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Jordan Reyne. New Zealand

Jordan Reyne. New Zealand

I discovered this New Zealand artist on the Internet and listened to some of her songs on YouTube, which I immediately enjoyed. She is considered a pioneer for Industrial Folk music (also referred to as Folk Noir).

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I was especially moved by the fact that the New Zealand Arts Council contacted Jordan Reyne to make a concept album for one of New Zealand's first pioneer women (Susannah Hawes) whom History has chosen to forget.

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Jordan Reyne was CZB Artist of the Month in February 2011, and we featured weekly songs on our CZB Radio playlist. We wanted to get to know her a little better - rather than just through what the usual internet bios have to offer, so we got in touch with her - and she agreed to do an e-mail interview (she's currently based in Europe, playing for the most part around Hamburg/DE and London/UK).

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She plans to tour Europe in 2011.

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Here's her biography (done in Romanian for ClickZoomBytes).

www.czb.ro/articol/618

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And here's her story.

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RiCo for CZB: When did you first start experimenting with sounds and when did you realize that you may be on to something completely different in what may be considered popular music?

Jordan Reyne: When I was a child I used to mess about with found things to make sounds, but it was really only because we didn't have any musical instruments in the house. I liked how metal rang and left a tone in the air, and I liked singing to that. I didn't really think I was experimenting at the time because I was a bit young. Later though, when I started recording music, I had learned to play an instrument too, but gravitated towards those sounds again. I just really enjoyed combining both the percussive and melodic elements of machinery into songs. It really only became clear though that it was different from pop music when the label I was on at the time said I should try and be more commercial, and should hide the tracks that were „heavier on the machine sounds“ at the end of the album. Needless to say, I ignored them.

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CZB: It is a fact that female artists in popular music along the decades have been less successful than male artists. Have you ever thought about this problem in the perspective of your music career and how would you explain it?

Jordan Reyne: I would say that the issue has a few more variables in it. I notice that female artists in the pop world can be extremely successful if they are prepared to go along with gender cliches. They are well rewarded for reiterating the idea that women are about sexuality and beauty. Not all of us are of course, but you wouldn't know it looking at any popular music channel. The problem is, if you deliberately try and avoid falling into such cliches, you meet with a lot of resistance in the industry. The industry wants what sells – preferably easy sales - and even the stupidest marketing executive in the universe knows sex sells. The problem is, it is a very limiting image of women - so a lot of women, including me, refuse to go along with that. There is a huge price for doing that, and yes, it makes success far more difficult to achieve. To illustrate the fact, going back at the start of my career, when I was still a teenager: I was sent in to talk to the major record company who were partners with the Indie company I was signed to. We had a meeting (horribly, the marketing person I spoke to was also female) about how I wanted to be promoted. I said I didn't want to go for the usual cheap trick of putting my face on the album and doing the whole soft porn video thing to promote the music. I remember saying, „its music, so it's more important how it sounds“. Naive words, but I still beleive them deep down to this day and certainly I didn't expect the reaction I got - my Indie company called me up, furious, asking what the hell I had told the majors. I told them I'd just asked to be promoted in a way that isn't stupidly sexual, because my music isn't about that. The result – that major company dropped the promotion side of my record like a tonne of bricks. So yes, I think about the problems that gender and ideas about gender can cause in music, but I refuse to be swayed by them. For me it really is about music, and not the amount of units a big company can move. Moving more units is not necessarily what I would call success.

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CZB: You make Industrial Folk. How do you recreate the sounds you hear inside your head Live? Do you actually beat the hammer and stuff like that at club gigs?

Jordan Reyne: When I have other people playing with me, yes. I get them to smash metal objects in time with the music. Most often, dressed as a miner or a factory worker. As for recreating the sounds in my head, I think I must work backwards, because I usually start by just messing about with a sound, and then seeing where it takes me, and what fits with it. I build up layers and tones that way, and one I have a setting, I thread the melody through it. I almost never have a musical sound already in my head that I have to try and recreate. In a way I am glad because I don't know if I could!

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CZB: How do you see yourself maturing as an Artist and as a Person from Birds of Prey on through to Passenger?

Jordan Reyne: Hard question. I don't know. Cerainly I would not let myself use the word „crucifixion“ ever again in a song (laughing) which I did on one in Birds of Prey. The songs on that album were written when I was a teenager, so in a sense it is a lot more raw, and also personal. I was still experimenting with what I liked doing. I hadn't yet discovered how much I like telling stories that are more general and less to do with my own life – or adopting other characters entirely and telling theirs.

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CZB: Why the 5 year hiatus between Passenger and How the Dead Live?

