JP Saxe often has to begin the explanation for his Grammy-nominated song ‘If the World Was Ending’ with an apology of sorts.
He had begun dreaming up a hypothetical situation back in July of 2019 when a 7.1 earthquake rumbled through Los Angeles. Later while mulling over the tremors, he plucked the unused lyric “if the world was ending, you’d come over, right?” from his journal. Toying with the line, he decided to save it for a songwriting session scheduled for a few weeks later with Julia Michaels, who helped pen pop bops “Sorry” by Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa’s “Pretty Please.”
During the session, Saxe and Michaels began spinning a tale of two people reacting to an earthquake and wondering if they should reconnect, hammering out the song in just a few hours.
Already stoked to be collaborating with the “most influential songwriter of our time,” as Saxe describes Michaels, the day would become a special anniversary for the two. Not only did they write a song that would climb to No. 27 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, but they became a couple nine days later. “When you know, you know,” Saxe told The Daily Beast.
The song was released in October and a few months later, their imaginary apocalypse suddenly became slightly more literal when the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the globe.
“We didn’t mean for this song to be prophetic in that way,” Saxe explains. “We were definitely accused of having some insider information in March of last year when we realized our song about a hypothetical catastrophe circumventing all of the otherwise good reasons not to talk to the people you don’t talk to was becoming more of a literal catastrophe for people to relate to.”
“If I do happen to have some sort of power that I’m not aware of, my next song is going to be called ‘The House Passes the Green New Deal,’” he jokes.
Still, it’s only fitting that an eerily timed song ahead of a year that no one could have predicted was nominated for a Grammy for Song of the Year/New Song of the Year.
Saxe watched the nominations roll in with Michaels and they had pretty much accepted they would be turning off the TV in disappointment. “We were thinking it was very ambitious of us to even think we should be watching this when [the presenter] announced our song’s name,” he says.
“In a moment like that you sort of black out. There may have been a really bad kiss because in a moment like that it’s hard to kiss, you are too excited.”
The nomination is also special for Saxe because he could follow in the footsteps of his late grandfather János Starker, who won a Grammy in 1998 for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance for his recording of the Bach cello suites. “I remember being 4 years old crawling on the floor and my mom just screaming on the phone when she got the news,” Saxe says. “I think it was my first very visceral memory.”
While riding high on the nomination, the past year has not been easy for Saxe. At the start of 2020, he lost his mother to cancer. “I’m gonna miss her more than I know,” he wrote on Instagram. “Her life was too short, but she lived the fuck out of it. I’m so proud she’s my mama and I think the best way I have left to love her is by living that same way… passionately and adamantly fully. I love her too much not to.”
He’s kept busy with the release of his EP Hold It Together, a tour with Lennon Stella that was cut short in London due to COVID-19, teaming up with Michaels again for their Christmas tune “Kissin’ in the Cold,” and his recent song with Maren Morris, “Line by Line.” Plus, he’s finishing up a new album. “Unfortunately, I had a year and a half of very, very productive sadness,” he says.
Saxe said his new project will contain older, “post-love” songs that didn’t make it onto his EP. But he is adamant about writing songs, such as “Golf on TV,” that showcase a healthy relationship. “I really don’t think songwriters are the people we should be looking at as examples of what it means to be in a healthy relationship, because if anything songwriters are fucking awful at it,” he laughs. “I feel a personal responsibility to add to the pile of love songs that represents a healthier version of love, as I am currently in a healthier version of love.”
“If I do happen to have some sort of power that I’m not aware of, my next song is going to be called ‘The House Passes the Green New Deal.’”
In regard to “If the World Was Ending,” Saxe says he sees it more as a song that’s about “putting love before everything else,” especially the “petty bullshit that often gets in the way.”
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about the song in quarantine acting as a motivator for people to reconnect with an estranged family member that they hadn’t talked to in a long time because of something that didn’t seem so important anymore in this kind of situation,” he explains. “That’s what the song really speaks to for me.”
But he’s quick to insist that it isn’t an encouragement to reach out to a former flame. “I take some personal responsibility for likely a number of ex texts in quarantine, with this song as an excuse,” he says.
“I do not condone that. I think 99 percent of the time, texting your ex is a horrible idea. Anyone reading this interview that thinks that you are the 0.01 percent, you are just not. It’s a bad idea, you shouldn’t do it. Love will always get better than a love that doesn’t want you back.”
For now, Saxe is counting down the days until he can safely get back on stage and play in front of fans, citing the strangeness around experiencing success while trapped at home. “It’s hard to feel like things are meaningfully growing when all of it is happening while you are locked in your house and in your PJs, but this is the only version of this level of success that I know,” Saxe says. “Things often feel real when we’re able to share them. There’s only so much numbers on the internet can be emotionally internalized.”
“It all feels like it potentially might be an experiment and I’m in some sort of artist-musician version of The Truman Show, where you know, the songs don’t actually have that many streams and I don’t actually have that many new fans, it’s just all being simulated,” he jokes. “I don’t have any concrete evidence that that isn’t happening.
“I think the first time I’m on an actual stage and people clap for me in real life, it’s going to be a little emotionally overwhelming. It’s a strange time for a career to take off. But it’s happening nonetheless.”