Jess Day is On Her Way to Achieving Pop-Rock Hook Mastery, One Single at a Time

Photo by Daniel Sutherland

Photo by Daniel Sutherland

Jess Day does it all herself.

“I remember having a conversation with a guy once, trying to explain that my band members are essentially session musicians and I teach them all the parts… and he couldn’t comprehend that I wrote the instrumentation,” the Australian musician says. And while she sometimes wonders how she would fare in a more collaborative band environment, this is what works for her now. “I do like having 100% creative control with this project because I feel like my idea doesn’t get watered down at all. I don’t have to compromise the potency of it.”

Potent is certainly a good way to explain the killer singles Day has been dropping since 2018. While none of them are explicitly part of some greater project, every bit, from the instrumentation to the vocals, is delivered with a deftness that makes them feel more substantial than your standard LP appetizer. This is especially apparent with the songs released after her first single, “Waiting,” a sweet and somewhat melancholy singer-songwriter tune that was borne of a strangely practical revelation of Day’s.

“I never really was able to be in a band because I didn’t really have a lot of people around me that were into music,” she explains. “When I heard “Pool Party” [by Julia Jacklin], I was like, ‘Oh, this is music from a genre that I don’t usually listen to that I really like still.’ And then I was like, ‘Well, if I can’t do alt rock, I can try writing a folky sort of song because all I really need is myself to do it.”

The experiment worked, and some version of Jess Day was born, albeit one that was hiding the harder-edged Jess Day behind her like a kid trying to shove the contraband away before the teacher walks by. Not that there was any grand plan — she wanted to write, so she found the best way for a former country-kid transplant with a limited musical network to do it.

Despite its folk outfitting, Day’s second single “Why is She So Beautiful,” has the earworm power of a pop song with layers of expert production. “Oh, she’s funny like me, but makes your friends laugh harder/I hope you finish her like a dog with a bone,” Day laments during the second verse. Her voice is easily recognizable, with a storytelling-like cadence that gives off the impression that she is simply speaking the words directly to you in some secret treehouse fort, ones and zeroes between her and the listener be damned.

She describes her lyrics as functioning as “an open letter” to their subjects, but more importantly, as a hand extended to anyone else who may be headed for the same pain. “I’m like, ‘I feel like shit’…But I hope that by the time [other people] feel like that, maybe my song will be out as comfort.”

The core truth of ourselves always finds a way to out, and with each new release, Day sheds another piece of that indie-folk label, letting it flutter away into the wind with a fond but necessary farewell. “I went through a really awful breakup with someone who was pretty emotionally abusive,” she says. “After that, I had a lot of anger and resentment and I feel like the music that could express that was rockier music. I couldn’t see my words in an indie folk song. It just didn’t give me the release that I needed.”

And so came “Rabbit Hole,” a searing dress-down of an ex (and my favorite single of 2019). “I’ve got things on my mind to say to you/and they’re not very nice but they’re all very true,” Day sings with a purposefully detached air, like she doesn’t want anyone to know the true depth of her disturbance. “My whole point of writing songs is to articulate, I guess, like, our shadow self – the parts of us that we might not want to look at,” Day explains. “But I know everyone’s feeling [it]. We’re just not talking about it as much because it makes us feel vulnerable.”

It’s this “shadow self” element that is one of the major parts of Day’s appeal. Frequently, we try to distill our distress into something pithy and simple, citing bad exes, toxic friends, or unrequited feelings. But what do you do when your ex gets a new girlfriend who you wish you could hate… but just can’t? What do you do when you simply want to admit defeat, as Day does in “Rabbit Hole” when she sings “misery loves company/you took all the best in me”? And what do you do when you’re watching from the outside in as you drag yourself down by your own ankles?

In “Affection,” released in late 2019, Day stares down at the already smoldering refuse of a failing relationship, but just can’t stop herself  from asking for what no one should have to ask for in the first place: “I can’t have you come around once a month/I need some attention/I need some affection,” she sings, letting the last word repeat itself almost too many times, pulling back just before you start to feel as hair-tearingly frustrated as she must have been when she wrote it.

On her most recent single, “Signals,” Day attempts to come to terms with her current reality, summing it up in one single line: “Everybody says that time heals all wounds/but they’re so wrong.” How refreshing, if anything, to dispel the notion that false platitudes and declarations of newfound independence will heal a broken heart or a bad decision. Music is always an exercise in structured voyeurism — why else are people so obsessed with deciphering Taylor Swift’s catalog? — but what has me itching for more of Day’s music is the lack of a overly-sympathetic editorial hand that looks to hide away any “ugly” feelings. Fact of the matter is, there isn’t much fundamentally “ugly” about anything Day admits to wanting in her songs: to hate someone she is jealous of; to desire affection; to stop fighting to stave off the hurt from falls deemed irreparable. These are pretty simple, fallible human wants, albeit ones we have been taught to be ashamed of. That’s why her songs have such staying power.

