Right before the end of 2016, I got the amazing opportunity to interview JW Sargent. Working for a magazine, we get offered a lot and I mean A LOT of music to review, and I always check out what’s sent. JW Sargent surprised me and I quickly sent his EP “In Retrograde” off to Julie for review. You can check out her review here. He surprised her too and so it was only a matter of time before we got him on here to talk about this refreshing EP.
CITP: Previously you were in different bands and In Retrograde is your first solo project. I’m sure there was a lot of difficulty going from being a member of a band to doing it all yourself. Were there any difficulties that surprised you?
JW Sargent: The biggest and most surprising difficulty in the transition to becoming a solo artist for me was learning how to trust my own voice. I have always written in the context of a band where there are other people involved in the writing process to bounce ideas off of and help develop the songs. Essentially, someone who corroborates that your ideas are cool or suggests something else when its not so cool. Without that counterpoint in the writing process, I found myself second guessing my ideas a lot and agonizing over a lot of small details.
CITP: Your first single from In Retrograde was Run, but the first video to be released was Constant. Why was that?
JW Sargent: There were a few reasons for that. First, Constant was shot before Run was even written. I shot Constant early in the writing process thinking that I would build the EP around that as the single but as I kept writing, I wrote Run and felt like that had a more upbeat single feel. But I think it worked out really well – since this was my first release I wanted to put out as much as I could right away to give people more to listen to if they liked my sound. Also, since Constant and Run have pretty different vibes, I wanted to try to paint a more accurate picture of myself as an artist right from the beginning.
CITP: It seems as if your music is being released very quickly. Run was your debut single from the album, and it was followed up quickly with Constant’s music video. At the beginning of December, the video for Run was released. This seems to be a more common thing. From a musician’s point of view, why do you think there’s more of a rush to get music out there?
JW Sargent: For me, it was about giving people more songs to listen to right away. But I think in a lot of cases, since music has become so much more consumable than it has been and with things like Spotify and iTunes where you can stream any song you can think of at any time, its always a battle for an artist to not wind up as just another song on another playlist that someone forgot about. So I think by releasing things on a shorter timeline it allows you to build up some hype and then maintain people’s interest by releasing something shortly after.
CITP: Why an EP and not a full album?
JW Sargent: I wanted to do an EP because I was really excited to get some music out into the world. I had been working on this project for a few years in some form or another by the time that I decided to release in November and that’s a long time to keep something you’ve worked really hard on and are really proud of a secret.
CITP: In the process of working on In Retrograde, you got to work with some amazing people both on the music side and the production side. If you could pick anyone to work with, who would it be? Would it be on the music side or the production side?
JW Sargent: I would probably have to say Justin Vernon on the music side. I can’t imagine playing music with him not being super creative and inspiring. Its clear that he is not afraid to push boundaries and try different things so I feel like songs that come out of that mindset would be pretty cool.
CITP: You said on Facebook that you started this project in a makeshift studio you built in your apartment. What gear did you use to record with and what was the sound quality like?
JW Sargent: Fortunately, I had access to some really cool gear throughout the recording process, so the sound quality was pretty good but the implementation in my apartment was pretty weird. I set up my desk in the living room of my apartment and ran cables to the walk in closet of my bedroom where I miced amps and tracked vocals. The closet was full of clothes which helped isolate the sound from the amps and keep out the sound of the bar that I lived above during vocals. Vocals were really tricky because the whole place was really old and the closet had this old florescent tube light that turned on when the door opened. The light bulb made a ton of electrical noise so it had to be off when I was recording which meant I had to close myself in this closet and sing in the dark. The worst part of that though was that the apartment didn’t have AC and the window units couldn’t be on while tracking because they were too loud so it was insanely hot. So I basically had to track all of the songs in my underwear, in my closet, in the dark. Weird times.
As far as gear goes, I mainly used a custom Tele and a Gibson ES339 through a Vox AC30 and a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I bought a few Strymon pedals throughout the recording process that were really cool and I used them a ton. Everything went through an Apogee Duet II into Logic. I used a Native Instruments Maschine for a lot of midi drums and samples. I tracked vocals using a Boch condenser mic through a Vintech mic pre that I borrowed from a friend and used a bunch of Waves and Soundtoys plugins afterwards.
CITP: You are described as a multi-instrumentalist. What instruments do you play?
JW Sargent: I play guitar, bass, keys, and I sing. I play some drums too but not at the level that I could play the drum parts that I programmed well so I brought in Justin Nace and Evan Chapman to make them sound good. Outside of those three drum tracks, I recorded myself playing everything on the EP.
CITP: If you could pick any two bands to open for you when you tour, who would they be?
JW Sargent: That’s a tough question! I guess if any bands are on the table, I would love to tour with The Japanese House and Copeland. I think Amber Bain’s style of vocal modulation in The Japanese House is super sick and I love how creative the songs are while still being accessible. Copeland is one of my all time favorite bands, I have tons of respect for Aaron Marsh as a songwriter and producer and I think the band just crushes it overall.
CITP: What was your favorite album of 2016?
JW Sargent: I guess if I can only pick one, I thought that the new Bon Iver album was really cool. I really respect Justin Vernon as an artist and I thought he was super creative on the new record.
CITP: You’re just starting out as a solo artist, but you’ve spent a lot of time in bands. Do you have any advice? Something that you feel you wish you would have known earlier on?
JW Sargent: The biggest piece of advice I would have would be to trust your voice and your sound. Its easy to fall into the trap of doing things or not doing them due to the status quo or popular trends. When I was younger I played in bands where we wrote songs that we thought we were supposed to write to get signed or appeal to a certain demographic. Later on, I figured out that changes in trend or popularity of styles only happens when people aren’t afraid to step out of the box and do something different. For me, I have so much more pride in my work when it comes from a genuine place than when I do what I think other people expect of me. Don’t write other peoples’ songs – trust your voice and create your own sound.
Check out the music video for “Run” here!