this interview is something like to fulfill an inner need. It
is not a secret how much New Zealand’s most talented musician
impressed me. I likewise want to learn more about JORDAN
REYNE as I want to bring her music closer to our readers.
To spread what she is about and paying tribute for her stunning
work. Besides I was in touch with her during the time she spent
in Germany, witnessing parts of the chaos around her from the
distance. It might be obvious that I want to see her doing well
awaiting more of her amazing work. But life is tricky …
Your latest release Passenger is a reflection of the
time you spent in Germany in 2003, that brought you a lot of chaos.
Was it kind of like the trip you did in the early 90’s when
you hitch-hiked over to Auckland armed with just a guitar, a few
clothes and a pocket knife?
Jordan: I wish it was! New Zealand is a pretty safe country.
Hitching is never a very clever idea, but it was a lot safer than
just turning up on the doorstep of a country whose language you
don’t even know. I bought a one-way ticket too, so I couldn’t
get home if things didn’t work. In New Zealand, no matter
what you do, the risks are not as high. If I got lost or stuck
I could ring friends. I speak the language here and know the infrastructure.
So it’s easy to find help when you need it. In Germany,
if things had gone badly wrong I would not have known what to
do. My German was poor and I didn’t know about any of the
organisations for helping people in trouble.
The good thing is that – if you are a musician – you
can always resort to busking. I managed to survive on that most
of the time. I also squatted in an abandoned flat for a while,
so I didn’t have to pay rent. But it was damn cold. I had
to pile up stinky old car-seat covers over my sleeping bag to
keep warm. I was always aware that things could get worse. I was
scared they might. In New Zealand I don’t remember ever
being scared like that.
You said in an interview: “I suppose I am preoccupied with
the problem of Nihilism. The idea that life is not worth living.”
I know you are right now studying philosophy. Are you a supporter
of Nihilism and Nitzsche?
Jordan: I don’t think you can talk about nihilism
in terms of supporter or non supporter. I don’t think anyone
can say “hurray for nihilism”. But it does have to
be said (unless you believe in God – which I do not) that
there is no purpose to existence. This is not the same question
as whether or not life is worth living, but they are related.
There is no reason or grand design behind the fact we are here.
People find that scary and negative, so sometimes they conclude
life isn’t worth it. But I don’t actually interpret
it that way. The fact that there is no God up there guiding you
towards certain ends means you can choose your goals for yourself.
Pursuits have value if you decide they are meaningful to you.
That’s a Sartrean idea as much as a Nietzschian one. The
idea that you can decide at any point in time what is of value
to you. It’s a powerful thing. Ostensibly it gives you control
of your own life story. In practice I think there is only ever
a scope of freedom rather than total freedom, but I think the
idea itself is a healthy catalyst. But yes – in the end
it doesn’t matter what you do – you will die and it
will most probably be forgotten. All that means is that you need
to make sure the journey is as important as the goal. Life is
something to be inside of – to enjoy while you live it.
You have to be careful not to enjoy only the idea of goal fulfilment.
The goal is yours to chose, but is only there to facilitate the
I think, the universe is just a product of physical fortuities.
There is no deeper sense; we just exist due to physical, biological
and chemical processes. As we talk about the human race I think
it was just a malfunction that led to our existence, since we
are not able to live within our environment but destroying everything
we need to live on. There is only one another creature doing the
same: the virus. I think, the human race needs to be removed from
this planet to give all other life a chance to survive. If you
are aware of this you can start changing things a little but it
is just like a drop in the ocean. Both views – my own as
well the Nihilism view would have to sum up in suicide, but we
still live … What makes life on this planet worth living?
Jordan: I like what you say about humans being accidental
creatures. We are just that – a lucky pattern in the chaos.
It’s also interesting that people look on humanity as destroying
everything. I think we are particularly talented at destruction
too, and it’s scary. I also believe that the way we use
resources is utterly unsustainable – and unnecessary. But
if all the people who knew that went and killed themselves then
only the rampant consumers would be left. It’s useful to
stick around even if all you do is repeatedly tell people the
emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.
