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Interview: Jackson Phillips of Day Wave

Day Wave
29 March 2022

Photo by Jason Lester

Since forming in 2015, Day Wave have released three EPs and one studio album, steadily earning a reputation as one of the most talented acts in the dream pop genre. Essentially a solo effort by Jackson Phillips in the studio, with various musicians aiding during live performances, Day Wave are widely praised for songs that are awash in a breezy atmosphere and nostalgic lyrics. On March 29, the band is releasing a new single, “pastlife,” and announced that an album of the same name will come out in June. Calling from his home in Los Angeles, Phillips discusses his creative process, how he became a musician in the first place, and why his work connects so strongly with listeners.

What was your songwriting process for this upcoming album?

JACKSON PHILLIPS: I demoed a lot of songs over the course of a year and a half to two years. I was making a lot of different song ideas and not really knowing where they were going to go. Then eventually, when I decided I was going to put the album together, I went through everything I had done over the course of the pandemic and I picked the ones that still resonated with me. I decided, ‘All right, I’m going to finish these.’ So I went over to them, polished them a little bit, and then I sent them for mixing. Honestly, the main thing is that when you are producing and writing at the same time, one of the things that can get in the way is the mixing at the end. It’s something I’ve always had to be conscious of, is not to over-mix my songs and to leave them a little raw because I don’t want to lose any magic.

Did you have any particular themes in mind when you wrote this time?

JACKSON PHILLIPS: Yeah, I think the general theme with this album is obviously the title, pastlife. It’s about, I’m at a different place in my life now than when I started Day Wave. I crossed thirty, and I’m reflecting on different chapters in my life. In the moment, you don’t always remember these certain times that you’ve had or the ways that they’ve affected you or relationships with friends and family. And now, I’m reflecting on some of these times that have passed. You’re like, ‘Who was I when I was 23? That’s like another person.’ I feel like my music is always reflecting whatever I’m thinking about that happened ten years ago. It’s never very current.

There does always seem to be a nostalgia factor in your songs.

JACKSON PHILLIPS: Yeah, I think I feed off of that feeling when I make songs. When I make songs, I just try to do whatever is least forced. I try to go off of instinct and feeling. I don’t really sit down on an acoustic guitar and write a song. I start recording and just make a feeling and then have that lead me into something. So I never really write the words or anything like that first. So because I’m going off of the feeling, that’s the one that’s the most strong for me, is the nostalgia. I’m always grasping for it, always trying to find some sort of feeling from when I was a kid or something.

What made you want to become a musician in the first place?

JACKSON PHILLIPS: I always loved listening to music. When I was a kid, my parents played music in the house. I have an older sister and she would always listen to music in the car, soundtracks and stuff. I just really connected with it. I always daydreamed about being onstage playing guitar. Then my parents got me a drum set. I was like ten. I took lessons, but it wasn’t until I was fourteen or fifteen that I played in a band. I ended up just getting more and more into it, and I went to music school at Berklee [College of Music in Boston]. Then I quit drumming and just started producing, and the producing to the songwriting. Then that led me ultimately to doing Day Wave. It was a long journey to get there.

Why did you make this a one-man band?

JACKSON PHILLIPS: I think I just liked the control. I tried having bands before, and I felt with this project in particular, the ideas that I wanted to get out were pretty specific and singular and I didn’t really feel like I needed a collaborator. And I also wanted the challenge of learning how to play guitar, because I didn’t actually play guitar before Day Wave. It gave me a bit of a challenge. And now it’s kind of my main instrument, which is so funny.

Why do you think what you do has connected so strongly with listeners?

JACKSON PHILLIPS: I try to have it be really authentic to me. Nothing I do is forced or anything like that. So hopefully if something’s authentic, other people will like it or connect with it.