Before he took the stage at Amsterdam Bar & Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, JP Saxe sat down with WMXM for a phone interview. Many thanks to JP for taking the time to talk about his music and the importance of transparency and emotional honesty within the creative process.
By DJ Ray
WMXM: A lot of your music is very personal, especially with the lyrics, you seem to put a lot of emotion into your songs. Is that something you always wanted to do when you wrote music, or is that something that just kind of came naturally when you started writing songs?
JP: Good question. That isn’t something that came naturally. I think when I first started writing songs, I was really concerned with them feeling like “songs” in the traditional sense. I used to think “Okay, here’s a feeling I’m having, how can I song-ify that feeling?” whereas now, I think I’ve removed that step in the process and it’s just “Here’s a feeling I’m having, how do I put it in its purest form in a song so it doesn’t even feel like you’re necessarily hearing something that’s been made into a song, it just sounds as genuine as it can possibly be.”
WMXM: Also, with the music videos that accompany these songs, they fit with the songs very well. How much input do you have when those are being created? And are the visuals of the videos something that you think about when you’re writing the song, or is it something that comes to mind mostly after you hear the finished product?
JP: Which video specifically? ‘Cause I’ve had different involvement in different videos.
WMXM: Any video. I know “25 in Barcelona,” you weren’t expecting that to even become a music video. How did that happen?
JP: I really did just go to Barcelona for my 25th birthday ‘cause I didn’t want to be f**king sad on my birthday ‘cause it was right after a breakup in my life, and then I ended up writing that song while being there. And I went with my best friend who is a filmmaker who was just filming while we were there because he likes to be filming, so he just – because we were there, he filmed a lot of the trip, he filmed a lot of me writing that song. So when that song became something that I was gonna put out, we had all this footage of the whole experience so it just kind of organically was there.
WMXM: Very nice! With other videos, your name showed up as a producer of either “The Few Things” or “Changed.”
JP: Yeah, “The Few Things” I co-directed with Dina Shihabi, who is the co-star of the video.
WMXM: So with that one, was that something that came together after you wrote the song, or while you were writing it did you have this vision in your head, that you were like “I want this video to look like this”?
JP: The idea for the video on “The Few Things” came after the song. I wanted to pair it visually with something that would…let me rephrase that: The way we got to that particular video was kind of just digging in to what the moment of that song was. The feeling that it came from was such a specific conversation, it was almost verbatim things I said in moments of that relationship. And that’s a conversation that doesn’t happen, like, you sit down and have that conversation. It felt like a conversation that you have kind of throughout a day you spend with someone you’re in love with, so the idea for the video was to weave the song into a day that this couple was spending together, working through it. And there were those few moments where the lyrics of the song matched up with exactly what Anthony [Ramos] and Dina were saying to one another. So it was just kind of trying to throw you into that feeling into as real of a way as it was for me.
WMXM: Very interesting. One thing that you do with your music, you use a lot of different electronic music or musical technology, and there seems to be this fear that technology is gonna take over music or take over people’s lives in a really bad way, but you’ve used a lot of it in your songs and it seems like you really enjoy the possibilities that can come with it. What would you say to people who think that technology is gonna lead to, like, a musical downfall?
JP: “I think that your faith in humanity is just not as strong as it needs to be – (laughter) – to think that those tools won’t take us over, they are tools and them being productive or destructive is entirely in our hands and how we decide to use them.” I think all of the resources available to music producers and creators has created incredible amounts of ingenuity in the music we’re hearing. And it’s also created a lot of simplification of how…you know, exciting and organic music-making can be, but I don’t think that’s a fault of the tools, I think that’s just a fault of our priorities and what we’re using them for.
WMXM: What would you say is the most unexpected place in your life that you’ve found musical inspiration?
JP: Musical inspiration?
WMXM: Yeah, like for creating a song or anything like that, inspiring something?
