Day Wave and Circa Waves Recommend You Learn to Use Logic

Jackson Phillips and Kieran Shudall catch up.

Jackson Phillips is the LA-based singer-songwriter behind Day Wave; Kieran Shudall is the vocalist, guitarist, and main songwriter for the Liverpool-based band Circa Waves. Last week, Circa Waves put out their fifth record, Never Going Under, on Lower Third/[PIAS], so to celebrate, the two hopped on a Zoom call to catch up about it all. 
—Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Jackson Phillips: Something I kind of wanted to talk about is the difference between when you first started your band and now — as far as not only your approach personally, like how you’re making your music now compared to then, but also just the industry factor.

Kieran Shudall: I think in 2013, it was still very bloggy. We Are Hunted was a big blog—

Jackson: Oh, I remember that! It was like a chart, right? 

Kieran: It was like a sort of indie hype machine or something. If you could get on that, that was a big deal. And I remember really chasing emails from people and sending them a demo.

Jackson: OK, I did the same thing, finding emails for bloggers, and I would send them my stuff. That’s how I did it with Day Wave — I was like, Alright, I got these songs, now I’m going to spam 10,000 blog guys. [Laughs.]

Kieran: That’s the thing: when people younger kids ask me now, “how do you get started?” It’s hard to know what to say, because I mean, how you can’t really email blogs anymore.

Jackson: Now it’s like, email TikTok influencers. 

Kieran: Yeah, exactly. If you can cry to your song on TikTok, you might get a few hundred thousand views.

Jackson: Yeah. You take it into your own hands now and you do your thing with content creating I guess. It’s cool that you don’t have to rely on these bloggers to like your stuff and to post it for you. You just post your own thing now. 

Kieran: Do you think that’s better? Do you think it’s better for people to have more control, or is it better for those blogs to have existed?

Jackson: I think it’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s definitely pretty cool that you don’t have to rely on other people as much. And that was starting to happen with even just the creating of the music — you know, I always produced my own stuff, so I felt very thankful that I didn’t have to save up money to get into a studio with a producer. I could just make it at home. But then I was still relying on other people to help get it out there, with the bloggers and trying to find manager, agent, this and that. But now you can just produce your own music and then create your own content. If you put enough time and effort into it, I think you can just make it all happen without the help of anybody else. So I think that’s cool. 

But there was something about retaining some sort of mystery, or just being able to let the music speak for itself and not have to sell yourself in this way of like, content, content, content. I mean, it’s just the way people consume entertainment now. So I don’t know if it’s good or bad.

Kieran: We’re in a time now where there are new artists who are having to sell themselves loads constantly to either maintain a career or start a career. But then you’ve still got these bigger bands who can stay mysterious — the likes of Tame Impala or the Strokes or Arctic Monkeys. They don’t have to post because they’re going to stay huge. Whereas maybe middle-sized bands like ourselves, or new bands—

Jackson: You gotta get with it.

Kieran: “You should do a story on the new song, you should do an acoustic version, you should do…” So I kind of feel like I’m caught in the middle of two ideals. We started off as a mysterious band, and people would have to come to gigs to try and figure out what we were about. And now it’s like, “No, you’ve just got to give everyone everything.”

Jackson: Yeah, I totally relate to that. I’m in the same boat. It’s like I know that I would be doing a good thing for myself to be committing to content creation. But it’s hard for me to… Also, I’m not like 24 years old anymore. I’m 33 now and I’m not so in love with the idea of self-promotion at this point in my life. I’m not seeking that sense of validation that I used to. When I was younger, I think I was probably more confused and emotionally immature and just wanted people to like what I was doing, and wanted to be in the spotlight. Whereas now I feel like I’m a little more comfortable with myself and not needing that validation to be happy. And so having that kind of feeling now, putting my all into creating content where I’m putting myself in the spotlight… it feels a little bit like not what I wanna do, I guess.

Kieran: You think as you get older… I mean, generally we know all these incredible songwriters over the years eventually stop being able to make great music, like Paul McCartney and Oasis. The music just eventually is not as good as when they were young. Do you think part of not seeking validation anymore, and you’re not desperate for people to love you, makes you write songs that aren’t quite as good?

