New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Beyond NYU: Del Water Gap on exploring creative vulnerability

Since starting his music career in a student band at NYU, Samuel Holden Jaffe has ascended to indie stardom as Del Water Gap with hits like “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat” and “High Tops.”
Eliana Brown
(Illustration by Max Van Hosen; Photo by Eliana Brown)

Tisch alum Samuel Holden Jaffe dreamt of performing on national tours since he was 14. Now performing as Del Water Gap, Jaffe headlines shows around the country and performs alongside artists like girl in red, Arlo Parks and Clairo.

During his time at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Jaffe studied sound production and music, and played in the first iteration of Del Water Gap with Maggie Rogers and two other students. After the band split, Jaffe embarked on a solo career under the same name and began playing shows in New York in 2012.

In an interview with WSN, Jaffe talked about how he got interested in music, his experiences collaborating with artists and the inspiration behind the songs he creates.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: How did your time at NYU help shape your music?

Jaffe: When I came to NYU, it was the first time I really met other musicians. My fantasy had always been to be in a band, to collaborate on a really fundamental level. I loved the idea of creative partnership. The idea of being in conversation with people creatively like that is really inspiring to me.

Jaffe began recording music during the end of his high school years. He got inspiration to create his own stage name from artists like The Tallest Man on Earth, St. Vincent and Bon Iver. Being in a band, Jaffe said, allowed him to explore the trust involved in creative collaborations.

WSN: What skills did you gain during your experience in the band, and how did this translate into your solo career? 

Jaffe: I found a crew of people and decided that that was Del Water Gap, and had them playing my songs and helping me flesh things out. That continued in various iterations throughout college. I played a lot of shows, and what I learned is that with creative partnerships — like any other relationship — the highs can be really high and beautiful and singular and fruitful, and the lows can be incredibly hard. They can cause interpersonal problems; they can be creatively frustrating. We represent ourselves through our art — it’s our window to the world. So trusting someone else in creating a piece is an immense amount of trust. I think it’s very rare that two creators find a fruitful relationship with each other. Collaboration, when it works, is the most beautiful thing. It’s a tall order to find your mirror creatively, and it doesn’t always work. I think learning to let go of that a bit has been helpful for me and learning to trust that it’s OK to just want to do things my way.

The Del Water Gap band split during the end of Jaffe’s time at college, but he pursued it as a solo project after graduating from NYU. In 2013, Jaffe released his first EP, “Del Water Gap EP.” Eight years later, he joined the record label Mom + Pop Music, where he released his latest two albums: a 2021 self-titled LP and 2023’s “I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet.” The hits “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat” and “High Tops” have together garnered over 100 million streams on Spotify.

WSN: What inspires you to write about past conversations in your music? 

Jaffe: I grew up really shy. I grew up in a quiet household where no one really communicated. It took me a few years into adulthood to learn how to be open and communicate in a way that was really an honest reflection of who I was. People say words cast spells, right? It’s like we sort of speak our reality into existence. The last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling; I’ve spent a lot of time in flux. When home becomes a bit intangible, people become your home. It’s been a real process for me to learn how to communicate. I’m a malleable person. I’m sensitive — a lot of artists are. I’ve always been very porous. In trying to make sense of a lot of my life, I have more questions than answers. But the process of getting to talk about things and collaborate in a platonic capacity, in a romantic capacity and in an existential capacity has created the reality that I live in.

In 2022, Jaffe performed at the Governors Ball Music Festival, where Yves Saint Laurent sent him a floral short suit to wear. He said the performance made him understand the importance of fashion in live performance, and that visual art, like fashion and film, has become an important part of his creative process as a musician. Jaffe is currently on tour celebrating the release of his sophomore album, which features Arlo Parks as a co-writer and Clairo on clarinet. 

WSN: How did your early career playing shows around New York influence your evolution as an artist?

Jaffe: It’s everything. I’m smiling just because I owe so much to New York City. I had never really played live, and I came to New York and started playing a show, like, every week. I just played in every small venue in New York, like Arlene’s Grocery, Rockwood Music Hall, Pianos. So many that are gone now, like Sullivan Hall. I moved to New York and I bought a leather jacket and an electric guitar. That was my first attempt. And then I discovered singer-songwriter music and started playing that folkier music. The through line was always the writing. When I came to New York, it was sort of the tail end of that New York City indie-rock golden age. In the last couple of years, I’ve just loosened the grip a little bit, and I’ve said I’m just going to make the music that I want to listen to. I’m going to make the music that I want to see in the world.

Contact Eliana Brown at [email protected].

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