Interestingly, for Day, it seems like this project is a lot less about the performance aspect than it is about trying to achieve the kind of songwriting prowess that places certain works in the lexicon of collective cultural memory. “Max Martin is definitely my favorite songwriter,” she says. “He did Kelly Clarkson, anything that was kind of pop but had chunky, heavy guitars in it… it’s just amazing. He’s probably the best songwriter in the world.” Day’s awe for Martin is palpable, and makes it clear that her goal is, fundamentally, to be the person behind the curtain, the one who places all the cogs just right, the hooks just so. And if people like Day are the ones gearing up to direct pop and rock into a new decade, I’m looking forward to her next move, whether it be from behind the curtain or in front of it.

Follow Jess Day on Facebook for ongoing updates.


[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Photo by Jen Maler.
Photo by Jen Maler.

Early in the evening, I found myself at a soundcheck at a hole-in-the-wall called Friends and Lovers in Prospect Heights.  Even if they were just messing around to adjust levels, I was jarred by their large presence filling up the small space.  Bi-coastal, genre-bending newcomers Faulkner are quickly rising through the ranks with their tastefully aggressive sound.  Comprised of Lucas Asher (singer, guitarist), Dimitri Farougias (bassist), Eric Scullin (multi-instrumentalist), and Christian Hogan (drums), they are feeding on the positive acclaim for their EP Revanchist, and inching closer to the release of their first full-length album, Street Axioms.

Intimidatingly tall and sarcastic, yet sweet, Asher, Scullin, and Farougias opened up on topics like the recording process, working with the RZA, and nudism just before their show as a part of Mondo NYC.

Ysabella Monton for AudioFemme: First thing’s first, what creatively do you think each other brings to the project?

Lucas Asher: Eric brings the production and arrangement, and musicianship.  Dimitri, mostly rhythm, holding the rhythm down and performance, like incredible energy.  And then I’m a songwriter.

One thing I drew from is that you tend to cross genres — there’s no real boundary there.  Where do those influences come from?

Dimitri Farougias:  A lot of  ’70s, you know, some ’70s punk there, some ’80s pop, and ’90s hip-hop all kinda blended together.  No specific references, but those genres definitely come into our songs.

Does the songwriting and production cross over as well?  Is there a real cut process to it, or does it just happen?

DF: Lucas will bring the basic structure and the melody and the works, and the rest of the band will — or the entire band, actually — will just come into the room and start putting all the pieces together. All the instrumentation, everyone will write their parts.  It’s fairly, fairly smooth.  Everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do in the band, and it’s a very painless process.

So the album is coming together?

LA: Yeah, we released our EP called Revanchist, so that’s out right now, and then the album, you can look for it a little bit later in the fall.

And Revanchist, it’s very much a conceptual album.  Without explaining exactly where you went with it, where does that come from?

LA:  It has very strong themes of retribution, um those are found in the songs “Waters Are Rising” —

DF and Eric Scullin:  “Keep Your Enemies Closer”.

LA: Right.  There’s also a strong visual component that’s parallel to the music that’s reflected by the cover art, as well as the music video for “Revolutionary” which people can check out on YouTube.

And the album, is that meant to be conceptual as well?

LA:  Yeah.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

faulkner 3
Photo by Jen Maler.

So Lucas, your decision to move to New York?

LA:  I ran away from my orphanage in Oklahoma.

And since songwriting influences come a lot from life experiences, I know specifically you started writing a lot when you first came here. 

LA:  I think my biggest songwriting influence is 50 Cent, so…

DF:  Poetry.

LA:  Yeah, so just a lot of it, honestly, is from the streets, because I lived on the streets for a minute.  So coming up off the streets.

It’s a really cool way that you guys play with hip-hop, especially having worked with RZA from Wu-Tang, that’s amazing.

DF:  Yeah, that was wonderful.  That was really amazing.  It was really cool to write with him and record with him.  He originally signed on to produce a demo we sent him, and once we got into the studio with him at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La, he really got into it.  He just got in the booth and started writing, spit the illest verse, so that was really magical.  That was definitely a highlight.

There have been some other big names there too, though.

DF:  Yeah!  JP Bowersock, who worked with The Strokes —

ES:  He’s also an expert of chardonnay.  He will school you in chardonnay.

