In anticipation of his upcoming EP, “Think of Me”, I met up with Jackson Klasfeld, known by his songwriter alias, Retrograded, to discuss the project as well as his upcoming plans and goals as an artist. Throughout our friendship, Retrograded has entrusted me in helping to pitch songs to Spotify, cover live shows, craft a bio, and write a press release for his upcoming project, so getting to sit down with him and have this conversation about his music was so meaningful to me. I had such a great time learning even more about his artistic journey and consider myself fortunate to have met so many passionate individuals like Retrograded throughout my time exploring New York’s music scene!
Where did your journey in music start? What was your first step in the industry?
So, I mean, am I in the industry? Really? I guess so, but, I started, I have very distinct memories growing up of listening to like progressive house music and being like, how do they make those sounds, you know? How do you get everything to work together? I was just fascinated by it, but I never did anything about it really. I started playing guitar in high school. Like a little bit of just basic stuff because one of my friends was really good at it. When I got to college, I had been making loops and stuff on my laptop, and my buddy asked me if I wanted to make a music video for the Red Fox Films Festival at Marist. So, I was like fuck it, I’ll make this. I can try to make this song for it, you know? And it’s not great, but it was like a really good first step of like okay, yeah, I can write songs. And then I just kept building from there. Making remixes, and then writing my own songs, making my own beats and stuff, progressively getting more and more experience with it. I met this kid in some class, his name is Ken, and he’s a really good photographer and videographer, so I asked him if he wanted to shoot a music video for one of the songs I was working on at the time, and we ended up really enjoying working together. So, I think the next year, there was this 48 hour film challenge with Red Fox Films, which is the film program at my school, and we made a music video. It’s called While You Can. I think it’s still one of my favorite music videos I’ve ever made. But, I made the song that night, we shot the video the next day, I edited it that night, and we were done with it. It’s like, I think it’s so fucking cool. And that’s like how I got really into making music and the videos with the music.
I think that’s such a cool path, like just the way you found it, because it was like why not just try to make up songs? So many people would be like ‘I don’t know where to start’, ‘I don’t even know what to do’, whereas you were just kind of like ’well, why not? I just wanna try that’ and then you just did it.
I just love trying new stuff and even if it doesn’t work out, it’s always still good experience. Music just happened to be one thing that I loved doing and just kept doing without really even thinking about the fact that I was doing it, you know? I was never like ‘I’m making music because I want to get somewhere with it’. It was just something I was doing all the time. That’s really how I got into it – was video, and just trying to have fun with it.
How would you define your sound if you had to?
I’ve been thinking about it. It’s definitely progressed a lot over time, and I’m still figuring it out, but Stay Warm was the first kind of song that I was like okay, this is a unique sound. It’s something that I really like doing and I don’t see anybody else doing, so it’s a path I could follow. I have inspiration from progressive house – Stay Warm, for example, it’s got like a four-on-the-floor bit, kick/snare pattern like a progressive house track, but it’s also got like elements of lo-fi hip-hop, and vinyl sounds, and all the extra little elements, and the voice sounds like a telephone, I do that a lot. And then like, elements from folk, and like you wrote, Phoebe Bridgers, emphasis on the songwriting, telling a story in the songwriting. So, it’s kind of, I like calling it cozy-lo-fi-bedroom-pop. I don’t know, I really like the idea of – do you know, Studio Ghibli movies? I wanna make songs that sound like the visuals in a Studio Ghibli movie. That’s basically what I’m going for.
Do you think that your sound has changed into this new EP?
Yes! I think this is the first time I’m actually showing everybody what I’ve been working on for the last two years. I released “Stay Warm,” I released “Ur Favorite Tune,” but I haven’t really released anything that I’ve been working on, and I’ve been working on so much. These are just the three that I decided to finish. I’m excited for people to hear it, because I think it is the first time I’m actually showing people, you know, myself.
Can you walk me through the creation of the EP a little bit? You touched on it, but just how you kind of decided what songs you wanted to do, where they kind of came from, how long you’ve been working on them?
