JP Saxe is astonishingly profound and fascinating. A discovery I’ve been lucky enough to experience firsthand. The moment we had gotten acquainted, it felt as if JP was an old friend of mine who set out to conquer the music industry, and came back to tell me what he learned about life along the way. JP is very much in touch with his emotions, a feat that isn’t always as simple as it seems, and expressed the importance of how opening yourself up to vulnerability isn’t always a bad thing. His reflections prompt you to sit back and question if you are being truthful to yourself, emphasizing the importance of being open to the ones you love, and walking the complicated tightrope of being a human with emotions. Maybe this is what makes him so successful. Maybe we can all learn a thing or two from JP Saxe. I know I did. With multiple Grammy nominations and Juno Awards under his belt, I think it’s safe to say that we are witnessing an amazing career, with only more highs, music milestones, and valuable life lessons to come.
JP Saxe is a Canadian-born, LA-based singer-songwriter known for his candid and introspective songwriting. He gained widespread recognition with the hit song “If The World Was Ending,” featuring Julia Michaels, which earned a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year and reached over one billion streams. His debut album, Dangerous Levels of Introspection, received critical acclaim and featured collaborations with artists like Maren Morris and John Mayer, who he is currently on tour with. JP Saxe has made notable appearances on various TV shows and amassed over 2.5 billion streams.
Before the release of his new album, A Grey Area, we discussed how very few things are ever binary, why your strength is rooted in your confidence and vulnerability, and what the pinnacle of success is to him.
How are you feeling about the release of A Grey Area?
JP Saxe: Thank you. I’m a combination of overwhelmed, deeply excited, and sleepy for the right reasons. I realized earlier this year that not being sleepy is out of the question so I make sure I’m sleepy for good reasons. Since I’m doing things I love, with people I love, and working on things I care about — so far, so good on that goal.
Can you share the inspiration behind the album and the overall themes that you explored on it?
JP: So I wrote a bunch of it in Colombia. I spent a number of months in 2022 living in Colombia, learning Spanish and writing songs. I was in Medellín, and every morning I took a Spanish class and went to the studio after that. I would sit alone at the piano and try and figure out my feelings melodically and I didn’t anticipate how learning a language was going to impact the way I thought in my own language. One of the first things you learn in another language is how the words for emotions mean slightly different things, and I think at the center of songwriting, is trying to capture the nuances of a feeling in a more detailed capacity than you would be able to do with just words. Learning a different language almost gave me another angle on my own emotional experience in English, which is fascinating. I think it informed this whole album, being me trying to come to terms with how many emotions can exist at the same time, without canceling each other out. Have you ever had a bunch of feelings about the same thing and it makes you confused… but really you’re confused only because you’re trying to figure out which one’s right. If you just accept that, they’re actually all there for a reason and if you can let all of those emotions in at the same time, you get to have this bigger human experience. I haven’t figured out how to do this necessarily, but I think these songs are part of my processing of letting multiple, even contradictory emotions exist at the same time. I haven’t exactly figured out how to say this in a simple way yet, because it doesn’t feel simple to me.
You’ve collaborated with some incredible artists like John Mayer, Camilo, and Tiny Habits on this album. Can you tell us what each collaboration brought to the table?
JP: Well, I mean, John is one of my favorite artists. I really love him and I had been writing “I Don’t Miss You” for years and that felt like a particularly challenging emotional needle to thread. I couldn’t figure out what the first line of the chorus was supposed to be. I had the whole song, but I had the very first line, “I don’t miss you”. I just tried and tried and tried and I could not find it and I decided I needed to phone a friend. So I thought, “I think John may know the answer to this lyric.” I asked him what he thought and he said, “I don’t know right now, but come to the studio and I’ll play a bunch of guitars and maybe we’ll think of it,” and it worked.
Camilo is like my brother, I love him so much and he’s one of my favorite artists in the world. He’s also one of a few people who convinced me that Medellín was where I should be writing the album. He’s a Colombian artist and it just felt perfect to have him be a part of it. His wife, whom I’ve also collaborated with, sang the Spanish version of “If the World Was Ending” with me. So it was this big Latin family affair and I was so grateful for them. “Everything Ends” features Lisa McAlpine and Tiny Habits — I’m just such a huge fan of both of them. They just lit up that song and it came about in a cool way because we were all in an Uber together, playing each other our songs and that was one they particularly liked, so I just asked them to collaborate with me.
Who would you say is your dream collaboration?
JP: It depends on the day. I was listening to the Olivia Rodrigo album yesterday, which I found really inspiring, but I just think music is such a team sport. If I f*ck with someone’s art, I wanna make art with them. I also work as a songwriter so I work with other artists sometimes too. I’ve gotten to work with a lot that I really love and to me, there are no limitations on that. If we’re friends and I like your music, I wanna make songs with you.
Your single “Caught Up On You” has a unique and playful lyrical approach. Could you elaborate on the creative process behind that and how it fits into the overall narrative of the album?
JP: That was the night I was introduced to a drink called Amaretto, on the rocks. I’ve never had that before. I have the alcohol palette of a 17-year-old. I just think the sugary-er, the better. But it looks like you’re drinking whiskey. It’s a trick I get to maintain my performative masculinity while drinking something delicious. That’s important to this story because the song was a bit of a pivot point in the album. I was writing somewhat of a concept album on my belief that love can be over and real at the same time, and I’ve written all these songs on the idea that love could be over and real at the same time. Then I realized that the idea of spending 18 months of my life talking about that idea was just exhausting. There’s a lot of this album that explores that idea, the validity of non-endless love that if your relationships don’t end with death, it doesn’t mean they were an utter waste of time. I believe all of that. Most of the time, I’m just messing around with my friends, talking about weird sh*t. I invited a bunch of my friends over and one of them introduced me to the drink. I, then, sat in the corner of the studio drinking it, and wrote nine of the weirdest verses I’ve ever written in my life. After that, I picked my favorite four and they became the song. All of my friends played the song and it was just this fun, joyful experience.
