“I felt almost like the two songs together were my personal trajectory through the relationship”
Blazing through the Baltimore scene is indie-pop sensation Jaxyn Lethe who has recently dropped a dynamic and introspective new release, ‘I Can Take It.’ Jaxyn’s musical journey is one for the books.
She’s been surrounded by music since she was practically a toddler, starting piano at the tender age of 3! Can you imagine that? By the time she hit double digits, she was already strutting her stuff in famous NYC venues like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, competing in piano competitions like a total pro.
It wasn’t all classical music and stuffy recitals for this musical prodigy. At just 8 years old, like some kind of divine intervention, she heard a boogie-woogie pianist at brunch and instantly fell in love with that vibe.
From then on, she got hooked on the blues and never looked back. That vital moment brought together two intrinsic elements that would make up the Jaxyn Lethe sound; a love of fun upbeat tonalities, with the skill and detail of classical music.
Fast forward to now, and Jaxyn is all grown up and making waves with her newest jam, ‘I Can Take It.’ This song is a whole mood, and it’s got a rhythm that’ll get you hooked. She’s not afraid to experiment, changing up the meter and keeping things fresh.
And those lyrics? They hit hard, talking about setting boundaries and the fallout if you don’t. You can feel the emotion pouring through.
‘I Can Take It’ comes with a bonus track called ‘Here and There,’ and it’s the perfect yin to the main song’s yang. It’s all about the healing process after a heartbreak, and Jaxyn’s acoustic/electronic blend is like a musical therapy session.
With the success of her previous hit, ‘So Much Cooler,’ she knows that lightning can strike twice when you least expect it. So, she’s staying true to her music, keeping the vibes fresh, and making her mark in the Indie Electronic scene.
We can tell you’re itching for an insight into how this impressive clock ticks, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We chatted with Jaxyn about the new release, the benefit of piano lessons, and the best sitcom of all time starring Frankie Muniz.
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Happy Mag: What are you up to today?
Jaxyn Lethe: Today (July 19) I am working on printing T-shirts with a printing shop in my neighborhood, I am writing this interview, and working on mixing a new song until I go to a part time job working at a Ramen restaurant. After my shift I’ll practice piano for a virtual audition I have tomorrow for a band in Boston.
Happy Mag: Tell us about where you are from? What’s the music scene like in your neck of the woods?
Jaxyn Lethe: My early childhood was spent in Brooklyn, NYC. I was raised there till I was about 10, and then I spent the majority of my life after that in Baltimore, MD. I’ve also lived in Chicago, IL, and in rural Maine.
When I was growing up I wasn’t aware of an indie music scene in Brooklyn, but looking back there was definitely one happening. When I was raised in Williamsburg, that’s when MGMT was blowing up, and I think they really influenced the Brooklyn hipster culture at the time.
I would always go to concerts in the area though, but I was too young to remember if there was anything in my genre. A lot of big bands passed through where I lived though, and I frequently attended a concert series in a park nearby, Prospect Park.
The only band that I remember seeing from that concert series was Mary Mary, because one of the sisters was really pregnant, and I think at one point she had to stop the concert.
I am definitely more aware of and influenced by a thriving Baltimore Indie scene. There have been a lot of amazing artists to come out of the city, like Snail Mail, Turnstile, Beach House, JPEG Mafia, and Animal Collective.
This summer was when I really discovered the “underground” Indie scene here, with bands that have a lot of streams playing very small shows.
I went to one concert at this venue called The Compound, which is a performance space and housing for artists from Baltimore, and saw two bands that I really fell in love with, Moontide Gallery, and Tomato Flower.
Their live sound was so good that I felt like they were definitely going to blow up. Yet, the setting of them playing was so humble, and I went up to talk to both bands after the show. Moontide Gallery has millions of streams on Spotify, and Tomato Flower toured with Animal Collective.
