Written by Sam Prager
Photographed by Marcus Menefee
Indie-rock quintet Daykisser is fresh off the release of their debut album ‘Selfhood,’ a 10-song collection of feel-good tunes and self-realizing lyrics; A soundtrack for a mid-twenty-something actually enjoying their day, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Daykisser’s music isn’t pretentious, combative, heavy-handed or apathetic; it’s easy. The straightforward songwriting of frontman Jesse Wilcox is reminiscent of the late ‘90s and early aughts, an unfortunately now-nostalgic era of music.
The outfit’s sound is a culmination of classic rock, folk, country, americana, and so forth, however Daykisser could be summed into the category of indie rock, which in itself is a vague and flexible genre.
A more critical analysis could almost describe it as 'post-post-punk revival.’
Daykisser, which was pieced together in late 2018 by frontman Jesse Wilcox, consists of lead guitarist Kenneth Piper, keyboardist and background vocalist Peter Armstrong, bassist and background vocalist James Rose and drummer Michael Todd.
The simplicity of the music in itself is a relaxing, refreshing and almost nostalgic feeling that we rarely can find these days. However, creating simplicity, more often than not, isn’t so simple.
“Melodies have always been the main priority and the first thing I care about. I guess nowadays it feels more like I’m hitting my stride, if you will, in songwriting. I’m more comfortable with what I’m writing and being audacious enough to try new things. Lyrics can come second, but I guess it’s a way to find emotion,” says Wilcox. “That’s what’s important to me: creating songs that elicit and evoke emotion. And so, for me, that starts with melody. As a songwriter, it’s the emotion that you feel and that you can give to people that matters. And so, melody selection has always been a priority for me.”
“The melody is what’s going to give you goosebumps later,” adds keyboardist Peter Armstrong.
Though Daykisser’s music feels very singer-songwriter oriented, Wilcox explains that his songwriting process is a very structured one, as he initially focuses much more on the phonetics of the vocals as opposed to the lyrical content.
“It’s good to have cohesive songs that make sense,” says drummer Michael Todd. “But depending on how you’re listening to and how you’re approaching making music, the way in which you’re saying the lyrics–the phonetics–can be just as much of the song as the lyrics. I think sometimes that’s overlooked.”
“There’s a fine line, and I think it’s easy to overcomplicate writing lyrics. I’ve definitely been guilty of it before, but it’s surprising how easy it can be to write; to reach an emotion that can have an effect on someone with really simple words."
Wilcox’s primary goal for songwriting is evoking emotion which as stated before, begins with the melody. However, Daykisser’s lyrics are full of self-aware narratives, vivid imagery and interesting allegories. According to Wilcox, it’s easy to over-complicate lyrics.
“There’s a fine line, and I think it’s easy to overcomplicate writing lyrics. I’ve definitely been guilty of it before, but it’s surprising how easy it can be to write; to reach an emotion that can have an effect on someone with really simple words. I think that’s something I’ve kind of gotten better at. Sometimes things that start off meaning nothing end up becoming a story that makes sense. It’s almost backwards at times. Most of the songs are based on sort of fictitious takes on real life events. I’m not writing songs about people that I’ve seen per say, but I do think on some deeper, higher level there’s some truth and personal relevance to the lyrics. But I’m really just writing stuff. I try to write through someone else’s eyes. Eyes that the listener can also see through. I’m not singing about very specific experiences that I’ve lived. I am pulling from those memories, but then also writing something that’s a little more…,” Wilcox pauses, “It’s got a fictitious layer to it, if that makes sense?”
Though many of the song’s have serious lyrical content, there is a happy-go-lucky ambiance that is attached to “Selfhood.” Wilcox explains that the feelings he tries to invoke with his songwriting are often a blur of several emotions, everything is almost bitter-sweet.
“As far as what I’m targeting emotion wise, it’s sort of undefined. It's never really one exact emotion. I just try to write something that feels authentic,” Wilcox describes. “Happiness is an easy thing to let come out. When you’re writing songs and they come about in an organic way I think it's easy to portray happiness. It’s an easier emotion to translate. It's definitely something that I’m cognizant of throughout the songwriting process. I always ask, ‘Is this going to hit home, is this going to make somebody feel something?’”
