Rochelle Jordan‘s last full-length, a richly textured slice of electrosoul called 1021, dropped back in 2014. Little has been heard from her since then, as much of that hiatus was spent refining her sound, drawing on the soundscapes that defined her adolescent years.
Born in the UK but moved to Toronto when she was young, Jordan currently resides in Los Angeles. “Toronto is home. Canada is home. That’s where my heart and family are,” she tells us. Though she has grown fond of parts of the Los Angeles lifestyle, particularly easy access to the beach, sometimes the pace of life can be a bit hectic. Another place she feels most at home is when recording by herself. Being cooped up indoors the past year has had its drawbacks and benefits for the self-described introvert (though she does “like to let loose from time to time”), but a benefit was that Jordan already records her music by herself often in her bedroom. She compared her process to Missy Elliot’s: an artist who also notably does not record in front of people and who Jordan admires and looks towards for inspiration.
She is ready to get back to performing and feeding off the energy of the crowd. Her new album is called Play with the Changes, and she intends to “reach as many new ears as possible” via her dynamic blend of ’90s pop and R&B, UK house and garage, sultry vocals, and dance-ready rhythms. Tracks like the groovy step-friendly “All Along” and the dancefloor desire-ridden anthem “Next 2 You” feel custom-made for the summer. Yet Jordan also wants to set the record straight and be clear about how instrumental her music was in paving the way for the rebirthed ’90s aesthetics in music.
Speaking to PopMatters shortly around the release of her new record, Jordan talked about everything from her recording process to astrological signs to her distinct musical influences. Not only does her passion and artistic commitment shine through, but she revealed some of the (philosophical?) that underwrite her approach to being a creative. The following is the transcript from our interview, edited for length and clarity.
I know you recorded a lot of older work in your bedroom. Has quarantine been a good thing for you creatively?
I’m always in my own world. I’ve always been a home studio girl. I don’t go to the studio to record. I don’t record in front of anyone. I’m the one recording my vocals and organizing them, and sometimes remixing them depending on what the vibe is. I thought that was so cool because, for the longest time, I felt so much guilt about not being a studio rat cause all my other artist friends are like, “Yeah I’m at the studio until 4:00 am,” and I just can’t relate because I don’t do that shit.
That’s interesting because I wanted to ask what the ideal venue for your music is. Some people make club music, some make car music, some for sports events, etc. Hearing about your process and how insular it is, it’s interesting that your music feels so social. I want to get out and dance and be at a rave or a club or something.
I feel like people can vibe to my music anywhere. Everyone has multiple sides. So maybe me being an introvert allows me to reflect a more highlighted personality from myself. I don’t know; that’s what art is about. You never know how it’s going to come out, how you’re going to digest things, and how it’s going to come out of you. But yeah, I just create what feels natural to me. And I have moments where I buck out and just go crazy, so I’m not just an introvert stuck in a shell all day long. I do have my moments; I just prefer to be alone a lot of the time. It might be the Scorpio and Libra sides of myself. I’m just an artist creating from an honest place. I’m grateful that my music reflects upon different settings.
I wanted to ask about the house music influences in your work. There are, of course, many different strands of house, from UK to Chicago. Are there certain lineages you gravitate to the most? Are there other sounds that I’m missing?
Well, I can say that I’ve always gravitated to house and drum and bass and jungle records from a very young age. It’s only as I got older that I started looking back at the history with Frankie Knuckles and Shut Up and Dance; these different artists, especially black and LGBTQ creators, that created this genre. But as a young child, I’d say this project reflects a lot of my adolescence in terms of soundscapes I was listening to.
I was introduced to a lot of UK-sounding records obviously because I was born there before moving to Canada. My brother, who’s autistic, brought an amazing collection of UK garage music and house music and gospel soul like Sounds of Blackness. He would play these records obsessively throughout my childhood. I wouldn’t even ask him who these artists were. A lot of times, he didn’t know; he just went off of sound. I kind of picked up that from him. I absorb harmonies and melodies and beat patterns, especially ones that are trippy and interesting and eclectic. On this album, I wanted to ode back to that and pulled from those influences. But I’m pretty much in love with all facets of it. All kinds of deep house, rhythmic soundscapes, drum and bass like I said before.
So I’ve heard a decent amount of your music, especially the three singles you just released. Commentators always talk about the ’90s vibe in your music, but it’s not imitative; it’s real fresh. The way I want to describe it is like alchemy.
Like mixing things in the pot.
Exactly. I wanted to ask how you feel about nostalgia culture in general? There’s a huge wave of nostalgia culture in our generation that you can see in movies, TV, fashion, all over the place. What are your thoughts on nostalgia culture, how we relate to the ’90s, and how your music, in general, fits into all of that?
When I started putting music out in 2010, I remember the first song I officially put out was with KLSH, a song called “How to Feel”. This was the blog era; everybody and their momma had a blog. I put out that song and got a lot of attention from it. Then I put out another song called “Take Time”. Again for me at that moment, at the beginning stages of creating music, I wanted to somehow reflect the feeling I got listening to music in the ’90s because that’s when I was a child, you know. It gives me butterflies listening to Mariah Carey and hearing her vocals. 112, Boyz II Men, there’s so many it’s hard to say a list.
The feelings that that music gave me changed my life and made me interested in making music. I remember feeling like, “OK, Rochelle: how do you pull that feeling forward through your music?” And I remember as much as there were people who loved my music so much and I got this cult following from it, there was a whole other side. I remember seeing blogs write about me like, “Oh she’s being nostalgic with the ’90s this will never work. Like who’s trying to hear this?” And I remember seeing “R&B is dead, R&B is dead.” So for me to see it now, you know people are sampling the ’90s or wanting to sound like that. All I can say is that I was ahead of the curve.