The great thing about Baltimore’s Indie scene is that the city is so small, that all of the artists are really approachable. After the show, I was looking at Moontide Gallery’s Instagram and website, and was really inspired by their brand.
I loved their website so much that I ended up dming the artist and asking who did it, and was able to get help from their creative director/website designer to do mine. That’s something I’m working on right now.
Also, at the time, I was working at a cafe in my neighborhood, and Moontide Gallery would frequently come in and order. I sparked up a conversation with them once about how I saw their show, and now we’re on a head nod basis. They also work at a different cafe in the neighborhood, so I see them there as well.
Baltimore is great because everyone in the city knows someone you know. Everyone has a mutual friend, or connection, that can lead to a conversation.
Happy Mag: Describe an average day?
Jaxyn Lethe: I wake up, make my bed, get ready (get dressed, do my skincare, brush my teeth), I eat breakfast, and then the rest of my day varies by season and my weekly commitments. In the summer, I’ve been trying to get my steps in, so I’ll take a walk every day. Sometimes I work out in my basement, but a lot of times it’s too time consuming and will alter the rest of my day.
Every day I will work on my music/business in some capacity. If I write a song and produce it, that’s a full day’s work so my day will only consist of that. Some days I will email venues and bands trying to book shows. I usually only spend a few hours on this because if I get too bored, I’m less likely to consistently do it.
I’ve been working on a new website, and that takes a few hours every few days. I love mixing, and so as a break in between the logistical tasks to get through I’ll mix my upcoming releases. If I’m working on a music video, my work can be really obscure but fun.
I will spend my time making props, planning outfits, online shopping for wardrobe, coordinating schedules, etc. When I’m preparing for a release I’ll spend my time trying to do promotion, whether it be playlisting or social media posts. When I’m in Boston I’ll spend 2-4 hours a week rehearsing with my band. When I’m preparing for a show, I’ll spend all of my free time rehearsing.
I also consistently work a part-time job, so will balance my schedule with my shifts of the week, and save the more time-consuming tasks for my days off. During school, my days are more busy because I have scheduled classes, homework, and daily piano practice.
I spend most of every day working, but the type of work varies. I enjoy the work that I do for my music, so it doesn’t really feel like working. To schedule every day, I will make a list the night before or in the morning of the tasks I have to complete that day. Once I complete the list, the day is usually over.
Happy Mag: What about your ultimate day?
Jaxyn Lethe: I love food, so any day I get to go to one of my favorite restaurants makes it a really good day.
My ultimate day is I wake up well rested, I get dressed, have a light breakfast, go on a hike with my best friend, go to our favorite all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffet, and take a short walk after to help digest while listening to music in my headphones, go home, find out that my music is blowing up, write and produce an amazing song, watch an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, and go to bed.
Happy Mag: What did you listen to growing up that fuelled your passion for music?
Jaxyn Lethe: As a kid, my family would circulate records as my dad is a collector. The records I remember being played the most was the St Vincent and David Burne collaboration ‘Love This Giant’, Bill Evans ‘Portrait in Jazz’, A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm’, and Harry Nilsson’s ‘The Point’.
Besides this, we were really into Boogie Woogie piano and Blues, and would listen to a lot of Dr. John and James Booker. I remember when I got an Ipod, I started listening to a lot of 80’s pop. I was listening to the Bangles and the Gogo’s religiously on my train rides to school, and I think that’s where my songwriting influences came from.
Happy Mag: How did your early experiences in classical piano, including rigorous training and performing at renowned venues like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, shape your musical journey?
Jaxyn Lethe: I think that Classical training gave me the musical knowledge needed to be able to produce my own music. When I think of a melody, I can easily put it to chords because I have the background in music to be able to know what notes are in every chord.
It also gives me the ability to break the traditional mold of what chords to use, because I know what chords are usually used in pop music, but I know a large spectrum of chords that would work. I also think that having the musical background in a non vocal instrument made it easier to think of interesting non-vocal lines in my production.
