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August/September 2014

by Silke Hartung

Ex-Pat Files: Jordan Reyne

by Silke Hartung

Ex-Pat Files: Jordan Reyne

It’’s been a decade since NZM last featured Jordan Reyne (or her alter-ego persona Dr Kevorkian), and for the last six years she has been performing around Europe – mainly Germany, U.K., Poland and the Netherlands. Bandcamp reveals she has released two albums of her dark-celtic-folk since leaving NZ, as well as three EPs. Currently based in London, she has recently released ‘‘Crone’’, the first of a trilogy of pagan archetype-focused EPs. Jordan describes her time in Europe as a really wonderful experience, the live audiences receptive and great festivals for all tastes and fringe flavours of music. Interestingly it is in the more obscure world of online concerts, indeed the even more obscure virtual reality world Second Life, that she has been finding enthusiastic audiences.
Where in NZ are you from?
I’’m originally from the West Coast. I grew up in a place called Tauranga Bay – not to be confused with Tauranga, like our postie often did! It’’s near Westport, but out where the seal colony is. It was a very isolated place, but stunning. Sea on three sides because our house was on an isthmus. Everything we did was to the soundtrack of booming surf. It was a magical place.

You originally went to Germany from NZ. How is it that you are now living in London? 

I do sing in English, so it might have been an easier start! I actually headed to Germany first though because I wanted something different to my own culture. I really like encountering other perspectives and value sets. Germany was similar enough to be comfortable, but different enough to be intriguing. I ended up in London because I was being booked for shows in the U.K., so it seemed easier to base myself there.
Funnily enough too, once you start saying you live in London the other European territories book you more often, so it ended up being a good move from that point too, even though I gig on the mainland just as often as I do in the UK.

What preparations did you have to make from NZ, practically and professionally?

By the time I left NZ, I was in a hard situation both emotionally and financially. I was combining study with music, and I lived in a trailer park to try and reduce my overheads but was still heading to food banks every few months. I knew I needed to get out because the feelings of being stuck and invisible were huge, and I knew my chances would be better somewhere where the larger population could support music that was alternative. I was blinded enough by my desperation to get out that I didn’’t prepare particularly well. I simply focused on getting the money together for the airfare any way I could.
jordanreyne-torun nzm156

When you first arrived what were your biggest challenges? 

Survival. I headed over with just my guitar and a suitcase. It was the second time I had tried it though, so I knew at least something about what was possible. I went in spring, because the first time I had gone in winter and it was a disaster trying to busk. My hands froze and I couldn’’t play chords. One of my unit lecturers was actually German too, and a good friend. He gave me some advice about towns amenable to music. I headed to Luebeck, which has three music schools and a really vibrant music scene, but is small enough that it’s friendly. It is also a medieval town, with a stunning dock and stone buildings that date back to the 1300s. Its sheer beauty made up for any discomfort.
I spent the first year crashing on couches and squats with the other street musicians. It was an adventure, looking back, but at the time it did seem hard.  The low point was having to play bad covers in Irish pubs to make ends meet. Being a dark folk musician who uses machine sounds, I wasn’’t exactly the best at getting people riotous and jolly either! Apparently I do one of the most depressing versions of Wonderwall that exists!

How long did it take to make useful music contacts? 

Fortunately not long, because I was out there playing straight away. I got to know the other musos who played the streets, and it was a small enough town that I also met venue owners who booked me walking past! Looking back, I was really lucky, but like I say it was a town amenable to music and that valued its musicians. It took me a year to get a place of my own. After that it was a matter of building on the contacts I had, and finding clever ways to make it work. Performing online was revolutionary in that. I could gig daily and not worry about the weather. The margins were way smaller but it was regular enough that I could also work part time till I built up my online crowd and community. And go full time to music again.

Which reminds us that after releasing ‘’Passenger’’ in 2005 you once said you wanted to try to stop making music…? 

You’’re right. In NZ I did want to stop making music. I think it’’s an experience that a lot of musicians go through – particularly if what you do is a little left of centre or ignored for whatever reason. It feels a lot like being that tree in the forest that makes no sound. You may as well not exist.
In NZ we are lucky enough to have beautiful surroundings, but we have a small population. If you play music that is fringe-y, it may only appeal to 1% of people. 1% of four million is a whole lot less than 1% of the 80 million in Germany, or 60 million in Poland, and when you combine the euro countries there is just a mass more opportunity. I got my voice back in Europe – metaphorically and literally. It is really refreshing.

What sort of musical support team do you have in place now?

