Even though she grew up as the daughter of a church organist, Jordana Nye never really wanted to learn piano. “My dad kind of wanted me to, but he didn’t push it on me or anything me,” she assured me over the phone last month when we spoke about her early interest in music, which was deeply influenced by growing up in the church. “I went to church and I saw this dude playing violin and I was like ‘whoa, I want to do that!’” she continued. “So my parents got me a violin, and I started taking private lessons. That’s pretty much the one instrument that I know like the back of my hand.”
Learning violin laid the bedrock for her striking one-woman project, Jordana, which has mostly been an extension of her natural ideas about music so far. Describing herself as a “church baby, raised up,” and a relentless “covers girl,” Nye not only learned violin as a kid, but also viola, ukulele and guitar. It wasn’t until February of 2018, though, that she tried writing songs of her own — mostly thanks to the help of an iPad. The resulting self-produced songs were dreamy and moody, bedroom pop with swagger, expertly sung and arranged with the fantastic indifference of a beginner.
Combining simple, gloomy beats with even simpler melodies, Jordana stitched together baroque folk, ‘70s guitar noodling, and glitchy production, a completely intuitive blend for a nineteen-year-old who grew up in a world dominated by hip-hop, hymns and nostalgia radio. Things really began to take off for the young musician, though, when she left her hometown of North Beach, Maryland and moved to Kansas in January of 2019. Jordana and her girlfriend got their own place together in Wichita, with room for Nye to begin recording in earnest.
Eventually, she decided to collect her scattered, one-off singles and self-release them as a compilation. “It was just kind of an idea of putting all the singles that I had out in the world on one thing, and that’s pretty much how the debut was born,” she explained. Dubbed Classical Notions Of Happiness, 19-year-old Nye’s independent release on Soundcloud last year quickly gained momentum. When one song off the release, “Intrusive Thoughts,” was uploaded by Youtuber TheLazylazyme —an indie-leaning curatorial channel with a cool 480K followers — it ended up on Pitchfork a few days later.
More praise, this time from esteemed music critic Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop led to even wider exposure. Fantano singled out “Jackie’s 15,” a sweetly foggy story-song with a killer guitar line and ominous lyrics. After his co-sign, Jordana was scouted by New York City-based label Grand Jury (“oh damn, they got Hippo Campus!” she described as her initial reaction), who were eager to sign her and re-release Classical Notions with the full support of a label behind it. Since then, Nye has written a lot more music, and three brand new songs will be included on the Grand Jury version of her debut.
The three newer songs, “Signs,” which became the de facto single, “Sway,” and today’s release “Crunch,” show a different side of Jordana. “I think ‘Crunch’ is like, the most epic song I’ve ever done,” she said. “This is going to be the next hit for me, I can feel it.” Working with the producer Melvv on a couple sessions, Jordana immediately locked in, relishing the ability to bounce ideas off someone else and push her own limits. “First of all, the song is in seven (referring to the time signature), and I’ve never done a song in seven before. I’m talking about it like it’s not even my song, that’s how crazy it is. I love how confident I sound in it, too.”
Listening through the new version of the album, “Crunch” now comes as the final song on the record, so the listener can literally trace Jordana’s progression from beginner bedroom producer into thriving young musician with the confidence of a record deal. Access to professional collaborators and formal studios doesn’t change her sound so much as polish and broaden it, sharpening the DIY snaps and crackles into lush, complex layers. From the sounds of these three new songs, expanding beyond bedroom folk into cloudy, rollicking rock is the most instinctual thing Jordana has done since she first began producing.
Classical Notions Of Happiness is the rare debut that reflects an artist in the middle of their own progress, and “Crunch” is as fitting an introduction as any to Jordana’s singular, quickly morphing sound. And as much as she might change between the re-release of her debut in March and her next project, odds are good, there won’t be a pivot to organ music in her future.