A lot of times I’m making counter melodies with a synth in the background, and I don’t think that I would think to do that if I didn’t play piano before I started singing.
The biggest thing that Classical did for me though was give me a lot of trust in myself as a person. I grew up working extremely hard to win competitions, and it gave me the ability to be really disciplined if I need to be.
Since I was spending 4-6 hours every day on weekends doing the most menial piano practice as a young child, I can spend 8 hours working on a song as an adult. I can rehearse for 6 hours straight if I need to. And since I saw results as a child, I trust that I’ll see results now.
Happy Mag: Can you discuss your transition from classical to blues piano and the influences that sparked your love for the boogie-woogie style?
Jaxyn Lethe: Honestly, I don’t really know why I was so taken to Boogie Woogie. I think the enjoyment of a piano performer combined with my parent’s support and love of music gave the perfect conditions for me to be successful in a new style.
After I saw Ethan Leinwand play at a brunch, I wanted to hear more, so my parents and I did research and got more blues records. We also contacted Ethan to get lessons, and I had a lesson every week.
Looking back on my childhood, I’m so grateful that my parents were non traditional in the way that I was raised, and I’m so glad that they were so supportive of my musical journey.
I could’ve said I loved country music and they would’ve gotten me a guitar, and lessons from the best country musician they could find. My parents were also really strict with my practicing, and made sure that I was practicing blues once I took on a new lesson teacher.
After I left NYC, I was no longer studying at the Classical performing arts school. This made me practice Blues piano more because I had no reason to practice Classical as much as I was previously.
Happy Mag: How did studying with blues pianist Erwin Helfer in Chicago further develop your musical abilities and contribute to your experience playing in clubs around the city?
Jaxyn Lethe: Studying with Erwin Helfer was the first time I had to write lyrics. I remember it was an assignment to write two verses of a blues form and sing and play them, and I really enjoyed it. I remember I wrote something funny that made fun of my parents. Erwin was always inviting me and my family out to different clubs to see other Blues pianists play, and also some of his other students.
It wasn’t long before I would be invited to play out of curiosity. I was so little to be in that environment, and I am a woman. I wouldn’t play full sets, only a few songs at a time. This really helped me to be more outgoing, because I was constantly being asked to play when a piano was in the room.
Any time my family went to a restaurant that had a piano, they’d make me go up and play a tune. They didn’t ask me to do this when I played Classical, because mastering a Classical piece takes a lot longer.
Happy Mag: How did the COVID-19 lockdown provide an opportunity for you to delve into songwriting and production?
Jaxyn Lethe: I’m an only child, and when schools shut down my family moved to rural Maine. This made it extremely boring and very isolating, because I couldn’t see any of my friends, and there were no other people for miles.
I wasn’t allowed to leave the house due to fear of exposure, so I had to find ways to fill my time. At first I played an absurd amount of video games, but after a month or two I felt so bad about myself that I had to do something productive.
I had Garageband on my computer and had been to a summer camp that had taught me to use Garageband when I was in seventh grade. The first “song” that I made was a joke, but I realized that producing was actually pretty fun. After that, I would just spend time exploring Garageband’s capabilities until I needed to upgrade.
Songwriting came secondary to me producing, because if I wanted to produce I needed something to produce, and I didn’t like instrumental beats. I was going to have my best friend sing on the songs I was making, but it was too hard to manage sending audio files back and forth, especially with the limited communication and no in person meetings.
So, I resorted to singing my songs myself, and it took a long time for me to become comfortable with my voice.
Once I got the hang of producing and songwriting using the tools that I had, it was all I did during lockdown.
Happy Mag: Could you elaborate on learning Logic Pro X and producing a vast number of songs during the two years of isolation?
Jaxyn Lethe: I can’t say that there’s a point where I felt like I completely learned Logic Pro X. I’m still learning tricks to make production easier and more interesting. I used trail and error for everything.
