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Nick Jordan's freshman debut NJ strikes soul gold

Nick Jordan

Nick Jordan

“I have a mind that races too much,” says Nick Jordan. We're catching up by phone before he heads off to rehearsal, in the final days of preparation for tonight's big show.

Nick Jordan's NJ EP release performance this evening at Honey is the culmination of his entire career thus far. The 21-year-old has taken great care in curating his debut, a seven-track saunter of soul seen through young yet retrospective eyes.

Jordan will be joined by singers Nyasia Arredondo and Maxee Whiteford, both of whom lend their vocals to the intriguing and excellent audio sculpture. Dancers Albert Conteh and Christlo Gittens will lend their choreography. There will be a seven-piece band, including saxophonist  Lucia Roccatagliata, bassist Charlie Bruber (of Tabah and Black Market Brass), and drummer Murphy Janssen, all of whom play on the EP.

Jordan's choice to make this EP was a creative reaction to things that were going on in his life, a way of using music to battle his inner demons.

“I was really experiencing coming out of depression,” he tells me. “It was really hard for me that summer. I was anxious about going to school, and life, and it was just like, I felt like, OK, I did this, I don't even know if I'm supposed to be here or if I wasted my time, or spent my time correctly...”

“Take me for a whirl outside / I've been staying in too much so I need something to clear my mind / I feel the tension in my bones,” is the first lolling verse of “Radio,” a song Jordan recorded while he was battling depression. 
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“'Cause I was like, so tense from just staying in bed so fucking long,” he says, telling me that some days he'd get up in the morning, shower, then wind up back in bed.

“Radio,” which also features Maxee on vocals, is a slick track. The lyrics include nostalgic references to artists like Ja Rule, Ashanti, and Jill Scott. “Play my favorite song, play it all night long,” Jordan commands, while Maxee's falsetto hovers above. It's seductive, and a sweet thought. Listening to “Radio” reminds me of late summer nights, driving somewhere, trying to pick a radio station.

Jordan sees everything in life as cyclical. He says “Radio” came to him as if he was daydreaming, creating a brighter reality than the one he allowed for himself.

“That's the cool thing, and what is so neat about music,” Jordan says. “For me, I have that back story with that song, but that's not the only way to experience it. With music, it doesn't come with a handbook."

He admits, in retrospect, he wasn't in the right environment to create something like NJ at 18.

“I wasn't in environments really conducive to any artistic growth," he remembers. "I was in bad relationships; I was just in bad everything, pretty much."

The process of creating NJ was more than just making an album — it was growing up.

“By the time I was trying to get my head right and get out of that, I had a lot to write about,” he says. “It was very therapeutic to go into a practice room by myself on a Sunday afternoon and just play and sing and freestyle whatever would come out.”

Listening to NJ is a little like spying on Jordan's daydreams. He wrote all of the music and lyrics himself except for “Fantasy,” written with Nick Kiekenapp. The EP is produced by Luke Darger (production alias moonsidr_dlux), who plays keyboards and whom Jordan calls “brilliant.”

Darger is also a member of Lunar Bedrooms, opening at Honey tonight. The EP truly began to form when the two met. Jordan had been writing songs by himself for about a year, but together they spent all of 2015 cementing the production aspects of the songs. NJ was mixed and mastered by Robert Frost III.

Jordan admits he's heavily influenced by the Neptunes.

“I really started taking writing music seriously when I was 18, and when it came to re-learning piano, and learning what chords I like. I attribute that a lot to listening to a lot of Neptunes productions and being like, this is so tight to me, what makes this so tight?”

NJ doesn't follow any musical rules, though. Every track occupies its own space entirely, drawing on different influences sporadically and maintaining unpredictability while still staying smooth.

Jordan doesn't want to pigeonhole himself to any genre, but tends to prefer the word “soul” when describing his music.

“It was important to me that every song had a little something different sonically about it,” he says. “My song 'Destiny' is kind of a slower ballad but then halfway through builds up into this almost pseudo-rock vibe, like I'm basically just shouting in the background."

On “Fantasy,” he borrows from garage and even house music. There really aren't any boundaries.

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The last song on the album, “Again,” is a dreamy nod to traditional soul music.

“It's kind of my personal philosophy of sorts, because it's all about embracing change and embracing that nothing stays constant forever,” Jordan says. The instrumentation is very minimal and relies mostly on keyboard and synth. It's a satisfying ending to the EP, and is fitting in relation to Jordan's journey so far.

“There's going to be sour times, but there's also going to be times like right now, where everything makes sense and is worth it,” he says. “I hope that it motivates my beautiful people around me to keep going.”

He speaks very highly of the collective of performers on NJ.

“Nyasia is next. Maxee is next. All of my beautiful, beautiful people," he says. "We're going to just keep sharing."

For now, Jordan is happy to revel in the fact that the EP is actually completed, and, two years later, he can hold the finished product in his hands. He recently presented his mom with a copy of NJ. They listened to the songs together.

“She likes it!” he exclaims. “Maybe we experienced the moment differently, but I think it was a cool moment for both parties involved. It was like, see Mom, I actually finished this! I actually did it!”

The excitement for tonight is palpable in the grateful and talented 21-year-old's voice. 

“I just want to celebrate like, look at these little seven songs that so many special people got to touch and experience with me,” he says. “That's why I'm not alone anymore. That's why I could never ever feel lonely, because I've been able to foster a community around me that sincerely believes that we can do this.”

Nick Jordan

With: K. Raydio, Lunar Bedrooms and Taylor Rave

When: 9:30 p.m. Oct. 1.

Where: Honey. 

Tickets: $5-$7; more info here.