In terms of suicide I think everyone has the right to decide whether
life is worth living, and the right to stop their own life if
they think it isn’t. It is very hard to live outside the
mainstream set of values and chose your own. For example: being
a musician or an artist. Everyday you face the question “So
what’s your real job”. The underlying meaning is “when
are you going to be ‘responsible’ and become a valid
member of society?” You are deemed invalid or lazy or irresponsible.
You are confronted with the values of others as if your own values
don’t mean anything. It is easy to give up and just play
along with the crowd, or decide life isn’t worth it under
those conditions. Life isn’t worth living unless you get
some energy back from being involved in something you love. If
you do a job you hate all day every day all your energy goes down
a pit. You wake up one day with none left. Then you die. You might
still be walking around, but inside you are already dead. What
makes life worth living – I think – is passion. Finding
something you are passionate about and forming a relationship
with it. For me this is music. Some people are lucky enough that
it is something more ‘usual’. For some people it may
be even further outside social norms that involvement with the
arts and it can be difficult to pursue.
When there is no sense in world and life, does it not free ourselves?
Giving us the possibility to do what we want, to define our own
sense of life?
Jordan: Yes. That’s exactly the way I interpret
it as well. Because there is no God and no grand plan, we are
left like compasses spinning in any direction. It is our passion
that helps us gravitate to our own north. Passion helps us find
something to drive towards. It is really the only feedback we
have about what gives our life value. It is tempered by all the
other things we care about – people, nature, ideas –
but it is our own life energy.
After all this chaos in your life, could you fill the emptiness,
the void with something worthwhile? Did you solve “the nothing”?
Or does “the nothing” still haunt you? Is it maybe
the feel of nothing that pushes you forward and let you moving
Jordan: I don’t think you can ever fill the nothing.
You can only learn to live with it - or lie to yourself and distract
yourself. It is with me everyday. For me the nothing is just the
knowledge that I am pushing a stone up a hill everyday and watching
it roll back down. It is futility. But I have to remember that
I chose this particular stone. That goes somewhere towards making
the nothing bearable. Camus talks about fighting the losing battle
nobly. That for me is something beautiful: knowing that you have
entered into a battle you cannot win, and fighting it with nobility.
It’s a brave thing.
I have at least made my peace with the nothing. It doesn’t
scare me anymore.
What made you thinking, you cannot go on as a musician? I mean,
you are an exceptional musician, even visionary. You have done
great work with the albums before you left New Zealand. You got
good responses in form of high-rated reviews and Award nominations.
You are not afraid to experiment with your music, pushing boundaries.
So, all doors are open to develop and evolve in any way musically.
But you did not see any future in your musical work? For me that
is really difficult to understand …
Jordan: All I can say is that I am so glad to meet someone
who says that about what I do. Unfortunately though, I come from
a country with a rather insidious culture. New Zealanders have
this saying “she’ll be right”. It means “everything
will be ok”. We/they don’t like to delve into the
darkness underneath human existence. It makes them uncomfortable…
Not me… not everyone here, but most people. Because my music
is about facing the darkness a lot of the time, many New Zealanders
dislike it or more often – they ignore it. I am ignored
here by most of the mainstream popular music presses. What I say
doesn’t fit with our culture. It doesn’t say “everything
is good”. It says “things can be awful...” Interestingly,
we have one of the highest suicide rates in the world for young
men. Here young men are taught that to talk about emotions is
unmasculine. So they don’t. And because everyday they are
faced with people saying “it will all be ok” –
even though they feel like everything is NOT ok, they are alone.
So they kill themselves.
interesting too that people from other countries see us as friendly.
You have a word “oberflächlich”. It reminds me
of New Zealand friendliness. We are instantly accepting and friendly
to people from everywhere. But if you try and get deeper, and
talk about the nothing, or the darkness, or depression or suicide,
they get terribly uncomfortable. Sometimes you can’t get
deeper until you have known someone for 5 years. I find it very
isolating. When you meet people who are different to what I described,
it is like finding a gem.
- I tried to give up being a musician because I saw that it would
never work for me to do that here. I would never get record company
support (I still don’t) or proper distribution (I still
don’t, even in New Zealand). But I became ill when I chucked
all my energy into something that meant nothing to me –
software engineering. In the end I thought: ”fuck this country.
Nobody can stop me writing music. Even if nobody hears it, I will
write it. Even if I am poor for the rest of my life I don’t
care. I will find a way to survive”.
Dajana: Although you could attract a lot of attention
in NZ you seem not to be satisfied with the scene over there.
Why not? How to describe the music scene over there generally?
Jordan: Ah – the music scene. Well, there is an
underground scene, and that’s really healthy. I love playing
to the gothic crowd here for example, and also the avant-garde
modern composition set. There is a strong collective in the gothic
scene of people who like dark music, punk music, metal, industrial
and they organise gigs and it’s great. These kinds of audiences
are just wonderfully open and will listen to new things.
the national music scene that I don’t feel part of. Even
though New Zealand is so small, they aren’t even aware of
the underground scene. Goths are publicly disparaged here. The
national scene is extremely inward looking and self-perpetuating.
It is simultaneously obsessed with what they call “the New
Zealand sound” and proving that kiwis can write American
pop tunes as well as Americans. It makes me laugh. The “New
Zealand Sound” is like some institutionalised yet elusive
chimera. Some of the major funding bodies are geared directly
at gaining airplay on commercial radio. They take NZ songs to
moronic stations that play Brittany spears and ask “will
you play this NZ song?” If the station says yes, that song
gets funding for a video. That system just plays to the middle
constantly. There is no room for innovation. It’s crazy.
But the idea is that more is better: more NZ music on the radio
is better. Regardless of whether that music is anything other
than a bland commodity. I try and just ignore it and carry on
with what I do. Fortunately some of the student stations (not
all), Creative New Zealand and National Radio/ Concert FM are
really supportive of unusual and interesting stuff. They have
always supported me thankfully. I wouldn’t have managed
to release records without Creative New Zealand for example –
the arts council here.
There was to read you just had pieces of a computer with you in
Germany, giving you the possibility of recording all these train
and transport sounds on Passenger. How did the “record
sessions” take place? What experiences you made during this
time with people and technology (I mean the recording process
itself, when you – maybe – sat close to the tracks
in a station)?
Jordan: My suitcase caused a barrel of laughs for American
customs. It was full of hard drives, CD burners a mini disc, microphones,
a motherboard. All sorts of electronic stuff. They actually opened
up my guitar case and ripped the insides out. They then couldn’t
figure out how to repack it and tied it up with polythene and
a notice that should have read “we make no apologies for
our rampant stupidity – and we have destroyed the pickup
in your guitar”.
But yeah – basically, I took my computer apart so I could
fit it in my suitcase. The only clothes I bought with me were
the ones wrapped around the electronic gear to protect it. It
weighted 32 kg. I put it back together in Germany when I could
afford a case with a power supply. Someone gave me an old monitor.
I was really lucky.
Some of the train sounds I recorded on my mini disc in Karlsruhe.
But the quality was quite variable. Other sounds of from my collection
of sample CDs. I use a lot of stuff by Zero G and BT. So I listened
to the ones from Karlsruhe and found a match. A lot of it is symbolic
so I don’t mind the fact that some of the samples were not
trains in Karlsruhe at all. I simply can’t afford the mikes
and gear I would need to do professional field recordings. So
often I record stuff, listen carefully and then shop for a professional
recording of it online. The CDs are a lot cheaper than mikes.
On TLOC and Passenger you are using Indian sounds.
Does it have a special meaning?
Jordan: Really they are just supposed to be like the
shards or fragments of other cultures we get thrown in the news.
In TLOC the space probe is hearing broadcasts
from all countries at once. So the Indian stuff is in there like
all the other countries. In Passenger
they are there because of all the chunks of imagery that were
used in the Iraq war coverage. Like the news they are the sounds
of real people but somehow disembodied and cut out from the context
of their own life for our interest. When the Iraq war protests
and news was televised – when I was in Germany – I
just felt bombarded by fragments from the past – other wars
– as well as other places... all of it seemed like a giant
nonsensical collage. I was in a confusing array of other things
at the time. So that’s the kind of thing I tried to reproduce.
Shattered and fleeting glimpses of other lives.
How do you write songs? Do you need first the chaos giving birth
to ideas and melodies, expressing feelings and emotions? Is there
first the sound or the text line?
Jordan: I need always to start with quiet. And that is
hard to find. My own voice grows quieter and quieter in me and
I have to listen more and more carefully. Sometimes I worry it
will vanish altogether. When things get very difficult it vanishes
sometimes. But so far it always comes back. But sometimes I have
great trouble chasing my own voice and bringing it back out.
In terms of writing, I generally start with some sound I have
found. An engine room. A train, a chord. Any of those has some
kind of key or pitch. I listen to the sound and try and let it
effect me with its own feeling. I try and sit in that feeling
and just humm along or sing along and see what happens. Then I
find a melody – then lyrics.
What inspires you, gives you power, energy and creativity?
Jordan: The human condition. And how inherently isolated
that is. You are the only person inside your own head. It can
be so hard to cross the bridge from thought to language –
in the hope that you will convey meaning to another person. We
take this for granted, but so much is lost in language. Symbols
are slightly different for different people, or are loaded with
references for some and not others. I hate it and I love it. In
Germany it was the hardest thing to be robbed of the means of
articulating myself. I love words. I love metaphor. But my vocabulary
was so small I felt like I was making a sculpture with an axe.
terms of creativity, I need to be alone to write. Day to day I
have to try and find the balance that gives me the space to write
but that doesn’t make me so isolated that I can’t
function. Loneliness is the driving force in my life. I run to
it and from it constantly. It’s like I am hunting for this
deep connection I will never find. I find that connection when
I write a song I like. But it fades. So I keep writing. I find
the connection when I read philosophy too. Very occasionally I
find it in people. And that is the most powerful and most scary
also get some sense of power from the idea that I am living my
own life. I manage to figure out ways of surviving and living
alone and writing music. For me that is special.
Which artists have an impact on your music, left a mark on your
personal style musically spoken?
Jordan: It’s odd I know, but I don’t listen
to music much. I listen to the sounds of the places I pass though.
Cities, countryside, oceans, transport. For me this is the music
of everyday life. It is the background against which the human
play is set.
Of the music I do listen to I find ones with narrative interesting.
There was an album by Klaatu about a light house keeper. He guarded
a planet that had been destroyed by its human occupants. He sent
out his light to warn everyone not to come near. There is a track
there which calls him “the loneliest of creatures”
and that is what inspires TLOC. I think that stories are beautiful.
The Wall by Pink Floyd I like for the same reason. It has a story
to it. It has human characters I can relate to.
Since it is very difficult to get the hands on your CD’s
here in Europe and even in the U.S., did you think about to land
at least a distribution deal in Europe?
Jordan: Oh I would love to, but I don’t know where
to look. If anyone can tell me – please email me!! My current
plan is to spend 6 months of every year in Germany, but I don’t
know how that will work yet. I need to sort out distribution and
contacts before I go again. It’s too risky otherwise.
Obviously going on as a musician (what gave you the final impulse?),
are there plans for the future? Are there sounds, techniques,
styles and elements you would like to try out and combine? Are
there artists you would like to work with? Would you like to explore
other capabilities of artistic expression?
Jordan: The impulse to go on being a musician was really
anger and stubbornness. I don’t like being defeated. And
more than that, I realised that I was wasting my life if I just
pursued something I did not love.
As for the future, I am working on new material now which is really
rewarding. The Arts Council and the Department of Conservation
sent me to a remote area of the south island to uncover some stories
and use them musically. It is a great opportunity to build up
a really strong narrative. A lot of the history down there is
still oral. So I had to visit a lot of old people and ask about
their great great grandparents and things. That will sound hilarious
I think to a German audience. But our history is quite young compared
to yours. The Maori arrived 500 or possibly 1000 years ago according
to different sources. European settlers arrived at the place I
visited in 1874. We consider buildings that are 100 years old
to be very old. I guess that probably sounds very weird!
