- Jordan White discusses more personal subject matter in his most in depth interview given to date, by Josh Kreger, staff writer of The Stroud Courier -
He walked into the busy downtown coffee shop wearing the face of Charles Manson on his black t-shirt. He noticed me staring, then laughed and simply said, "I like to see the reactions I get from it. It's a joke really, but the other day my mom said it's disgusting." When Jordan White sat down at the tidy, square table, he looked as pleasant as the first time I interviewed him, but within a few sentences it was obvious that he had a purpose for being there surpassing the reasons for past interviews. He became serious.
"I didn't want this to be another mundane discussion about my musical
influences, or what venues I will be playing atů" he said while pulling
a stick of gum from a black leather jacket. "Some of that has been
covered before, I'd rather go a bit deeper into some of the things that
have led me here." What followed was an emotional discussion about life,
love, and betrayal, and a bit of the dark side of rock 'n roll. These
are the things which many artists draw their strength from. This is
Jordan White unrestricted.
White's story begins at an early age, when he says he showed an extreme interest in music. I was a bit unsure as to how to begin his story, so I made a reference to one of his songs, a memorable little tune I had been listening to on the way to our interview. The song, titled 'Where To Begin'- is a heart breaking acoustic number reminiscent of 'More Than Words' by the 1990's rock group Extreme. "It was the first song that a lot of people really liked," he told me. He explained that later, many of his songs would be written to follow the same theme as 'Where to Begin.'
"In 'Where To Begin' there's this internal struggle to accept the
difference between what you want and what you can never have. There's
also a theme of isolation and trying to pick yourself up from it. Man, I
can still remember the exact place I wrote it too. You see every
summer we would rent a beach house down the shore in Wildwood, New
Jersey, and one time in the middle of the night I was sitting out on the
front patio alone, strumming my acoustic guitar, looking up at the sky
and the song just came together right there. I knew I had something
special after I played it through for the first time.
It was totally silent outside, except you could hear the waves hitting
the shore if you listened really hard. At that point I was feeling
pretty low because of things that were happening in my life, so I sort
of went out there to escape from it, and although I think that can help
you, at least for a little while, soon the vacation will be over and
you'll be going home. That's where the final lines in the song come
from: "the morning sun it dries up the ocean / it burns like the salt
in the waves / the tourists are all stirring / they are counting their
days." In a way it's about how so many things, good or bad, are only
temporary and how we have no choice but to pick up the pieces and start
all over again, because that's where the drudgery lies, you know, having
to explain yourself all over again to someone new, and in the song I'm
kind of asking myself if I even have the strength to do it. I knew
while I was writing this that some rough times were ahead."
White laughed and said, "what's kind of funny is, I scribbled 'can you
tell me where to begin' [a line in the song] about 10 years ago sitting
in study hall in high school on my notebook." High School, a good topic
since everyone has been there and has unique opinions about it. So I
asked White about his general experience.
"My high school? I think it was typical you know, there were all types of people and some were picked as favorites. It was very atheltic-oriented. We were known nationally for our wrestling program, and I played baseball until 9th grade, but after that it became no fun and all pressure. I could hit pretty well, but I wasn't very good in the outfield. I'd miss a ball and look over and the coaches would be rolling their eyes, parents would be swearing, it just wasn't fun anymore like it was when I was younger, so I left." White went further into detail, describing a teenage world filled with the all too familiar scenes of popularity, and the inevitable persecution and competition which it bred.
"I had my good friends, some of those guys I still talk to today. I
can't speak for them personally, but I think we were made up from all
different so-called scenes you know. Those guys are good people. I was
generally a polite, semi-private kind of guy, I had a few girlfriends,
nothing serious, but I didn't go to my senior prom.." I stopped him in
mid-sentence. "Why didn't you go?" I asked. White said, "Oh, I don't
know why, a couple girls asked me to go with them but I said no, I just
had no interest at all in being there. Once in awhile I'll tell someone
that and they ask me if I regret not going. I haven't decided." White
sipped his drink for a moment and stated bluntly, "You know all the
recent media attention about teachers sleeping with their students?
There were rumors about that going on there years before any of it was
talked about. I was in the ski club, the boxing club, I took several
music courses. That was good, but there was also bad. Sometimes I just
did my best to get through the each day. I remember looking up at the
clock during a three hour study hall and thinking to myself 'I'm not
going to make it! I got to get outta here.' What got me through was a
form of escapism through writing."
Continuing, White went on to describe his sympathy for those who endured the stratification that goes on in the public school system and how certain students tend to be pushed into isolation. "There were some kids that people really hated. They were the guys who wore the makeup and all the black clothes and stood out. They were actively disliked by the majority. I imagine it was really difficult for them, walking into a building every day and having really no choice but to lower your head and take it."
After high school, similar feelings followed White, a general uneasiness, he says, until the day when he discovered that music wasn't just his hobby; it was his true calling in life. I asked White about his music, and specifically about what he's trying to convey in it. He leaned back against the back of his chair and thought for several seconds.
