Dangerous Levels of Introspection

Dangerous Levels of Introspection

“I personally believe that the responsibility of getting to make songs for a living is looking at the parts of our lives that are the most painful and making something beautiful out of it,” JP Saxe tells Apple Music. “Because that can allow other people to look at their most painful moments and find some beauty in them, too.” Certainly, in the run-up to his full-length debut, the Toronto-bred, LA-based singer-songwriter had ample inspiration to draw from on both extremes of the emotional spectrum. His knockout 2019 piano-ballad duet with Julia Michaels, “If the World Was Ending,” not only sparked a genuine IRL romance between the two songwriters, it became an international phenomenon that earned Saxe his first Grammy nomination and Juno Award win. However, just as that song was turning Saxe into a star, he lost his mother in early 2020. “A lot of growing up happened in a very consolidated amount of time,” he says. But on Dangerous Levels of Introspection, Saxe bravely navigates the highs and lows of life with his heart on his sleeve and his tongue in his cheek, teasing out the uncomfortable humor that often accompanies our most serious moments. And more than just serving as a musical diary of recent life-changing events, the album also presents a seamless tapestry of formative influences that spans Count Basie, George Harrison, U2, Frank Ocean, John Mayer, and Maren Morris (the latter two of whom also guest on the record). Here, Saxe safely guides us through Dangerous Levels of Introspection, track by track. “4:30 in Toronto” “‘4:30 in Toronto’ is about being in a place that doesn't feel quite like home anymore, because you're staying in a hotel room and because both of your parents live in places that are too small for you to crash with them. But I'm also thinking about a person who used to feel like home while I was there, and not really being able to go back to either a time when Toronto was home or a time when she was. Both of them are unattainable parts of the past.” “Like That” “Julia and I were working on our albums at the same time, and we both thought they were done. But then we were having this moment of very loud insecurity at the same time, at two in the morning, sitting in the living room that we share. We were both just wondering, ‘Could our albums be slightly better?’—you know, after a year of writing close to 100 songs. And we ended up writing the first single on her album [‘All Your Exes’ from 2021’s Not in Chronological Order] and the first single on my album. This song felt like the right way to start unfolding the body of work and give people their entranceway into the album.” “More of You” “'More of You' takes place a good six months earlier in the narrative of 'Like That.' It's that first moment of surprise, of possibility, of like, 'Oh shit—what I thought love was for a really long time maybe could be something else.' There's almost a childish wonder in finding a person who starts to redefine what you think love is. Having a life where you feel new things means letting yourself feel those new things, which is inherently tied to some discomfort sometimes. So that line 'You scare me, but I'm not afraid of it' is saying, ‘This is different. This is somewhat frightening, but I'm gonna lean into it because I want to feel something new.'” “Here’s Hopin’” “This one's an especially nostalgic song for me, because when John Mayer came into the studio to listen to the album before we finished it, 'Here's Hopin'' was one of the songs that really resonated with him, and he picked up his guitar and played on it. As someone who fell in love with songwriting in large part due to an album like [Mayer’s] Continuum, having him be a part of my debut album is pretty fucking bananas.” “I Shouldn’t Be Here” “'I Shouldn't Be Here' actually ended up on the album with the help of some serendipity. I use this journaling app and it will give me notifications like ‘On this day, two years ago, you wrote this.’ That's occasionally wonderfully nostalgic, and occasionally an emotional risk to open up. So on this particular day, about a year ago, I get that notification. I opened it up, and I see the lyrics to 'I Shouldn't Be Here,' which I think are funny, but in my head, I'm thinking, 'There's no way I'm making this into anything. You know, I'm all about sincerity, but this probably goes too far.' And then later that day, I was watching an interview with Phoebe Waller-Bridge about the making of Fleabag and she said something along the lines of how she knows that a scene needs to stay in an edit if it scares her. Because if it scares her, that means there's some extra humanity in there. So I thought to myself, 'Oh, fuck, I think I have to make “I Shouldn't Be Here” into a song.' It scared me enough to feel a little too real, which means it's the kind of art that I need to make.” “Dangerous Levels of Introspection” "This is my way of saying nostalgia can fuck your life up if you're not careful. I wrote this song with Greg Kurstin and Amy Allen, and she and I were just reminiscing about the beginning of our lives in Los Angeles. I said something like, ‘We’re entering dangerous levels of introspection,’ and we thought it was funny. There's information in the things you laugh at in a session—that’s an indicator that maybe it’s something you should lean into. So at first, I was like, ‘That's kind of a pretentious title to a song, but whatever, let's see what happens.’ And I think we ended up writing something that embodies a lot of what this album is about. I believe there is an amount of emotional analysis that allows you to be more present in your own life. It allows you to be closer to the people you love, closer to yourself, and it really makes life better. And then there is an amount of emotional analysis that can really fucking ruin your life, because you're so busy analyzing your emotions that you have no time to feel them. I think this album lives very much on the line between those two places.” “If the World Was Ending” (feat. Julia Michaels) “Not putting the song that entirely changed my life on my first album would have been the wrong move. Also, I am endlessly grateful that the song that I met most people with is exactly the kind of music I want to be making for the rest of my career. How can I possibly resent the song that both introduced me to my girlfriend the day that we wrote it and got me a Grammy nomination? I don't think there will ever be a day in my life that is quite as life-changing as the day I met Julia and wrote 'If the World Was Ending.' And I love it just as much if not more now, because now I've got a year and a half worth of memories of getting to have conversations with people around the world about how love is more important than the petty bullshit that gets in the way of it.” “Tension” “'Tension' is definitely where my love of rock 'n' roll has its moment on the album. I'm fucking yelling on this one! That took me a second to be okay with, because for a long time, I thought my expressiveness as a singer was in being conversational. But there was something nice about abandoning the reserved tone that I usually live in to just fucking yell about something.” “What Keeps Me From It” “There are two moments on this album where it was important to really strip it back to the origins of me falling in love with music and songwriting. So there's one moment where it's just me and guitar recorded live—that's 'I Shouldn't Be Here.' And there's one that's live with just me and piano, and that’s 'What Keeps Me From It.' I think this would have been 17-year-old me's favorite song. When I was 17, I was listening more to Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Oscar Peterson than I was to pop music. So this is definitely the song where I let that part of me out the most. The post-chorus melody of this song is actually from a Count Basie/Tadd Dameron record from around 80 years ago called 'Good Bait.'” “For Emilee” “'What Keeps Me From It' is me figuring out a little bit of my own situation, and then 'For Emilee' is me seeing a friend going through something similar and then providing whatever semblance of clarity that I have on the situation to her. It's always easier to see the shit clearly when it's not you. Emilee is a real person—she's my best friend, and I got her direct permission to use her name. She likes the song. 'For Emilee' is the hype track for the heartbroken. It's the one song where I'm talking about a situation other than my own. I'm hoping that a lot of people listening to my music will feel like the Emilee I'm talking to.” “Line by Line” (feat. Maren Morris) “I'm a huge fan of Maren Morris. I think she's a brilliant singer-songwriter. And we happened to have the shared experience of both being in love with other songwriters, so we talked about it. With very little exception, my favorite co-writes are just the ones that come directly from a conversation. There isn't much of a distinction between where you stop having a conversation and where you start writing a song. When I'm writing by myself, it's a conversation with myself in my journal, and when I'm writing with someone else, it's a conversation with them, and this is what Maren and I were talking about that day. I wrote this song on my second day in Nashville ever. My first session ever in Nashville was with Maren Morris—that’s a good place to start.” “A Little Bit Yours” “When I first wrote this song, it lay dormant for a while because I didn't think I could sing the chorus. I was in the studio with Ben Rice and we were finishing the vocal on 'Explain You' [from 2020’s Hold It Together EP] and I played him 'A Little Bit Yours' and said, 'I love this song, but I just can't sing it—I can't sing that high.' And he was like, 'Of course you can sing it.' So there we are in an LA studio, and I'm trying to learn how to sing it, and Ben just made me feel so very comfortable and at home that I got to do something I didn't think I could do. This was one of the last heartbreak songs I wrote before shit took a turn for the brighter.” “Sing Myself to Sleep” “The last four tracks on the album speak to the relationships and situations that shaped who I am. There's a song about a past relationship that I was in for a long time ['A Little Bit Yours'], a song about my community of friends ['For Emilee'], and a song about the love I'm in now ['Line by Line']. And this is a song about my mom. 'Sing Myself to Sleep' was definitely the song that took me the longest to figure out what to say. But I knew that not writing about my mom on the album would feel wrong, because losing my mom in January 2020 was obviously one of the biggest parts of my life. I wrote it in Nashville with Mike Elizondo and Audra Mae, and it was like eight months of journaling culminating in a 45-minute session where the parts of those journals that felt like the center of my feelings all kind of came together in one moment.”

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