If the lush grandiosity of orchestration had a baby with the creative license of indie cult film Drive, the resulting musical offspring would likely sound a lot like producer Jackson Night’s latest single, “Streetlights.”
For much of his career, producer Jackson Night has been commended for the cinematic quality of his music. Having studied film composition at university, it’s a compliment that is ultimately well-deserved, with Night’s resulting discography feeling like a seamless fit within the soundtrack of your favourite films. Streetlights — the brooding, nocturnal single released by Night earlier this year — is no exception to this rule.
Drenched in the kind of orchestral sounds that might score the climax of a dramatic romance, Streetlights is a culmination of Night’s work both in and out of the studio — having previously released the singles Faith and A Temporary Sense of Control. Much like the three-act structure of the films his music emulates, Night sees Streetlights as the final in a “trilogy of songs that I wrote in a particular period of my life.”
Speaking exclusively with Happy Mag following the release of Streetlights, Jackson Night details the “stylistic tick” of film composition in his work, the influence of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the “continual evolution” of his songwriting tastes. “I’m finding comfort in being able to create the sounds that feel most authentic to me,” Jackson Night says of his new single.
Check out the producer’s full interview with Happy Mag below, and head here to listen to his new single Streetlights.
HAPPY: Your new single Streetlights could easily be pulled from a film soundtrack. Are there any movies you’ve watched that have inspired your work?
JACKSON: Funnily enough I tend to get that comment about most of my music. I studied Film Composition at University so it’s probably some sort of subconscious stylistic tick I’ve developed. There’s a lot to be said about the marriage of music and film – or music and any kind of visual medium. I think that all my songs paint really vivid memories of points in time for me, and in that way I kind of treat my music as a soundtrack to my life.
Because of this, the movies that tend to inspire my music the most are ones that feel real, and ones that feel as though the music is playing a pivotal role in whatever emotion is being evoked. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack for The Social Network is (I think) one of the best examples of this – the juxtapositions of something like a really clean piano and the scratchy, distorted atmosphere around it really creates a unique and appropriate tone in the film.
I think a totally opposite favourite of mine would be the Drive soundtrack. The way they blended pre-existing music with Cliff Martinez’s compositions showed how well music can serve film – even without it being a consideration during its inception.
HAPPY: Who are some of your favourite composers? Any favourite movie scores?
JACKSON: That could be a long list. I tend to get inspired by different sorts of music and composers within different pockets of time. ‘Streetlights’ was written at a time when I was listening to a lot of post-rock. Bands like Sleepmakeswaves and Arcane Roots were on pretty heavy rotation for me, but also more ambient works like that of Sigur Rós and The Album Leaf.
At the moment, I’ve been listening to heaps of Phoebe Bridgers, Ethel Cain and Ging – I’m excited to explore more of the indie and alt-pop worlds that they each create. Favourite movie scores at the moment would have to be Arrival by Jóhann Jóhannsson for its ambience, Vangelis’ Blade Runner because I love synths and Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator because of its sheer size (and also has its own language which gets bonus points).
HAPPY: Tell us a little bit about your creative community.
From the musical point of view of Jackson Night, I don’t really let anyone in on my process. I do everything myself from the writing, recording, performing, producing and mixing – I think that’s because I write all this music primarily for myself, it’s just a bonus if other people enjoy it. There are definitely times where I write songs with other people and try and accomplish specific sounds or styles, but I try and keep that away from this project.
I get my music mastered by Ben Feggans at Studios 301, and I love the feeling of being able to hand over a song to him for that final 1% that elevates everything. I love to collaborate with friends where possible. All three of my single covers are photos that have been taken by my friends. It feels good to hand over the creative license in a field which I know nothing about and let them make all the executive decisions. In this same way, a good friend of mine – Jayden Barling – has done all my graphic design work so far, including creating my logo.
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He’s probably in on the process more than anyone else, and every single we get more and more on the same wavelength. That’s been a really gratifying experience and something I hope to accomplish musically with other artists in the future. I think collaboration is going to be a critical component of my music in the future – but for the time being, it’s just me.
HAPPY: What does a typical day look like when recording a track like Streetlights?
JACKSON: I wish there was such a thing, then I might be able to release more songs! Most writing days for me involve starting with an idea and working with it until I get bored or hate it. There might be one time out of a hundred where this song even ends up turning into a demo, and even less ever make it to a full song.
