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“My cat looks out the window / Yeah, he just sits and stares / Oh, I can’t help but notice / he just sits on his chair,” sings Jordana Nye with charming brevity. “Sometimes I think about / all his cute little hairs / but then I think about / throwing him through the air.” Nye’s early twee songs are more than meets the eye. With that track, the Kansas-based singer/songwriter (who records under her first name) captured the wandering madness that lurks inside all of us—the kind that’s perfectly normal, but that we’re all afraid to acknowledge. Those lyrics come from “Intrusive Thoughts,” a plucky song from the then 19-year-old’s 2019 debut album Classical Notions of Happiness, which was re-released via New York City indie label Grand Jury Music earlier this year.
Nye’s first album is full of affecting lo-fi tracks, marked by her wispy vocals, gentle guitar strums and a young adult longing both innocent and profound. The ephemeral nature of her lyrics is part of her MO—she paints blissful memories and times of painful or seemingly meaningless stasis with a certain tenderness, but like grabbing a handful of dry sand, those moments will eventually escape through your fist no matter how hard you clutch them.
Though her bedroom rock made her a standout and garnered acclaim from everyone from Anthony Fantano to Pitchfork, Nye had her sights set on something bigger: genre-blurring pop/rock songs with vivid textures. When her debut album was reissued, it was coupled with three new tracks that foreshadowed her more ambitious sound: the R&B-tinted “Sway,” the airy pop “Signs” and blown-out rock “Crunch.” They each offer layers of chunky, alluring instrumentals—a stark contrast with Nye’s filmy vocals. This might seem like a dramatic evolution from her folky self-recordings, but only for those who don’t know Nye.
Nye grew up in a small town in Maryland called North Beach, which didn’t have much of a music scene—unless you’re counting the local church band or the old-timers who played folk music together—though this didn’t deter her from pursuing it. In fact, she joined in on the action, briefly singing in the church choir and even teaming up with seniors. “We would go to this local shop called The Wheel and play folk music with all these old-ass people,” Nye says over the phone from her Wichita home. “It was so fun. Oh my God.” Her father was a church organist, and she began taking violin lessons as a kid before eventually picking up viola, ukulele, guitar and bass. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she also won her high school talent show two years in a row.
“They’re both equally cringe, but the second one is super-duper cringe because it was a Panic! At The Disco cover,” she says. “I saw [a loop pedal] from a Lindsey Stirling performance and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ So I got this loop pedal and was forced to make my own beat on the instrument because I didn’t have any more cables to use.”
Nye grew up on a steady stream of 2000s alternative rock—bands like Grizzly Bear, Death Cab for Cutie and Coldplay—and began learning covers in her mid-teens before gravitating to the sentimental, folk-adjacent music of Florist and Frankie Cosmos. After teaching herself ukulele, her friend Anna (whom she calls a “super hippie”) got her into playing guitar. When Nye started writing her own songs, it was a pretty humble operation.
“I got this iPod and I wanted to get it specifically for GarageBand, and then I just set this big goal to try to do something by myself,” she says. “I started looping stuff in the GarageBand app and the iPod. ‘Canvas’ was the first one that I made and I did the vocals on the toilet, but I wasn’t like pooping or anything! I was just sitting on the toilet in the bathroom with my headphones on. Then I got a laptop after that and used GarageBand on my MacBook that I have now.”
Nye released her early songs on SoundCloud as a collection titled Classical Notions of Happiness, which caught people’s attention, including her current label Grand Jury Music. Complete with her own production and bare instrumentals (plus that one song she sang on the toilet), her music connected with people, even in its most unassuming form, and still does today. Now that her newer songs have such a towering presence, she feels a bit strange that this album was listeners’ first impression of her.
“Wow, right down to the insecurities,” she says. “I get kind of embarrassed about it sometimes, but I was super proud of it. I still am super proud of it. I guess it just shows progression, especially from the bonus tracks and stuff, but sometimes I get a little bit self-conscious about it because I think that the new stuff is super cool. It’s all about making what you want to make and all of it is what I wanted to make.”
The second phase of Jordana’s career was undoubtedly sparked by the three songs added to the tail end of her original album. The songs were the first that she worked on with outsiders, including Jeffrey Melvin (aka electronic DJ MELVV), who helped her find the amorphous sound she’d been seeking.
“It was a mix of different stuff I was hearing,” she says. “Bands like The Black Keys and stuff like that, their beats are super satisfying, and the gritty tones they have on the guitars. I think all that shit is cool. This whole album that’s coming out is a mixture of all the stuff that I’ve wanted to make and I’m sure there’s still more. I just gotta dig around in my brain somewhere. There’s different genres I want to try and reach.”
“Crunch” was her gateway into harsher, more ear-catching sounds: animated beats, slick harmonies and bulky guitar tones that would make Dan Auerbach proud. It didn’t feel like a repudiation of her previous work, either—it was the sound of Jordana coming into her own. Also citing the detailed music of Lil Uzi Vert and a song by Becca Mencari titled “Hunter,” Nye ran with these striking loops and textures and released an EP titled Something to Say (which Paste named one of the best of 2020), a six-track release that showed off her irresistible hooks, emotional intimacy and newfound sparkly sounds. That EP was followed by the announcement of another one titled ...To You, and both EPs will now be released together as her second full-length album, Something to Say to You, out on Dec. 4.
Her new album has an easygoing confidence that her previous songs lacked. The synths, guitars and beats are dynamic and unexpected, particularly the sawtoothed “Big” or charred “Hitman,” but others like “I Guess This is Life” and “Interlude” retain the gorgeous minimalism of Classical Notions. Like its predecessor, it follows Jordana on quests for love, escape and understanding, chronicling touching stories of road trips with the windows down, house parties, nights alone and walks by the lake. It’s as if her bold instrumentals represent the exciting prospect of young adulthood in a big city and her lyrics exude a benevolent, suburban yearning for the simple, most important things in life. There are even hints of her past, with ukulele and violin on tracks like “Reason” and “I Guess This is Life,” and she’s enthused by the idea of bringing those elements to life in a live setting, particularly after watching a set from Chicago rock duo Ohmme.
“They opened up for Twin Peaks in L.A. last year, and then they pulled out the violins and I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s sick,’” Nye exclaims. “Literally my 15-year-old self was just like, ‘Oh my God! No fucking way!’ I gotta memorize the chords on the violin now or I can just whip out a mandolin because it’s the same tuning.”
She’s proud of her second LP and enjoys listening to it loud, but advises listeners to turn the volume down just a tad for her first album. She still gets writer’s block and has breakdowns during long recording sessions, but she loves chasing blatantly honest songwriting, even if she sometimes finds bringing her emotions to the surface daunting. There’s a purity to everything she does, whether she’s name-dropping her friends in songs or earnestly trying to become TikTok famous.
“I want to make relatable TikToks so bad because I grew up watching funny fucking videos,” Nye says. “All I want is to relate to people. I just want to relate to my fellow Gen Z-ers!” With Something to Say to You, Jordana does all that and then some.
Something to Say to You is out on Dec. 4 via Grand Jury Music. Preorder it here.
Lizzie Manno is an associate music editor, Coldplay apologist, bread obsessive and lover of all things indie, punk and shoegaze at Paste. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno