Jordan Stephens: "I feel more confident in myself. With that in mind, I feel I’ve kind of marked my existence."
Alice Gee | 10/01/2022
As I join a call with Jordan Stephens, he starts to tell me how he tends to ramble. I quickly interject telling him “less isn’t always more”, as I’m eager to hear everything he’s got to say, from his latest projects to his experiences with mental health. As we natter with the usual pleasantries our attention turns to the interview in hand with me keen to hear what fans can expect with his new solo music endeavours and the leading catalyst that encouraged him to write his debut single following a hiatus from one of his most notable projects, Rizzle Kicks.
“I made a promise to myself for the start of 2021 that this year I wanted to release new music. Seems simple right? But I have had a history, centuries of ditching old albums, changing my mind last minute, and not releasing stuff. I had previously made a whole rap album under a different name, but I never released it. It’s similar to the situation with the band Wildhood. I made a second album which I never released, which I have to admit I kind of regret now as there was a kind of a cult following to it. I’ve done a lot of different creative endeavours over the years but I’d never had the confidence to release them. So when I met my current manager they encouraged me to go by my own name and to stop hiding behind aliases. It was the confidence I needed to tie everything I’ve done together, almost finding the link between them all.”
“Honestly, I wanted to release the music I’ve been playing over the last three years. I think one of the tracks on this project is about four years old. I don’t have any expectations and I don’t want to overstate how it’s received but I do genuinely believe I keep improving as a writer, I just had to get older and with that, I feel more confident in myself. With that in mind, I feel I’ve kind of marked my existence. So what people can expect at the moment and with the coming project is an indie-hip-hop influence that ends up with a clubby/house vibe. I don’t know how it quite happened but I’m putting it down as a reflection of the music I listen to and love.”
Hearing how some of the tracks have a combined age of three or four years makes me excited. I relish in the idea that each and every song is still very much relevant to Jordan, something I feel the fans are ready and dying to hear. Having experienced huge success, rocketing to fame with his band Rizzle Kicks alongside friend Harley at the tender age of 20, I can only imagine the pressures placed on Jordan to release new music. With that in mind, I wondered whether the fact Jordan had chosen to release several tracks from all be it a different time had anything to do with hindsight and the underlying emotions from each that he still lives with.
“I do think it’s like that but they range. There are things about it that are insanely cool. “Shake!”, which I made in response to releasing my latest track “Star”, was written because I felt something new and included that feeling. It’s something I’m really proud of. But it was really important to me along the way that I was reconnecting with old parts of myself. I remember I heard a demo of an old Wildwood song, and I came to the realisation that although I had made it at a time when I wasn’t sober, it really does still fit into what I’m doing now.”
Since his debut album “Stereo Typical” with Rizzle Kicks in 2011, Jordan has released a variety of work under many successful aliases “Wildhood” and “Al, the Native.” Having embodied aliases I asked Jordan if releasing music under his birth name was a moment of celebration having found some form of comfort in who he is or whether he’d felt more at home in the aliases used before.
“There was certainly a desire to run away from myself with some of the other names. I have a complicated relationship with my name, in all honesty, I’m really not a massive fan of it. I just don’t feel connected to it. Sometimes I really don’t like it but at other times I think it’s for the best. I was hoping that it would be a statement of intent. As I continue to create and expand all the time through the mediums I use, stories, and scripts with acting I’ve realised I just love expressing myself and that now maybe I just want that to be all under the same umbrella. That was where that decision came from at the time but you’ll have to believe me when I tell you I have a hundred backup names, ready in motion.”
As we take a few moments talking about the names we are known under, Jordan both complementing and curious about the origins of my last name Gee, a short name I feel blessed with when it comes to the ease of paperwork, we naturally fall into conversation about our experiences with mental health. With Jordan actively speaking out about his difficult experiences over the years, I ask him if speaking out and advocating better mental health especially as a man, has in eyes helped those around him feel more comfortable in speaking about their experiences.
“It’s actually a bit weird in a way as it doesn’t really feel like I have a choice to say what I’m feeling. I just say how I’m feeling at that time. I guess on a mainstream level it can have a positive effect as some people are super private. I’m learning to sometimes not speak too soon, as I don’t always feel it until the after-effects. Sometimes I’ll stand there and be like ‘Woah I can’t believe I just said or opened up like that without a thought’. But it’s all fluid isn’t it, and without putting stamps on every moment of your life I think being open is ultimately a good thing especially with things like male silence. It’s so important to lead by example. I prefer people to just say how they feel.”
Seeing others speak about their mental health through a variety of mediums I was curious whether Jordan has found that at times it was easier to speak about his mental health in a medium of his choice rather than it being difficult all the time, and whether writing singles like ‘Wicked’ has helped him take control of his narrative.
“I think “Wicked” went down really well. It’s difficult to look at things and not remember that I was this big pop star from my early 20’s and it’s taken me until now to really love what I learned about my mental health in that time. I felt I was living in this weird spin, unlike now where I’m the most secure in myself than I’ve ever been. I’m really feeling like myself, writing more, and finding this long-form writer in me that I wasn’t aware was there. At the same time, I’m releasing music into this big industry that has changed so much, especially with social media. I’m sure if I was doing it all now I’d probably be a TikTok star, hyper-creative, and hyper-productive. So with my music, I really would love people to listen. I really do think it is my best work yet. So anyone listening or sharing it is a big win, especially doing this all on my own. I’m really feeling it in my body. The response I’ve had from the people around me is amazing and it’s part of my love for interacting and creating with those around me.”
With Jordan’s personal experiences with mental health and being aware of Harley’s personal journey with anxiety, I wanted to hear how the learning curve had begun for him in helping Harley and whether he too had found any anxiety in performing.
“I’m lucky I don’t have anxiety as such with performing. I tend to run towards fear in that situation. I love to hone in on that anxiety as despite it being alot of pressure in terms of jumping into a performance, I like to do it. It was tough for Harley and we both discovered a lot of our anxieties and I realised my understanding of anxiety was way off what it is now. But what’s also beautiful is that over the past few years, Harley and I have built what is a great relationship. It’s the best it’s been in our whole lives and I absolutely adore him, in fact, we’ve been back in the studio together. We never fell out, we just needed time away from being pop stars. I learned what anxiety could do to a person and I learned a lot about patience. Ultimately I’m still learning. It’s hard to get the balance right especially when you care about people so much and they don’t know how to express that frustration and it comes out as something else, especially when you want someone to feel better. But I’m in a much better position with what I’ve learned from it all mentally.”
I love to hear not only Jordan’s excitement about speaking about mental health and his musical projects but the ease he’s found in being himself when it comes to both. It’s a passion you see in every fibre of his being from his breath taking iconic performance in Tucked to his punchy most recent releases. His highly anticipated comeback is something you’re not going to want to miss.