Before Red Lights at Midnight came out in 2020, it was like February and I was doing this thing on Tinder where I was like, ‘if you match with me, I’ll write you a song about whatever you want’. Then I matched with somebody who asked me to write them a song about coffee. When I wrote that hook, I was actually at a swim meet in Maryland, and I just recorded it into Snapchat. Then, I went home and recorded it on ukulele and just sang it, just that first little intro hook. But it was just so fun, it’s so good. I was like ‘I wanna do something with this. About a year later probably, I was back home in California. I brought all my music stuff with me, that’s where I made all the Highway Flowers stuff. I tried it again, you know, I wrote new guitar chords for it, and I sang it differently, like more how I was feeling it at that time. I just made that first part into the first drop and then I didn’t know where to go with it. So, I just didn’t do anything with it for probably another year, maybe? Not a full year, like six or seven months. And then I finally went back to it, like ‘okay this is so good. I have to just, you know, do something with it.’ So, I powered through, I made that whole new part. You can kind of tell if you listen to it, every part’s very different and that’s just ‘cause I made it over the course of like two years. But it turned out how it did and I’m happy with it because I was definitely trying to direct it too much, you know? I had a very clear vision of what I wanted it to be. The original version was very bubbly and was on the ukulele and I kind of wanted to follow, like the pop – kind of like how Hi I Miss You is just so catchy / pop song. I wanted to do another one of those, and then I finally just realized, ‘hey, it’s not one of those, just do whatever you can with it’. So then, I got it to a point where I was like, ‘alright, let’s just put it out’.
Stars, is kind of similar actually. I found this guitar sample on Instagram – the main guitar sample in the song. I loved it so much, so I made the intro part. It’s all lo-fi and stuff, but I made that, and I posted it on Instagram, and I sent it to the guy and we just kind of were like, ‘hey, this is so cool’. He really liked it, it was so fun. And it’s just another thing though that was like, I think this is so good, but I don’t know what to do with it, you know? And then I figured out that it was in 3/4, not 4/4. So everything I had been trying to make was in 4/4, and I was like, ‘why isn’t this working?’ As soon as I switched it – in Logic I switched it to 3/4 times signature – and then everything just clicked, and made the rest of the song, basically. I’m still definitely learning as I go. I have like, no music knowledge, really whatsoever. I just kind of figure it out based on what I want it to sound like.
And then, Think of Me was another song I wrote when I was home for quarantine. I knew my friend’s mom had a piano, so I called her ahead of time and I asked if I could come over and record something on it. I didn’t know what I was gonna record. There’s a song by Chelsea Cutler called Sometimes that’s like, one of the few songs I’m really good at on piano. I basically just rearranged that into something else and recorded it. I didn’t use a metronome or anything. I’m usually very on the grid and stuff, but I just recorded it. I had my microphone on one side and then my phone on the other side so I could pan it in stereo. So like half of it – the main part, is recorded on my phone. It’s a very unique sound which I didn’t like for a while just because it didn’t sound super clean. I recorded that, I wrote lyrics over it, recorded them, had basically everything done and then just didn’t really have a clear project that I was working on. So, I didn’t do anything with it. But again, it was just something I knew was special. I was finally just like okay, I have all these songs, these work well together, let’s just put them out as a project.
Can you talk about that? How they all fit together or if there’s any kind of theme you’re going for with the EP as a whole?
It’s interesting, so with Red Lights at Midnight, I wrote it over a period of time where – I mean, at least to me – it’s a very clear story of that period in my life. Where, as this one, the songs come from such different places. It’s not as linear of a story, but I think it is really interesting because it talks about – basically, all the songs are talking about the same thing, and I didn’t really do that on purpose. It’s all about like, ‘hey, you might be struggling with something right now, but you know, learn how to breathe and figure it out and like, you’ll be okay’. And they all have the same message, which I love, and it’s not something that I consciously did, but listening to them back to back, it’s a very clear theme to the whole EP.
So there’s been a lot of snippets, of your first track, “Sunday Coffee” being used in videos on social media. How does it feel to see this song already gaining so much traction before it’s even released?
It was crazy. It’s not like it blew up on TikTok, but just the first day that we posted it I got comments from random people like ‘this is so good. When is it gonna be out?’ Like, ‘Oh my God I need this right now’. I got DMs from a bunch of people saying ‘I really like the song’. I’m still really excited about it. We’ve only been doing it for like 3 days now. I think it really could be huge. I got a DM from some big, I don’t know what they are exactly, but she was like ‘yeah we worked with Jack Harlow and a bunch of other rappers, and we think your song has a lot of potential to go viral on TikTok. Can I show you some of the stuff we’ve done?’ So, I’m guessing they’re gonna try to charge me money for it, but the fact that they said that in the first place is huge. So, me and Emilie are still definitely pushing, still trying to post every day about it. Just doing our best to get people to hear it. I really think it’s good and the hardest part’s gonna be getting people to hear it. So yeah, very exciting. That’s all Emilie though. Emilie is literally going through and reaching out to individual creators. She’s like, ‘I’m just gonna reach out to a bunch of coffee TikTokers’. Basically like, ‘hey, do you wanna use this song?’ And a lot of them have just said yes. So, a huge part of that is Emilie just reaching out to sheer numbers of people. It’s the coolest thing ever, because pretty much the whole time I’ve been making music, I put everything into content side and I just haven’t had the bandwidth to do all the other stuff that I knew I had to do, like reaching out to people and rolling out a project in a smart way so that people will actually listen to it. And then, Emilie was just like ‘hey, I’ve been following you for a while, can I help you roll out this EP?’ I was like ‘hell yeah, I’ve been waiting so long for somebody to ask me that’. She’s so passionate about it, and one hundred percent on board with helping me do it. It’s so awesome. I’ve been wanting to build a team for so long, and even with you, just working with you on so many different projects. I just love working with other passionate, talented people. Who, we all kind of are doing different things in the same area. It’s like, we might as well work together. It’s just so much fun.
