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Jack Downey Says Hello: Wave Goodbye frontman on where creativity and technology collide

As the solo member of indie-rock project Wave Goodbye and self-proclaimed clone of Harrison Reed Dolan (the drummer of alt-rock band grizzlies.), Jack Downey wears many hats — drummer, bassist, guitarist or vocalist. He juggles all of these roles with ease, and presents his stories with poetry. His latest EP, summer, tackles the feeling of time lost as a result of the pandemic. “Lately I’ve been freaking out because it seems like the world is crashing down” are probably the most universally relatable lyrics, presented with undeniably raw enthusiasm.

Although Jack isn’t a professionally trained vocalist, his sense of tone is completely authentic and fearless. Like a shattered pot repaired with gold, subtle imperfections only bring more personality to the music. Paired with slick layers of guitar plastered over different structures and time signatures, summer is an EP that exists somewhere between sadness and joy, in the place we know as the odd in-between of 2020. 

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Jack about this project, including what he wants to accomplish with Wave Goodbye and his plans for the hopefully not-so-distant future of live music.

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Angelina Singer (Motif): I’m really excited to hear about your experiences while putting summer together. What inspired you to build this collection of songs?

Jack Downey: The solo project [Wave Goodbye] came around in the summer of 2018, so I’d just finished junior year of high school and was in kind of a dark spot. I was basically caught up on various teenage things: worries about school, girl troubles, etc. Also, I was in a band at the time – Friday Life, which I sing and play guitar for, but I needed something on the side where I could get my emotions out without putting it through a whole band first. I could come up with the music on my own and just do it whenever I felt like it. So out of that need came Wave Goodbye. And it started out as really nothing serious – as I said, it was just a way to vent and just screw around with more minimal music. But over time, I got more attached to it because writing the music for the project came so easily to me, as I had a lot more wiggle room in terms of what direction I could go in. So I tried a bunch of different things. And eventually, I started polishing it up a little more, because I took a lot more pride in what I was doing with the project, and I started mixing it better. So, with each release, starting in 2018, the mix has really improved. This last EP summer is probably my most accomplished EP yet in terms of mixing. So that’s how it’s come about, and it’s always been a solo thing. Occasionally, I’ll collaborate with people to help mix. I’ve played a couple shows, and I’ll probably start doing that again when shows are back. I was always worried about playing solo with the loop pedal and stuff, because that’s always how I do it – since it’s a bunch of layered guitars. That always scared me, because if you do even one thing wrong you have to start over. Now I’m much more ready to take that on.

 As for the EP, I was writing another one called Dead Summer, and then I came up with the song “adrift” in June, just by screwing around with the loop pedal a little bit. And it was different than the other EP I was working on, so I decided to pursue that one for now. The EP was under the working title Milk because my friends, The Mudskippers, have an album called Dairy that also has a dog on the cover, so I figured I’d kinda just make a joke out of that. Then I recorded a bunch of songs for that, just chronicling my experiences that happened over the summer: dating a girl before we ended up breaking it off, going back to school, and just living in a pandemic. So I took all that and put it into the lyrics. And then when it came time to send my music out to the label that put my songs on tape – 

AS: Congrats on that! It’s so cool that you have a label backing you.

JD: Yeah it was really cool and it was a first for me! I realized when I sent it to them that Milk was a stupid name unless you knew what I was talking about, so I changed it. And I figured summer was a good name, because it’s about what happened over the summer – so it’s like a chronicle of that time period.

AS: Yeah and it’s interesting that you chose to chronicle that, because like you said, the original name was going to be Dead Summer. And I think so many people relate to because we all feel like a year of our lives was wasted essentially. Finding purpose and meaning in that is really powerful. So I really enjoyed hearing the different textures and emotions that you have in the EP, and how you chronicle the emotions throughout that experience. Was there one song that you feel sums up your whole experience the best out of that EP?

JD: The fact that they cover so many different topics makes that one kind of hard.

AS: I know! *laughs*

JD: The music on that EP except for maybe “tuesday night” and “you and me floating in space” have lyrics that are kind of depressing, but I’m not normally that depressed, and it’s probably because I have that musical outlet that stops me from bottling up all those negative emotions. But I would say, there isn’t any specific song that sums it up; I’d say the EP as a whole sums up my experience of the summer in the various moments it was written; some of the songs were written early in the summer. “206 (i hate weekends)” was the last one I wrote – that was when I was going back to school. So that one is probably about summer the least. If I had to choose, I’d say either – that is kind of tough.

AS: Just pick one; don’t overthink it!

JD: I’d say “summer of love”, mainly.

AS: That was my favorite! 

JD: Oh, thank you!

AS: Yeah, I really liked that one. 

JD: I would pick that one, just because it details the broader scale of summer. “crashing down” would probably be second, because that’s also about an extended period of time. I found ways around the mindset in that song where it’s kind of the feeling of hopelessness about a situation – which is fortunate. But yeah, I’d say “summer of love” because everyone around me found a girlfriend or something over the summer – which I thought was pretty funny. And like it says in the song, I thought I was in that boat, and then it didn’t end up working out. So it chronicles the rise and fall of that experience.

AS: Would you say that song helped you cope with that? I’m sure it was frustrating to feel like the odd-one-out in your friend group especially. 

JD: It helped! It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek song in a way – like the whole summer of love turns into the fall of despair. I was in [Martha’s] Vineyard, and that line just popped into my head, and I was like “okay this song will be called “summer of love”. Though the relationship that it was based on – it was never really a terrible thing that happened. Sometimes in music, I guess, you take things that happened and dramatize them a little bit. The girl in question and I are still really good friends. She’s a musician too, so I’ve helped her with a couple of her songs – we’re still really cool. 

AS: I think everyone can relate to that optimism, and the frustration when it all crashes. You really portray that so effortlessly with this whole piece. I also enjoyed the way you use different time signatures and different musical structures to reflect your ideas. How do you attack your songwriting? Do you go and say “I want to write a song in 5/4 time, I want to do this or that”? Or do you let the lyricism and the emotion drive the technique?

JD: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would say a lot of the songs are definitely instrumental first. On my computer, a lot of them are labeled “untitled” and the date they were recorded. I don’t want to stick a specific name to them at that point if they haven’t had an idea put to them first. So I said how “adrift” came out of the loop pedal. “you and me floating in space” (the 5/4ths time) came out of me seeing if I could do something with that. And I did, so that was pretty cool and I decided that would be on there. I had the riff for “golden” since the very end of 2019. It was a much different song, but I just took the basic idea of it and restructured it over the loop pedal too. Then I figured out what chords went with the lead guitar, and what drum machine beat I could do. A lot of the lyrics – oddly enough for this album — I didn’t really think through all that much; they just kind of happened spontaneously when I was recording vocals. A lot of them I kind of ad-libbed, because I wanted them to feel more natural. Then if I had the ad-lib down, I could change this line a little bit, and that’s kind of how that process went. I think I wrote “you and me floating in space” and “crashing down” I wrote in advance. The same also with “adrift” to an extent, but songs like “golden” and “summer of love” I’m pretty sure I wrote while I was recording. So it’s a mixture. 

AS: How you ever had an emotion that is hard to write about? Maybe the breakup, maybe stuff like that in your life that is frustrating? And do you find that you have mental blocks sometimes? Or is it easy enough to just dig in and go for it?

JD: I would say, that even in my most depressing songs, I’m holding back from how raw I want to make them. Like I want to make really honest music, but at the same time, I don’t want to freak people out, or anything like that. So I tend to edit them in post if they come out really dark, or I just don’t use the lyrics. There was this one EP I released in 2019 called “oh no” – which, was pretty dark. 

AS: I could see that from the title, yeah. 

JD: Particularly this one song “Anger”, which was just, well, angry. And I’m not even that angry of a person, but I was angry for a brief period. And I kinda came up with the lyrics at work during that time. Then my parents heard it and were like, “Are you good? Do you need help?” And I didn’t want them to think that, you know? I didn’t wanna worry my parents. There’s gotta be a level of politeness, I guess, with my lyrics. I obviously want them to be honest, but I think at some points, even just for presentation, I tend to hold back sometimes. 

AS: Well you want to consider your audience and you want to think about how they might perceive it. That’s all just good marketing, so I totally understand that. I also wanted to ask you how you came up with the name for your one-man band, Wave Goodbye. Does that mean something to you?

JD: So the original name of the project, from when it started in 2018 to March or April of 2019, was Sunset Demon. And that just kind of came to me one day when I was starting to write music for the project, because I wanted something that was kind of haunting but beautiful. So that was what I came up with, and I went with that. But I just grew to hate the name after a while; I just thought it was stupid.

AS: It’s a little too metal for your style, maybe. 

