went to college for music. That’s where I started to pick up other instruments and started recording and making my own songs. I made some music in like a synth-pop group for a little bit and then started Day Wave about two and a half years ago.
FMQB: You mentioned going to school for music, but it was specifically for Jazz, right?
JP: Well sort of. I went on the drums. That was my instrument that got me into school and at the time I was into playing Jazz, but I went to Berkley, where you can kind of do whatever you want. So, I sort of switched into more of a production situation.
FMQB: I found that interesting because what you’re doing now is very far removed from Jazz.
JP: Yeah, I think what I’m doing now is more in line with what I would’ve wanted to be doing when I was younger. My initial ideas about music were just about making good songs and just trying to have a band. Very simple things.
FMQB: And I have to ask, which you probably get asked frequently, but was the Jazz drumming program like Whiplash?
JP: In a way. That movie is definitely an exaggeration of what happens, but it’s also sort of like that. Jazz is very competitive, especially in the academic setting, and teachers are often not that nice. It’s hard to be good at Jazz so they’re just straightforward with you all the time. If you want to be good, you’ve gotta be better. But for me Jazz wasn’t my true calling to music. I was exploring it as another avenue in music and then I was able to go take it to what I really wanted to do.
FMQB: So you got into production and entering into Day Wave, you do all the production and you pretty much do everything. On the album version of Day Wave, it’s all you.
JP: Yeah. I played all the instruments, and wrote all the songs, and pretty much did all the production with a little bit of help from a guy named Mark Rankin, who mixed the album and kind helped with a little additional production. I still played everything, but he had some good ideas.
FMQB: And you only got into guitar playing specifically for this band?
JP: Yeah, around the time that I had the idea that I wanted to have a band that’s actually a band that could perform with no backing tracks or anything. Coming from a band that was doing that, I knew that it was a total nightmare. So I knew I should make it guitar based, but I didn’t play guitar, so I just bought a guitar. I think I knew enough about music that I could make it sound okay on recording, and then over the last couple years I’ve tried to figure out how to do it live.
FMQB: I guess having your extensive knowledge of music helped.
JP: Well, like an understanding of how harmony works and how a song works. You don’t wanna know too much because it takes away some of the mystery of what you’re doing. Just knowing how everything relates to each other by ear is something that I think you can apply to any instrument.
FMQB: And what about writing lyrics, was that something you had done before?
JP: No, not really. It was pretty new for me. It took a little bit to figure it out, but I just try to stay pretty simple and honest and personal. For me, that seems the most real. I don’t want to make something that seems too fictional or something that I’m not actually relating too. I feel like if I’m more honest then maybe other people can relate to it too.
FMQB: Well, you turned out to be a natural at it.
JP: Oh, thanks.
FMQB: Now you have a band that’s formed around you for touring, but would you consider having other people involved in recording your next album?
JP: Maybe it’d be something I’d think about. I don’t know though. I think I’ll still attempt to do it the same way, y’know, to write everything by myself, but if I’m having a hard time or I feel like having somebody help me with ideas or with anything, I would never shy away from it because I think it’s about making the best thing I can do. In the past couple years I’ve felt like the way to do that is to work by myself, but I think that things might change and I’m open to whatever.
FMQB: How did the band come into being?
JP: They’re all my friends from growing up. I hung around musicians and when I started the project, I moved back to the Bay Area and moved in with some of my friends who were musicians. They were really just in the next room over so I was like "Hey guys, I have this music that people are listening to on Soundcloud. Wanna try to learn how to play it live?" At first it was kind of like "No, I’ve gotta go do something else." Slowly everyone got more and more interested and we got shows booked. And I also feel like they appreciated coming into a project where everything was already laid out for them. I’m just kind of giving them these parts that I’d already recorded. Everyone kind of see that when you do it that way sometimes, it sounds good right away, whereas when you write as a band and everyone’s trying to come up with their own thing, everyone seems to overcomplicate and get precious about their ideas. But, when it’s a little more structured, and somebody brings fully fleshed out things, that was a good starting off point which you can expand on to make it its own thing, which I think we’ve done.
FMQB: When you first started playing shows though, and you had only played these songs by yourself, was it hard for you to let go of these parts that only you had touched?
JP: Not really. At that point I just care about what’s gonna work better in the live setting. What I did on the recording might not necessarily be the thing that’s gonna work perfectly. I don’t think it needs to be exactly the same. For me, it’s just whatever comes off better. The live situation is different. It’s not gonna be the same and I don’t try to force it to be. I’m open to things changing a little bit.
Find out more about Day Wave at DayWaveMusic.com, HarvestRecords.com or @DayWaveMusic on all social media platforms. Listen to their SubModern Session performances of "Something Here," "Unitled," and "Wasting Time" from The Days We Had here.
By Josh T. Landow