INTERVIEW: Jordi White (OLD CITIES)
With an effortless knack for crafting striking melodies and dreamy tones, indie pop/rock project Old Cities, the brainchild of Israeli-born and Sydney-raised singer songwriter Jordi White, has routinely evolved over the past few years into a hooky affair that is equal parts haunting tranquility and considerate power.
And while 2018 has been a non-stop machine of divine new music from all corners of the country, it will also mark the debut release for Old Cities with the forthcoming Side A EP due out in August. And with the brand new track 'Again' just dropping into the world earlier this week, 2018 is set to get a whole lot busier in the Old Cities world; but before the next adventure The Soundcheck stole some time with Jordi to chat trashy pop, creative hubs, and turning frustration into sonic gold. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Jordi! So let's chat Old Cities - I know you've had a busy little run since this solo project kicked off in 2016, but what actually inspired you to kick-start Old Cities as a project? I believe you went from more of a punky world into this blissful kind of pop rock...
JORDI WHITE: Yeah, definitely, I grew up listening to punk rock, as all of my friends did at the time! I actually also went through a much heavier, sort of heavy rock and heavy metal phase and then I fell in love with...I can't remember which record it was, it might have been 'Viva la Viva', Coldplay's record. And from there I listened to their entire back catalogue and everything that's come out since and a whole bunch of similar bands, I fell in love with One Republic and a lot of Ryan Tedder's work, and just researched that. I guess from all of that it just kind of started coming out of me that way, I guess? (laughs).
TIANA: You seem to have quite a knack for it too, your voice naturally lends itself to that sort of songwriting...a happy coincidence you fell into that world!
JORDI: It is fortunate, I'm glad that you think that!
TIANA: You've already unveiled two tracks now off your forthcoming EP which is due out in a few months, first with 'Take Flight' and now again this week with (hah) 'Again'. And it might sound cheesy, but I legitimately got goosebumps all over listening to 'Again'...there is obviously a whole heap of emotion underlying this track and seemingly quite a bit of a personal journey for yourself. Was it hard or perhaps more of a cathartic thing to explore such personal topics in 'Again'?
JORDI: This song was written...I'm trying to remember exactly when it was, probably early 2017? And I had one of those weeks where I was frustrated at everything and felt like nothing was ever going to change and my whole life was worth nothing. You know, as a creative you go through those sort of fluxes every now and then. And I sat at an old, broken piano that was half a semitone out of tune, and kind of a little bit rusty and crackly. I was annoyed at that because I couldn't afford to get it fixed at the time and all that kind of stuff. And I just...vented, basically. It was one of those very beautifully rare opportunities where I feel like I woke up four hours later and 80% of the song was there! (laughs) I feel like that very rarely, usually it's a lot more hard work than that. But basically the form of the song, with the exception of the live drum kit and the back-end and those elements that were brought in with the band, was all pretty much there. I liked it at the time, and sort of sat on it for a while, showed my wife and then sent it to a few people and they were like "...this is probably one of the best things I've ever heard from you" and I was like "oh. oh, OK. Thanks...?" (laughs) Cos you always feel really awkward about showing people that first time as well, so it's always nice to get some positive feedback from it.
'AGAIN' (OLD CITIES)
TIANA: It's interesting hey, sometimes you can try and try and try to write something with no luck, and other times it just takes over and can be completely organic. It's a weird fluctuation.
JORDI: Yeah, definitely! Do you do some writing yourself?
TIANA: Back in the day...but I'd just always find myself sitting down trying to force myself to write stuff and that frustration of not being able to try to get it out...I was always in that perpetual battle of "I know what I wanna say, but I don't know how to say what I wanna say, but I wanna say it"...
JORDI: "And I want it to be good, and I want it to be cool, and I want it to connect with people" - yeah, I know exactly what you mean.
TIANA: Well I'm glad you struck creative gold with 'Again'! And with these tracks, I believe you've been writing, producing and mixing these tracks yourself...is this the case for the entire upcoming EP, did you completely dominate this procedure?
JORDI: Yeah, so I wrote probably for the back-end of 2016 and the first half of 2017 through to about September...I just wrote and wrote and produced. I do a lot of production work and things for other people as well, so that's a bit of a natural element to my writing where I'll produce a bit of a track to write to almost, there's a lot of ideas that come out of me that way. I did definitely dominate it but I have a close friend of mine who's also a brilliant producer and creative mind and he always helps me realise what I'm actually writing about half the time. I'm like "hey there's this song!" and he's like "what's it about?" and I'm like "its about this!" and he's like "no it's not, it's about you" (laughs). And I'm like "oh, you're right, now that I'm actually thinking about it, it wasn't about that at all!"
TIANA: It's good to have those people who can give you that balanced view of things...
JORDI: Exactly! To have someone be completely honest with you and say "this one's good, that one you can probably fix" (laughs).
TIANA: You're clearly no stranger to the whole recording studio side of things, another overachieving fact about you I believe is that at the age of 18 you and some friends opened up a recording studio on the Northern Beaches in Sydney...which perhaps didn't end exactly how you wanted it to, but do you have a take on the state of local recording studios in the present day after that experience? Are they still a dying breed or do you think there's been a shift?
