The voice has a strange power. It can be light or dark. Clear or obscure. Delicate or damning. Minneapolis songwriter JØUR is done navigating between those poles.
JØUR’s music is a vehicle for contrasts. It does not trade between the warring halves. It harnesses opposites simultaneously—illuminated by shadows, piercing through ambiguity, exploding in care.
“In my life, I embody a lot of contrasts and tensions,” JØUR says. “I’m very a very happy, warm, inviting personality, but I have this other side of me. I don’t need music to make me feel those feelings. What I need is music to unlock and activate the part of me that’s this darker, introspective person that hurts and grieves and emotes—my shadow side.”
JØUR’s debut album, Chiaroscuro, which releases tonight with a show at the Cedar, takes its name from the Renaissance technique of painting with deep shadows and heightened whites. Applied correctly, chiaroscuro can bring incredible dimension to a composition, the contrasts amplifying each other.
Chiaroscuro opens with the album’s most malevolent track, the thumping blues-rock breakup song “Black Hole.” But in the very next song, “One More Night,” JØUR has already relaxed into a moment of bliss. By the fourth track, “Hollow Horse,” she’s singing church songs about fate and benediction. But none of these transitions feel like they’re trying to vanquish another. They’re just elements emerging from the ether of JØUR’s incredible, phantasmagoric voice.
JØUR started off performing under her birth name, Jourdan Meyers. She learned piano at a young age, but it wasn’t until middle school that she realized how powerful her voice was. That was the same time she discovered Led Zeppelin. Listening to BBC Sessions gave her a necessary counterpoint to the bubblegum pop she’d been channeling from the radio. “That was when I was like, ‘Oh my God, music can be spiritual, too.’”
When a vocal coach paired her with a guitarist, she recorded two albums of earnest, confessional songs. But while she was writing from the heart, it didn't feel like a true reflection of herself. She needed a dimension of separation.
“As Jourdan Meyers, I felt pinned into the singer-songwriter category,” JØUR says. “I really wanted to create something that was more artistic and pushed the limits visually. Through JØUR, I felt like I could explore a hyperbolization of the things that I find interesting and fascinating.”
For Chiaroscuro, JØUR joined with Matt Patrick at the Library Recording Studio , and he must’ve felt her unrest. At the start of their collaboration, he asked JØUR who she wanted to be. There wasn’t an easy answer, but through their days in the studio, they worked through that question with purpose. JØUR pushed herself to unleash those deeper feelings, and Patrick synthesized her blues rock, radio pop, and gospel inklings into a cohesive sound. Together, they created JØUR, the beautifully contrasted “shadow side” Jourdan Meyers had been seeking to become.
“The War Inside” captures this transformation in an operatic sweep. JØUR bellows a confession, hands held to fire. You can almost see Jourdan Meyers peering into a mirror, tracing her eyelid with a dark pencil, and becoming the dour, pensive JØUR. Everything about the song screams for release.
But Chiaroscuro languished. JØUR wrote and recorded the record nearly three years ago, hoping to release it along with a manager who shared her vision. But after that manager stopped replying to her emails, JØUR had to sever the relationship. The ordeal cost her a year and a half, and she didn’t know if Chiaroscuro would ever be released.
Then, in February, JØUR decided to bootstrap the record into existence. She was daunted and unsure, but she began seeking. She drafted a release plan. Then she began experimenting with the visual representation of the JØUR persona. She began putting Pinterest boards together, collecting images that reminded her of the music she’d made. She drew in the expressionist images of the Bauhaus movement, gravitating toward deeply saturated blacks and blinding whites. She set up her iPhone in her room and started moving her body in barre-inspired flourishes.
“I looked at the artwork and I looked at the music, and I was like, ‘These weren’t built in isolation,’” JØUR says. “I’ve learned what I’m capable of, and it’s more than I thought. It’s been a real wholehearted endeavor. There’s no piece of it I haven’t touched.”
It should be ironic that three years of stalling is what allowed JØUR to spring her vision into action. But for an artist whose best work is born in juxtaposition, the unexpected has become a wellspring of strength.
“This whole experience has made me feel like I have more of a voice in my destiny,” JØUR says. “My writing has become about what it means to have a voice.”
With: Sexy Delicious and Andy Cook
Where: Cedar Cultural Center
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11
Tickets: $12; more info here