Asserting an introspective sense of vulnerability at the heart of everything he does, JP Saxe has quickly made himself one of the most exciting new songwriters to get acquainted with. Following the viral success of his collaboration ‘If The World Was Ending’ with his girlfriend Julia Michaels, his EP ‘Hold It Together’ highlighted the vast range of emotions surrounding love, heartbreak and everything in-between. And his debut album ‘Dangerous Levels Of Introspection’ hears him taking those foundations and diving even further into self reflection as he bares his heart and soul.
This 13 track collection is deeply personal, but if you’ve been following his musical journey then you wouldn’t be surprised by that. What you may be surprised by is his level of transparency. From reflecting on the power of new love, to the heartbreaking reality of past love, to a mature outlook of how they weren’t the right person for him, right through to not being able to get hard for someone; it’s definitely a time capsule of moments in time through the past and present.
To celebrate the release of ‘Dangerous Levels Of Introspection’ I sat down with JP Saxe over zoom to discuss the importance of sincerity in his songwriting, explored the stories behind tracks like ‘More Of You’, ‘4:30 In Toronto’ and ‘I Shouldn’t Be Here’, as well as how John Mayer ended up featuring on ‘Here’s Hopin’. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut album ‘Dangerous Levels Of Introspection’ is a very vulnerable and introspective collection of tracks that explores love, heartbreak, family and everything in-between. When you were compiling the track-listing, was there a particular journey you wanted to highlight to the listener of what this body of work means to you and what you want them to take away?
JP SAXE: Yes and no. I think one of the silver linings of prioritising sincerity above all else in your writing is that you don’t need to work too hard to formulate a theme as all of these songs are coming directly out of my journal, so they’re within the same world as they’re all the truth.
My hope is that the songs are personal enough that when you’re listening to them you’re not so much thinking about me than you are thinking about whatever part of your life allows you to relate to what I am saying. I know that is a little counterintuitive, but let’s say when I am talking to one of my best friends and they’re telling me about some situation they’re going through and going into detail about it. In order to relate to them I am thinking about whatever part of my life is similar to that so I can show up for them empathetically. For me, my favourite songs are the ones that are so personal and detailed that I start doing that as if I’m talking to a friend, but because there is no one actually there I’m left with that part of my own experience which may have been harder to access without the song to get you there.
TB: From releasing your debut EP ‘Hold It Together’ last year, getting to briefly tour at the start of 2020, and the viral success of ‘If The World Was Ending’, what is the biggest thing you learnt about who you are as an artist and how it impacted the creative process of ‘Dangerous Levels Of Introspection’?
JS: That I just have to make myself love it. If I aim for anybody else’s taste, I miss. I have to trust that I’m basic enough that if I like it other people will love it. The truth is a lot of my favourite music is other people’s favourite music too, so if I can make my music something I would listen to then I just have to trust that other people will want to listen to it too. If I try and impress anyone else, then I will just get it wrong.
TB: ’Here’s Hopin’ is a song that immediately stands out on the record with its beautiful lyrics and John Mayer reminiscent guitars.
JS: Well, its not John Mayer reminiscent, it’s actually John Mayer because it’s him on the track!
TB: What! That’s crazy! How was working with him?
JS: It was totally surreal and magical. He came out to the studio to listen to the album a couple of months ago, and he liked ‘Here’s Hopin’ so he played on it. It sounds just bonkers coming out of my mouth because I’ve admired him so much for so long, so to have one of my biggest songwriting influences be apart of my debut album is just bananas, truly *laughs*.
TB: That’s so exciting! Can you explain how the foundations of this track creatively came together?
JS: There’s actually a bunch of stories surrounding that song. I wrote it a long time ago on the piano, and when I first wrote it the bridge was the chorus and the “here’s hopin” part at the end wasn’t written yet. I always kinda liked it but it was always somehow incomplete, but it lived in the back of my mind and in my journals.
We were then doing this week and a half in the studio to finish up the instrumentation on the album and I picked up this 12 string guitar and started playing the song. There was just something about how it sounded on a 12 string that really moved me. But I still needed to write another part. It’s funny because when I first wrote that song I was in the midst of heartbreak, and now I’m very much in love. So the end of the thought that’s like “here’s hopin’ I’m wrong” is foreshadowing with the knowledge that I was wrong. Here is this song about being afraid that love doesn’t get better than the love you had, and here I am now realising how silly it was to think love couldn’t get better than the love of someone who didn’t want me back.
I put it down on 12 strings, with all live instrumentation from me bouncing around the studio playing different things. And then when John came in and heard that song he was like “I think there is something I could add to this” and he pulled out his electric guitar, and that is the record!
TB: “When somebody asks you your favourite part of this city, do you think of me, like I think of you” is a lyric that just soothed and broke my heart at the same time. When you hear that lyric back now, where does it take you emotionally?