In the case of Streetlights, I was living by myself in a house on the NSW south-coast and had taken all my recording gear to try and write an album during the COVID lockdown at the time. I came up with the chord progression on my acoustic guitar before moving it over to the electric to make some of the chord stretches a bit easier. In one take I played the 2 sections in a random order, and just stuck with that as the structure for the song.
After that, pretty much the entire song came to me within a matter of four or five hours. The thing that I struggled with for most of that time was the melody. I was trying really hard to sing a melody that didn’t move much, despite my natural inclinations being to write something interesting and dynamic. I vividly remember having to do like 50 vocal demo takes because my voice kept adding in notes and slides where I didn’t want it.
I left the song on the shelf for a couple years as it got lost amongst a bunch of songs I hated that I’d written at the same time. But as I was going through my computer late last year, I found it again. I used all the original instrumental stems and remixed them with new drums and vocals, and ended up with what you hear now. The mix process took a few months as I was experimenting with how washy I could get it to sound without being muddy – that took a lot of fine tuning.
HAPPY: Are there any upcoming projects in the works that you’re able to tease?
JACKSON: I see Streetlights as the closing piece in this trilogy of songs that I wrote in a particular period of my life. I’m working really hard at elevating my production and songwriting to bring together a cohesive body of work that encapsulates me right now – not me from 3 years ago. If you keep an eye on my social media, I’m pretty consistently posting little videos of things that I’ve written and recorded.
Although I had to take some down after realising I actually liked them… so I’m sure those will make an appearance at some point. In the meantime, I’m still working as a producer and mix engineer for some other really talented artists and hoping to take more on! I’ll definitely have some involvements in a few releases this year that I’m really excited for.
HAPPY: How has your music evolved since collaborating with your sister, Wiska? Is there anything you’ve learned that continues within your solo work?
JACKSON: The 3 songs that I wrote with my sister back in 2020 were entirely the formative experience for what went on to become ‘Jackson Night’. At the time I was really struggling with finding my sound as an artist – and being able to write music and discover new artists led to a whole new music taste for me in the alternative pop realm that I think most of my music sits in.
In saying that, I think my writing and my tastes are continually evolving. While her music introduced me to singer-songwriter indie-pop, I’ve gone a bit more down the experimental and ‘produced’ rabbit-hole within that sound. Having the collaboration of two-people’s tastes and preferences create a sound also taught me that I didn’t have to compromise on integrating the different aspects of my musical taste – I can write an alternative pop song with rock drums, metal guitars and big ambient synths.
I’m not reinventing the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m finding comfort in being able to create the sounds that feel most authentic to me, and I think my sister had a big role to play in that.
HAPPY: Streetlights is one of the earlier songs in your discography. How did it come about, and what is the meaning behind it?
JACKSON: I wrote Streetlights during the first COVID lockdown. I had a lot of cool things on the cards for me that year and everything went to shit pretty fast so I wasn’t in a good headspace. It feels like a world away now but the song has a way of pulling me right back to that time and the room where I wrote it. The lyrics came to me quite quickly because they’re simple. I don’t think I need to unpack what they mean to me. I’d like to think that if I’ve succeeded as a songwriter, anyone that listens to the song will be able to take away from it whatever they need. It might not resonate with everyone and that’s okay.
HAPPY: How would you describe the music scene in Canberra?
JACKSON: Canberra has a pretty special music scene down here as a result of it being such a small city. I think bigger cities can get caught up in niches, because they have the population to cater to. In Canberra, I went to a gig last week for a local Psych-Rock band and they had an indie-pop singer-songwriter and an instrumental jazz trio as their openers.
You’d think that wouldn’t work. You’d think that people would sit at the back of the venue until the headliner came on and sort of stare weirdly at these people playing genres of music they don’t know much about. But no, every artist had the entire crowd on their feet. It was pretty special, and I think that encapsulates the best of Canberra’s music scene.
It’s about the collective experience and the quality of art. A lot of people have probably written-off the music scene down here for a while, but I think having an artist like Genesis Owusu making waves overseas is just the first sign that there is a lot to offer in terms of musical output here.
HAPPY: What makes you happy?
JACKSON: Having a beer with my friends. Showing someone a song for the first time. Trying new things. Overcoming a fear. Cooking meals for people. Watching a movie with the windows open when it’s raining. Buying a good op-shop find. Buying a bad op-shop find. Telling someone a good story. Hugging my family. Long drives by myself. Writing a song that I’m proud of.