Jordan Reyne: I emigrated. It took a while to get on my feet after leaving New Zealand, and I also wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with music after my experiences there. In fact I did officially quit after How the Dead Live, though I had the good fortune to meet a friend who inspired me to continue, and showed me too that the whole world is not just like a larger version of New Zealand (where the music scene is reputedly small, limiting and syndicated, unless you are in a pop band - and that requires most musicians to leave before they can make anything happen). So yes, it took me a while to gather the impetus again to put the album out there. It was actually recorded before I left New Zealand so the delay was really a case of not wanting to have to be involved with the industry again.

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CZB: Your collaboration with the New Zealand Arts Council is not a recent one; you've been commissioned the write The Ironman (1999) and you've been sponsored with a national tour to promote technology in music... Could you give us more insight on how your relationship with the New Zealand Arts Council started out and developed during the past decade?

Jordan Reyne: Glad you asked that because Creative New Zealand are like our country's saving grace. In my opinion, they singlehandedly keep experimental music alive there. I first heard about them from an artist friend who was actually a painter (they support all art forms, not just music) but wasn't sure how one went about proposing projects or applying for funding. Another friend helped me find that out, and since then Creative New Zealand have been just fantastically supportive. The recent album How the Dead Live however, was funded by both CNZ and the New Zealand Department of Conservation under an initiative called „Wild Creations“. They funded one project a year to write / paint / compose something that reflected an aspect of our cultural heritage. It was a real honor to be that person.

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How the Dead Live. The Susannah Hawes Project

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CZB: What have you learned about the European history of your nation through being involved in the New Zealand Arts Council remembers Susannah Hawes project?

Jordan Reyne: The point of How the Dead Live is that it deliberately deals with the quiet heroism of everyday life; in the particulars of an everyday person's struggle (Susannah Hawes). I wanted to move away from the grand narratives that we learn in school and university as are so often obsessed with causality, “greatness”, and the lives of the powerful and influential. Most of us don't have power or influence, so I wanted to focus on how life was at that time for a person like you or I; people who just do their best to get on with things. “History” is there as a character in the album to represent what we know European history represents – a thing interested in drama and deeds and actions deemed causative by those who analyze past events. History is not interested in Susannah, but the idea is that we should be. History wants to go off and follow a war or something more grand, but Susannah's life is actually very personal and engaging - History is simply not able to understand or take on board because of the kind of creature she (History) is.

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CZB: Susannah Hawes was one of New Zealand’s first pioneer women. There were many like her whose stories remain forgotten. Why was Susannah Hawes specifically chosen for this musical and historical project?

Jordan Reyne: I chose Susannah because there were personal writings of hers left over. There is an incredible museum in Karamea, and it actually has the letters and diaries of several of the first Europeans that settled there. Many of those diaries though were written in a very dry and factual manner – men logging that they brought in x number of kilos of food over route Y through the hills. Susannah was one of the few who talked about how it actually felt to be there. That made it at once more personal. You could feel something of what it must have been like for her by what she said.

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CZB: During the creation of this album have there been moments you have cried; could you explain one of these moments ... and in what ways have you identified yourself with the character portrayed in the songs on this album?

Jordan Reyne: One of the things you notice when you spend time in Karamea is the incredible indifference of nature, and the isolation – even now there are only around 500 people here and the road access is subject to flooding and slips. There is this sense that the landscape is so massive and overwhelming - the violent sea on one side, ripping at the roots of the mountains, forests too thick and impenetrable and full of ancient plant forms - the spines of the mountains themselves pushing up at the belly of the sky. It feels like there is no space left to exist, even as a modern person. Reading Susannah's letters, I got an added sense of that – she had also left her friends and family in England and could never go back. Ships took over 90 days to bring post, and sometimes they didn't come at all. There were occasions where I got enough insight into how it must have been for her to cry too.

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The Native New Zealanders

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CZB: What are your views on the native Maori people ... How do you consider their culture has developed or diminished under British influence?

Jordan Reyne: That is a question that I cannot do any justice in any short paragraph. Also not a question that I feel very qualified to answer. In the song The Brave, which talks about History ignoring the perspectives of certain groups of people - she ignores not only Susannah and other women's perspectives, but the Maori people's as well.

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For anyone who has studied the Treaty of Waitangi, and the land law / Queens orders of the same time, it is very clear that the Maori people were ripped off by the British. They were sysematically and deliberately robbed of their land, and had their culture undermined by British insistence that everything be done according to their own English value system. In Karamea specifically there is a strange kind of silence on the subject too, because there is still debate over whether the Maori had settled there or not before the Europeans arrived. One view is that the area was only used as a food catchment (this is what they have put on the tourist information placards too). However, it's a small town, so interesting information can come to light. I spoke with a man who had worked on a dig in Karamea who was convinced it was settled – which would mean that, yet again, the British had given away land that was never theirs. In Karamea this may be debatable, but there are many many cases in other parts of the country where it is clear that that Maori were very much ripped off.