Let them know!
You know I got to let it be known it was me and KLSH. We were the ones that kind of started that, like if we’re really gonna go back. It’s not like I made the ’90s sound, but I was naturally drawn to create that feeling for people again. And as I grew in my artistry, I realized the importance of always looking back but also looking to the future. What can you do to push music ahead? The most important part is appreciating your past and pushing to the future because we’re ever-evolving, and you don’t want anything to stay the same. Staying the same is boring. Going back too much just makes things become a clusterfuck, so for me, it was always about reaching forward. I feel like I’m in two minds about the nostalgia situation, you know. We got all these movies where they’re trying to reproduce old stuff. And though I get that, I don’t want to see that. I want to see new classic films. Like indeed, you can hear the appreciation for what it was, but how do you move forward?
Taking a lot of the value of what old music was and putting that on to new music. Going even back to the ’70s and ’80s with Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, Anita Baker, Sade, these are the feelings that we should try to emulate in a way but push forward as far as we can. So a lot of the time, the ’90s sound that people are trying to chase is kind of getting boring to me. I don’t know; maybe it’s because I was doing that earlier. But then still, it’s like I still have those elements.
So I appreciate it, but I still think we need to keep in mind what the future is and trying to push through it. And there are so many artists that probably stream through me that you can hear. I even had a cult moment in my early 20s with the Neptunes and the girls they had with Natasha Ramos, Vanessa Marquez, and Latrell. These women that have the perfect ’90s voices you know their tones were exceptional. These were the sounds, the vocalizations that I think people are hearing through me. But I want people to know that I am forging ahead, figuring out how I can be a part of what’s next.
It’s great to hear about your philosophies of music-making and generations. I know you also recently went from being independent to signing with TOKiMONSTA’s Young Art Records. What went into that decision?
Whew, well. So many things. First of all, I’ve been independent like my entire career. Man, I’ve seen so much it’s been such a journey. Ten years of doing this myself, like for real for real. And I saw how music changed. How these major labels were going crazy because suddenly we [music artists] have our own platform, and they’re fighting for it, and you’ve got these DSPs, major artists are trying to get out of their contracts. I’ve sat in so many rooms with labels and A&Rs. Been spoken to and had the option of signing, but it just never really felt right because I noticed right away it was a situation where they would definitely want to change me. They had an appreciation for what I did, but it was scary, especially at the time. I’ve sat in these offices and seen it and felt things intuitively.
But I still felt that my music needed support. You can only be independent for so long. And as beautiful as it is, you make certain sacrifices for your music to be heard on a bigger level, and I was just waiting for the perfect opportunity. And during the past six years, there were some opportunities that came along that felt right but didn’t turn out to be that way, and I had to hustle to get out of those things.
When TOKiMONSTA heard my project — I think it was the beginning of 2020 — I felt speaking on the phone with her and her team that they were genuinely passionate about my music. They didn’t want to change me; they wanted to help finish the record. Even with Toki, you know she’s an artist herself. And a lot of times, people say, “Don’t sign to an artist’s label,” or whatever. But for me hearing her speak and say that she’d be here for me but also step back and let me hold the reins. She’s giving me space to do what I want to do. So many amazing factors from the entire team: how they’re structured to how they run things. So much good with Young Art Records. It’s made such a difference for me because I finally have the support that I need. That’s so important whether you’re independent or signed: as an artist, you just want to feel supported. You want to feel appreciated.
Like I said, a lot of artists are tortured. It’s hard enough to create by yourself, but then to put it out by yourself too. I had a hint of that with my last project, 1021. I was a little pissed after that like, shit. All this work and I have no marketing, no PR. And I mean it was beautiful because it was all word of mouth from the fans who spread the music around. I see the appreciation for it now more than ever. But it’s hard by yourself. And I think as an artist, you gotta wait for the right time and feel it out. It was the perfect time; everything aligned. I feel like I kind of manifested TOKiMONSTA as well because I wrote things down — what I wanted for this next project. I wrote everything down and put the feelings and emotions down of what I was going to feel for this project. I wrote down dates, everything. Everything was in this manifestation journal, and then boom, it all fell into place.
The power of manifestation! We love to hear it.
Yes, it’s real, very real. The good side and the bad side.
I know you’ve got a really dope dynamic with KLSH. Would you ever do an album with just the two of you on some Rico Nasty/Kenny Beats type thing?
Yeah, I feel like pressure with that. To be honest, with any project I do, it’s like 80% KLSH, so it is our project. I guess it’s different because it’s still my project essentially than if we were to name it Rochelle Jordan and KLSH or KLSH and Rojo. But yeah, I’m open to all things. Word on the street is he’s working on his own project, so I’m very excited about that in the upcoming months. I see KLSH like I’m sure how Missy Elliot looks at Timbaland or how Kelis looks at the Neptunes. It’s the same when I look at KLSH. Just an incredible producer: so dynamic, so much range, and he just understands my musical language so much. So whatever comes in the future for us — whether I show up on his projects or we do a joint or he keeps producing on mine — that’s just what it’s gone be till the casket drops.
That’s real. This will be the last question I have: who are some of your dream collaborations?
My dream collaborations? Shit, OK. Every time someone asks this, my ideas just float away. I would say Amerie. She’s like my musical mother. And I grew up listening to her so ridiculously much. Doing one song with her is definitely a goal. But other than that, Pharell for sure. deadmau5. Also Disclosure, Little Dragon, Kaytranada. Drake. God, I would just love for him to just write me a song. I’ll just sing it. Yeah, those are the people that come to my mind first and foremost.