Jackson Penn’s Journey from the Studio to the Spotlight
Over the past few years, Jackson Penn has established himself as a songwriting force, helping compose songs for Kanye West, Selena Gomez, Post Malone, Lil Wayne, Demi Lovato, and scores of others. Now Penn (real name: Freddy Wexler) is finally striking out on his own as a singer. If you’ve listened to his debut single, “Streetlights on Mars,” you know that’s really good news. Released independently last fall, the near-perfect song quickly caught fire, particularly on Spotify, where it racked up play after play. That’s no surprise, as the stripped-down tune showcasing Penn’s throaty, soul-tinged pipes slowly builds, before exploding into a transcendent, good feels-inducing anthem. We caught up with the singer-songwriter to ask him about his studio-to-spotlight journey, what to expect from his forthcoming solo music, and much, much more.
You’ve been in the music industry for awhile now. Why wait to release your solo music?
I didn’t want to release anything until I felt I had something to say. I also probably wasn’t ready to get that honest.
Why now? Has this always been your plan?
As much as I love working with other artists, sometimes you can lose your own voice in the process. I guess it was time to find it. And no, it wasn’t always my plan, but it probably should’ve been.
Can you talk about your song, “Streetlights on Mars,” and the meaning behind it?
It’s a feeling, really. It’s that feeling of disorientation that usually seems terrible—the uncertainty of where you are or what’s happening—but in this situation, it feels amazing and you never want it to end. The song starts “She was a wild one.” She could be your 20s, your dreams, California. For me it happened to be a girl I met one night and fell in love with.
What can we expect from your future music?
You can expect a lot of storytelling. I really love telling stories. I’m inspired by classic lyricists but love modern production. I’m releasing a second single called “Babylon” on 4/13, and will start releasing stuff more regularly after that. I also have some visuals coming that I’m really excited about.
Why and how did you choose your stage name? Is it to separate you, the solo musician, from the songwriter for others?
Yes. In the weirdest way, Jackson Penn is the realist version of myself—the artist. The kid.
Is there a formula for the perfect hit song?
At Spotify’s Secret Genius Awards in LA, Quincy Jones said one key factor was leaving “space for God to walk in the room.” I agree with that.
Have you ever given a song to another artist that you maybe wish you kept for yourself?
No. If it feels like me, I don’t let it go.
What song have you written for another artist that you’re most proud of?
“Rudimental” by Moxie Raia.
Tell me about your songwriting process. Do you start with lyrics? The chorus? Does this change?
It honestly all depends. I always love starting with lyrics, but often I hear the melody and music first. If I’m really lucky, I hear them together. If I’m supremely lucky, I hear the whole orchestration and every instrument too, but that’s usually in a dream that I can’t quite remember. That’s the worst.
What musicians have influenced you the most?
Ray Charles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel.
What was your first concert?
Chopin performed by my mother on a little upright piano that changed my life forever.
And what about the most recent concert you went to?
The Spencer Lee Band, one of my favorite collaborators, performed on March 16th in NYC for a Garrett Leight event. Spencer is amazing.
What was the first album you owned?
‘Jazz Samba’ by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz.
And the last album you listened to?
A Tame Impala playlist.
Be sure to follow Jackson Penn on IG here.
Words by: Alex Catarinella
Looks styled by: Joel Cano