In terms of working with other people, I am really enjoying doing
vocal guest work with other artists. It’s a real pleasure
to have a break from writing music and to just be able to write
vocal melody and lyrics. A track I did with a friend called “Johnny
Chrome” made it onto the last Café Del Mar disc.
I did a track a while ago with Zane Lowe for a project called
“Breaks Co Op”. That was a real pleasure to sing.
Locally I worked on a track with the Strawpeople last year and
I got one of the darkest tracks on the disc. So it was very easy
to get into the mood of the track and elaborate on that. It was
a real buzz. I would love to work with dark electronic groups
in Europe. That’s something I hope to be able to set up
before I go. But again, I don’t know where to look. I have
some homework to do!
Did you make any good experiences in Germany where you can say:
ok, worst things may overweigh but I’m happy of having experienced
this special point? What did you like most in and on Germany?
Jordan: I think I finally got over the bad aspects of
the experience early this year (2005) when a few things from that
story got properly resolved. I finally managed to put someone
into my past where they belong. I hadn’t been able to for
nearly 2 years. It was like waking up and thinking “what
the fuck was I thinking?… that was like some kind of delusional
dream where I was rendered utterly stupid and blind”. I
am glad to be awake after it. To see things clearly again.
I won’t ever be glad about the bad parts of that experience.
Unfortunately they didn’t even make me a stronger person.
They made me a hard person. But that is nothing to do with Germany
as a place or a culture – or even Germans as people. The
bad was one person and the situation I had with him. So what I
am glad about is that my interest in Germany as a country was
never destroyed. I don’t think I could go back to Karlsruhe
again, and that is sad because there are some truly wonderful
people there that I always think about. But I am ready to go back
and see what happens somewhere else in Germany. I am really looking
forward to building some good experiences of being there. This
time I am going for the right reasons I think – for my own
interest in the country itself, my interest in the language and
Will you come back to Germany one day?
Jordan: Definitely. As soon as I organise the money and
a proper plan in terms of distribution, live gigs and knowledge
about the scene ?
If you had to create a sculpture reflecting your inner I. How
it would look?
Jordan: Haha. That’s a really interesting question.
I think I create music that reflects my inner I. And it sounds
like the albums I have done so far! Maybe you are more visual
than I am – I find it hard to imagine that in pictures.
I am not a very embodied person, I tend to live in my head and
in ideas. They can be visual, but really I don’t think visually
Your top 5 of (good) things:
1) Good Books
2) The smell of earth in spring when the bulbs come up…
and the feeling in the air when all the animals – including
people - are screwing ;)
3) Aesthetic experience in general (the above is one also, but
it’s one I particularly like)
4) The sound of the sea
5) The feeling of being in a place where thousands of people have
lived before you
best you ever accomplished?
It’s hard to say because I always think – “I
could have done that better”. But sometimes I look back
and think it is really great that I managed to make 4 CDs. I think
my best accomplishment is just that I do things my own way. Stubbornness
is my big accomplishment ;)
craziest and freakiest thing you would like to experience if you
ever get the chance, regardless if possible or not?
It’s a bit boring so I am embarrassed – I want to
sail in a ship from Hamburg to St. Petersburg in the summer. I
could add an impossible part which would be to go to a ball there
as it would have been for the Tsars. And then I would like to
be invisible and hang about with the Russian Mafia and see how
they actually operate. Though I think the latter would probably
A dragon. They are lonely creatures. Capable of extreme passion
and rage. And nobody is sure if they exist ;) (oh my good, she
must be a soul sister … - Cal)
are you crazy about?
Aesthetic experience ? Some philosopher once divided philosophy
up into the pursuit of either truth, beauty or the good. After
studying a bit of each I find that I don’t really give a
shit about truth or the good. I used to tie myself up in knots
trying to find out what the truth and the good were. But you can’t.
They are amorphous and elusive. I leave that up to someone with
more talent for it than I. I am interested in the sublime and
the beautiful - and trying my very best to articulate it. Which
I think is what being a musician is about.
Thank you so much for the time you spend answering so many questions
so detailed. I so hope that there will be a label soon appreciating
what you are doing ;)