Jordanna Cherishes Beauty In Fleeting Moments
Written by Morgan Ciocca on December 20, 2021
“Even as a kid, I was always looking for ways to translate my feelings into something outside of myself.”– Jordanna
For R&B singer Jordanna, songwriting is showing the world your “gorgeous” garbage.
Originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, Jordanna found her home in Chicago when she started school at Columbia College in 2014. Jordanna’s sound is self-described as exposed and vulnerable, laying all her internal “garbage” on the table in the form of raw emotion inspired by the sounds of the city. For her, creating is all about trusting the process.
Two years after writing its nine songs, Jordanna released her first full-length album The Full Story on Dec. 14. The Full Story finds Jordanna in a state of emotional release, lamenting on love, life and heartbreak over jazzy lo-fi beats and, on two tracks, saxophone instrumentals from Chicago’s Yasmine Mifdal. Looking back on initially writing and recording the album, Jordanna saw growth in her process and found strength in putting it out into the world. The fifth track on the album, “Saying Goodbye,” features Chicago powerhouse rap duo Mother Nature and was included on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for December 2021.
We virtually chatted with Jordanna about the story behind The Full Story, performing in Chicago and the importance of staying creative …
“Release is essential for there to be growth.”– Jordanna
When did you first begin playing music? Do you remember what made you want to pursue it more seriously?
I started writing music when I got my first guitar at age 14. At the time, I was searching for an outlet for some heavy emotions. Even as a kid, I was always looking for ways to translate my feelings into something outside of myself, like drawing pictures or writing poetry. I remember when I got the guitar, I had no interest in learning covers, which is typically how people start learning guitar. I had the impulse to write immediately. I still feel pretty uninterested in learning covers, honestly. I’m constantly experiencing new feelings I need to express through my own songwriting.
How has Chicago impacted your musical journey?
It’s impacted it enormously. One of the reasons I was so drawn to Chicago in the first place was Chance the Rapper and Noname — Acid Rap had just dropped the year before I moved here, and I was head over heels obsessed. It was like nothing I had ever heard before, and now I know it to be so Chicago-sounding. I knew I wanted to be in a city that rocked like that, and it really does. I always say that people in Chicago are so down to collab, and that’s my favorite part. If you can vibe with someone, there’s always the possibility of making some incredible art together.
Do you have a favorite moment from performing in the city?
In November 2019, on a total curveball of an offer, I ended up opening for K. Michelle at House of Blues. I still have no idea why they thought of me for that opportunity. They had some sort of last-minute backout from someone else, so I had one week to put together a set. House of Blues paid us absolute shit – leave that part in – but I took the opportunity simply because I thought it would be amazing to play the House of Blues Chicago stage. And it was.
I brought a nine-piece band: trombone, saxophone, trumpet, backup singers, the whole shebang. We only got 15 minutes to perform but we played the shit out of those 15 minutes. The crowd was definitely not there for us, and I remember people in the front row giving me the stink eye, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was on the House of Blues stage with some of my best friends, and we were playing our hearts out. God we had so much fun and it truly did not matter what anyone thought — it was magic on that stage. Musicians will understand that it’s something you can’t explain, when you’re all vibing in the same pocket, totally unaware of reality … just total magic.
Your new album The Full Story was recorded over multiple years in multiple cities. How did you see yourself grow and change over the course of writing and recording these songs?
For me, writing is just the purging of thoughts and feelings from my body. It’s like turning a garbage bin upside down onto a table and walking away. The recording process is what requires vulnerability, because you have to show all your garbage to other people. Let me clarify, the garbage is fucking gorgeous, but it’s also evidence of everything you ate for two years. Is this metaphor making sense? What I’m saying is, the growth comes after all the writing and recording. The growth is when you walk away from a deeply vulnerable and exposed method of art-making, and offer the product to the world.
Now, with this album, I almost didn’t get to that part. I released four singles in 2020 and was going to trash the rest of the songs on a pandemic-influenced manic-depressive declaration. The fact that two years later I decided to publish this album in its entirety and move on … that’s how I know I’ve grown. I’ve learned to respect the process, respect the art and its journey outside of myself. Release is essential for there to be growth.