Jackson: I mean, that could be part of it. I think everyone’s sensibilities change over time too. So at one point when you’re younger and maybe you don’t have anything going for yourself and you want that validation, maybe there’s a sense of creating something more cutting edge. Also because you’re younger, so you’re more tuned in with what’s new or edgy. I feel like as you get older, your sensibilities can kind of settle into something that you’re like, “this is just what I like,” so you don’t care as much anymore. But it’s hard to say why that is. I mean, I feel like there’s probably some people who make a great album many albums into their career. I always think about Phoenix, how their big album was four albums in or something.

But yeah, it’s interesting. I think definitely for what’s happening now, it’s a little bit weird with the the content creation being the main driving force behind the music industry, at least for up and coming artists. Because like you said, people like us who are sort of in that middle tier are definitely pushed to take part in that, because you would only be doing yourself a good thing as far as getting your music out there. And one thing that I thought a lot about is, wow, there’s no like shelf life to songs anymore, so I could just get on Tik Tok and just promote my old music. [Laughs.]

Kieran: Yeah, and [there are] bands who have taken off on TikTok, who had records out in 2010 and then haven’t done much since. The kind of exciting thing about TikTok is at any point in your career, someone could just start using your song who’s a big creator, and it takes off. Which also means that there’s loads of people chasing that as well now and putting marketing campaigns behind songs and stuff.

Jackson: Yeah, it’s never been more it’s never been more saturated.

Kieran: I also think about, say, a modern Kurt Cobain or whatever — he was a shy person and didn’t necessarily want to put himself out there like that. Those people still exist and they still write great songs, so if they’re not posting like these big emotional things on TikTok, will we just not discover the next Kurt Cobain?

Jackson: Yeah. And that’s the thing with TikTok: I feel like the level of depth to it… a lot of times it’s just funny, or it’s educational or it’s just entertaining or sucks you in in a way that’s addicting to watch. But sometimes I don’t feel a sense of emotion from watching TikToks, you know? Like anything that’s going to give me that level of like when you discover Kurt Cobain or something.

Kieran: It’s not nourishing. It’s like a Big Mac. It’s good at the time, and then you’re like [groans].

Jackson:  And then you feel horrible about yourself for scrolling for three hours.

Kieran: It’s bad calories. There’s bands like the Walkman or the National — bands where I feel like when you buy the records, you need to spend time with them, and the more you listen, the more you feel these great things from them. For me, at least, they weren’t an instant, like, punch in the face, like, “Hey, pay attention to me.” It was just a, “live with me and you’re going to learn to love me,” kind of thing. And that’s just not conducive to the current way people consume music.

Jackson: That’s true. It makes it all sort of this instantaneous thing, which is why the songs that go viral on TikTok, it’s just one little moment in a song. There’s not much of a slow burn in our culture anymore. Do you think that it’s kind of affected your songwriting at all?

Kieran: Well, I’ve always liked getting to the point quite quickly anyway with our songs, in terms of there’s not many songs with big intros and stuff. But I mean, playlists and the fact that I even know about skip rates upsets me. Like, I should just write songs that I think are cool, but I do know that people skip songs if you don’t get to the point within, like, 12 seconds, and it’s even better if you can get to the chorus in 30 seconds, 45 seconds. And I think I naturally have always done that, but I’m certainly aware of it. I don’t know. Sometimes I think I do play the game and sometimes I kind of go against it. I kind of have these inner battles. I’m not really sure what the best thing to do is.

Jackson: I struggle with that a little bit too. I guess when I go to write something, I don’t try to think about that too much. Similarly, I’ve always tended to make these sort of pop structures, so that they are pretty immediate, because I guess that’s just what I like a lot of the time. 

Kieran: When did you start producing? I was intrigued with that, because I saw you use loads of tape and stuff, and obviously that takes quite a while to master.

Jackson: Well, I think I started producing probably in 2010 or something. I was kind of just making beats on different programs, and I was in music school for drumming. 2011 is when I made a song for the first time where I was like, Oh, I should try singing and writing a song over this beat. And that’s kind of how it started. I never played guitar growing up or anything. It just happened because I was making beats, and I slowly started to realize, Oh, yeah, I love indie music — I grew up listening to the Postal Service and stuff like that. And I was like, well, maybe I could make kind of indie music. It hit me so late; I was already 21, and I was like, Why haven’t I been doing this the whole time? What was I doing playing fucking jazz drums?” [Laughs.]

