“In Retrograde is the illusion of moving backward when, in reality, you are making progress. That concept was something that I felt and dealt with a lot, not only in the context of making this record, but also in my life in general. Not only are the songs inspired by that feeling, but the album itself is a product of it. Making this record has been an incredible journey for me as an artist and has pushed to try new things in the name of growth and self reliance. It feels great to finally share these years of work with the world and hopefully these ideas resonate with others as they have with me.” – JW Sargent
We all reach a point in our lives where we have spread our wings and fly off in a new direction. It’s part of a growing process and it happens to all sorts of people including musicians. It can be because of artistic differences or maybe you just want to venture out to see what happens on your own as a solo artist. After years of playing in regionally renowned bands (Oh! The Story), JW Sargent has decided to take that leap of faith and venture into the waters of being a solo artist. His debut EP entitled In Retrograde is set for release on November 18. With influences ranging from Bon Iver to The Japanese House & Copeland, Sargent’s music combines indie and alternative styles. Throughout In Retrograde, he aims to expose the light from the darkness and find resolution at the end of the journey. We recently sat down with him to discuss his debut EP and his journey that got him to where he is today.
You’ve been a part of a group for a while, so was there a catalyst that made you decide it was time to try a solo thing?
JW Sargent: It was a situation that I just kind of found myself in; I lived in Baltimore for a while and I ended up getting a job in Philadelphia. I’m originally from right outside of Philadelphia, but when I moved back I really didn’t know anybody there. I still wanted to play, but I didn’t know a ton of people there who were playing. I had been writing for and recording years for something that I had thought would be like a full band thing. Then I came to Philly and, A, I didn’t see those opportunities, plus, B, I started to wonder what I could do on my own. I pushed myself to explore the songs and visions that I had; for a long time I didn’t sing and wasn’t really into it. I kind of hated my voice, but I took this opportunity for a fresh start and I just decided to see where it would go and it snowballed from there.
When did you know that you had tapped into something?
I would say about two to three years ago, I was kind of writing songs on my own and then I toyed with the idea. It started out as me doing just one song and then I felt really good about it. Then, I decided to do a couple more songs and then maybe a video. The scope of it all has expanded tremendously since I first started this. At first, I wondered if I could make a song by myself that sounded good and it evolved to me wanting to put it out to see if people actually liked it.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Justin Nace (PVRIS) and Even Chapman (Lydia) ended up on the EP?
I’ve known both of them for years and I’ve played in bands with both of them. Evan lives pretty close to me in Philadelphia when he’s not on the road. They both started doing their own things and so did I; when I wrote all of these songs, I programmed drums, but they don’t sound the same as real drums. It came down to me really wanting some live drums and for one song Justin was home and Evan wasn’t and then vice versa. It all really ended working out and it’s also very fortunate that they’re two of the best drummers that I know and I’m friends with them.
I really loved the quote from your press release (see above) about the album title. I can definitely say that is something that I have also felt from time to time.
I think that a lot of times things get really crazy in your life and you feel as if you’re swimming as hard as you can and you’re not getting anywhere. I certainly had a few points like that and I wondered what in the world was going on? My girlfriend read me my horoscope one time and it was at a time when mercury was in retrograde. I don’t follow that stuff a ton, but the horoscope really resonated with me. It had a lot to do with creativity and that kind of stuff. The next day, I turned around and belted out one of the songs. It was this really weird kind of moment that really resonated with me and because of that I started to look into what mercury and in retrograde really meant. I was intrigued with the idea of in retrograde and it resonated with a lot of the things that I was going through. I knew I really wanted to call the EP that and it’s very representative of a lot of things and I think a lot of people can identify with it.
Do you remember what it was that first got you into music?
I was first exposed to it by my parents; my dad was super into music. I remember listening to all of the good old classic rocks hits with him when he was driving around or doing yard work or whatever. He posed the question to me when I was seven years old if I wanted to play guitar. I started when I was seven and it from there; it’s been what I am about and what I’ve become. I really have him to thank and attribute that to.
Was your dad a musician? There aren’t too many non-musician parents who will buy a seven year old a guitar. Most would see it as a phase; this week you want to play guitar and next week you’ll want to be a baseball player.
I’m actually the only person in my family who plays an instrument; my dad sort of lives vicariously through me and pushed me to be better. I remember when I was really young that he would listen to me practice and tape my shows. He was always super supportive and always pushed me to be the best that I can be.
What’s on your radar as far as promoting the EP? Any chance of a music video in the near future?
I’m coming out with a video on the 17th for “Constant” which was one of the first songs that I wrote for the EP. I’m really excited about it; I worked with one of my buddies Jesse DeFlorio that I went to college with on it. He’s a super talented guy and he does a lot of photography for bands. He’s out right now with American authors and he just got off the All American Rejects tour with Blink 182. He has a very cool eye for all of that sort of stuff.
“Run” was out first taste of the EP, but you’re did a video for “Constant.” Is there a method to the madness in making those decisions? Can you share a little insight into the decision making process?
I really wanted to open with “Run” because it’s a catchy, high energy song and I thought it would resonate with people. “Constant” is a little more low key and viby, so I really wanted to bring the energy right off with “Run.” I really want to get as much out there as I can because, just as you mentioned, I am a new artist and I want people to have songs to listen to. As much as you like the song, I am sure that you get tired of listening to it at a point, so I want to make sure that I was spreading the wealth amongst the songs.
You’re back in Philly now, so can you kind of describe the music scene there to us?
There are tons of venues in Philly to play and it’s also great being here because I am right between New York, Baltimore and DC. Everything on the East coast is really accessible from here. I played a show in DC at one point that I really didn’t tell anyone about, to just test out some of the material. It was a lot of fun and a very eclectic show; I was the only non-rap on the bill. It was really cool and pretty awesome because everyone was really receptive to all of the songs. It was kind of a test run , that way if I embarrassed myself it wasn’t in front of my friends (laughs).
Is the EP a digital only release?
At this point, it will be just digital; it’s difficult to do physical copies right now with us not playing shows. I would love to do it because it’s a great feeling to physically hold something like this in your hands that you’ve made.
I can see that our time is just about over; it’s been a pleasure talking with you and we can’t wait for everyone to hear this EP. Is there anything that you’d like to close with?
I want to say thanks to everyone who takes the time to listen to the record because I’ve put a lot of time and effort into it. Just being able to talk to you about it is really awesome and I appreciate your time as well.