"That's a good question. I want it to be something which people can relate to and that listeners connect with it. I've had fans tell me how much they've been able to relate to the lyrics and that really makes it worthwhile. That's what I'm trying to accomplish, to transform an idea into music." I asked White if songs with more specific lyrics are more difficult for his audience to relate to.
"Actually it seems that the more specific they are the stronger responses I get back from people." He looked away for a moment to think then returned to the conversation with a smile, "You know, sitting there writing some words that someone could be going over in the future. A relationship with someone I may have never met through the music."
I asked White what other issues had bred such an intense frame of
mind, because certainly there was something much deeper than just high
"Well a bit after high scool my parents began the process of a divorce, and for me it was like a rug pulled out from underneath my feet. The world was suddenly totally different. It changed my outlook on life, because I realized from that point on that no matter how much love you think is there, no matter how secure something feels, even the seemingly most stable things can be turned upside down. I understand now that many things in life are only temporary." We would discuss such things in more detail a bit later.
I interjected, "It's hard not having something positive and concrete in life." He looked down for a moment.
"Yea, I know that pretty well. I felt the worst for my youngest brother though, he was a little kid and I know how it must have affected him. I actually have an unreleased song called 'Messed Up Kid' which was me trying to see things from his point of view." I sensed anger in him, so I asked if he still felt bitter about the situation. "Oh for awhile I was pretty pissed off, walked around feeling pretty shitty about things. But it's not like I blame anyone for what happened. I adjusted."
I questioned him again, "So you wrote 'Messed Up Kid' from another person's perspective. Is that something you do often?" He replied, "You know actually I try to keep a universal perspective on things. I try to listen to both sides of any issue or idea. From doing so I've realized I don't relate very well with other males. I find the traits of feminism more appealing, you know things like compassion, communication, and appreciation of beauty. I don't know why. But then there's the part of me that loves sports and working on cars. I love hot wings and beer. Politically, I agree and disagree with both parties, so I'm a registered independent. I guess I'm just a mix. I just never understood the tough-guy approach, you know the 'I want to fight you for no reason' type. It makes no sense to me, if you're going to fight make sure it's something worth fighting for, not because you had one too many at the bar and someone looked at you the wrong way."
"So does that mean you've never been in a fight?" I asked.
He pointed a finger toward a young man reading a newspaper behind a
black eye a few tables over. "I was in a few, but one time my friends
and I were playing football and I sacked the quarterback of the other
team, you know, nothing out of the ordinary. As I was getting up for
whatever reason the guy attacked me but he didn't know I'd been taking
boxing for a couple years at that point so I knocked him around pretty
good. Then his friend ran up behind me and sucker punched me in the back
of the head. Never saw it coming, and this guy was enormous. Back
then some of those things seemed like such a big deal, and now I look
back at most of it and laugh."
I nodded. "Let's talk about the relationships that have inspired some of your music," I said.
"Well to be honest a few songs do stem from one traumatic time period. It was about five years ago, one of those relationships that happened out of no where, you don't see it coming, it takes you off guard and then it's gone and your left sitting there thinking 'what the hell was that?' And if I told you where we first met you'd never believe me."
My next question was inevitable. "Well, where?" I asked and he began to laugh. "I'd rather keep it to myself but just know it was somewhere unexpected."
"Ok, but can you explain why you say it was traumatic?" I asked.
"Sure. Basically I was na´ve at the time and believed everything she said. All those good things. And then one day, she was just gone. Totally out of the blue. I had no idea why, because she wouldn't return phone calls. I guess that was her way of dealing with it, you know, trying to protect herself from the pain by dissapearing. But I was totally in the dark and kept asking myself why I didn't see it coming." White waited another moment and said, "Even to this day, I still draw inspiration from that time period in my life. It still messes me up, because I find it hard to trust people for very long. Back when that happened everyone was like 'you'll find someone else' - 'it's her loss' and 'it's a scar that will heal' - you know, the usual things they say. They were right in the end, but the thing is, some scars don't ever totally heal, they just fade and a little mark is left. And there's more to the story, because about 5 years later her and I got back together for a few months, and she pulled the exact same shit." He shook his head in disdain. "But this time I was ready for it. You know thats the sum of life right now, people leaving, me leaving, days flying by.. the thing is, she's really talented, an excellent singer. So I did my best for her, setting her up with agents and I even got her on a local radio show. We would rehearse for hours; I'd sit under the piano and she'd sing. But she's the type that if a record label doesn't come knocking on her door within a day she'll give up, and you can't have that attitude in this type of work."
"So you've learned a lot from all of this," I said. He replied,
"Well I tried getting out of it early and and I lost my nerve. I was
just trying to protect myself and I didn't want to be in that situation
again, but somehow she convinced me that she had changed. Now I'm not
sitting here saying I was the perfect guy or anything, I made some
mistakes, but at least I was willing to put some fucking effort into
fixing things, because you get out of it what you put in it right? These
are some of the general ideas in some of my newer songs like 'No
Promises.' They're about how people just stop talking, and how the only
thing you can be sure about some of them is that the second it
gets difficult they'll walk away. I probably have one more song left in
me about it and then I'm done. There just comes the point where all
the creativity in a situation has been tapped and I've reached it.
