Music

JP Saxe: 5 songs that changed my life

The 'relentlessly transparent' singer looks back on the artists who shaped his musical taste.

The 'relentlessly transparent' singer looks back on the artists who shaped his musical taste

“All of these albums, I remember the first time I heard them because it was such an influential moment for me, hearing music in a way that I never had before," says Saxe. (Sony Music)

If anything, the past year has given people a lot of time to spend with their thoughts. After all, there's nothing like a locktdown to get you deep in your feelings. For singer-songwriter JP Saxe, it's a place he already knows all too well. 

"It's OK to be an overthinker, an over-feeler, and it's the only thing I know how to be," the Toronto artist says from his home in Los Angeles. "If I'm not being myself in my music, I'm getting up on stage every night and lying to myself; it would be a real cause for identity crisis."

Saxe has been releasing music since 2017, but his big breakthrough came in 2019 when, just before the pandemic, he released "If the World was Ending" with Julia Michaels, a song the two — who are now partners — co-wrote. The song is set in an end-of-days scenario and looks at how one would deal with lingering feelings for an ex, and it instantly struck a chord with people forced to isolate themselves from loved ones. The song went platinum in the U.S., charted all over the world, has been streamed over a billion times and covered by countless artists, including Shawn Mendes, and was nominated for song of the year at this year's Grammys. 

It's also included on his debut album, Dangerous Levels of Introspection, which is out now and includes songs Saxe has been writing during the pandemic, but also ones he's been holding for as long as four years — a long time to obsess over songs for a self-described overthinker.

This is my whole heart in 13 songs​​​​​​​.- JP Saxe

"[The pandemic] has provided me ample time to obsess over every minute detail of this album, which I would have done anyway," he says. "But there isn't a millisecond of the album that didn't have a 3:00 a.m., pacing around my home, overthinking whether it was the emotional continuity that I needed it to be, because, you know, this is my whole heart in 13 songs. I didn't want to misrepresent what it felt like to be me these last four years."

Saxe says being "relentlessly transparent" is the guiding principle of his music, an approach that is so far paying off. "People didn't give a crap for so very long," he says. "Now they do, and it's awesome."

To mark the release of Dangerous Levels of Introspection, CBC Music asked Saxe to revisit the songs that had the biggest impact on his life.


'Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,' John Mayer

"So [the album] Continuum was the first album that punched me in the heart with lyrics. And the first time I was ever thinking to myself, I would like to punch people in the heart with lyrics the way these songs have just gotten to me. That was a very huge part of my onset love for songwriting as a teenager, finding those John Mayer records."  

'Hymn to Freedom,' Oscar Peterson

"Oscar Peterson's 'Hymn to Freedom' is the first song I ever lifted on the piano. I learned it note-for-note and it's still probably the first thing I play sitting down at a new piano. One of my favourite melodies of all time."

'California,' Joni Mitchell

"It is one of the most famous albums of all time for a reason and a very commonly picked most influential album for a reason, and I'm not afraid of leaning into the cliché because that album is just so spectacular. And it's the 50th anniversary, so it feels right to be talking about it. I listened to 'California' by Joni Mitchell every single day the year I moved to Los Angeles, it just felt like what I wanted. It felt like the freedom and the joy that I wanted in my life. And it still makes me feel like a 20-year-old driving around L.A. every time."

'Tell Him,' Lauryn Hill

"All of these albums, I remember the first time I heard them because it was such an influential moment for me, hearing music in a way that I never had before. The first time I heard The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, I did not know music could sound like that. The vocal arrangement on 'Tell Him,' the way that makes me feel is unlike anything I've ever heard. Just in the sincerity of her voice, there are very few singers who I can listen to and it's like listening to them breathing, it's so effortless. It's just like your your being invited into their unadulterated emotional experience, and particularly with that song, I just listened to over and over and over and over again when I was a teenager and still can."

'Yellow,' Coldplay

"The honest answer to Coldplay is, 'I would like to be Chris Martin.' Not, 'I used to want to be Chris Martin' — I still would like to be Chris Martin. I have a personal goal that upon meeting Chris Martin someday, I will convince him to let me log into the Coldplay Instagram and start playing Coldplay songs on the IG Live, and see how many people just think I'm Chris Martin because from certain angles, I could be Chris Martin. Also, personal dream, I want to have back-to-back upright pianos on a huge festival stage, like a Glastonbury-type situation, with my upright piano, his upright piano, and we do a medley of 'Yellow' into 'If the World Was Ending' and Chris sings 'If the World was Ending and I sing 'Yellow.'"  

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