Kieran: That’s interesting. You’re almost doing it in the way dance producers do it, where you make the beat, and then you do the top line afterwards.

Jackson: Yeah, that is how I learned. And everything was in the box, you know, just working in Logic and with plug-ins and stuff. Then in 2014 is when I decided, OK, I want to make a guitar band, because I was really getting back into that type of music. So I bought my first guitar in 2014, and I was 24. And I bought a drum machine and a tape machine, and I just had this idea for a sound, which was I wanted to make lo-fi indie rock. You know, nothing too crazy, so I just kind of learned as I went.

Kieran: Did you play guitar?

Jackson: Not really, but because I went through music school and I knew a little bit about music theory, and I was a drummer so I had a good sense of rhythm and stuff, it wasn’t that hard to learn how to make guitar music. Because I just would play one note at a time, you know? And I knew the way the chords related each other, so I knew how to structure a song. So I knew what I was doing to some extent, but I just wasn’t a guitar player, so it sounded kind of janky, I guess, in a cool way. 

I would just run everything through a tape machine, because I had already realized that when I would record — I had for a few years made songs where I would just record straight into my audio interface with no real gear outboard anything, and it just never sounded that cool. I was like, Why does it sound so sterile and not alive? So I came to the realization that [if I] get some tape machines, it’ll give it some sort of character and distinctness that will make the music maybe feel a little bit more interesting to me. And so I didn’t really know what I was doing. I would just run everything through the tape machine and then put it into Logic, and it would just sound more like it had a character to it.

Kieran: That’s awesome. I use a lot of tape emulators, like a J37 plug-in and the Abbey Road tape stuff, but I’ve always really wanted a tape machine. What’s the best entry level? 

Jackson: I mean, it doesn’t even matter. Even just a crappy little cassette recorder is going to be cool, you know? And I do that too now. Sometimes I’m lazy and I just bypass the tape and use a plug-in or something. But I found that sometimes just a mixture, like maybe just one element through the tape machine, is all you need to make it sound really cool. But yeah, it does give it some sort of quality, and I think it resonates with people.

Kieran: What do you think this attraction of, I guess, warble — because obviously there’s the Mac DeMarco thing, which was so warbly. But that is like false nostalgia. Like, these kids have not grown up with music that sounds like that.

Jackson: They’ve grown up with Mac DeMarco. [Laughs.] 

Kieran: Yeah. I know it as like the sound of slightly out of tune tape, or whatever. But they’re hearing it as an effect.

Jackson: Yeah.

Kieran: Why do you think people love that sound so much?

Jackson: Well, I think that it taps into this thing of when things aren’t totally perfect, it has almost more of an emotional quality to it. I feel like if something’s a little bit, it’s just like if a singer is really emotive but slightly out of tune or something, it’s going to pull at your heartstrings. When everything’s perfectly in tune and very slickly recorded, it sometimes sounds sterile or emotionless or something. And they probably think like, “Oh, this is vintage.” [Laughs.] 

Kieran: Yeah. I remember getting that second Mac DeMarco record on CD and being like, Oh my god, this is incredible. And then ever since then, every band has had that over C guitar.

Jackson: He did something that really resonated with an audience, and everybody started copying it. It’s very similar to the way that so many people are copying Phoebe Bridgers now. It’s like they’ve created a whole army of replicas.

Kieran: Yeah. I mean, me and you both do songwriting sessions, but there’s a lot of female artists who I’m working with, and every lyric has to be very specific about, like, “I went to the 7-Eleven.”

Jackson: [Laughs.] You hear it all the time now. And that’s pretty cool, in the case of Phoebe Bridgers and Mac DeMarco, to be able to change the course of the genres like that, and everybody’s doing what you do. It’s just so cool to be an artist that can create a whole movement. You see it with with Phoebe Bridgers and all these — not just female artists, but all songwriters now who are doing the, “I was at 7-Eleven,” and talking about a very specific story.

Kieran: There is something about it, where you listen to and you’re like, This is just great, I’m so in the moment. Taylor Swift is really good at it as well. I guess it’s like country music, right? It’s just telling the story.

