Double denim: Jackson Philips – the brains behind Day Wave – has committed the crime at his very first UK show at Shoreditch’s Red Gallery, where he’s opening for The Magic Gang as part of Community Festival. Thankfully though, we’re not here to critique his wardrobe choices. As a matter of fact, he makes what’s so often cited as a cardinal fashion sin look pretty darn cool – much like the sun-kissed bliss of his intoxicating lo-fi surf pop. He is, of course, from California – where else?
Though he spent his college days on the East Coast at Berklee Coolege of Music in Boston, the 26-year-old’s sound is very much rooted in his West Coast origins – San Francisco to be precise. Today, he finds himself just across the bay in Oakland, and it’s been a journey of musical exploration and experimentation to this point.
“I was a drummer growing up,” he begins. “After about a year at college I started growing apart from the drums didn’t wanna keep playing jazz, so I started recording and learning about synthesisers. I just tried to focus all my energy into learning about music theory and ear training, picking up all the stuff that I didn’t already know.” He absolutely wouldn’t be the first to have started his musical odyssey behind a kit, sticks in hands.
After testing the synthpop waters for a couple of years, however, the time finally came for Phillips to pick up a six-string. “I really wanted to make guitar music. I didn’t play guitar actually – I’d never played guitar – but I figured I knew how to produce a pop song so if I just got a guitar I’d figure out how to do it.” And so Day Wave was born…
It wasn’t until he begun to think about hitting the live circuit that he brought a full band into the Day Wave set-up, as he explains. “I made the first batch of music by myself – I make everything by myself – but when I came to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, I should start getting ready to play live shows’, I just found some of my best friends – they’re all good musicians. A lot of them were my room-mates so it’s really convenient and I was just like ‘Let’s do this as practice’. So they’ve been there since the beginning; it’s been the same crew.”
At the core of Phillips’ music is an infectious, outrageously chilled ambience that couldn’t possibly have been born anywhere but California. Though what’s somewhat novel, and consequently so charming to us, is nothing but second nature to him. “I don’t even think about making it sound like West Coast or California; to me I guess that’s just what happens,” he says, a little bemused, perhaps, at the idea of his sound being so Californian to those on the outside. “I listen to music from all over the place [but] I don’t know how that [sound of the location] gets ingrained.”
Ultimately, Day Wave boils down to “simple pop songs” as Phillips puts it. “I like well-structured pop songs. And then I like the production to be simple and interesting, and in this case using guitars…When you’re using single-note lines you can make the harmonic content more interesting, rather than playing blocky chords which tend to sound almost like campfire chords. I don’t think of it like surf or West Coast.”
Even if such labels aren’t at the forefront of his mind, Phillips’ music fits them perfectly. But it’s also notably bittersweet. “I try not to write any fictional stuff because it’s easier for me to just write about my own life. A lot of times I’ll just write down lines if I feel really shitty one day or something” is Phillips’ overview of his own approach to his lyrics. Though in spite of their being borne out of his “feeling shitty”, they warm and soothe, alleviating any similar feelings the listener might be experiencing. “Darling, come home now / ‘cause you’ve been away too long,” he sings on recent gem ‘Come Home Now’ – the first release on new UK-based singles label House Arrest. The beauty of the lyrics lies in their simplicity.
Alright, a lot of people are buying it in New York – let’s go play a headline show there.
A year since starting Day Wave, the future looks as bright as the sun that blesses Phillips’ home, with multiple releases, a stint touring with Albert Hammond Jr, and a first run of European dates – including no fewer than three gigs in London, one a headline show at the Old Blue Last – under his belt. In fact, it’s away from his native Bay Area where he’s so far built his following.
“I don’t think there is much of a scene in San Francisco; I really don’t know any other bands there. I just kind of keep to myself and make recordings at home. At this point we haven’t built a huge local scene for Day Wave – we’ve played mostly support shows – and the only headline show we’ve played was in New York. We flew out there to play a headline show which we hoped we would sell out [at] Mercury Lounge – which we did, so that was pretty awesome. But we did it based off of who was buying the music, and we were kind of like, ‘Alright, a lot of people are buying it in New York – let’s go play a headline show there’. So it’s just very much using the technology of the internet to know where to go build some steam.”
Inevitably, the web is coming increasingly into play for Phillips – although he’s not your typical young 21st Century Twitterphile. “Now that I’m starting to get just a small number of [dedicated] followers, I try to keep them updated and I try to respond when they’re commenting and things like that. I try to keep up with it but I’m definitely not too addicted.” He says for now…
He may not be a social media addict but if his phone is going nuts with notifications six months to a year from now, you can’t imagine he’ll be complaining too much. As Katy Perry once sang, “You could travel the world / But nothing comes close to the golden coast”. That’s not to suggest that Jackson Phillips is going to be the next Super Bowl halftime-headlining, shark-flanked pop eccentric, but as Day Wave he’s bound to win the hearts of thousands already deeply in love with the sounds of the Golden State – even if he has to travel far from home to win them.