JW Sargent is a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who just released his EP “In Retrograde” last November. Creative Control caught up with him to talk about music video inspirations, how he came up with his hybrid of alternative and ambient sounds and what the future has in store for him.
Creative Control: Your music seems to have a very personal touch, what inspires you to put your feelings to song? Is there anything that’s off limits? Does the level of personality to each track make the process easier or harder at all?
JW Sargent: From the beginning, the goal of this project was to write honest songs. Life is a series of high points and low points and I wanted to make sure I captured those sentiments in the most authentic and truthful way possible. I wouldn’t say that anything is off limits necessarily, but I think writing about personal things does make the process harder to an extent. On the one hand, you’re tapping into something you really believe in and feel which makes things easier because its genuine. But because it’s a genuine feeling, I wanted to make sure I articulated it accurately. I didn’t want to misrepresent myself or how I felt so there are a few lines throughout the EP that I agonized over and spent a lot of time on. So in that way, I guess it was a little bit harder. But despite that, writing about personal issues helped me better understand the way that I felt about them so it was absolutely worth it and I hope that the songs can help other people get different perspectives on the things that are happening in their lives too.
CC: Your sound has a very atmospheric tone to it and seems to bend genres of alt-rock and ambient post-rock, what made you want to go with this as your sound?
Sargent: I started out doing this when I was trying to flush out what I thought would be my sound and I just got really into it. I started playing with different guitar tones and adding different delays, reverbs, and filters until my guitar didn’t really sound like a guitar anymore. I love trying to create textures and space with different sounds. I’ve always written with layers in mind and I love really ambient tones because you can do so much with them. And, when you want to feature a specific instrument or part, you can make it cut through in a really impactful way.
CC: What made you want to work as a solo artist as opposed to being a part of a band? Is there more room for creativity being solo? How do you keep yourself grounded and focused?
Sargent: I started writing songs as a solo artist when I moved to Philadelphia. I had been playing in bands for my entire music career but all of a sudden I moved to a new city and didn’t really know anyone who played music. Philadelphia was a fresh start for me in a lot of ways and I was really eager to make my own path personally so I decided that I didn’t want to wait around for anyone to help me make music. Being a solo artist is great because you don’t have to compromise on your ideas; you can make the songs sound exactly the way you think they should be. For me, the downside was not having a counterpoint or band member to validate my ideas. I got kind of obsessed trying to make every song perfect and I had a tough time letting go and saying that a song was finished. I got so deep into the details that I would lose sight of the overall song so I would have to table the song and work on something else for a few days before coming back to it with fresh ears. As a solo artist, I’ve learned that it’s really easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself, and with no one to share that pressure with, you need to learn to give yourself a break and just focus on writing the best songs you can write.
CC: I saw in an interview that you said “Stranger Things” was an inspiration for your video for the single “Run.” What other media outside of music have inspired you with your own music or your videos?
Sargent: There have been a few influences outside of music that have helped inspire the songs and videos but none quite as clear cut as the “Stranger Things” reference. I really love the grittiness and color of vintage photography so we actually shot part of the Constant video through the viewfinder of a really old film camera (if you look at some of the close up shots, you can see alignment lines on my face which were from the camera itself and not done afterwards). I also watched this show on Netflix called Chef’s Table, which, despite profiling famous chefs, had incredible cinematography and was really well shot. I wanted to incorporate some really epic 4K/slow motion shots with really vibrant colors which we tried to do in some of the outdoor shots in the Run video.
CC: The EP “In Retrograde” has been out for a couple months now, what’s next? Any tour dates lined up?
Sargent: Now that the EP has been released, I’m definitely planning on playing some shows this year. Aside from that, I have a few things in the works regarding some a song or two that I’ve covered and some video stuff as well. I’ve also been writing a bunch and working on some new songs so there are definitely a lot to look forward to this year!