Stripped bare and sounding like a lo-fi late night drive down California’s 405, Jackson Phillips found himself making a different kind of music than he had been in the past with solo project Day Wave. For Phillips’ musical endeavor, he moved to Oakland, bought a guitar and started writing and recording—moving out of his comfort zone in more ways than one.
For four years, Phillips made a name for himself and bandmate Kevin Friedman as synth-pop duo Carousel, but a bad reaction to antibiotics and a desire to do something solo found the alt-rock singer-songwriter in a more introspective place. “With Carousel, I was never really writing personal stuff,” explains Phillips. “In Day Wave songs, it became all of my ideas and feelings I had blocked up that I wanted to put in songs.” Carousel was really the first musical project Phillips did after studying at Berklee School of Music. “While I was in [Carousel], I got a little more confident in songwriting by myself, so I figured I should do something by myself,” says Phillips.
While Carousel was straightforward pop music, Phillips didn’t want to move into the same territory with Day Wave. He wanted to make the listening experience more personal. “With Day Wave, I figured out how to be a little more subtle with keeping the main foundation of a pop song, but I made it a little more interesting,” says Phillips of his solo work. “I think I got a little better at making songs without having the [pop aspect] be straightforward.” For some music fans, Phillips’ presence in Carousel was common knowledge. However, with Day Wave, he wanted to start fresh. “I don’t really talk about [being in Carousel],” explains Phillips. “I like the idea of Day Wave standing on its own. I don’t want people to think that because I did Carousel that the music would be a certain way. I’d like [Day Wave] to be its own thing.”
With woozy-sounding Real Estate-like singles “Stuck” and “Drag,” Phillips was going for nostalgia in song form—something akin to the emotional lyrics found in Death Cab For Cutie songs. It’s also thanks to Phillips’ recording process using a ‘70s reel-to-reel tape machine for his signature lo-fi sound. While Phillips was listening to beachy music like Pet Sounds and Phil Spector recordings during his writing and recording process, the sonic intimacy of Day Wave is fueled by Phillips’ personal experiences that extend all the way back to high school. “I think about when I was young and [was] thinking about being older: how that was a way stronger feeling than what it means to actually be in your 20s,” says Phillips of his solo project. Day Wave’s personal experiences of the past have informed Phillips’ Headcase and Hard To Read EPs thus far.
Following the final Carousel show during the summer of 2014, Phillips began going solo, buying a guitar (which he didn’t know how to play before) and a drum machine and recording ideas on his phone while he looked for tape machines—something that would help him define Day Wave’s warm, California sound. At this point, he was ready for a change; while Phillips was based in LA during his time in Carousel, the town wasn’t working for him musically anymore. So, he left for Oakland and spent some time in solitude. “I didn’t really hang out with anybody, and I killed all of my relationships,” says Phillips of his transition. “I hung out by myself and made all of the music. After six months, I started being social again.” While simultaneously starting his solo project, Phillips was also sick with a bad reaction to antibiotics that lasted for months: Day Wave became a coping mechanism to heal. “I was super anxious and depressed that I was going to be sick forever,” confesses Phillips. “Even before [I got sick], I had the idea about stopping Carousel and doing this project, but [Day Wave] helped me focus, because I needed to get my mind off of the fact that I wasn’t feeling well.” Luckily, Phillips found a naturopath who helped him get better just in time to start playing shows. “I realized I was more anxious than I thought I was—I feel a lot better when I’m working on something,” says Phillips.
Although Phillips has still been making a name for himself solo, he did get the attention of blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, who tweeted out Day Wave’s single “Drag.” After Hoppus followed Phillips on Twitter, the two developed a rapport. “A few months later, I asked if [Hoppus] would be a part of the music video for ‘Stuck’,” says Phillips. “I couldn’t believe it, but he said ‘yes.’ It was super easy.” In the “Stuck” video, Hoppus provided live commentary for a never-before-seen film from the music video’s director, Ryan Baxley—a parody of that viral video featuring a priest watching the Star Wars VII trailer.
While Phillips does miss having bandmates to bounce ideas off of, making music on his own seems to be something that will keep him going for a long time. If he found the right bandmates, he wouldn’t rule out being in another music group, but he’s pretty good at being on his own. “I think you just have to trust yourself,” says Phillips. “I have a pretty good work ethic, so I know I’ll keep making songs.” The solo career looks good on Phillips, who’s finishing up a full-length (release TBD). Though it might be a minute until we see an LP, you can catch him on the road playing his already released (and very catchy) material live.