Ahead of his debut single’s release, the new solo outing from Jake Weissman, Coolhand Jax, spoke to Atwood Magazine about his latest project’s inception, his unique “backseat pop” sound, and more.
Endings can mean new beginnings; a chance to explore new opportunities or venture into unknown territories. After the group Sunshine Brothers Inc disbanded, Jake Weissman took this virtue to heart and began to set out on something different: a solo music career.
Weissman, with a vigor for experimentation, started Coolhand Jax, his latest moniker and new vessel for his musical output. Coolhand Jax’s debut single, “Backseat Swinging,” is scheduled for a June 26 release, and after receiving an early listen (along with the upcoming EP No Dreams of Anything), it’s evident how much a game changer his music will be for the season and beyond.
Infectiously warm, Coolhand Jax embraces a unique “backseat pop” sound, a sound that will listeners dancing and swaying to the beat within the first few seconds. It’s a dreamy and sunny addition to the music scene, and as the world is unraveling upon itself, everyone can use a moment of bliss. Coolhand Jax is geared to provide just that.
Atwood Magazine spoke to the artist recently about the start of Coolhand Jax, the methodologies behind it, the plans for the future, and a sneak peek of the upcoming debut single. Check out and meet Coolhand Jax in our exclusive interview!
INTRODUCING COOLHAND JAX
Atwood Magazine: I’d love to know more about the new project Coolhand Jax and how it came to be! What’s the story and inspiration behind its inception?
Coolhand Jax: Man, it’s been in the oven for a bit now. I’ve been making music under different project names with different bands since I was a kid. I would sort of hop around different projects when I felt my songwriting changing or my influences changing or my life-changing. When I got to college I started a group called Sunshine Brothers Inc. and that took off a little bit and was definitely a main focus in my life, but I was still always recording little demos on the side.
I think as we started to grow I sort of built-in walls around what I could authentically make under the Sunshine Brothers name. I wanted a new outlet. My life was changing; I graduated from college, SBI had just been named LiveNation’s Ones to Watch artist, we did a last big sold-out farewell show, I took the money from that and other savings and did a lot of traveling and ended up moving to LA, finding myself anew. This was all within the last year.
My response to all this was Coolhand Jax. Most of the tracks were written and recorded while I was road-tripping through the US last spring. It was definitely a big period of transition. They came from a very free place inside of me, during a very free time in my life. I want to keep that alive in Coolhand Jax.
When compared to your last project, Sunshine Brothers Inc., the sounds of each are quite different. What drew you to Coolhand Jax’s brand of backseat-pop?
Coolhand Jax: I am much more comfortable writing and recording music myself. I was definitely a bedroom pop kid- well, before they started calling it that- in high school. Not to sound like the “oh, I liked so-and-so before anyone” guy, I just mean that it was a lot less saturated and kind of commercialized then.
I loved Ariel Pink, the earlier Mac [DeMarco], Jerry Paper, HOMESHAKE records. I ditched my prom to go see UMO in Boston for their first US show on the Multi-Love tour. I loved the autonomy and the control these artists had in every step of their production, and it was something I tried to emulate, albeit poorly.
With Sunshine Brothers, it was a bit of a struggle to adapt to recording as a full band, with a hands off-production for most of our music. It was a different process to write with a full band in mind. The tracks that I recorded myself- In Your Dreams, Space Dance, Loverman- came much easier to me. So I think Coolhand Jax is a return to a more natural process for me, the control-freak approach.
Backseat Pop is just kind of a play-on of bedroom pop because a lot of these tracks were recorded in my car. But, to me, it is also a bit more dynamic, ya know? Maybe it has to do with the freedom of road [laughs]. Don’t get me wrong, Clairo is great, but I’ve been on Spotify long enough to have ridden all of the waves of the ‘bedroom pop’ algorithm and I guess I’m just a little weary of that badge.
Your debut single, “Backseat Swinging,” is releasing in a month, and with it an official introduction to the music world for the new project. What made this song the one to start with?