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To this day the Maori show great strength and tenacity in winning back what has been taken. For some, that loss will never be repayable, but there are groups that are making big differences. They are a strong people who were forced into a system that disadvantaged them badly and which took their language, and in many cases, their identity, from them. Thanks to the quiet bravery shown by Maori too, the Maori language (Te Reo Maori) is alive again, and there are some very powerful Maori-driven initiatives doing work to ensure that Taha Maori can persist and endure, despite the fact that some European New Zealanders still retain very old school attitudes.

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The European Climate

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CZB: How would you describe New Zealand to a would be first-time visitor?

Jordan Reyne: In Germany people ask me all the time what it is like, and it's hard to give a useful answer in a short sentence. Its like having 120 characters to describe yourself in twitter – if I could do it, it would be a sorry sign!!

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New Zealand is a very multifaceted place. It is at once stunningly beautiful, and lonely; at once friendly and open, but unable to talk about its own inner darknesses. It has scenery ranging from deserts to lush forests with dinosaur epoch plant forms that you see nowhere else on earth. It is magical, free, easy and yet also sometimes stultifying. It is also many things in between. What you see also depends on what sort of eyes you travel with.

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CZB: Why the move from New Zealand to Germany / Why Hamburg, and not Berlin? Or perhaps, did Hamburg choose you?

Jordan Reyne: As a teenager I lived with my guitar teacher (Dieter) and his family after my dad and I fell out with one another. Dieter was originally from the North of Germany and was just this gregarious, alive person. He had always been wonderfully supportive of my music, even as my father developed severe problems with it. Somehow as a teenager you end up making generalizations, so I figured all Germans must be funny, caring, warm, music loving types. Of course studying history and philosophy I found out they weren't all fun and games - but was attracted to the philosophical side – the culture of deep thinking and the apparent ability to engage with questions of existence without labeling it depressing. Everyone knows that German history isn't especially full of joyous moments, but when the time came to leave New Zealand, I was looking for depth and had questions to answer of my own. I decided to go to Germany, starting in Lübeck because a friend who had lived there recommended it. Lübeck was a wonderful city. I left it because Hamburg had more opportunities for work though. Hamburg is a commerce town though, and looking back, it would have been much better for the music to have moved to Cologne or Berlin, though its been very interesting being here too.

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Modern Society

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CZB: How have you been influenced in your music and ideas by early black and white movies such as Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), the German Metropolis movie (1927) or other writers such as George Orwell's 1984? all having similar, recurring ideas about man being enslaved by modern machines, made to make life easier?

Jordan Reyne: Certainly George Orwell has been a big influence on what I write about, and in the music industry, we certainly have the scenario he talked about with the „music machine“ that churns out meaningless hits by the truckload with obvious recombinations of lyrics. When it comes to the technology side – it seems fair to say that technology is often used symbolically to represent forces beyond our control („our“, meaning we that aren't in positions of power) and to represent forces who cannot be reasoned with, and don't engage in any kind of debate. The technology, in my mind, is neutral however. It can be wielded to do good or to support self interest and greed. When it is used as a tool in greed and self interest, it becomes the kind of evil we see in film. I don't see people as slaves to machines so much as slaves to one another, or to greed.

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CZB: How do you view our current society, dependent on computers – or, a more simple aspect being young supermarket cashiers that don't know how much change to give until the cash register gives the employee the exact numbers?

Jordan Reyne: As someone who loves what technology has made possible in terms of music (think of your favorite electronic music), I would have to repeat what I said before. I think technology is a tool like any other. With a hammer you can build a house, or you can murder someone. One is very useful, one is clearly terrible, wrong, and shocking. The real issue is the people that wiled the technology – more specifically those who are in the power positions that decide how technology will be developeds and applied. Bombs do not fire themselves.

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CZB: If you've viewed movies such as Voda (Water, RU, 2006), Zeitgeist (US, 2007), Avatar (US, 2010) ... how do you feel these complement each other? Do you know of other authors or movies that you would warmly recommend to others about Saving the Planet?

Jordan Reyne: Zeitgeist is a fantastic film. I loved it. Avatar, on the other hand, I have to admit to finding as irritating as I find most Hollywood films. I guess the difference is the manner in which the message is gotten across. Zeitgeist may be preaching to the converted, or at least assuming an existing ability and desire to think about such issues and their impact, whereas Avatar tries to preach to the unconverted and assumes no such ability or desire, rather it tries to seed one. It would be a wonderful thing if Avatar achieved it's goal in that respect, but I am a little too cynical to think it will have anything more than the usual passing impact of anything that asks for a radical change within a system, whilst using the mechanisms of the very system that is at fault. Hopefully I am wrong there!

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CZB: Our gratitude for this interview, going out to the artist.

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Discography

  • Birds of Prey (1997)
  • The Ironman (2000)
  • The Loneliest of Creatures (2002)
  • Passenger (2004)
  • How the Dead Live (2009)

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www.jordanreyne.com

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