JS: I think when you build the world with somebody, it’s easy to think the world has come crashing down when you don’t have that somebody to share it with anymore. But there are so many other worlds you can build in the same place and it just takes a second to build enough memories to the point where you don’t associate every part of a place with a person anymore. Ive gotten to that point, but at the time when I wrote this a few years ago someone asked me what my favourite thing about living in Los Angeles is and I thought of something that I shouldn’t have thought of, and that’s where that lyric came from.
TB: I’ve recently fell in love with someone and ‘More Of You’ kinda captured every single word I wanted to try say especially with the refrain; “I tend to complicate it, find fancy ways to say, I just want more of you”. This song seems really conversational while also being very vulnerable. Was this a track that unfolded quite naturally and quickly for you?
JS: It was the second song I wrote about my current girlfriend, with the first being ‘Hold It Together’. You think there isn’t anything else that will make you as happy as something else did, and you’re just in this pessimistic hole and then something turns up and you’re like “damn this love is more than I could ever come up with”.
The beginning of the relationship I am in now, and maybe this is what you’re experiencing right now, but it didn’t remind me of anything I had ever been in before and that’s what made it so magical. It was like opening a door to a fantasy world.
I’ve always known that conceptually the things that were going to make me happy were better than the things I could come up with. But Julia has been the best example of that because I could have never come up with how exceptional this person is, especially because I said I would never date another songwriter again *laughs*. But yeah this song was about the beginning of our relationship and the wide-eyed wonder of someone you couldn’t have possibly seen coming but you’re so happy is there.
TB: The album opens with ‘4:30 In Toronto’ which perfectly sets the candid nature of the record with a song about rekindling with an ex after coming home to see your family after a family emergency. Was this track written in the moment of you sitting in your hotel room unpacking these emotions or was it more in reflection later?
JS: It was written in the moment! The overall theme of the song is recognising two things that used to feel like home that don’t anymore; both a person and a place. I wrote that song in the summer of 2018. I was in Toronto for a surgery my dad was having, which at the time seemed serious but it ended up being totally fine. Both of my parents were living in places that were too small for me to stay in so I was staying in a hotel. So there I am in Toronto, recently out of a break-up, going through a difficult life experience, and I wanted to lean on this person that I couldn’t. I wanted to feel at home in this city I grew up in but I didn’t because I was in a hotel.
So one night at 3am I couldn’t sleep so I decided to get up and drive my rental car 45 minutes up north to this city called King City where I grew up. I went to see where my old house used to be. I knew it was sold so I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got there I saw they turned it into the ugliest and blockiest concrete situation. I drove around the neighbourhood, like the route I used to take to go to school, and it was all sub developments now and it felt like a completely different place.
I drove back to the hotel room and it was 430, and I wrote in my journal “home don’t feel like home in a hotel room”. And my journal will mark where I wrote something and when, so it said “4:30 in Toronto” next to that note and that’s how that song began.
TB: On the other end of the spectrum, ‘I Shouldn’t Be Here’ is vulnerable in a totally different sense. “I couldn’t get it up for the first time, like my body knew it wasn’t meant in you, or maybe it was just the adderall”. How does it feel putting this particular lyric out?
JS: You’re the first person to ask me about this, and I am stoked! That was a poem I had written in my journal 3 years ago now. About a year ago my journal gave me a notification that said “2 years ago today you wrote…”. Occasionally these notifications are really nostalgic, and other times they are entire emotional risks. So anyways, it shows me this poem I had written 2 years prior, I read it and I’m like “this is hilarious, there is no way I can do anything with that”. But then later that night I was watching an interview with Phoebe Waller-Bridge who I love, and she was talking about Fleabag. She was saying something on the lines of she knows a scene needs to go in the edit if it scares her a little bit, because if it scares her then it’s probably the kinda of vulnerability she’s going for. So I thought back to my poem and I was like “damn, I guess I have to put it on the album don’t I”. So I picked up my guitar and just sang the melody immediately. That was a one take live version that is on the album.
TB: ‘Tension’ hears you delivering a bigger sonic that is a bit reminiscent of a Shawn Mendes track. What was sonically inspiring you with this song?
JS: I absolutely love Shawn Mendes, Im a big fan! A lot of my favourite music when I was younger was The Killers, and The Fray. And I think that song is a little bit of a musical homage to the pop-rock of my youth that I used to jump up and down in my room to. I really love finding the emotions in the subtlety of songs with the nuances and softness of it. But I also really wanted there to be a song where I could yell my ass off and run around a stage screaming with an electric guitar, and that song is definitely that moment.
TB: Were you a fan of the Plain White T’s growing up?
JS: Only because every girl I knew when I was 15 wanted me to play them ‘Hey There Delilah’ *laughs*.
‘Dangerous Levels Of Introspection’ is out now!