Doing 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 …

Jordan Reyne

Dajana: 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?
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.

Dajana: 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?
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 journey.

Dajana: 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?
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.

Dajana: 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?
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.

Dajana: 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 ahead?
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.

Dajana: 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 …
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.

It’s 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.

Anyway - 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?
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.

It’s 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.

Dajana: 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)?
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.

Dajana: On TLOC and Passenger you are using Indian sounds. Does it have a special meaning?
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.

Dajana: 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?
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.

Dajana: What inspires you, gives you power, energy and creativity?
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.

In 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 thing.

I 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.

Dajana: Which artists have an impact on your music, left a mark on your personal style musically spoken?
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.

Dajana: 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?
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.

Dajana: 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?
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!

Dajana: 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?
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 in adventure.

Dajana: Will you come back to Germany one day?
Definitely. As soon as I organise the money and a proper plan in terms of distribution, live gigs and knowledge about the scene ?

Dajana: If you had to create a sculpture reflecting your inner I. How it would look?
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 that well.

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

The 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 ;)

The 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 upset me.

Your soul-related animal?
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)

What 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.

Dajana: 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 ;)


01/2005 © Dajana Winkel • Jordan Reyne