JD: It’s a little metal, and it’s just kind of cartoony. It’s kind of like a Tumblr handle, in a way. It wasn’t really what I stand for. I remember when people found out about it, they were like, “Really? It just doesn’t fit.” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.” So I went through a ton of other names, and Wave Goodbye came from an episode of the show Magnum, P.I. Do you know that show?

AS: I feel like I heard of it, but I haven’t watched it. 

DJ: There’s been a reboot of it recently but I’m talking about the ’80s version, because that’s the classic, and it’s a really good show. So the title Wave Goodbye comes from a title of that TV show. And it was surprisingly not taken by any other bands, so I felt like it fit the vibe. It’s got that somber, melancholy tone to it. Also, each Wave Goodbye release is waving goodbye to something I was holding onto that I kind of let go of through the songs. So, it’s kind of waving goodbye to these feelings, or to these words that you had that you needed to say. You don’t have to say them anymore necessarily because you’ve gotten them out of your system. There’s a feeling of relief attached to that, and I feel like for the people listening, it’s like waving goodbye to any of the emotions they connect to in the songs – because now they know they’re not alone. And it’s a catharsis. Because for me, any kind of music I listen to is a kind of catharsis in a way. Maybe also some of the instrumentation, but most often the lyrics with what the subject matter is about.

AS: I love the saying too, I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it says: “If you focus on the past, you’ll trip on the now.” Like if you get too caught up, and I think it fits very much in your message with what you’re trying to do with your project and how you really have to forge forward and keep pushing through these things that hold us back. I’m an author myself, so I’ve written about this sort of stuff, and I think everyone can universally relate to that. And I know you’re going to get back to playing live shows as soon as you can, so do you have anyone backing you, or is it really just you with a loop pedal?

JD: I mean for now, it would probably just be me and the loop pedal. Because I can bring my guitar, and the drum machine, and just loop those together. It’s just cool, because if I ever wanna play a show, I can just go; I don’t have to coordinate with other people. That’s always been the problem with being in a band like Friday Life – and that’s just four people. You have to make sure everybody’s on board, and if they’re not on board, you have to decide if you want someone to fill in for that person, or those people. Then you have to find people who are available on that day. And it’s just a lot of work. The smaller the band, the better for scheduling purposes. I’m in another band called Sun Mask with just my brother, and that band is easy because he and I are always on the same page and we live together – at least when I’m not at school anyway. It’s pretty easy to coordinate stuff like that. The smaller the circle, the easier it is to plan. But I think at some point, I’m gonna go with a full band, because I feel like I can explore more avenues that way. There’s only so much I can do with the drum machine set-up right now. I think I still have some ideas for it, but I think eventually I’ll move away from it. 

AS: I love too, these days, how these new innovative bands are cropping up out of the woodwork. I actually talked to a guy recently about an Internet band of people that live all different places, called sky.age.

JD: What was the name?

AS: sky.age – I don’t know if you know them, it’s partly based out of California.

JD: Oh, my friend from Cape Cod is in a band where the singer and guitarist is from England, the drummer’s from California, and he’s the bass player. It’s called Cabin Boy.

AS: Oh that sounds similar, so funny—almost the same situation. But anyway, I really enjoy the fact that people are doing things solo like you with loop pedals and technology, or they’re using technology to connect with their band members from miles away. So either way, technology is building these new opportunities, which I think is really awesome. So now I’ll ask, do you have a favorite lyric that you’ve ever written? Is there one that sticks in your head?

JD: I’ve written a lot of songs, so that’s tough. I would say the lyrics to the songs “Flying Car” and “In and Out of Focus” – which are two songs off of my EP Youth Songs, which I released back in 2020. Those two songs – actually, the lyrics to that whole EP, I’m very proud of. But I think those two songs in particular – I think I hit the nail on the head with what I was going for. “Flying Car” is about alienation, and just wanting to escape. PC [Providence College] is a great school, but there aren’t a lot of musicians here, in the way that I am. So I felt like I was outside of that. In “Flying Car”, the main character finds this one person that shares a similar interest, and it’s like okay, we have each other and we don’t have to be tied down to this place. That came from my feeling of no one else really sharing my passion for music. “In and Out of Focus” was about a situation – this girl I was talking to at school. We were talking on the phone and stuff and it was really cool. Then we started hanging out, and it just was not what I expected it to be. So it was kind of like a whole thing of do I continue pursuing this because of what it could be, or do I realize what it is and act accordingly? And I feel like both those songs got across – it was like a perfect mixture of straightforward and poetic. That’s what I try to shoot for in my songs, so I think that both those songs are my favorite sets of lyrics that I’ve written – at least for Wave Goodbye. 