Once Wilcox has the song written, he then brings the almost-finished product to the rest of the group. Together they begin the process of transforming a Wilcox original into a ‘Daykisser’ tune.
“As far as bringing the songs to the band, I’ll try to have the whole song mapped out and arranged first. Lately it’s been more of an effort of me meeting with people individually. I’ll meet with Kenneth or Peter, or both, to kind of learn the song as a preliminary step before all five of us will get in a room and rehearse the song together. I think that some songs are more laborious than others as far as writing the parts, but for the majority of our tracks, everyone’s parts are written by their respective members,” says Wilcox. “I do work a full-time job and it’s absolutely a struggle trying to get everyone together. It’s a very demanding job as far as time and energy. So, it has been a challenge to find the time to put into my personal music projects. But I try not to focus on the negatives so much. It’s more of like, because I have less time to focus on music, it almost makes me work harder when I do have those certain pockets of time. It makes me more productive.”
“It’s the same with the rest of us,” adds Piper, the group's lead guitarist who has played with Wilcox in several projects over the past decade. “I’m a full-time law student, James is working two jobs, Peter’s working two jobs, Michael’s playing in every musical group this side of the Mississippi. So, we all really value the time that we get to spend together making music. We may only get to practice once or twice each week and it just makes you...”
“You really have to maximize your time when you do get together.” Wilcox finishes.
Finding somebody to play music with and finding the time to play music with someone are two entirely different things explains Armstrong, who was poached by Wilcox after he saw him performing with Big Red & the Cuties.
“People will always be like, ‘Hey man I really like your sound, do you want to jam sometime?’ and you go ‘Sure.’ But when Jesse actually called back, I was like, ‘Oh, he actually is following up. OK. Cool. Let’s do this,” says Armstrong. “But that’s what is awesome about Memphis. Somebody always knows somebody that you’re trying to get in contact with. If you’ve been playing around for as long as we’ve all been playing, you can almost get in touch with anybody in the music scene and potentially make something happen.”
“That just speaks to how many musicians our age are here playing music. But also the willingness to be a part of other projects,” adds Wilcox. “There’s a really communal aspect to how the local band circuit works. Everyone is on the same team.”
Though Memphis currently lacks the institutions necessary to facilitate a self-reliant music industry, the community is still here.
“There’s a communal aspect to Memphis music. When we first came out, and we were ready to play a show, the first band we played with was Super Low, who were a lot more established than us,” says bassist James Rose. “It’s just one of those things, the Memphis scene looks out for other bands because we all have had those difficulties.”
“That’s what I love about playing music here,” explains Todd. “It’s way less about being competitive with everything, it’s way more about being cooperative.”
Behind the Lyrics
The Good Life
"Selfhood" released 2019
I came home from college in late 2017 and started writing all of these songs that would eventually become ‘Selfhood.’ “The Good Life” was the first one I wrote when I came back home. I was at my parents’ house and it just came out very naturally and effortlessly. It was almost already in my head. The refrain kind of kick started it, but the first line I wrote was the very beginning of the song, “Down to my last cig.” I just wanted words that would fit this feeling and melody that I had in my head. It was a very almost sad, melancholy feeling. This song is actually based on real events. It’s about messing up with someone that you really care about and trying to patch things up, but the ball is in their court. You’re almost at their mercy on whether they’ll let you back in or not. The chorus is kind of trying to remind the person that you’re special and what you had is worth salvaging. The song is kind of going back and forth between, ‘Y'all had a fight and were screaming, but can’t believe you really did all of that,’ but the chorus comes and reminds you, ‘Wait, this isn’t working. We need to fix this.’ This song is very much a story. It’s really the only narrative song that I’ve written.
The Good Life
Down to my last cig, driving all over town thinking about what I did
Splitting us in two like an old stick in the woods
Would you leave me in the street and run for good
Would you forget if you could?
Because we’re together have you heard about it
It’s so great I’m all about it
Holds me and she calls me lover
Says we’ll always have each other
On my way back in, did we say all that can you imagine
Did I really leave like that is that what happened
And when I try not to shout the more it happens
Will you ever need me again?
Because we’re together have you heard about it
Feels so good when I’m around it
Holds me and she brings me closer
Swears she’ll never have another
Why do I give in?
Does the good life always have to depend on everything we do?
Is that the wrong way to look at it?
Is it just a bad day?