Day Wave Gets a Lot Done in Oakland

Jackson Phillips, aka Day Wave, lands in Oakland where he can do his thing instead of following trends. He is hitting the circuit festival this summer.


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Jackson Phillips is Day Wave and is finding success in Oakland.

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Knowledge is power, so the saying goes, but according to Jackson Phillips, aka Day Wave, a little ignorance can also be a powerful creative force. The 26-year-old Oakland resident was studying jazz drumming at the Berklee College of Music when he stumbled upon a playlist of the music that he loved as a kid—music by bands like New Order, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Cranberries. “Music I’d steal from my sister but not show my friends,” he laughs. That music propelled Phillips away from the drums and into the recording studio, where he taught himself synths and learned about ear-training and music theory.

“I learned enough theory so that I knew what I was doing, but not so much that I ruined it for myself, you know?” he says. “You can go too deep and it ruins the mystery of music harmony.”

Calculated ignorance as a creative device is evident throughout Day Wave’s new EP, Hard to Read (Grand Jury). Carried by Phillip’s multitracked vocals, Hard to Read is dream-pop dappled with hazy California sunshine; a bridge between bittersweet nostalgia and a hopeful anything-can-happen future. The physical release is bundled with last year’s Headcase EP, which together provide a sidelong look into Jackson’s maturation as an artist and as a young adult, learning about love and heartbreak and the head-spinning confusion that often results when one is ping-ponging between the two. Lyrical confusion abounds on Hard to Read’s title track, where Phillips sings, “Tell me what you want / Uh You Take So Long / Tell me what you want / Cuz I don’t know,” set to catchy guitar riffs atop warped-sounding synth loops. An inability to decode the motives of the opposite sex crops up on other songs, such as “Deadbeat Girl,” where this ambivalence has a less intoxicating effect on the protagonist. “I’m looking for a reaction / But you’re not good at them,” he sings, fed up with a girl’s inability to commit.

 

Despite the collective-sounding nature of his band name, Phillips performs all the instruments on both of his EPs, and he did all the producing, mixing, and mastering for them as well. When he’s on the road, opening for the likes of Albert Hammond Jr. and Blonde Redhead or performing at SXSW, he plays with a live band. He recently toured Europe and Australia, and will do the festival circuit this summer, playing Shaky Knees in Atlanta, Governor’s Ball in New York City, and Lollapalooza in Chicago in July, along with assorted dates across the United States.

Phillips was raised in Mill Valley by parents who were big music fans, and when he was 9, they encouraged him to start studying the drums. “I think they thought that the guitar was a bit of a cliché,” he laughs. The drums stuck until his change of heart at Berklee, and he decided to pick up the guitar after all. Could his parents have saved him some time by choosing strings over skins? No, says Phillips. “Part of the charm for me is not really knowing the instrument that well,” he says. “I think it can kind of hold you back if you’re too good at your instrument, and for me, it’s more about creating and collaging sounds together to make a cool recording and not so much about being so proficient at any particular instrument.”

He and a friend formed the electro-pop band Carousel, which started in his apartment in Boston and ended in Los Angeles. At that point, Phillips had grown tired of LA and wanted to try his hand at a guitar-based solo project. He decided to come back to the Bay Area and settled on Oakland as a home base. “I didn’t like the vibe of LA, and I also didn’t want to be influenced by all other bands that were following trends,” he says. “A lot of people think that they’ll move to LA and make connections in the music industry there, but that stuff happens over the internet now.” Plus, he could get real work done in Oakland—evidenced by the success of his 2015 song “Drag,” which got a boost from KCRW radio station at Santa Monica College, and has racked up more than 3 million Soundcloud plays to date. “LA was too distracting, and the Bay Area is not very entertainment-industry driven,” he says. “Here I’m able to just do my own thing.”

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