Joss Jaffe closely explores the emotions and experiences of the human spirit.
The Los Angeles chillwave singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist embarks on an invigorating spiritual odyssey filled with resilience and restoration on his latest metamorphic album, Sun Mountain Sea, via Be Why Music.
“From a spiritual perspective, even when you’re in love with someone and it doesn’t work out, you’re still sort of connected to that person. That’s what some of these songs are talking about … trying to see that from the highest perspective, even though you may never see them again. That’s kind of what it’s like to be alive,” Jaffe said.
“When someone dies, you’re just left with the memory of that and how do you process that? These songs aren’t really that heavy, there are a couple that deal with heavier and stronger issues, but they’re pretty light in general. The hopefulness is a good quality. It’s the kind of thing you can play during a road trip and just chill.”
With a relaxed foot on the gas and one hand on the wheel, Jaffe’s Sun Mountain Sea instantly transports listeners to a carefree, windows-rolled-down headspace. Breathtaking waves of mystical electronic soundscapes, effervescent indie-pop sensibilities and lustrous instrumentation propel listeners across international scenic highways from Santa Barbara to Ibiza.
“It’s very honest, like the way a singer-songwriter would sing it. There’s an acoustic element, but it’s laid on top of these electronic beats. It’s been compared to The Postal Service and stuff like that,” said Jaffe, who also took inspiration from Foster The People, MGMT and Tycho.
“In my mind’s eye, I fantasized it would be like Ibiza-style, like Avicii or something. But that’s not me; I’m not really a big, electro-heavy guy. It has more of a chill-out kind of a vibe.”
Ray of Hope
Jaffe’s serene Sun Mountain Sea spiritual journey begins with the Vitamin D-soaked opener, “Sun to Shine,” as breezy synth, clacking electronic drums, meditative bass, vivid electric guitar and soft acoustic guitar radiate inner hope and personal growth.
He sings, “Everywhere you get to/Anywhere it takes you/In this life/All your dreams and visions/Loves and aspirations/All in time/Holding on to something/Holding on to nothing/All in mind/All the ones I’ve loved and all the things I live for/Sun to shine.”
“It’s about becoming more conscious and aware, and as you become more conscious and aware, you feel better, more protected and safe, and you feel good, like the power of the sun,” said Jaffe, who wrote the track in India. “The chorus is this peak experience where the music builds up and everything, and then I’m talking about all the people you love.”
“Dave’s a named artist on ‘Sun to Shine,’ but he sings backup on about half the album. He’s an incredible singer, and he can sing super high. It was fun to have him because he’s also a very good harmony singer,” he said.
In addition to therapeutic sunshine, listeners absorb positive vibes on Jaffe’s reggae-infused “Energy Field,” which weaves exhilarated trumpet, bouncy bass, peppy electric guitar, thumping drums and ethereal synths into an unexplained, cosmic connection.
He sings, “Light blankets the room when you rise/Pull back the curtains and open your eyes/Flow like a leaf drifts through a pond/Waves like an echo rippling on.”
“That song reminds me of M83’s ‘Midnight City,’ and then Empire of the Sun’s ‘Walking on a Dream.’ Those songs are a little more in the pocket; they don’t take quite so many chances. There are some weird aspects to ‘Energy Field,’ like the harmony and the trumpet,” Jaffe said.
“It’s cool, but it’s out there. I was calling it a psychedelic love song, and I wanted it to be a little bit strange, so that it took you out of a normal experience.”
Jaffe helps create a lingering surreal experience on the Equanimous & Oliwa Remix of “Energy Field,” which is included as a downtempo bonus track on the CD version of Sun Mountain Sea. Whispery synths, serene piano, twinkling acoustic guitar, fluid bass, smooth drums and exuberant electric guitar create a mind-bending, out-of-body sonic experience.
“There are hardly any vocals on it at all. It’s basically like a West Coast festival-EDM song. Equanimous is a super cool dude; he runs his own festivals, and he’s up in Nevada City,” Jaffe said. “Oliwa is another friend of ours, and he’s really talented. He lives here in California, and he’s a really cool guy who’s doing a lot of producing.”