When I ran into a problem I would watch a youtube video, and usually the video would explain a lot more than just the problem I ran into. I also attended a virtual summer program at NYU for Recorded music, and had to take an online music production course that taught me a lot of tricks. I had a little help from my dad, as he gave me a compressor microphone and small interface to record on.
The number of songs I produced was out of boredom, and having a new medium for emotional release. I had a lot of stuff to write about as a few years of my life were really difficult, and I’d never had as much freedom with emotional expression.
Happy Mag: With a full tuition scholarship, you chose to attend Berklee College of Music. How did your first year at Berklee influence your music, and how did you establish a band and a supportive community there?
Jaxyn Lethe: Being at Berklee gave me the environment I needed to start releasing music. Since everyone is a musician, you can get really good feedback. Also, since it’s a college, everyone there is my age, and is my target audience. I established a band through meeting new people, and through mutual friends.
Almost every conversation with a new person at Berklee includes “What’s your principal instrument?” so everyone knows who can do what. After meeting enough people, and sharing my music, a few people reached out to me about wanting to play with me, and I had friends that played different instruments, so I just found times that everyone was free to get together.
I sent everyone the demos that we would be playing, because most of my music isn’t released yet, and then we’d learn to play the songs live.
In terms of establishing a supportive community, I try to be outgoing and nice to new people. When I like someone, I ask them to get lunch or hang out. Once we were close enough, I’d start being invited to their friends’ events, and meet more people through them. I try to get to know everyone I meet at school at a basic level, and I’d try to share my music with as many people as possible.
Happy Mag: Your single “I Can Take It” showcases intricate meter changes and introspective lyrics. Can you discuss the creative process behind the song and its exploration of setting boundaries and potential consequences?
Jaxyn Lethe: I originally wrote ‘I Can Take It’ as a challenge to myself to be able to sing across changing meters. I was super inspired by Hiatus Kaiyote. After I produced the instrumental with the changing meters, I had the melody idea, and for a while I was writing lyrics that would fit the
phrasing. I wrote the first verse, and after that I knew what the song was going to be about. “My heart is open, I’m ready for it, give me a temper, I can take it, I can take it” After I wrote this, I realized its intention. When I say “give me a temper” I’m talking to someone/something, which I realized to be the universe/God. I’m asking for a relationship, I’m ready for it, even if it’s bad.
So, I continued writing the song like I’d gotten what I’d asked for, and was dealing with the consequences of it. A lot of times when I’m writing lyrics, I’ll like the sound of words and phrasing, and the meaning will come about after the phrase is written. That was definitely the case for this song. I used a lot of metaphors and imagery, and hope that it can be related to a lot of different situations aside from what I interpret the song to mean.
Happy Mag: How did the response from fans on social media influence your decision to release “I Can Take It” as a single, and what were your considerations in terms of production and timing?
Jaxyn Lethe: When I went to Berklee I got a lot of new followers because I was meeting a lot of new people. When they looked at my Instagram, a lot of them would comment on the video I had posted of ‘I Can Take It’, and ask about its release.
I had taken a long break from working on the song, because I had made the video and song 6 months and a year prior. This made me take the song more seriously, because people were reacting well to it. So, I reproduced the song, and felt it was ready to be released with my next project.
Originally I was going to release a summer EP, but after producing ‘Here and There’, I felt that the two songs should be released as a single instead as they fit so perfectly together. In terms of timing, I try to be consistent with releasing roughly every 3 months, so the release schedule was already planned. I also had a gig the night before the release and was hoping to promote the song through the live show.
Happy Mag: The single “I Can Take It” is accompanied by a visually striking music video featuring a burning house. Can you share the inspiration behind the imagery and the symbolism it represents within the song?
