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Interview with Jordan Reyne

Musicians, have you ever made money from playing a gig online?

Jordan Reyne has.

Hailed by New Zealand’s National Radio as the pioneer of a new sound, Jordan’s music has been variously described as “Celtic industrial”, “Folk noir” and “Antipodean steam-punk” – imagine the trouble that causes on websites when you have to find her in a genre listing.

With the launch of her new album this week, “Children of a Factory Nation,” Jordan was kind enough to share some of the inspiration and details behind her unique new album with me on Agenda Red.

You’re from New Zealand, Jordan, and now based in London. Can you tell us a bit about your move and how London works for you as an artist? What appeals to you most?

The move was a little long winded. Back in the mid 1800s, a time period I am quite enamoured with, the first NZ pioneers took about 90 days to sail from NZ to London. Somehow, it took me 5 years to get from NZ to London, reason being, I got somewhat sidetracked by a medieval village called L├╝beck, in Germany, then by Hamburg. There is something about ex-plague towns and towns with a 24-hour red light district that attracts anyone who loves stories. In the end though, the UK called me away. It was because of interest from endorsers and record labels in the UK that I made the move, but I’d always loved the UK from visits to see friends and family.

You’ve got five releases behind you. What’s been the biggest change in the evolution of your music so far?

I would say the storytelling side. I have always had a passion for found sound, and recreating environments with the everyday noises, like transport sounds, machinery and so on, that I could put characters in. Earlier on though I’ve been a bit unsure with what to do with those characters. This is where I am glad to have writer friends who have been a good influence on me. I think that the stories have emerged a lot more strongly from that bed of sound now. There are tales within each song and an overriding tale. I love being able to try and work such things out. It doesn’t make for 3 minute radio friendly stuff, as you can’t really tell a good yarn in three minutes, but good yarns are a hook of their own in my eyes – at least they are what have always hooked me, so I hope that that is the part I have managed to get right.

Can you remember how and when the inspiration for the concept of your new album first struck you?

It was one of those weird albums that seemed to write itself, so it’s hard to say. The catalyst was my Grandma’s death. At her funeral there were 4 generations – each one more red-headed than the last, and my uncle, who I had never met before, began telling the stories of my Grandparents families. They were coal miners from Bleanavon in Wales, and my Grancha had gone back even further – where things started to get patchy. I was already hooked though. I went hunting about for information. One thing about my love of yarns though, is that I am easily distracted. The people I ended up writing stories about are not actually relatives, rather some interesting people I came across in my search of the areas my family had come from. Johnathan made me wonder because he was a sailor and yet managed to drown near his own home at a young age. I later found out that it was quite common that sailors couldn’t swim, but I had already written a story around him.

What’s been your toughest challenge as an artist so far and how have you overcome that challenge?

The one I think most musicians suffer from – being broke all the time. I was very lucky to find a way to support myself that is purely from music – it took a time to get there, of course, and there were a lot of shameful and dodgy part-time jobs on the way. The thing with the net is that it bubbles and boils with ideas, which means new niches crop up daily. It was seeing something that could work for the style of music I play which made me go head on into the world of online performance that works for me now.

In 2010 you played over 200 live shows both on and offline – that’s quite an achievement! For those who aren’t yet familiar with your online shows, can you tell us a little bit more about when you started doing that and how?

It actually happened by chance when I was living in Hamburg. A friend of mine, who is also a musician, was going on tour, so I stopped by to say bye and have a chat before she left. We got a bottle of wine and in a very giggly moment, she asked me if I would like to “do a show.” My mind sank into the gutter and I asked her what she meant not knowing if I wanted to hear the answer. It didn’t help when she replied “Come on – we have to do it in front of the computer. You get money you know.” I wondered what the hell was in the wine but after plonking me in front of her computer she jumped up and grabbed her guitar. She tapped about on the keyboard until a 3D world came on the screen. Then we started taking turns singing songs. Having stopped playing online “games” after Everquest sucked me into a hole back in 2000, it was rather an out there experience. All the avatars began dancing and throwing money. I was fascinated and, more motivatingly, newly unemployed. I wondered if it could be something to build up into a way of paying the bills. It was.

What one piece of advice would you give to musicians grappling with promoting their music online today?

Doing what everyone tells you will work, doesn’t always work. The internet is full of communities. Communities are social systems and sociology is not an exact science. It’s about emergent behaviours that are more than the sum of their measurable parts. The net is a sea of social niches, just as the offline world is, but those social niches are no longer geographically isolated. If everyone tries to do the tried and true things in only a few of those communities, it becomes uninteresting, like it does in the offline world, ‘cos the fringes starve away. Musicians are not all built the same. We have different sets of strengths and weaknesses that may sit perfectly with one social group and not at all with others. Its about finding the place, or places, that connect for you and that connect for your music. It’s about working within those communities rather than jumping from horse to horse with everyone else just because it promises you a win.

Where is “Children From a Factory Nation” for sale?

Right here on iTunes or from my own website here.

And where can we find details of your up and coming shows?

Right here, Jordan Reyne gigs.

Thanks for your time Jordan. Best of luck with your new album and forthcoming tour.

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