Coolhand Jax: It was a hard choice! I sent the EP around to a bunch of friends and got their opinions on which track should lead. “Backseat Swinging” came in 3rd. But I just had a feeling– it encapsulates the feeling of the record well and how I see myself I guess. It’s super breezy and fun, but I guess also a little bit in its feels about the universe. Kind of a silly look at our world from the backseat of a car. Definitely a feel-good track. I also had a vision for a music video that was executable in quarantine, so that made it more alluring. I feel really good about it! Pre-save that bad-boy.
When was the creation process like for the song? How’d you get from the back of the ’04 Camry to the studio?
Coolhand Jax: Man, I don’t even know. It started with this bass line- which are my favorite things to write- that has this kind of really fun, bouncy hang on a couple of notes. I was in the midst of a 2+ month, 43 state road trip, my car was pushing 240,000 miles and the mechanic told me that it might not make it to California and back (side note: the car is still running).
I might have been in like Washington D.C. when I started on the track. I kept layering in instruments in different locations- I’d just pull off the highway to a rest stop or a park or wherever, pull out my interface, and go for it. I was driving for hours every few days, so I would be singing or humming to the track in the car and if I liked the way something sounded I would just pull over and record it. It was kind of beautiful.
I immediately liked the track; I just thought it made a lot of sense. The lyrics came pretty naturally. I overdubbed real drums and a couple final touches once I made it back to my bedroom studio at my mom’s place in Massachusetts. So I guess there is a tinge of bedroom-pop.
The song is part of your EP No Dreams of Anything, a look into the idleness of life and an appreciation for it. Do you feel making this EP has changed how you go about your own life?
Coolhand Jax: Totally! When I was in my final semester, around a year ago, I had a moment where I was driving somewhere and just totally broke down and freaked out about what I was going to do with my life. I had been working different jobs all throughout college and I was just terrified of the 9 to 5 lifestyle, doing something soulless or living for the weekend or any of that.
Meanwhile, I was looking at a lot of student loan debt and applying frantically for jobs that I didn’t want and that didn’t want me. All I really wanted to do was make music. That’s when I decided I was going to finish school early and go on a trip for a while, and that maybe I could push the limits of consumption or find some opportunity that wasn’t dreadful or some new kind of joy I wasn’t aware of or prove something to myself. In retrospect, I guess it was sort of a Siddartha-like experience [laughs]; I was barely eating and made it a point to accumulate nothing material the entire time I was gone.
It was very much about uncovering the forgotten beauty of idleness. I thought about naming the EP Coolhand Jax & the Forgotten Beauty of Idleness to be kitschy but I thought it sounded too much like a Smashing Pumpkins album or something [laughs]. There is a Bertrand Russel essay from like 1935 called In Praise of Idleness that I just fucking love, where he basically says “yo, why are we living in a world where most people are overworked, and other people live on the street because they can’t find work at all? Why are these people overworking themselves to make things that solve problems that don’t even exist? Why do we place so much value on the virtue of work and virtually none on the virtue of leisure? Why do only the well-off get to enjoy substantial leisure? Why do we subjugate virtually no time to just living?”
And it’s crazy! Because in America, 55% of people don’t use all of their allowed vacation time, which is already substantially less than other ‘developed’ countries are allowed by their government. People complain about how hard they’re working not only because it has actually been hard but because it is seen as some kind of positive badge. We feel the need to commodify every hobby, every second of our day. It is a hyper-competitiveness, a hyper-individualism that is just, in my opinion, gross and totally antithetical to the point of being human. It’s completely embedded in our culture, and it’s a direct externality of capitalism.
My trip and the making of No Dreams of Anything taught me a lot about this reality. I didn’t set out to make a record about freedom or idleness, I just wrote what I was feeling, and when I reflected back on it, the theme was clear. And it’s not only about the importance of these things, it’s about struggling to accept the importance of these things. It’s about challenging these internalized feelings you have about productivity and work-life balance. Nowadays, I make sure to spend time doing nothing in particular, doing things just for the sake of doing them. Without that, you’re already half-gone.