As with most indie musicians I do a lot of things myself; recording, mixing, website design and development, newsletters, social media, photo shoots, video production, etc. I do have a great support team for booking though. In Europe, it’s all very much territorially defined, so I have a booker for Poland, one for Germany, one for the UK and for the cyber world too. My listeners are, of course, an integral part of my support system. Without their comments, care and purchases, I would not be where I am today.
My Polish booker I met when a band I sing for (The Eden House) were booked to play at the Soundedit festival there a couple of years back. I knew a bit of Polish as I’d gone out with a guy from Poland for about five years by then. (We met in Luebeck when a fight broke out in a metal bar and we were both thrown to the same side of the room –very rock and roll!) Anyway, I sat and chatted as best I could in the shoddiest Polish known to man. He asked about my own music. I was pretty flattered as he books the likes of Laibach, Juno Reactor and Laurie Anderson, but he liked what I did and from there on I’’ve toured Poland each year. It’’s actually my favourite territory as it is really open to new ideas in music.
My German bookers are Excursion Entertainment. They specialise in dark kinds of music, so they really get what I do. Germany is an interesting territory too, in that it really likes things to fit into genre boxes – which I never have. I’’m very lucky to have Excursion because their connections and profile mean they manage to get me shows despite that barrier.
My online booker is Sparkle Cyberstar. She hunts out the cyber gigs, books them and promotes them and helps with the community building side. I met her in the VR (Virtual Reality) Second Life. As an introvert I have learned to be active online but I find it very draining. Sparkie though is like this social media mega god, so she handles a lot of my online gig promo too.
In the UK I work with half a dozen bookers, but just had someone come on board to co-ordinate all of it – a godsend because it has actually been too much co-ordinating that side of things on top of performing five shows a week, the newsletter, doing my own photo shoots and video, my own website, social media, branding, gig promo, writing recording and mixing etc.
jordanreyne-2013-poland-live nzm156
I also have a lot of luck being part of The Eden House. Steve is a serious talent at mastering – and mixing too, though I try to tackle that myself these days. Tony did some voice work for me on one of the tracks from ‘’The Annihilation Sequence’’ and is just the loveliest person alive. Simon Rippin is the drum guru. He is on board for the entire trilogy ‘‘Maiden’, ‘Mother’, ‘Crone’’ and does the most fantastic tribal drums that fit really well with the pagan, witchy feel of the whole project.
Last but not least, there is my partner. As the cliché goes, behind everyone who achieves anything, there is someone who is massively supportive in the background making it all possible. It’’s more than just emotional support too – and as any musician knows, the ups and downs and cycles of elation and disappointment are a hard ride, and he has been amazing. He has also worked on videos for me including an animation where he did all the drawings himself on software he had never used before. It saved me about 120 hours of work and was far better than what I could have done myself.

What would you say was your biggest success since leaving NZ to date?

Some of the supports and festivals I’’ve done really. Playing support for New Model Army at Whitby Gothic Weekend. The support for Fields of the Nephilim at the Shepherds Bush Empire was an incredible experience. At the Empire there are three levels of seating, so when you walk out on stage you are confronted with this wall of people. It’’s terrifying and exhilarating. Playing Wave Gothic Treffen and getting a standing ovations and encores was mind-blowing too. Meeting Laibach and playing support for them and Karl Bartos (Kraftwerk) at Sound Edit in Poland is also something I just buzz about.

Is it easier to be a musician in London than in NZ, or harder?

A lot has changed since I left NZ. The key to getting started for me was lowering overheads. London is obviously terrible for that, but I am at a stage where I can almost manage it. NZ is a prime location for the peak time zones in the online world, so it would be a lot cheaper and easier to make a start by growing a fan base in NZ than it was when I lived there. So I would say making a start in NZ is now a lot easier than it was – so long as you keep your eye on foreign territories, and then head there once you’’ve build the community around your music. London of course has all the opportunities – though also everyone grappling for them. Berlin would probably be the place I would recommend because it has the best of both worlds. Low overheads and opportunities galore.

Which venues do you frequent?

I have a couple of favourite clubs as they play metal, goth, industrial and grunge/ retro rock. Reptile and Monster Truck and of course, the infamous Slimelight, where I discovered that no one at all uses the toilets for their intended purpose!

What would you suggest to other musicians considering the move?

If you are doing anything that’’s a bit different, musically do it. No question. But do it with more strategy than I did, or you will waste a few years living in squats! Use online performance to build a crowd before you head off. Be aware of where and who your audience are, and treasure them. They are what keep you going.

And what would you warn other Kiwis of?

Keeping hope alive where it is actually counter-productive. NZ is a beautiful, friendly and charming place, so of course we all want to stay, and hope it will work. The problem is, if you are doing music that is outside the mainstream, it just doesn’t have the population to support it. As I mentioned, 1% of 3 million can’’t sustain you. 1% of over 100 million (Europe) can.
Just as importantly, New Zealand’’s smallness also means that the music industry can practice gatekeeper-ism very easily – meaning that if anyone dislikes what you do, or even who they think you are, they can effectively shut you out. There are so few alternatives once that happens that it can mean bands are doomed before they start. People tend to stay in those gatekeeper positions too, so time does not alleviate the issue.

And what happened to Dr Kevorkian?

That was primarily a moniker I used. It was me, but at the time, there was this tag ‘singer/songwriter’ that was being applied blanket-ly to all solo musicians with acoustic guitars. I was releasing quite industrial grungy stuff, so the label singer/songwriter was really misleading in terms of style, so it was a rebranding thing.
It worked. A lot of my dark end audience comes from the area when I was going by that name. I was using some great instrumentalists for the few band style tracks on the album, but I still do. So essentially, nothing happened to Dr Kevorkian, I just reverted to using my own name once I had established that traditional acoustic folk was not what I do!