Jackson Phillips, known as Day Wave, hails from the bay area and plays every instrument heard in his music. Fresh off his debut album Drag, he overcame severe nerve damage back in 2014, and now thrives as a multi-instrumentalist.
The strings of the orchestra behind Sinatra’s voice rose through the air. “This is weird,” thought Jackson. At five years old, he didn’t fully understand the sounds reverberating from his parents’ records. “It shot all these chemicals off in my brain,” he said. That was the first time Jackson Phillips, better known as Day Wave, remembers hearing music. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Phillips wore out his sister’s CD’s and made frequent stops to Tower Records. Not until nine years old did he pick up the drums. Phillips stuck to causal jamming until he joined a band at 14. Early on, Pink Floyd steered him creatively. “I listened to every one of their albums,” he says. “They were a huge influence on me.”
Soon, Phillips would head to Boston to study jazz drumming at Berklee College of Music. “I knew I wanted to play music, but didn’t know in what way,” he says. With roommate Kevin Friedman, Phillips made his first song on the computer. Phillips sang the vocals after teaching himself piano. His younger brother spread the track, and it ended up on the popular music blog Hypebeast. As the view count racked up, Phillips fielded calls from agents and managers that wanted to work with him. He would later form the electro-pop duo Carousel with Friedman. After touring and releasing an EP, the group dissolved after two years. “I was over it and stopped,” he says.
Moving out to Oakland in the summer of 2014, Phillips started the solo project Day Wave. Shifting to a total songwriter’s perspective, he gravitated to David Bowie and Brian Wilson. Shortly after moving out west, he showed signs of neuropathy after seeking treatment for a sinus infection. According to a sit down with Culture Creature, Phillips battled illness after taking antibiotics containing fluoride. For most people, fluoride causes no adverse effects, but he fell sick immediately. Suffering headaches and sharp nerve pain in the hands and feet, he fell deeply into music as an escape. Philips wrote lyrics and played to take his mind off the pain. By the time he needed to perform live at Lollapalooza in 2015, the symptoms subsided with the help of a naturopath.
As the sole instrumentalist of Day Wave, Phillips plays drums, synth, and recently picked up guitar. He records all three separately and overlays them. Still new to guitar, Phillips tested his skills on the song “Wasting Time” from his debut album The Days We Had. He writes and records at the same time, letting the guitar spark the lyrics. Before moving to LA, Phillips played and recorded in the studio inside his Oakland home. The wooden panels of the room surrounded his multi-faceted approach. Just one window connected the outside world to the raw melodies. On the dark carpet, Phillips wrote and recorded every part for each instrument, combining layers of sound and vocals. Many of the tracks on his debut album first echoed in this room.
For the first album, Phillips wrote the songs over a few years. The project found new life with the added guitar. “I was inspired by a new instrument [guitar] and a lot of the songs ended up on the album,” he says. One year ago, Philips recorded the album over a three-week span. Breaking away from the programmed drums of his EP’s, Phillips played the drums live for the album. “I just wanted to switch it up,” he says. “Program drums aren’t dynamic.” He finished the project with Grammy award-winning engineer Mark Rankin. Co-producer with Phillips, Rankin mixed the entire album.
Since then, Day Wave has played across the US, Europe, and Australia. On tour, Phillips teaches the arrangements to the accompanying band. In the studio, he controls all instruments, but during live performances he must trust his backup band to stay true to the Day Wave sound. On the road, Phillips is a creature of routine, not glamour. “In reality, I’m spending my whole time in a van or a bus,” he says. “I get out of the car to play the show.” In a schedule filled with shows and pressure, self-doubt can creep in. Phillips blocks out negative thoughts by sharpening the connection of the music to the people. “Starting a project from nothing is intimidating,” he says. “I worry about people liking it my music, rather than comparing myself to another person.”