Jordan Reyne

Jordan Reyne is, in the true meaning of the phrase, contrary to popular belief.  It’s not just a redhead thing; it’s the day-to-day life of this singular musician.  Already with 5 albums to her credit, Reyne is a pioneer on new sonic turf.  With a sound that has been described as the soundtrack to steampunk, her blend of industrial-tinged dark folk is a meeting of genres best imagined as a cross between Dead Can Dance, Nine Inch Nails, and Alanis Morisette.  Her unusual approach to music pairs the rhythms of steam-based technology and machinery with folk instruments and vocal styles, crossing technology with history to tell the dark stories of characters real and imagined.  As evidenced by her 3 nominations for the “Tui” Music Award in her native New Zealand and her performance on the soundtrack of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, she is a serious artist who puts an immense amount of time and effort into her work, yet balances that effort with a playful and brash brava.

Her life in sound began much earlier than most, when she began singing and writing songs at age 3.  “My Mum used to be woken up to me singing the theme tune to “Rainbow” at the top of my lungs.  I also made up songs on long trips, which had no structure at all and would go on for hours.  At age 8, when my parents could no longer bear my a capella rants, I started learning an instrument.”  Yet, contrary again, instrument is not the most accurate term to describe the tools of the sound she creates.  Reyne employs a genre-bending approach of recording the sounds of an industrial machine, like the engine room of a factory, and using that industrial thrum as the sonic core of a composition.  Traditional instruments like guitars and vocals are then added, and the result is a song, yet not exactly a song, that harnesses the tension between woman and machine.  Musically, it is the clash of folk and industrial.  Philosophically, it is the crossing of history and progress.

Clearly, Reyne’s music does not fit easily into the genre headings found in most music stores and websites.  Her passion for new ideas and new ways to express them musically often places her on the fringes of what people are used to.  It’s from this vantage, though, that she can best bridge the gap between light and dark, and address subjects others shy away from.  It’s from the fringe that she can most effectively recognize the quiet courage present in most people, even when they are overlooked by history and society.

This spirit marks her most recent album, How the Dead Live.  How the Dead Live was commissioned by the New Zealand Arts Council, and tells the story of Susannah Hawes, one of New Zealand’s first pioneer women.  In this concept record sharing a dialogue between Susannah and History and exploring the darker areas of New Zealand’s pioneer past, Jordan makes sharp commentary on culture which culminates in History’s annoyance with the lack of gore and grand narrative in Susannah’s story and its choice to forget her by throwing her name into the sea.  As How the Dead Live is a historical piece, Jordan defined the sound of the record with industrial noises that would have existed at the time of Susannah’s life, like hammers and anvils, gold pans, and two-man saws, and visualizes how death is close to pioneers even in the simplest actions of life in a music video for the single “The Proximity of Death.”

On music, Jordan remarks “A song is like a chemical reaction between listener and performer, where both bring so much to the equation that the experience is different every time. The effect is more powerful than drugs and comes with zero hangover.”  This clean high fuels her as she handles her own producing, engineering, songwriting, arranging, graphic design, and web design.  A remarkable task list for a woman who claims she can’t multitask to save her life, but then again, it’s that paradox that fascinates.  From literally knocking on record label doors until one of said yes to being hailed as pioneer in a new genre by New Zealand’s National Radio, Jordan Reyne has always been a winning collection of contrary ideas.  She is humorous and nihilistic.  She is sensitive and thoughtful, rapacious and caustic.  The darkness in her music is beautiful, and the light is just as much so.  Thus, she stands in the middle of all this, directing traffic, casting vision, interpreting culture, and bending sound into an experience that is truly extraordinary.

How do you describe your music to people?
industrial folk. It's an odd description, but I use the sounds of steam, steel and iron, and industrial revolution era technology as rhythms even now. I love how factories will drone and graunch in a certain key. I put Celtic melodies to that, and folk instruments such as guitar and strings.

Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
I began singing at quite a young age and used to make up meandering lyrics with no form or structure. They would either tell stories or just descriptions what was passing by the car window (we did a lot of driving because we lived in a remote area and I would apparently sing to amuse myself). I couldn't play an instrument at that age, so I would bang things together - I liked banging metal things, my mum tells me, cos they had a sort of tone to them I am guessing. By around 8 though, my parents probably couldn't take that any longer so they asked if I would like to learn guitar.

What is your favorite thing in the whole wide world?
My dog, Stinky.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
Finding time to write. There is so much background stuff to do that finding the time to actually create is very difficult. You end up working 14 hour days as a standard, and it can get quite frustrating when the full 14 were spent on keeping up your internet presence, website, social networks, and managing bookings. Still, it comes with the territory and so far I manage to find the time somehow.

When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
A dragon. Well, it depends how old you mean when you ask ;) I remember being really disappointed when i was told I could NOT become a dragon really have thought it was possible at some stage. Later on I wanted to be a all sorts of things. It changed from day to day. Vet, poet, traveling minstrel, writer, scientist. I just liked imagining all of them. It was music though that always held me. When I was young I never questioned that it would always be a part of my life.

In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
In New Zealand it was very difficult indeed, which is why I eventually emigrated. We have a small population, so if you have mainstream appeal you can get by, and some manage. If you only appeal to 10% of music listeners though, its a very small number of potential listeners and not enough to survive on. 10% of 3 million is not a lot compared to 10% of 60 million, for eg, which is the rough population of Germany. What that means is you are often told "oh very interesting, but there isnt a market for it". Often there actually is, but not in NZ, and you start to question yourself a lot and doubt what you are doing has any merit.

The actual music industry side of New Zealand is very small and can be quite poisonous. There are a lot of gatekeepers in radio, funding, press and media and if they decide, for whatever reason, they don't like you, you are in trouble cos there aren't any further options in places to go. Many of them retain their positions for years and just repeatedly sideline you. It is very subject to "who is cool" and who isnt. Added to that our culture puts a lot of effort into keeping up the happy facade that everything is roses and sunshine, even in times when it isn't. We have one of the highest male suicide rated in the world actually, which seems to come down to people thinking it is not ok to talk about the darker side of the human emotional spectrum. You end up thinking you are mad if you arent happy all the time, which drives you into frther isolation. Your average person, and especially in the industry, in New Zealand shies away from anything dark cos it seems to make people uncomfortable. Again it makes you question yourself instead of acknowledging that the dark and the light are both equally valid parts of the human emotional spectrum.

Funnily enough, my music isn't actually considered particularly dark here in Europe, because they are a lot more open when it comes to discussing the more philosophical and existential issues in life. They are very open to my music here, where in New Zealand though it was hard to be heard. Within New Zealand it is a fairly known fact that most musicians have to leave to make things work, but it is quite a formative experience. It certainly makes you take a step back and question the mythology of your own culture. There really is a lot to be said for finding your place in the world.

What other artists out there do you love?
Wovenhand. David Eugine Edwards is beautiful like a twisted tree that has had to grow sideways round its wounds. He is so passionate and alive, even when he is despairing in his songs. Its just breathtaking.

Nine Inch Nails. Trent is such an innovator and so raw and honest about what he feels. He has the guts to just get up there and scream his heart out. I love it.

Steeleye Span. Maddy Prior has the voice of an angel and her melodies and harmonies are like being wound up in a magic spell.

What does your future hold?
Anther album :) Many walks in the park with Stinky. I am playing a lot of shows online at the moment and it is a wonderful way to meet people from all over the world. Strangely enough too, its a very intimate environment, as people can chat with you during the show. I really like this aspect of it, which isnt possible in regular gigs. You can clearly see what people say and have a kind of conversation with them through the show. it keeps you on your toes and is a lot of fun.