Jackson: Yeah, I’m not sure it’s the most new thing. I think it’s the combination of that style of songwriting with the way that she sings, and then you see people kind of taking not only just the style of writing, but also those kind of vocal inflections and the exact same approach.

Kieran: Like doubling the vocal gently and stuff.

Jackson: Yeah, yeah.

Kieran: Which artist have you ripped off the most? 

Jackson: When I first started, I was listening to New Order, Joy Division, the Beach Boys, and then things like Wavves and the Drums and DIIV and Beach Fossils. I loved all that stuff. And the thing, I think, that really made it easy for me to approach my music in that way was that, first of all, I wasn’t trying to do anything specifically. I was just doing what sounded cool to me. And I wasn’t a good guitar player, so when you listen to New Order and stuff, it’s so simple but it’s cool. So that sort of stuff really resonated with me, and that’s how I was able to feel comfortable approaching my music.

I think now, I’ve matured in a way that I’m able to kind of forge my own path. But those influences definitely helped me understand how to approach my music making, from the songwriting, the recording, to the approach to playing. What about you?

Kieran: Well, what I loved about those bands as well — because I was really into Beach Fossils and Wavves and all that — it felt attainable as a technique. Because it was. It was obviously lo-fi and dreamy, like the vocals were delayed and distorted and it was like, Oh, I don’t have to fully expose my voice. I can put effects on it. That was comforting. And it was a really good entry to producing your own music. Like my first tracks before, just before Circa Waves were super lo-fi, and loads of distortion on my vocals, and sort of trying to do that Julian Casablancas thing. We just rip off the Strokes all the time, to be honest.

Jackson: I mean, it’s one of the best bands ever.

Kieran: Well, with This Is It, he was one who put loads of distortion on his vocals and that gave him a bit of a shield, I guess. And I felt exactly the same way, because I didn’t really want to be a lead singer necessarily. I always just wanted to make music, and I was always quite scared of singing in front of people. But definitely The Strokes for me and all the same bands that you said. I think our first record we called Circa Waves, and that was because I was listening to loads of Wavves, and one of our first songs was called “Fossils” because I was listening to lots of Beach Fossils.

Jackson: [Laughs.] That’s so funny.

Kieran: So, what’s next for you? Are you going to keep releasing records?

Jackson: I definitely want to keep releasing records, because that I have not lost that internal sort of fire that’s like, Make cool songs. I definitely I don’t have that internal drive to be like, Make cool Instagram Reels, but I do have the drive to make cool songs. And so I’m going to keep doing that as long as I feel that. And I definitely want to continue as a producer, because it is kind of fulfilling to help other artists achieve a cool recording in a cool song. So I think that’ll outlive whatever band I do, whether it’s Day Wave or if I ever start a new one. I think the thing that will always be there is I want to be producing in whatever way.

What do you think the next five years have in store?

Kieran: I don’t know, man. I mean, I’ve got a three year old child now, so I’m doing a lot of family stuff. We’re probably not touring as much, but we’re still touring quite a lot. We’ve got a few a few months away this year. And we’ve got this record, and then I would like to make another record quite quickly after it — like do a year in between as opposed to two years, because it’s that sort of thing as you’re getting older, you’re like, I want to just keep making music.

Jackson: Yeah, I put out an album in June, and I’m already working on the next one. I’m just getting right back to it.

Kieran: Yeah. This is part of being frugal: If your record label’s not spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on you every time you really release record, you can be like, “I want to do another record now.”

Jackson: Yeah, and that lends itself more towards the current landscape of the industry, which is like, more music is better. People are going to be like, “Wow, I love this song. Can I have more, please?” Everyone wants more all the time, so it’s helpful to be able to churn it out, as long as it’s not total crap.

Kieran: That’s what’s really cool for us, as well, being able to produce it yourself and get it to a point where it’s releasable, or close to being releasable. That is just such a cool tool to have.

Jackson: That’s a luxury, yeah.

Kieran: I would recommend that to any young person: just learn how to use Logic.

Jackson: Do it all yourself. Yeah, absolutely. 

(Photo Credit: left, Daniel Topete)

Day Wave is the project of Jackson Phillips. His EP Crush is out 4/24 via PIAS Recording.

(Photo Credit: Daniel Topete)