There are more fullfilling things to write about than another
song trying to figure someone else out; it's a lost cause."
I spoke up, " And you felt guilty too?" White replied, "Well, see I have ended things with others because I couldn't give the stability they needed. I realize I chose a life outside the norm, and for some people it's too much to deal with. One girl and I broke up because I didn't have a 9-5 job like her other boyfriends. I was in front of people playing music instead. But I told her, I've told them all, that this is what I do and it's who I am and I can't change that."
I asked White if there had been more hardships in his past which had influenced his character and music.
"The worst of the worst, at least at the time. Finding out your best
friend had slept with a girlfriend. [note: not the same girl referred to
above] Man, that is another thing that still haunts me. I eventually
forgave the guy and was even an usher at his wedding a couple years ago.
'Forgive but don't forget' is what my mom told me to do way back then."
At this point it was time to change subjects again. "So a lot of artists, whether it be music, theatre or visual have certain quirks in their personalities. Do you as well?"
"I think that I have a mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder. I have a tendency to do certain things in sequences of even numbers, like setting the volume on the CD player in my car to level 12 or 14 or something. If it's not on an even number it feels like something bad is going to happen. Ridiculous, I know."
I furthered the point, "You studied psychology, do you think that your desire for control of your life has fostered this need to control these things from day to day?" White replied, "Yeah I can agree with that. I sort of think that people who are more intelligent or who think more will be plagued with more problems. From the people in my life, it seems the more you know the less happy you are, you know the whole 'ignorance is bliss' thing, really is true. I'm not implying that I'm a genius or anything, I mean I can write pretty well, but I'm a lost cause in math. In my college placement tests I think I scored in the 98 percentile in English and like, below 40 in mathematics. Never been good with numbers."
"Alright let's get away from all of these unpleasant memories and talk about something more stereotypical of your profession. Let's talk about the view an outsider may have in regards to your lifestyle," I suggested. "Others have said that once you have used drugs, it gives you a firm basis for true understanding of one's perception. Many musicians use drugs to help increase their talent and probably for a variety of other reasons. Have you found this to be true for you?"
White paused a moment, "for some reason I knew this was coming," he said jokingly. "Well I mean I'll never get specific and say what I have and haven't done," he continued, "I'd rather not dig that hole. It's kind of funny in a way.. people think we go back there and either sleep with a bunch of groupies or do drugs or both. If you've always thought that then I'm going to disappoint you now; because most of the time we sit around drinking bottled water talking about that night's show and arguing about the setlist or where to go after. There's so many people at these shows sometimes, that trouble can find you even if you're keeping to yourself. It's all such an irony for me, because I'm not that type of guy. I didn't even have a beer until I was 19 and I wasn't much of a fan."
I quickly responded, "Right, because it seems that many musicians, as well as other artists, fall into the drug-addled lifestyle, especially the ones who's careers seem to be on the rise, like yours. Have you prepared yourself for that?" White replied, "Well I guess I'm more into middle class drugs. You know caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol." And indeed, right after White finished his sentence, he ordered a cup of coffee from the waitress. His voice lowered.
"Drugs definitely inspire, but they also destroy. You have to be
responsible. Does anyone really think that John Lennon was sober when he
wrote the line 'I am the walrus'? What about 'Lucy in the Sky with
Diamonds?' That song is as out there as any song I can think of but it
actually works. They're incredibly famous songs and always will be, and
each generation actively embraces them from their own perspective. Out
there somewhere right now is a 14 year old kid listening to the 'White
Album' for the first time and he's loving it, and right now there's a
woman in her 60's listening to the Sgt. Peppers album for the thousandth
time. I'm not trying to say that the drugs made them what they were but
I think they enhanced them somehow. But then there's another side to
it, almost like it's out of necessity. How are you supposed to play a
concert in Baltimore until 2am, and then be back at rehearsal the next
morning in Philadelphia to prepare for your show that day somewhere in
Connecticut? Getting no sleep at all? I think a lot of addictions begin
that way, for function. You have these things you have to do, you need
something to be able to do it, and then one day you find yourself
sitting at home using for no reason." He sat up straight. "I've seen
some people fall into addiction and it's bad. When someone feels
there's no way out, I guess sometimes it's easier to just spiral down."
With time running out I decided to wrap things up and ask my final question. "With all of these influences, all these painful events, what's the single most important thing you want to say about your music?" White replied, "I want to make people think, to see things in a different light. I want listeners to understand that we're in this together and we all have these pains and we can get through them. For me, writing songs is like a form of therapy. Maybe if I could stop I would, but probably not. When I get that burst of creative energy, that really keeps me going. It's a strange way to live, but I don't know any other way."
- Josh Kreger, contributing editor for The Stroud Courier
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