Jackson Phillips understands the value of proper headspace. The California based vocalist/multi-instrumentalist behind Day Wave has a knack for carving out room for his talents to grow, both in his life and in his music. Trained as a jazz drummer in his youth, Phillips studied the instrument at the esteemed Berklee College of Music before switching gears to learn production and recording. Infused with a new sense of sonic understanding, he began to focus on songwriting, and learned to dial back the complex scholastic headiness of sound in favor of a more honed in, precise, and felt outlet. The result is Day Wave’s unique brand of euphoric purity.
A truly evolutionary solo project, Day Wave’s music is earnest, guitar-based dream pop with electronic undertones, propelled by Phillips’s self-dissecting lyrics and knack for melancholy melody. Reminiscent of The Postal Service, Real Estate, DIIV, Nada Surf, more, its origin as a lo-fi emotional exercise has expanded to a tighter, better realized production while maintaining its stripped back aesthetic. But Day Wave is not emo, to be sure: it’s just honest.
“The main idea with the music is to grow, sonically and in every way, and that’s kind of why it started out small and lo-fi—so there was room to grow,” Phillips says. “I wanted to give myself headroom so the future projects could be taken somewhere.”
Following his time in Boston at Berklee, the 27-year-old Phillips, a native of Northern California’s Marin County, spent some time in New York and Los Angeles before moving to Oakland and starting Day Wave in the summer of 2014. He bought his first guitar and a drum machine and began looking at music from the perspective of a songwriter, as opposed to that of a specialist, with the aim of simplification foremost in his mind. At times overwhelmed by the limitless scope of music software and machines, Phillips found the new approach medicinal.
“You can lose the music when you get so caught up in all the technology,” he says. “I was kind of burnt out and I wanted to approach it from a different angle. I was only using synthesizers, still new to everything beyond just being a drummer. I was doing the same thing over and over again. I kind of boxed myself into this one way of creating songs, so I bought a guitar to simplify things.”
He finished his first batch of songs in November of 2014, eventually self-releasing an EP called Headcase. He called the project Day Wave as a nod to what the finished music sounded like, and slowly started to pick up buzz on Soundcloud and from blogs. Empowered by the act of creating music with only himself to please, Phillips flourished.
“I was just trying to make something that I really liked,” he says. “I think in the previous years I wasn’t confident and was second-guessing myself because I’d never made songs before. With Day Wave, I went back to my 15-year-old self, who was just listening to tons of Pink Floyd and prog rock. ‘This is what I think is cool. Who cares if anyone else likes it?’”
Headcase, with the help of its catchy debut single “Drag” that was premiered in April 2015 by influential LA radio station KCRW, gathered acclaim throughout that year. Sirius Alt Nation and XMU, Beats 1, and Morning Becomes Eclectic got behind the track, helping Day Wave earn over three million cumulative plays online. In between touring with the likes of Albert Hammond Jr. and Blonde Redhead, Phillips penned his second EP, Hard To Read, culminating with a European tour and headlining stint in the US.
Now, Day Wave is working on its debut full-length album, to be release in 2017 by Harvest Records. Although Phillips has proven to be his own best critic and driving engine, he has enlisted the help of Mark Ranken, the celebrated engineer known for his work with Paul Epworth (Adele, Bloc Party, Queens of the Stone Age), to help give his music a sonic step-up in order to properly begin to fill its unlimited headspace and potential.
“Day Wave’s sound is very pop at its core, so I think it could appeal to a lot of people,” Phillips says. “I’m not trying to do that as much as I am making the music the way I’d naturally make it, and it would be cool if the project could just grow. That was always the goal: To have it build slowly over time. If you want to do it right, you’ve got to do it over time. I want to get more comfortable with every step.”