You may not know Jackson Penn’s name, perhaps – but you’ve probably heard his songs. Indeed, as Freddy Wexler, he has penned gems for Kanye, for Steve Aoki, for Selena Gomez…we could go on.
But he’s been saving some of those songs for himself lately – or at least for his solo alter ego Jackson Penn – including a particularly profound one titled, intriguingly, “Streetlights on Mars.” He recorded a version in 2017 that was characterized by its cool, calypso-new-wave musical undercurrent. But with its poignant lyrical musings – “Holy rolling on ecstasy / She said to me / Promise not to wake me if it’s all a dream” – it was practically begging for a more stripped down version.
And so it is that we premiere here precisely that very version, with a video showing Jackson Penn singing to the accompaniment of nothing but acoustic guitar. We asked him to elaborate…
You’ve written songs for artists that tend to employ mostly really elaborate production. What inspired you to do such a stripped-down version of “Streetlights on Mars”?
The song came from a pure place, so I wanted a simple version with no distractions. I think great songs are about melody and lyrics.
You use a lot of metaphors: “streets of gold”, “streetlights on Mars,” “tripping on fields of marigold.” Do you try to paint pictures with your lyrics?
I loved reading stories growing up, and I spent more time living in my imagination than in reality. I guess I still do.
You sing “This is the start / Even if we don’t know where we are.” Is this song a kind of “spiritual” journey, if you will?
It’s about a night that gets so crazy, you question if it’s even real. I think a crazy night can get pretty spiritual.
Will you be releasing more singles this year? A full album?
I’m putting out a new single called “Babylon” in March – and I’ll hopefully put out an album this summer.