JORDI: I definitely think they're a difficult business to run in the current climate, but I think that having said that, if you look at it in terms of creative hubs vs. businesses, there's probably a whole stack more because everyone who's making music these days kinda has a couple of speakers and a laptop at home. And they're not as big and expensive perhaps as local studios have been in the past, but they're definitely a hub for collaboration which I think is the more valuable asset, really.
TIANA: Absolutely. And I'm always intrigued by Sydney dwellers, myself being an interloper from up North...what's your take on the current state of the Sydney music industry? My initial impressions back in the day were that it was a bit erratic, but do you feel like there's camaraderie and support?
JORDI: For me I think I've had the benefit of growing up in a certain area and having my friends who are musicians around. So I've got a lot of that camaraderie in my close community. And more and more I find as I'm around it and do bits and pieces, little shows here and there...everyone I feel is out there to help each other, it's just when you don't know each other, you can't help each other. But I feel like there's a point where once you know someone, you kind of know everyone in a short space of time. And I'm up for that! Cos it's not a massive industry in Sydney either, everyone kind of knows each other.
TIANA: And on the topic of Sydney still, what are your thoughts on the whole lock-out thing, I've felt like people have been talking about it less now, but do you think it's still a pertinent issue for Sydney's music scene?
JORDI: Yeah, I think it obviously provides less opportunities where you would've typically had those late night slots, particularly for people like up and coming DJs who would fill those holes that no longer exist. But I think that there's definitely an element of impact there still, and I think that everyone's just...accepted it now? Which I don't necessarily think is good or bad, but people have moved on and outside the lockout laws. I don't know, I'm sure there's some places outside of the casinos, but that's a whole other story!
TIANA: As we touched on at the start, back in the day you were into your punk and some heavier stuff back in the day...but what would we find on your playlists these days?
JORDI: I still always love a good throwback every now and then! I actually have a secret, or not-so-secret if you know me, of listening to really, really trashy pop music (laughs). Which is hilarious because a song will come on in the car when I'm with a group of people and I'll just be reciting all of the words to it, and they'll be like "....who are you?!".
TIANA: "I swear it's the first time I've heard this Katy Perry song I know all the words to, guys!"
JORDI: (laughs) "I swear I've never listened to Tik Tok before in my life!"
TIANA: I'm secretly horrified to admit I could probably rattle off some of the lyrics to Tik Tok. It's a bit of a tune...
JORDI: I know! It's a certified banger!! So yes, there'd be a lot of that. And there's always throwbacks, I always throw on a bit of Underoath 'They're Only Chasing Safety' record, or Blink-182's 'Enema of the State' was a jam for a long time, so that sneaks out every now and then. And a bit of Muse back in the day, As I Lay Dying, Killswitch Engage in my heavier years...
TIANA: You've got a pretty healthy balance going on there...
JORDI: (laughs) Thanks! Some people call it "bipolar"?!
TIANA: I label myself as a musical vampire, I have my favourites but I'm pretty open to most of what's out there. Wear your trashy pop love with pride!
JORDI: Exactly, exactly! I always found with those trashier pop songs, you get that odd song that really hits you and it's like "who is that?" and realise "oh, it's that producer"...it's usually Max Martin or someone like that!
TIANA: And still looking back slightly...do you recall what the first gig you ever went along to as a punter was?
JORDI: Ohhh..what would it have been...? Have you ever heard of a band called He Is Legend?
TIANA: Flashback. Yes!!
JORDI: I'm pretty sure it was a Manning Bar gig of theirs from one of their earlier records. I drove in with a bunch of friends so I must've been 17 just to be able to do that.
TIANA: And was there a moment you recall wanting to actually become a musician?
JORDI: Well...in primary school I joined the school band, I used to play trumpet. Never, ever got really good at that...but I did it. And I gave that up because I was getting a headache from it. (laughs) I'm not sure whether that was to do with the amount of loud noises or just with the consistent blowing out air and going light headed and stuff. But played that for a while and decided that wasn't for me, and as soon as I started high school I picked up an electric guitar - and never really looked back from there! I can't say I ever made a really conscious decision that this is what I wanted to do, but I've ended up there and I'm really happy about it.
TIANA: Well I'm stoked about it too, and looking ahead I know you've got a lot coming up in the next few months, but beyond the EP release what else can we expect from Old Cities in the near future?
JORDI: Cool, so we've got this single 'Again' which is out now, but then I've got another single called 'Prague', which I wrote in Prague at the start of 2017. Then the EP, and I have another two singles and a second EP called 'Old Cities II' which is basically the second half of this body of work, which should be out by the end of the year! And then just in early stages of thinking about potentially organising a little east coast run at the start of next year, so January-ish. Hopefully.
TIANA: Well that's all very exciting, and I can't wait to hear more! Thank you so much for your time and for your beautiful music.
JORDI: Thank you very much for loving the tunes!
FOR MORE OLD CITIES INFO, INCLUDING THE UPCOMING EP, HEAD TO:
BY TIANA SPETER