Day Wave Talks DIY 'Headcase' EP, Ditching Synth-Pop & More

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Day Wave

Jackson Phillips, a.k.a. rising alt-rocker Day Wave, has given up on a lot of things: jazz drumming (he attended Berklee College of Music as an aspiring Buddy Rich), electro-pop (he previously fronted San Francisco duo Carousel), L.A. (he moved there after college) and, most recently, fitting in with the rising music scene in his hometown of Oakland, Calif. “I meet some people here and they’ll play shows together, but I haven’t really been a part of that. I just do my own thing,” Phillips says.

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So far, doing his own thing seems to be paying off just fine for Phillips, whose self-released debut EP as Day Wave, Headcase, arrives Friday. His slightly distorted, sweetly melodic, gloom-pop ditties like “Drag” and “We Try But We Don’t Fit In” are the stuff John Hughes characters would have swooned over and have in turn earned him early spins from Sirius XM and Zane Lowe (who played “We Try” on his inaugural Beats 1 broadcast June 30) and Twitter love from Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and Jack’s Mannequin’s Andrew McMahon.

And he’s about to make even more friends on the road, with his first tour dates set for August headlining San Francisco’s Brick and Mortar, New York’s Mercury Lounge and opening for Blonde Redhead. “It’s been cool to see people are starting to reach out now through social media and tell me how much they like the music, which is really cool,” Phillips says. “But not much has changed in my life yet.”

Billboard caught up with Phillips on the phone from a recent Monday in an Oakland rose garden to learn more about his journey from jazz drums to picking up the guitar, staying DIY (for now) and the realities .

Who or what helped inspire your sound?

I’ve gone through a lot of phases and different types of music. I actually started out as a drummer -- I went to college for drums and around that time I was listening to a lot of jazz. But over time I started to become more of a songwriter a few years ago. Things that have always inspired my songwriting have been [Brian] Wilson; especially for this project, I’ve been super into New Order and Joy Division and a combination of that style of music with some of the more '60s pop like the Beach Boys. That’s been my go-to style of music for the past year or so.

What inspired your transition from jazz drummer at Berklee to alt-rock singer-songwriter?

I guess I didn’t like how the jazz-slash-instrumental music scene was a little competitive. People weren’t about making songs, just getting very good at their instruments, so I started to get over that and more interested in production. I had never played anything other than drums until I was 20, but after I picked up piano in the last five years, that led to me making beats and putting my voice over them. That also led to me forming this band Carousel with my friends, which was more synth-based. After doing that for a couple years, I worked up the courage to do my own thing, which is when I decided to make more guitar-based things. I just wanted to make something more live.

Help clear up the myth: Is the movie Whiplash anything close to what it’s really like to be in music school for jazz drums?

I know all the jazz musicians I know hate that movie, but I just think they don’t want to admit that it is kinda like that -- but clearly not to that extent. All of my peers are really competitive, and the teachers are pretty tough. They’re not that nice, and they’ll talk down to you and call you out in front of the whole class. I wouldn’t say it was as intense as Whiplash, but there could be a little overkill.

What other musicians or producers did you work with on the EP?

It’s me on everything -- I haven’t worked with anyone else on the Day Wave project yet. I really like it, compared to what I was doing the last couple years, it’s much easier for me because I’m not bouncing ideas off of anyone and not second-guessing, which is what happens when you’re working with other people. You’re always asking them if they think it’s good.

The EP is a self-release by design too. I feel like right now I’d just like to get something out there on my own. I don’t want it to feel too forced or anything. Hopefully people will dig it and connect with it, and then later on I can find the right label that will really get what I’m going for.

Because you’re so DIY, how did it feel to get such early radio love from both Beats 1 and Sirius XM?

That was so surprising to me. Because I do the mixing and production by myself, I didn’t want to worry too much about making it sound perfect like I’ve done in the past -- sometimes the songs kinda die in that process. So I just decided I didn’t care, I’m gonna make it imperfect, and to me it had a little more character and charm. But I definitely didn’t think radio would pick it up because I thought it was too lo-fi or it didn’t translate. But yeah, Alt Nation and XMU both playlisted it, which was really surprising to me.

Zane Lowe also played your song “We Try But We Don’t Fit In” on his first day at Beats 1, after which Mark Hoppus from Blink-182 shouted you out on Twitter. What was that like?

It was so weird because the day before that happened I had been going back to Blink-182’s album Dude Ranch and saying to my roommate, “Remember how amazing this was? They were my heroes in fourth or fifth grade.” I didn’t think too much about it, but then I saw that tweet and I told my roommate, “You’re not gonna believe this!”

The lyrics on Headcase are likely to strike a chord with a certain coming-of-age, angsty millennial fanbase. How autobiographical were they for you?

This was the first time I was comfortable singing about my own life and just being more honest. Before, I’d done more fictional stuff with Carousel -- it was stories or things that I’d make up because it was my first time putting out songs that I had written. I guess I was more self-conscious like, “Oh my parents or friends are gonna listen to this and know what I’m thinking.” But with this I just thought, “Whatever, who gives a shit? I’m 25, why do I care what people think? It’ll be easier for me this way.”