Jaffe continues to search for spiritual enlightenment and past reconciliation on the reflective Sun Mountain Sea closer, “Reminisce,” as summery electric guitar, booming bass, clicking drums, sprightly synths and buoyant trumpet bring long-awaited peace and closure.
He sings, “Remembering when laughing in the sun/Thinking back to how it begun/Feeling the time when two were one/In the shadow of the mountain.”
“I started writing this song when I was in high school. It made it on the album, and I really wanted to share it. Remember when you were a teenager and you had a crush on someone, and they didn’t like you back. It seemed like it was the end of the world, and your emotions were so extreme,” Jaffe said.
“I also loved Led Zeppelin and when they got into their acoustic phase, like ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Going to California.’ They were using a lot of ‘Lord of the Rings’ imagery, like ‘The Hobbit.’ I’ve got a few lines in there that are Tolkien-esque.”
Jaffe’s Creative Journey
Jaffe assembled his transformative Sun Mountain Sea journey track-by-track from December 2020 to December 2021. The album’s 10 tracks (or 11 on the CD version) were released individually as singles before becoming a seamless collection.
“They all have different starting points, and that’s one thing that combines them. This album to me almost feels like an anthology. When I knew I wanted to make this album, I went through all my journals and songbooks and thought, ‘What is really speaking to me?’” he said.
“Some of them were old, but others were from my late 20s and 30s. They all came together like that, and it was a huge project.”
Each Sun Mountain Sea track started as a demo Jaffe recorded and constructed in Logic. With an initial sonic foundation in place, Jaffe recruited producer DJ Taz Rashid, vocal engineer Krishan Khalsa and trumpeter Phil Rodriguez to help shape the album’s multi-layered, pop-focused sound.
“Taz had done a couple of remixes for me on a previous album. They were really good, and I love his sound. He’s become super successful, and he’s just all-around a great guy,” he said. “We sat down together in December 2017 at the Café Gratitude in Venice Beach, and we hashed it out on the back of a napkin.”
Part of that vision also included creating and releasing a video for each track from Sun Mountain Sea. Jaffe worked with different animators, directors, videographers and dancers to develop and finalize the concepts for all 10 videos.
“Honestly, I think these videos make the songs better. When someone watches the video and listens to the music, they see how they really match,” he said. “I’m trying to get people as much as possible, if they wanna do the album, to watch the video playlist and go through that. It took a lot of creativity because videos can be super expensive. We did some loops and stuff … it was like this big experiment.”
While Jaffe continues to bask in the release of Sun Mountain Sea, he’s eagerly anticipating another album that’s on the horizon. A new collaborative project with Jim “Kimo” West, a world-renowned Hawaiian “slack key” guitarist, will drop in May.
To date, the duo has shared four tranquil instrumental singles from their upcoming album, Aum Akua, including “Blossom,” “Open Ocean,” “Free Float” and “Kauai Daydream.” Jaffe adds a stunning international array of ngoni, tabla, percussion, bass and shakers to beautifully complement West’s hypnotic guitarmanship.
“With slack key, there’s a lot of harmonics and fingerpicking … it’s just a creative way of playing the guitar. There’s also a lot of open tuning. It’s a very bright, resonant kind of style,” said Jaffe, who’s featured on nine tracks with West on Aum Akua. “I’m playing all these Indian instruments on the album, and Jim’s playing all the Hawaiian guitar and percussion. It’s like this merging of two traditions.”
In the meantime, Jaffe has several live shows lined up along the West Coast. He’ll be playing at Las Vegas’ Sunset Park on Saturday along with a May 14 West Stadium Park show in Ogden, Utah, and a June 11 performance at Salt Lake City’s Krishna Temple.
“I’m playing at the Festival of Colors, and they’ve hired me for a bunch of shows. That’s a Utah-based group that focuses on festivals of India, and they’re really positive, feel-good events,” Jaffe said.