AS: I’ll definitely have to take a listen to those, as I’ve focused more on this EP for now, but I’ll check those out later. Also, I meant to ask you too – did you start on guitar primarily, or how did you first get into making music?

JD: I started simply just writing lyrics for songs. That just kind of came naturally, and then I decided that I wanted to play guitar to further flesh out my ideas. I kept at it long enough where I convinced my parents to let me get a guitar. So they got me an acoustic guitar, and I started working up from that. I got my first electric guitar, which is a Fender Telecaster, in eighth grade. I took lessons for guitar, and I currently am as well, but I’ve never taken lessons for singing – which may or may not be apparent on the EP. 

Mostly I learned because I’d be singing either in the car, in the shower, or in church – my family goes to church pretty much every weekend. I would start singing along to the hymns and stuff. That helped me develop an idea of notes and other concepts. That’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a singing education. I probably should take actual lessons at some point, but I think for now I’ll just do my own thing. Over time, I moved out into bass playing, and I know some drums. And then learning keyboard — because I’m in a piano class right now. 

AS: I’ve never heard of someone starting music from writing poetry essentially — if you think about it. That is very unique, because I feel like for most people, it’s like “oh, I started playing guitar and I wanted to write my own stuff” — that’s the most common answer. It’s cool that your music journey started from lyricism by itself — that’s very special. 

JD: Thank you!

AS: Yeah! I play guitar too, and have been for twelve years now, but I still take lessons because I want to learn how to teach later. It’s a journey, and I’m really glad that you’re pursuing it. And hey, you got a record deal, so you’re not doing too bad!

JD: Yeah, it’s a loose record deal. It’s from a tape label, and tape labels are really underground and really independent. I collaborated with this label called Baron Tapes from Indiana. They send me some of the tapes that they made, and they keep some. Whatever they make they keep, and whatever I make I keep. So it’s pretty simple, and there aren’t any binding contracts or anything like that. My goal for all my future works is to release them on a label each time, no matter which label it is, because there’s a lot of really cool tape labels—including some in Massachusetts. So I’ll see what I can do. 

AS: What I always like to tell people, is it’s exposure and it’s learning experience, and either way, it’s prestige. People hear “record label” and their expectations immediately go way up. Even if it’s just a tape label like you said, it has perceptive value. So absolutely own that, don’t talk it down because it’s impressive. Did you have anything else you’d like to share?

JD: Tapes and music can be found at https://wavegoodbye.bandcamp.com/album/summer, my primary platform. Hop on that wave. If you want to hear the rest of my music, that’s also on bandcamp and https://soundcloud.com/wavegoodbyemusic. summer was the first release I ever put on all platforms, because I wasn’t even planning on it, but I knew I had momentum building and wanted to continue that. If I limit myself to three platforms, then I’m not doing a good enough job exposing my music to people. So I put it on all platforms, and I think that’s definitely helped. 

AS: Great! And last thing, just because I was curious; how do you know Harrison [Reed Dolan, drummer of grizzlies.]? I know you guys are friends from grizzlies., and all that

JD: Harrison and I—last year, before the pandemic—we both went to shows at this place called the Bear Cottage in Narragansett. It’s a house venue. I was playing in a band called Intertidal—I played bass for them. We were supposed to play two shows there. We played one, and the second one got canceled by the landlord back in February of that year. Harrison was just there, either to play or to see shows. grizzlies. might’ve played early on, but I don’t think it was a show I was at, sadly. I did see grizzlies. one time as AS220, and I didn’t realize he was in the band, though I found out later. There was a picture with Harrison in it that my friend posted, and he tagged me in it because Harrison looked a lot like me in the picture. And I had to clarify that it wasn’t me, and he was like “Dude that’s so weird.” Then we found out it was Harrison, and I was like “Dude, you’re like my clone” so we hit it off that way, and we started talking about music. He’s a really great guy—he’s really cool and great at making music. I sent him a beat one time and he did something with it. I don’t know when that’s coming out, but he and I have worked on a track together. 

AS: Well if there’s a collab coming, hit me up because I wanna cover that too.

JD: Oh, I definitely will. 

Stream Wave Goodbye on Bandcamp HERE: https://wavegoodbye.bandcamp.com/album/summer

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