JP: My music is all very lyrically driven. I studied music for a long time, I grew up kind of obsessed with jazz piano – it was my original language to make music – and then when I got later into my teenage years, I picked up the guitar. And at that point in my life, I was really into the music of it and building my abilities as a musician, and I think now I’m thinking less about those things because I have them in my back pocket to use to bring out the emotions of the things I want to say. Whereas now, I’m really focused on the lyric, and everything about a song to me is in service of the integrity of the words.
WMXM: Cool, very cool. One thing I did read is that not long ago, you were performing some music for the nonprofit organization To Write Love On Her Arms. How did that come into being, and what does that mean to you, the connection between music and mental wellbeing?
JP: When I was 18, I went to a To Write Love On Her Arms Heavy and Light (tour) show at the House of Blues in Los Angeles and I saw Jamie Tworkowski – the founder – speak, I saw Jon Foreman perform. I was really moved and I remember saying “I think this is something that I wanna do one day. I’m gonna be up there, I’m gonna be part of one of these shows.” So when the opportunity came about to do it, it was really a full-circle moment for me. I think…music and songs have, throughout my life, been a really meaningful part of bringing me closer to my own emotional experience and coloring in a lot of the feelings I didn’t understand growing up. I think if my songs can – whether they’re about mental illness or whether they’re about any cause or not, I think honesty itself serves the purpose of bringing us a little closer to ourselves in the music, and hopefully that can be a useful part of a lot of things that go into struggling with mental illness and the care that we have to find for ourselves when we need it.
WMXM: Is that something you’d be open to doing again, whether it’s To Write Love On Her Arms or any other kind of organization like that?
JP: Hundred percent.
WMXM: Sweet! Alright, now these are just kind of little questions: What would you say is your favorite part about touring and traveling and just getting to see all these amazing new places?
JP: Touring is my favorite thing, it’s all you want: it’s traveling, it’s music, and it’s having real conversations with strangers. Those are my three favorite things; it turns out that’s exactly what touring is. (laughter) So I will do this for the rest of my f**king life very happily.
WMXM: It can be either recently or of all time, what would you say is the coolest fan interaction that you’ve had? Or maybe a couple of interactions that really stick out?
JP: In Toronto, there were these two girls that got engaged during my song “The Few Things.”
WMXM: Oh yeah, I saw that!
JP: That was pretty cool!
WMXM: That’s awesome!
JP: I mean, I love love, so (laugh) being able to see my music play some part in the love of other people is incredibly fulfilling.
WMXM: How do you prepare to perform a live show? Do you have any specific warm-ups or things that you run through before going out on stage?
JP: Yeah, I do vocal warm-ups because I’m learning on this tour for sure that if I don’t, I will hurt myself (laugh). And, just from a mental standpoint, I just remind myself that I’m doing what I love and that it’s not gonna go horribly wrong because I’m good at it. So if I just remember that I’m doing what I love, remember to just be in the songs and the moments that I wrote them in and enjoy having a real interaction with a group of people who are open to having it with me, if I just focus on those sorts of things before I go out, I find that’s what prepares me to exist in that space. But then also, part of being an artist is *you* are writing the stories that you’re going out there and telling. So from the onset of being creative, if I’m doing my job right, I’m writing songs that are sincere enough that I should be able to go out on stage and – regardless of the mood I’m in – sing those songs and feel like myself doing them because I put a lot of myself in those songs from the beginning.
WMXM: Do you remember the first time somebody asked you for an autograph or for you to sign their shirt or something, and how did that feel, what was that feeling like?
JP: It’s so cool. I mean (laughter) it still kinda weirds me out in a way I’m very grateful for (laugh). When I was a kid, my dad and I used to go to basketball games four hours early to try and get signatures from basketball players because I loved that sh*t, so the fact that people wanna get me to sign a t-shirt, it’s just…it’s pretty surreal (laugh).
WMXM: Either touring or just traveling in general, where’s somewhere that you’ve never gone that you really wanna go?
JP: I’ve had a few people message me on Instagram asking me to come do a show in Turkey. I’ve gotten, like, eight of those messages, so I think I need to make that happen.
WMXM: It seems like a cool place.
JP: Yeah, it seems like an incredibly cool place.