On two of The Full Story’s tracks, you collaborate with saxophonist Yasmine Mifdal. How did the two of you decide to work together? How would you describe what she adds to your sound?
Yasmine is a Chicago GOAT, for real. We met through Candyland, which was a series of massive dance parties I produced for a couple years. My business partner at the time, Jenna Cohen, was classmates with Yasmine at Columbia, and brought her in to be our live sound engineer at the parties. In passing, Yasmine mentioned she played saxophone, and I was intrigued because, how could a bad bitch get even badder? I looped her into a jam session with my band and the rest is history.
Her playing on “Same Old Thing” and “untitled (chicago)” is so thoughtful and introspective. It’s like she brings my emotions to life in a way I can’t or didn’t even know was possible. Especially on this album, her playing adds the hints of nostalgia and tenderness that the songs require.
One of your most striking visuals came from the music video to your track “untitled (Chicago)” which depicted you and Mifdal performing the song in a huge abandoned church. How did you get the idea to shoot there?
Huge shoutout to the video’s director, camera person, editor and … well, she made the whole thing possible, Rosaleah Gonzalez. Rose grew up near Gary, Ind., and was familiar with this beautiful old abandoned church she’d taken photos of before. We went to visit the church twice before filming and just let the inspiration roll in from the architecture.
The song itself is this haunting, repetitive ballad I picture echoing in your head when you’re trying to fall asleep but can’t stop thinking about someone you love. The imagery of wandering around this gorgeous, abandoned space, singing the words into the void where all of the thoughts echo back to you and out to no one … it was perfectly fitting.
Your track “Saying Goodbye,” featuring Mother Nature, was featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for December 2021. Could you walk us through your songwriting process for that track? How was your experience working with Mother Nature?
Mother Nature [are] hands down one of the greatest artists to come out of Chicago. I asked them to record a feature on this song back in 2019, and it’s shameful that I kept it on a hard drive for so long. The only words I can say are “grateful,” and “honored.” They are truly the greatest rappers and performers from our city right now. No. Questions. Asked! They hit me with that feature so quick, and with such powerful lyrics. I love it.
“Without the ability to create art, life would be a nightmare.”– Jordanna
Over the past year you started learning how to screen print and wrote on Instagram that it is “deeply fulfilling to my inner artist.” What do you think makes it so fulfilling, and why did you decide to pursue that medium?
Oh my god, y’all did the homework and tryna make me cry!
This shift toward visual art is a big step in my artist development, because I’ve been looking for a way to express myself that doesn’t involve being on a stage. In my most recent performances, I found myself on stage thinking about each note like a daunting pass-fail test. My community is full of expert musicians, which makes me feel like I have to be this perfect vocalist with fancy runs and perfect pitch — but that’s just not me. I am a self-taught musician. I write and perform based on emotion, not theory. If I perform again, it’s going to be some wild, unhinged pop performance that involves dancing and acting a fool, haha.
In the meantime, making visual art has been uniquely fulfilling, because it doesn’t involve people looking directly at me, my face, my body or judging my literal voice. I’ve grown protective over these parts of myself. When I develop a print, it’s like they’re seeing a reflection of me, which feels safer. I feel safer. The process of screen printing is so specifically cathartic, too. There’s lots of tedious little steps, and at the end of each layer you power wash the design off the screen. It really forces you to cherish temporary beauty and the art of letting go.
What, to you, is the most important aspect of finding a creative outlet?
Without the ability to create art, life would be a nightmare. Music, dance, poetry, design — it’s all central to keeping me alive. The act of making art can be a crazy little drug that takes you outside of your body and into an ethereal universe with endless possibilities … it’s fantasy, it’s play, it’s dark and it’s light. I consider my artistic abilities to be a blessing. To be able to access that otherworldly plane where all that exists are magic and ideas … it’s what gives me hope and motivation to keep going. I hope my own creations help other people access a little bit of that magic.
Questions by Erik Anderson
Introduction by Morgan Ciocca
Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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