As Day Wave, California native Jackson Phillips takes influence from the Beach Boys, Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine and turns it into beautifully deconstructed dream pop. While studying as a jazz drummer at Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music, Jackson got turned onto FM synthesis and electronic music production. Even though analog gear – guitars, drums, synths and ’70s reel-to-reel tape player – remains at the core of his sound today, a computer running Logic and Native Instruments plug-ins is crucial to his recording, mixing and mastering process, whether producing for himself or people like Pete Yorn and Hazel English.
“The sounds that really go along with Day Wave are vintage tape machines, guitars, drum machine loops and the Juno 60,” he explains. “A lot of people say it’s California-sounding, I think because of the combination of the Fender Telecaster guitar with the spring reverbs. It has that kind of Beach Boys timbre, you know. It sounds like a full band, even though it’s just me.”
And it’s those West Coast sounds that provide the vibes of his recent single “Potions,” which you can remix right now over on metapop. Just grab the stems, spin them into your own take on Day Wave’s sound, and you could win a top prize that includes KOMPLETE 12 ULTIMATE.
On a recent episode of Real Talk – our weekly Instagram Live show with Vivian Host aka Star Eyes – Jackson served up some killer tips on how he writes indie rock songs using electronic means.
Watch the entire Real Talk episode here:
I’m really interested in how you use the reel-to-reel tape machine in your production process. Can you talk us through what it’s hooked up to and what you use it for?
When I started doing Day Wave, I had already been making music for a few years and recording my own songs. I was having a lot of trouble and getting really frustrated with how sterile it sounded. I had a preamp and a nice interface. I even had a Juno and some analog instruments, but I was struggling because everything sounded like it had no character. I started getting cassette machines and I was instantly like, “This sounds so cool.” But when it came to releasing music I didn’t want to alienate anyone by being too lo-fi. So I started messing around with what would be the step up – which are these great 1970s consumer reel-to-reels – just to get a little more character in my recordings. They kind of have the right balance of lo-fi-ness. I’ve got this big one, which is cool, but it’s this little TEAC A-2300 that has all the magic.
I’ve found a few different ways to utilize the reel-to-reel. One really basic way I’ve used a lot is recording instruments one at a time through the tape machine and then from there just getting it right into the DAW. For instance, I have a song I started and I used Battery to make a drum loop, then I ran the drum loop through the tape machine and then back into the computer. And then from there, I can kind of just record everything to tape – like a melody on the Juno – and then align it with the drum loop. You can see something I recorded onto tape and that’s going into this Warm preamp, and from there it’s going into my Apogee Ensemble interface and I have it coming up here in Logic. I do everything one at a time through the tape machine. I don’t really utilize the four-track situation, you know.
So when you’re talking about making the drums in Battery – are you using the sounds within Battery, or sampling live drums, or yourself drumming?
A lot of times I sample my own drum kit and I can throw that in. A lot of times I just use the packs that are inside Battery, because I can utilize them easily as a loop – and then afterwards I can build other drums around that, but it’s a great way to get started. That’s one reason I really love Battery because I can just create drum loops so quickly and you can do so much within Battery that you just get off and going so fast. And then once I record my drum loop that I’ve come up with onto the tape, that’s really when I’m off and running. You can hear afterwards, there’s a lot more saturation.
Depending on what you’re going for, you can layer kicks and kind of EQ them so you’re just getting certain frequencies out of each individual kick. That’s a cool way to go, but sometimes you don’t really need that – it just depends on how big you want your drum sounds to be. Sometimes I like them small. Sometimes I just use my little TR-606, the dinky little drum machine. And a lot of times what I’ll do is just have programmed drums with not many layers, but then I’ll use my drum machines on top of that and kind of EQ those in – so I have loops going on, as well as programmed drums.
What would come next for you in the songwriting process after the drums?
Guitars. A lot of times I like to build my guitars based around single-note lines, kind of like a New Order or Joy Division style. I find that you can come up with more interesting harmonies that way rather than playing chords. A lot of times, unless you’re using open tunings and stuff, you fall into the same harmonic blocky-ness, or like playing the same chords.
So after that drum loop, I added a little bassline with the guitar. And then I would go from there and add another higher guitar in a different melody. Those guitars are all pretty saturated from the tape machine and then afterwards I’m using pretty much all Native Instruments processing. I really love the Komplete Solid EQ and the Vc 76, which is like UA’s classic 1176 compressor. And the Driver Distortion Filter! I use it essentially like another preamp. It’s got great distortion and just gives it a nice color, if you’re looking for that extra character and gain. You can kind of dial it the way you like it – it just gives it a little boost.