The final track, “Think of Me”, delves into a more emotional side than some of your other work. How do you feel about that track and what it means to you?
It’s definitely different. The vocals are very upfront, and very dry. I don’t know that much about mixing, but I wanted those to be the main focus. I wrote this song so long ago that I don’t really remember what specifically I was writing it about, but I listened back for the first time a few years later when I was actually struggling with a lot of stuff, a lot of anxiety things. I just sat in my bed and I listened. It was like I wrote the song to myself. It was surreal – honestly, because it’s like ‘things might not make sense right now, but someday soon we’ll figure out that we just need to breathe, and if it helps, maybe just think of me’. It’s like my past self talking to me right now. I was like ‘holy sh*t, that’s so f*cking cool’. And then, something I forgot about, there’s this little sample of my dog in his sleep, whimpering. My dog died while I was in New York and I listened to it, like six months after that. I was like woah, that’s my dog, I forgot he was in there! It hit me so hard, but like this song just means so much to me. Just because I’ve had it for so long. You know? I’ve gone through so much since I’ve made it, and the fact that it’s still relevant to me is like okay, this is something you’re struggling with.
Obviously you sat on all of these songs for a while. Do you have anything else kind of ‘in the vault’ that you have that you’re just sitting on, waiting to perfect?
I have so many songs. I’ve probably made like 200 something songs. Not all of them are like full songs, obviously. Just ideas that I started and didn’t know what to do with. And now I’m in such a better mindset. I’ve been really focusing on getting the EP out right now, but once I can start working on music again, I’m so excited to just make stuff without overthinking anything. Just having fun with it again because that’s how it was like with the album, Red Lights at Midnight. I was just doing it for fun, you know? It was just a project I was working on in my free time. And then after that I just kind of got stuck in a mindset where I was overthinking everything, nothing was good enough. And then once I let go of that – even just showing people Sunday Coffee, just the fact that I sat on that song for this song is ridiculous. It’s such a cool song and it’s like maybe the mix isn’t the best to everybody, that part, nobody gives a shit about that part. Like, nobody. There’s like two people out of everybody that’s gonna only pick that part. So, I don’t know, I’m just really excited to start making music again.
Do you have any specific goals as an artist? Because I think that so much of what you do is just you kind of learning as you go. That seems like what you’re really into, and just experimenting and learning. So are there any other goals that you have?
I have a lot of goals. I could say a whole list, but off the top of my head; I wanna get to fifty thousand monthly listeners on Spotify. I wanna get a million streams, which is probably gonna be in a few months. “Hi I Miss You” is getting like, two thousand streams a day. So like, it’s moving in that direction. Very achievable goal, which is crazy. Anyway, long-term, I wanna go on tour. I want to build a team out. I wanna shoot real – like, set aside a proper amount of time to shoot it and plan a music video with a real crew and do it legit. Based on something, an idea that I have. I would love to do that. As far as soon-goals are, going on tour I think would be awesome. I don’t know how I feel about it, but doing music full time would be so cool. I feel like I could do so much if I can get to a place where I can just do music. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet, because I really do love my job and I don’t want to be so obsessed with music that I just give up everything else. I really like what I’m doing and where I am right now. It’s like, even if I do have this full-time job and I’m just doing music how I’ve been doing it, I’m happy right now, so, I’m okay with it.
Final question. Are there any other plans or news that you can share right now?
Well, I’ll share everything with you. EP, February 25, coming out. I have three full music videos that aren’t done yet, but will be soon. I shot a music video for every song so those will be coming out in the weeks after the music video. We’re trying to set up a live show to promote the EP right before or right after it comes out which should be fun. I wanna have a listening party, like get all the homies to come. Not necessarily a promo thing but just like a fun thing to do with you, with Emilie, all my friends and stuff. Those are the big things. I’m meeting Emilie tomorrow to talk about how much money we can actually spend on ads and stuff so we have to figure out a budget. I have a lot to do still, but I’m excited. We’re doing it, like for real this time. I forget that people haven’t heard these songs that I’ve been listening to for years now. It’s like, people might actually really like them.
Since our conversation, Retrograded is now set to headline the Bowery Electric in NYC on Saturday, February 26. Be sure to check out the show!
Retrograded’s EP, “Think of Me” will be released on February 25, 2022 on Spotify and Apple Music. See more and stay up to date with Retrograded here.