Your previous singles, like “Everything Ends” and “I Don’t Miss You” are fan favorites. How do you think the songs of “A Grey Area” compare to your previous work?
JP: It’s as rambly as it always is. Just me saying weird shit about what it’s felt like to be myself. What it’s felt like to be myself has been different because I’m writing about a different time in my life. One of the blessings of writing exclusively true stories is you don’t have to try too hard to be consistent because you’ve got built-in consistency and that you’re in the same world the whole time.
What can your listeners expect in terms of musical evolution?
JP: The production definitely evolved. I worked with a new producer on this album, a guy named Malay, who was my dream producer from the moment I moved to Los Angeles because he produced Channel Orange and Blonde, which were two of my favorite albums ever.
You’ve had significant success with your debut album, “Dangerous Levels of Introspection”.
JP: Such a pretentious title. I recovered from that a little bit. It took being locked in my home to think dangerous levels of introspection was an appropriate thing to call something. A Grey Area feels slightly more grounded in reality. That certainty is a bit of a myth and very few things are ever binary.
Your tour with John Mayer — what can fans expect from the performances on this tour?
JP: Well, we’ve done six shows already and we have 23 more. The six in the spring, were six of my favorite nights of my life, particularly the one at Scotiabank [Arena] because this was my hometown arena debut. John came out during my set and sang, “I Don’t Miss You” with me in Toronto, which was deeply special and I was shocked. Who comes out to sing with their opener? It’s truly different every night. It’s an intimate concert and people make requests from the audience causing there to be different songs every night. It really does feel like hanging out with John.
You’ve been recognized with Grammy nominations and Juno Awards. How do you handle the pressure and expectations that come along with such prominent awards?
JP: Pressure? I haven’t really associated the Juno’s or Grammy’s with pressure. Do you think I should?
No, I don’t think you should. I think it’s great that you don’t. But it’s common.
JP: If anything, it’s like I already won, I can do whatever the fuck I want. I feel very lucky and grateful that my songs pay my rent, that’s f*cking cool. That’s the win beyond that.
Talk to me about your music videos. What’s that process like?
JP: “Caught Up On You” was particularly fun. My buddy Matthew Takes directed it and we had an amazing art direction team. My friend Donny, who’s part of the art team around the album, was one of the people I met in Colombia. There’s something going on in Medellín where people are just freakishly brilliant. I’d be very grateful to work with a lot of those people, but for “Caught Up On You”, I wanted to take the idea of a gray area, make it, and then fuck it up. We built this room, a completely gray room, monochromatic, top to bottom. The books were gray, and the stuff on the table was great. Gray everything. I was even gray. Then as the song progressed, little elements of the room turned to colors and there was a piano in the room turned to color. I had this colorful suit from the album cover and then the paint started spilling out the walls. I was as on the nose about the metaphor as I could have possibly been.
What’s the message you’re trying to convey with that?
JP: I feel like a child when we make music videos and art because it just feels like arts and crafts. It technically is — we’re just making weird imaginative art projects. I used to feel a little bit daunted by the visual elements of my music because I feel like I’ve spent 15 years learning how to express myself in songs and I don’t know anything about visual art. Yet, I have to find a way for it to be tied in. I’ve since started finding it way more fun because I just get to collaborate with all these amazing people.
I understand that you write songs to explore your personal journey and you speak candidly about life, love, and loss. How do you balance openness and privacy?
JP: Maybe it’s just because I’ve been doing it for a few years, but I don’t get all that afraid of being candid about my emotional experience anymore. I just have so much evidence of how much better life gets when you’re open about your emotional experience. It’s terrifying at first, obviously, because the word vulnerability is really easily misunderstood, and by that I mean, I misunderstand it all the time. When you talk about vulnerability, you think of it like a crack in your armor. So why would you lean into that? I get that and I think often sometimes the way we even talk about it in the public dialogue is a bit like, throw up in your mouth inducing because it just gets so heavy when you say you are more vulnerable. What we’re actually saying is that usually what happens when you talk about the shit that you are afraid of or the parts of yourself where you feel weak or you feel scared by talking about it, you are projecting that you’re not as powerful or worth being afraid of. That makes other people less afraid of those parts of their lives because they get to see you stand powerfully in it. That feels real to me. When I get to talk about things in these songs that might not be the easiest to talk about, I feel purposeful. It can bring you so much closer to the people around you. Your strength is your ability to stand confidently in the parts of yourself where you are afraid.
As you continue on this upward trajectory, what are some of your aspirations? How do you envision your artistic evolution?
JP: My ultimate dream?
JP: When I think about how I will know I have made it is when I’m on an arena tour and my family is touring with me, chilling in the green room. Wife, kids, Green Room, arena tour, traveling around the world. It’s being on stage, but it’s also coming back to the green room and having my family there with me. I’ve seen people I love do this. I just got to tour with Camilo, and his wife and daughter go with him on tour. That to me is the pinnacle of success.
JP Saxe is performing in Vancouver in January. Get your tickets here:
Vogue Theatre — Vancouver, BC.
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