WMXM: Very cool. Do you have any – I hesitate to say irrational ‘cause sometimes they’re perfectly rational – do you have any strange fears? Like some people are afraid of bugs or…anything strange like that?
JP: Hmm…I used to be afraid of the ocean, but I recently swam up a river and I think I may have conquered that fear.
WMXM: Do you have a preference for CDs, vinyl, cassettes, or digital music?
JP: I haven’t heard of all of the things you said before digital music.
WMXM: Wait, you couldn’t hear, or-?
JP: Nah, that was a joke.
JP: I mean…there are certain circumstances where I think vinyl is very romantic. If I’m coming home after a date and it’s 11PM and I want to put on music, it’s way more romantic to light a candle and walk over to a record player and put on a record than it is to be like “Hey, Google!”
JP: So I think there are definitely circumstances where different formats of music still have a real place.
WMXM: That is an interesting take, I haven’t heard that before. Usually people are just like *this*, but yeah, that does make a lot of sense, that’s very cool.
JP: I mean, I’m grateful to streaming because I want anyone who wants to hear this music or who connects with this music to have access to it, so I’m a big fan of streaming because I just want people to hear it and that’s the easiest way for them to do it. But if people come to the shows and they want to buy vinyl because they want to go home with their loved ones or with themselves and just cry and/or get all up into whatever feelings they’re having in that moment, a vinyl feels like it’s (laugh) it’s more the mood. I’m all for that, too.
WMXM: Very cool! With getting towards – this is kind of the holiday season, do you have any big holiday plans that you’re looking forward to?
JP: Well, I’ll go home – I’ll go to Toronto – so…just being with my community, catching up with people. Nothing too out of the ordinary. (pause) Yet. We’ll see. Who knows, maybe I’ll decide to do something spontaneous.
JP: I guess it won’t be spontaneous now, though, that I’ve told you I might do it.
WMXM: Well, there’s nothing specific yet, so there’s always time.
WMXM: Since this is an interview for the radio station: if you had to create your own DJ name – like “DJ *blank*” – what would you want your DJ name to be?
JP: (to his friend) Hey Matt! If I was gonna have a DJ name, what would my DJ name be?
(pause and deliberation)
JP: (back into the phone) We’re having trouble…
JP: Oh, that’s pretty good! DJP!
WMXM: DJP! I actually interviewed a band a little while back and one of the guys in the band, his initials are JP and that was his DJ name too!
JP: Well, there you go!
WMXM: I’m just seeing on my phone, we’re reaching about the twenty-minute mark and I don’t wanna keep you for too long.
JP: No, thanks for doing this, I appreciate it!
WMXM: No problem, thank you for being open to doing this! It helps the station a lot, it’s really cool. I just have one final question: when people come see you perform live, what would you say you want the main takeaway from your show to be? What’s the message you want the audience to have in their heads as they’re walking out the venue after seeing you perform?
JP: I guess, uh…what do I want people to walk away with? (pause)
WMXM: Or it could be, like, a feeling that you want them to have, rather than a thought.
JP: Yeah…I’m thinking about it, ‘cause I want to give you an answer that I mean…
JP: I guess…I think the reason I’m struggling with answering this is because I don’t really have a specific idea in mind for, like, “Here’s how I want people to walk away from my music.” But more so just…the hope that by doing something on stage that is as transparent and not separate from my experience – I’m really trying to close the gap between the experience of my life and the art I am making to tell those stories – maybe people will leave that concert looking at their own experiences with a little bit less fear of the honesty of it. I guess…I think I can say that wholeheartedly, but I don’t know. I think the most genuine answer I can give you is that there is no one feeling I want people to walk away with. I just hope that if they show up emotionally vulnerable and ready to hear that dude up on stage with a lot of feelings telling them about themselves, that they’re walking away a little more excited to have a genuine conversation with their own experience without feeling like they have to lie about it to make it cool.
WMXM: Nice, that’s very cool! Alright, I think that’s about all the questions I have. I hope you have a great show tonight, it should be super awesome!
JP: Thank you so much!
WMXM: Thank you so much for your time, this really means a lot to WMXM!