STOP THE PRESSES! Mere hours after this feature story was uploaded on April 30, we learned that JP Saxe and Julia Michaels had just released a new video of “If The World Was Ending” to support Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in its global response to COVID-19. It features Alessia Cara, H.E.R., Keith Urban, Kesha, Niall Horan, Sam Smith, Anthony Ramos, FINNEAS, and more.
Toronto’s JP Saxe and now-girlfriend Julia Michaels co-wrote “If the World Was Ending” on July 20, 2019, the day they met. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, the duet takes on new meaning.
The 2019 music video – which has now been viewed more than 74 million times on YouTube – begins with, “We interrupt your programming. This is a national emergency.” The pair just released a new live video of the song on April 15, 2020, filmed at Michaels’ home, where they are self-isolating together.
“It was one of the more magical experiences of my life,” Saxe says of writing the hit single with multi-platinum recording artist and top-liner Michaels (Keith Urban, Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani), who got in touch with the L.A.-based Saxe after hearing his song “25 in Barcelona.”
“It was two weeks after the earthquake in Los Angeles,” he says. “We were both talking about where we were, what we were doing, what we were thinking, and the conversation just flowed naturally into the song. We wrote it in about two hours, and then recorded and cut all the piano and vocals that day.”
Saxe, who went down to Los Angeles for the first time in 2013, estimates he’s written “probably thousands” of songs to get him to this point, the February 2020 release of his six-song debut EP, Hold It Together, on Arista. “I maintain that the only way to write good songs is to write a lot of bad ones,” he says of the oft-repeated cliché.
“I only started feeling like my songs were more my own when they felt the way I talked to my friends”
Writing on the piano when he’s at home, and guitar when he’s travelling, Saxe uses the Day One journaling app to get his thoughts down for lyrics. “It’s connected to my phone and my laptop, and then once every year or two the app will send me a printed book of the journal with photos, all documented, and where I was in the world when I wrote it. It’s really cool,” he says.
All of the songs on Hold It Together were co-written by Saxe: the lead single “Sad Corny Fuck,” “3 Minutes,” and “Explain You” with his creative partner Ryan Marrone; “25 in Barcelona” with Marrone and Khris Riddick-Tynes; “Hold It Together” with Benjamin Rice; and the aforementioned “If The World Was Ending” with Michaels.
He also co-wrote the “healthy-relationship” duet “Golf On TV” with SOCAN member Lennon Stella – alongside two other collaborators, Ruslan Odnoralov, and multiple-hit co-writer and SOCAN member Simon Wilcox – and released a video for it at the start of April.
Saxe’s songs are distinctly “him.” He can take complicated emotional situations, good or bad, and instead of square-pegging them into simpler but unoriginal lines, he keeps them as-is.
One such example is “25 in Barcelona” – the song that prompted Michaels to message him – written in March, 2018, when his friends Matthew Takes (the director) and Marrone took him to Spain post break-up, as it reads at the start of the video, “in an effort to not be fucking miserable on his birthday.”
What’s unique about the lyric is that it tells his own story, no one else’s, even if some people might have come close to experiencing something similar.
He sings: “I thought you woulda called yesterday / I said I didn’t want you to, but I still thought you would/ I don’t know what I expected you to say / But I turned 25 and had in my mind you’d be part of that in some way / I’m half way round the world with all these people / Happy in a foreign language where they don’t know a thing about you / I’m half way round the world in Barcelona / Trying not to think you’d love this / This wasn’t supposed to be about you”
“I only started feeling like my songs were more my own, and something I wanted to share, when they felt the way I talked to my friends, a partner, or whoever,” says Saxe. “I really wanted the voice I had in my songs, and the voice I have day-to-day, to not be dissimilar.”
He says he first felt that with the first two songs he ever released, 2017’s “Changed” and 2018’s “The Few Things” – written around the same time – as “the voice I want to have in my songs because it just feels like me. I don’t want songs to feel like songs. I want them to feel like somebody just telling you something about themselves.
“I really love songs when it just feels like the part of a conversation that you remember the next day, that moment where you’re talking to a friend and, maybe it’s an hour into a deep conversation, but you say something and you’re like, ‘Damn, that’s kinda it, huh? That’s what we’re talking about.’ It’s a conversation I’m having with myself and an instrument.”
Saxe’s tour plans are on hold for now. Since the coronavirus pandemic, besides the at-her-home video with Michaels, he’s done a Spanglish version of “If The World Was Ending” with Venezuela’s Evaluna Montaner, along with a split-screen video shot from their respective countires. “The plan is to put out an album this year, but everything feels a little precarious right now,” he says. “My plan at the moment is to quarantine myself and be alone with my thoughts and with the people I love.”