I would like to acknowledge also that for many people, this is only a choice for the privileged. There are single-parents with kids who have no choice but to work within a system that keeps them in a perpetual race to the bottom, oftentimes overrun with debt, and little opportunity to escape. Not everyone has the choice to change their career or go on a long trip or commit anytime to anything other than surviving. This problem stems from the same mindset and system that I am fighting against.
Was there a specific point or moment that made you go 'This is it, I’m going to make music on this'?
Coolhand Jax: Never, actually! I try not to force myself to write anything. I just let it all flow, and when I look back, usually what I am trying to say is clear. With where I was in my life, how I was thinking, it makes sense that the record came out the way that it did.
As a whole, what was the creation like for the EP?
Coolhand Jax: Definitely different from anything I’ve ever done. I probably wrote around 20 songs, tracked a dozen of them, and then whittled it down to four. I might throw another one on there and make it five. It was a trip doing most of it on the road; I was just in a totally different mindset. I wasn’t trying to be anyone or to conform to any sound. Just super natural. Recording can be quite frustrating! I enjoy the satisfaction of being done far more than the action of doing it [laughs]. Somehow the changing landscapes made it a little less daunting.
From a technical standpoint, really just me, my guitar, a bass, an analog synth, a couple mics, a small interface, and the free version of GarageBand. Later on a beat-up drum kit I got on Craigslist for like a hundred bucks. What could go wrong?
What’s your process in general for music-making? Is there a tradition you follow when going through it?
Coolhand Jax: Well, usually I’m like “man, this song has this super cool section/feeling, how can I recreate that with x or y.” I like to start with chord progressions or little riffs on my guitar. Guitar was my first instrument, and definitely my strongest, so I tend to gravitate to it for writing purposes. I am annoyingly meticulous about my bass lines.
I’ll spend hours trying to get the right take. Each take is judged based on how much I grimace while recording it. Usually, I’ll throw in some digital finger drums on my synth, and then overdub them with my kit later. Then I spend a lot of time experimenting with synth sounds/parts. Lots of songs don’t make it past this stage
After, I try and focus really hard on melody. Usually when I’m arranging the chords I have some inkling of what it will be. Melody totally makes or breaks a song in my opinion. So I spend some time just throwing out different vowel sounds and filler words trying to get it right. I think it’s all about creating a perfect tension over the music happening below, in any given snippet of the song. A lot of times I record a song and then completely scrap the melody and start over.
Once I’m happy with all of this I dive into the lyrics. Usually certain words or phrases have already come to the surface. This is also a big trial and error thing, I find myself constantly reworking lyrics. Eventually it all seems to fit together. And then I spend months adding and subtracting in the mixing process. I usually like to add one last thing to a track before I send it off to get ma.
What do you feel has been one of the toughest obstacles during the creation of the EP?
Coolhand Jax: The biggest struggle has been trying to be cohesive sonically while also trying to be totally free and devoid of expectation. One track feels like Vulfpeck produced it, the next like an Ariel Pink record, the next like maybe something Kevin Parker would do. That’s why so many tracks are being left off. I’m cool with more drastic changes from project to project, but I want this EP to really flow. I think I’ve done a good job of keeping the character. When I put it on now, it feels like a smooth dream.
Bringing it back now to the “Backseat Swinging,” what are you hoping listeners will get out of it after their first listen?
Coolhand Jax: Man, I hope they have fun. I hope it makes them bob their head a little or want to get in the car and drive somewhere or call out of work or something. I hope it makes them laugh a little bit but not like a lot, ya know? And maybe they call their Mom to check-in [laughs]. After they’re done having a great time hearing the track I hope they add it to their playlists and show their friends and then think a little bit about how they’re living their own life. What do you wanna do? How do you get there? What voices are you listening to in your own world? What is a better way for us to live our lives together? And then eat some food or something.
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📸 © Ted Warmington