I’ve also been using Rc 48 Reverb and the Solid Bus Compressor (on the Glue setting), which are part of Komplete. You can see I’m using a lot of the same plug-ins on stuff but I’m not just copy-pasting the settings—I make sure each compressor is hitting the right gain reduction for each instrument. But I really like to go with just a good solid EQ and a solid compressor – you know, you can just get so far with just that much.
The key to vocals is bussing them separately. A lot of times, if you’re running them all through the same reverbs and stuff, you’re going to get a lot of frequencies that you may want to try and get out of there.
Let’s talk about the vocals, specifically what kind of effects chain you might put on those.
I usually just layer my vocals. I don’t really put chorus effects on them. I usually have three or four vocal layers (of me singing the same thing) in the chorus. So you’re going to get a chorusing effect just naturally. I have one take in the middle, and then I have the other two panned a little bit to the sides, like at 10. I’m kind of sandwiching the one in the middle with the two doubles on the sides. Then I kind of pull those down in volume a tiny bit and then you can just adjust how much kind of chorusing you want. You never want to copy-paste the same vocal – you’re going to get phase canceling and it’s going to sound terrible. You gotta sing it three times, as good as you can! If you ever want to double things, you always play it multiple times. If it’s a VST or a soft-synth you’re doubling, you probably want to detune it a little bit or put an effect on it.
I actually never do the Elliott Smith-like hard pan on each side. I mean, that does sound really good when you’re dealing with a more sparse track, maybe an acoustic song or something, but I find that it just makes the track a little too top heavy or something. When I hardpan the vocals, it takes away from the groove a little bit, in my opinion, so I don’t go too extreme. But when I have these high octaves and it allows me to spread these ones out further, I have the higher ones panned at 30 one way and 30 the other way. With the higher octaves and the background oohs and ahhhs, I can pan those higher out and I keep the main closer to the center.
What’s your strategy on how you bus everything, particularly vocals?
For instance, with the three verse vocals, I sent their outputs to Bus 2, on which I have a little EQ, a little spring reverb and I was messing with Oeksound’s Soothe. I do group things together but I don’t normally use the sends, I like to use the outputs. That way if I’m using a reverb, I can use the mix knob rather than adjusting the send. I grouped together verse vocals and I processed those differently than the chorus vocals, which are on a separate bus. And if I’ve got high falsettos I group those and maybe put a little more reverb on them so they’re not so shrill. I group guitars just depending on what it is, but I do bus a lot of stuff. Like, my verse guitars are all on different tracks from my chorus guitars and my verse bass. I keep everything separate. So then when I get to the chorus, if I need to give it a boost, it’s very easy because it’s all on separate tracks.
The key to vocals is bussing them separately. A lot of times, if you’re running them all through the same reverbs and stuff, you’re going to get a lot of frequencies that you may want to try and get out of there. If all your harmonies and high octaves and main vocals are bussed to the same reverb, you may be taking out frequencies that you still want in your main vocals while you’re trying to take them away from the highs only. I like to keep them bussed separately so that I can do some subtractive EQing.
Which Native Instruments plug-ins are your favorite or do you end up using the most?
I love all the EQs and compressors and things like that, obviously. I do a lot of production for other people as well – pop music and R&B – so I use a lot of different Native Instruments stuff depending on what music I’m making. When I’m working on Day Wave stuff, I’m mostly using analog instruments so I’m mainly using the EQs and compressors and processing plugins. But yeah, Massive X is great. Battery, Reaktor, Kontakt I use all the time, especially if I’m just sampling – you know, sampling something off YouTube or just trying to find weirder sounds.
You can kind of load anything you want into it, which is why I love it. And there’s just so many great parameters within it. Of course, it comes with a lot of great sample libraries that I use quite a bit. But it’s easy to throw in my own samples and mess with them. You can speed up some songs, or slow them down and it’s pretty fun. There’s so much you can do to one sample, especially once you go into the wave editor and change how you cut it up, the pitch, etcetera.
I know that most people associate Native Instruments with electronic or pop music but you can make great rock albums or indie rock using all this Native Instruments stuff. You know, nowadays everything is done in the box for the most part. And even a lot of mixing and mastering is going to be done inside the box as well. So yeah, it’s really a good thing for whatever genre you’re doing.
Watch other episodes in the Real Talk series here.
Enter the “Potions” remix competition on metapop before September 6.