Jaxyn Lethe: The inspiration behind the imagery is in the lyrics. I can’t remember when the idea originally came to me, but I felt very called to build my own house and burn it down. There was something so sad about destroying your own art, and I thought that it was symbolic of the meaning of the song. Self-destruction is a big theme, and so is a burning house, so it made a lot of sense.
I wanted the house to be very unique and beautiful, representing each individual person. Burning it down represents destroying yourself in a relationship.
Happy Mag: The bonus track “Here and There” provides an optimistic contrast to “I Can Take It” and explores the process of rebuilding after a breakup. How does this song reflect your personal experiences and emotions, and how does it connect thematically to the preceding track?
Jaxyn Lethe: When I wrote the song, I was recovering from a bad breakup. It was the type of song that just came out when I sat down to write it, it came together very fast. ‘I Can Take It’ reflects where I was at the time, feeling stuck in the recovery process.
I loved life, and was enjoying my time, but couldn’t stop thinking about the past relationship and it would ruin moments of peace. I felt really frustrated because I wanted those feelings to go away faster. ‘I Can Take It’ portrays both of these emotions, because the verse is split up into two parts. The first describes the beauty of life, and the second is the line “I’m still missing you.”
When I wrote the song, I immediately knew that it should follow I Can Take It, not only because the production was similar, but because of what the song was about. I felt that it was needed after ‘I Can Take It’, because ‘I Can Take It’ ends with death.
It ends with someone being destroyed after a relationship and the ashes of a burnt house. ‘Here and There’ is recovery, and personal growth without a relationship. I felt almost like the two songs together were my personal trajectory through the relationship, even though ‘I Can Take It’ was written long before I was in it.
Happy Mag: Any gear you can’t live without?
Jaxyn Lethe: I love my Roland GAIA SH-01 synthesizer. It is so nostalgic for me, and is a relic of my childhood. I was given the synth on my 7th or 8th birthday, and have tweaked almost all of the sounds on it. I’m super comfortable designing sounds using it, and it is small and portable.
I was so young when I got the synthesizer that I etched the names of the notes onto some of the keys. It has some modular-esque sounding patches, beautiful pad sounds, and really good bells. It hasn’t had any technical issues ever, and I’ll never get rid of it.
I really love my Arturia MKII Minilab, it’s pretty standard in terms of midi keyboards but it’s really sturdy. I also love the touchpad pitch bend and mod wheel, it’s very easy to control how much modulation or bend you’re getting.
I’ve used this a lot when it comes to making soundscapes or lead lines more interesting to the ear. When I tweak a sound to be a few cents of perfectly tuned, it stands out a little bit more without sounding dissonant, and it can add movement to a static note.
One piece of gear that I was really amazed by recently was the TC Helicon Duplicator vocal pedal. It adds such a rich sound to my voice when performing live, and I loved the sound so much that I started recording my vocals with it during production. It’s very easy to use and has a lot of features for a small pedal.
I use the Apollo twin X and Tascam US-4×4 HR for recording live, and have had good experiences with both interfaces. I will say that I need to do more research on them because I don’t think that I’m using all of their features.
The same thing goes for the Arturia MKII Keylab 61, I have had a good experience using the controller, but haven’t assigned the knobs and pads as much as I could’ve in order to use all of the board’s features.
Happy Mag: Lastly, what makes you happy?
Jaxyn Lethe: I love my friends. I’ve been blessed with a small handful of very loyal and supportive friends that I’ve had for many years. Investing time in people is not something to be taken for granted, time is precious.
I love creating things, whether that be music, food, or visual art. Anytime I create something that I’m proud of I get very happy, and creating things consistently keeps me happy.
I love when people relate to or like the things that I create, it makes me have purpose. I have to create as a person to keep myself happy, but people enjoying what I create makes me content.
Those are the most essential things that make me happy, other things include: my cat, my plants, good food, a rewarding piano practice session/rehearsal, hiking/long walks, and exploring new cities.
Check out ‘I Can Take It’ and stay connected with Jaxyn Lethe