DF:  He can school you in a lot of things.

ES:  He’s a connoisseur of a lot of things.  He’s a sommelier as well.

DF:  Yeah, a connoisseur.  And then Mark Needham, who worked with The Killers and Imagine Dragons, and a whole lot of other acts.  He’s a very predominant mixer, engineer, producer in rock music.

ES:  He’s a mix pirate.  He’s got a toucan on his shoulder.  Like a parrot.  He just talks like a pirate, always making these funny sounds.

So, the trajectory of things that have been happening in the last couple of years, since you guys formed in 2013…

DF:  It’s happened very organically, you know.  I don’t know, we’re very hard workers, but we also need a lot of different elements for all of this to happen.  We have a great team that supports us, and we’re all very hard workers and dedicated to what we do.  Only good things can come from those elements.

So the festival that’s going on right now, Mondo, how did you guys get into that?

LA:  We heard it was a nudist festival, and then they told us no.

DF:  Yeah when we got here, we were pretty bummed out to be honest.

LA:  But we had already committed by that point, so…

DF:  We were ready to take it all off, and they were like, “No no no no, stop!”

It’s a very new thing for New York City, Mondo Fest. How did you sign onto it?

LA:  Our team brought it to us, and we have like, this punk rock attitude about playing shows.  We’ll play anywhere, at any time.  Not to sound desperate –

DF:  No, we love to play.  We love to play, we love to make new fans all the time, we love to meet people.

LA:  And we love New York.  We’ve been in New York for almost every week we’ve been in LA.

How did you all originally meet?  

DF:  The LA music scene.  We were all in different projects, different bands, and then Lucas kinda brought us all together.

LA:  And that’s the PR version.  I was on looking for matches.

ES:  And then I came up, and I was like, fuck it, we’ll give it a shot.

That’s on the record.  That’s the real story now.

DF:  We met on a nudist beach on Ibiza.

ES and LA:  Yeah.

Just playing music.

ALL:  Yeah.

But really, the LA music scene.  What are the differences between the scenes here and there?

ES: I don’t know, I mean, LA seems to kinda be more central lately.  I’ve noticed people moving from NY to LA.  It’s more of a hub for music.  And I have my studio there, it would be a lot to

LA:  Studio plug!

ES:  [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][laughs] Yeah.

LA:  What’s your studio called?  Radio Quality Sounds?

ES: Yeah, it’s really, really nice.  I’m kidding.  My point is, to have the space like that here is not the same.  LA’s got a lot more space, and people move there increasingly.  I’m seeing more and more people headed there.  And I grew up there, so I love it.

LA:  I prefer New York, but it seems like LA is…there’s more of a live element right now.

ES:  Different vibes.  You gotta do both.  I prefer to live in New York and visit LA often.  They’re very different.  [pause] Wait, I meant live in LA, visit New York often.

LA:  The inverse of what you said.

ES:  Basically, anything I say I mean the opposite.

So you’re not nudists.

ALL:  Yeah.

Photo by Jen Maler.
Photo by Jen Maler.

Have you done any recording in New York?

ES:  Yeah we did at Avatar, which used to be the Record Plant,

DF:  Amazing studio.

ES:  Awesome.  Neve console, great room. Recording here is a different vibe.  Space too, you know.  Everything is on the third floor of some weird building.  LA is a different vibe.

LA:  You have to grab the piano.

ES:  Yeah, I have to carry my Steinway alone upstairs.  It’s terrible.

 No help from these guys?

ES:  Not at all.

I’ve heard about that kind of stuff from other people, saying they’ve gotten snowed into studios here in the winter or something.

ES:  Yeah, I can see that.  That’s not happening in Malibu.

I just wonder what it is about LA that draws people in.

LA:  I think it’s part of our generation as well.  Not to wax on here, but “I feel like everyone in the millennial generation is down to go anywhere.  People aren’t as chained to where they were born for example.

One hundred percent.

LA:  I blame Instagram for that.

DF:  Everyone’s a travel blogger.

Yeah, the glorification of that lifestyle.  Well, thank you guys so much for taking this time with me today, I appreciate it.

ES:  We appreciate it too.  All the knowledge off the top of your head, it’s amazing.

I do a little research!

LA:  You didn’t find any criminal records?

Not yet, I guess I didn’t look deep enough.

LA:  Look deeper.

It’s just stuff about nudity, right?

ES: Our interview is basically, “Faulkner: The Nudist Band You Need to Get to Know Now!”

I guess we took the wrong pictures for this article.