Jordan Mackampa speaks about his varied discography, the realities of being a musician, navigating the online world as an artist and individual, and more!
Stream: “Parachutes” – Jordan Mackampa
Even for first time listeners Jordan Mackampa’s soulful tones seem to possess an air of warmth that’s immediately inviting and utterly enthralling. That warmth persists even when Mackampa is chronicling tales of agonizing heartache and woeful loss. That is perhaps best evidenced on his new song “Parachutes,” which perfectly describes the ceaselessly confusing nature of human connection. “Parachutes” sees Mackampa tackle the worrying duplicity that sometimes seems to engulf people that we used to cherish.
You’re making me sick to my stomach
Testing my faith to its peak
But it took me a while to believe it
It was down in a space I can’t reach
But I can’t excuse this anymore
This feeling inside of me
Your peripheral focus keeps failing to notice
I’m tearing apart at the seams
The track serves as the follow-up to his stunning tune “What Am I,” which saw him perfectly distill the all-consuming worry and hopelessness that is increasingly coming to a define a generation. With his poignant songwriting, Mackampa has managed to epitomise the feelings of a whole society that’s feeling increasingly betrayed and exasperated. Indirectly, the song also serves a subtle call to action; reminding the listener that harrowing hopelessness can be, at least partially alleviated, through meaningful action.
While it’s hard to precisely extract qualities of Mackampa’s music that makes him so enthralling, part of the attraction seems to be in the way that, through both his stunning voice and moving lyricism, he manages to embody the multi-faced nature of emotions, in a way that few other singer-songwriters can. In songs where he sings of tranquil joy, that elation is also met with a solid appreciation of the despair that may have come before. Conversely, when heartache or hardship seems to serve as the over-arching theme, Mackampa typically provides a glance through a nostalgia-tinted lens of a solace that’s long since disappeared.
With his debut album due for release on the 13th of March 2020, it’s obviously an exciting time for Jordan Mackampa.
Nevertheless, sometimes the best way to anticipate the future and appreciate its significance is to delve back into the past. Atwood Magazine spoke with Jordan Mackampa ahead of his debut US tour with Amber Run about his discography thus far, the realities of being a musician, navigating the online world as an artist and individual, and more!
A CONVERSATION WITH JORDAN MACKAMPA
Atwood Magazine: Jordan, “Under” served as your first release of this year; it’s a brilliantly radiant track, especially live. How did you know it was the right song to kick off your new sort of “era”?
Jordan Mackampa: Originally, it was supposed to be “What Am I,” then “Under” that came out. But, after speaking with my manager and label, we decided that “Under” was the right song to come back and make a bang with. The image I’m trying to portray now, through press shots and how the live show is set up, is completely different to last year. We just kind of wanted to portray this new image to people that weren’t aware of how I was and kind of rebrand for people who already knew my music. Kind of moving away from singer-songwriter lost in a forest vibes to a guy who’s just moved to London, and is feeling more comfortable within himself.
“What Am I” is phenomenal: It’s obviously got some political undertones. Were you ever apprenshive about releasing it?
Mackampa: Not at all. It just felt like shit needed to be said and I was like if no one is going to say anything it might as well be me. The thing is I wrote that song like 2 years ago and then just sat on it. Now just feels like the perfect time for it out. Particularly with Brexit and stuff like that, it just feels like Jesus Christ what the hell are we going to do about all of this. Well, we could have been doing stuff months ago. Everyone just like changed their profile pictures to blue, but didn’t actually do anything.
It’s just that stuff could have been done but not much was done so I’m just like you know what I’m just gonna put this out there, let it do its job then hopefully it inspires someone else then someone else. Even if it’s just something small. Even if it’s not something political, like it’s something to do with climate change. Like how much plastic they use or stop buying fast fashion or just making some kind of change.
Going off that, in terms of songwriting, how was the process of channelling that hopelessness into a song? Where did that central phrase “What Am I” come from?
Mackampa: I initially wrote the song with a guy called Johnathan Quarmby and it was basically kind of based on the train journey I had to his studio. I was just looking through the news, and it was just one really sad story after another. If it didn’t make me sad, it made me upset. And if didn’t make me upset, it made me angry. I was just like “god damn, what the hell are we going to do about all this?.” I just went into that session excited for it because it was my first session with him, but he could tell there was something on my mind.
Before we wrote anything, we sat down for like 2 and a half hours and just chatted about everything. Then he was like “oh, what we going to do then?”, and I was like “I guess that’s where we start.” He just asked like what I was listening to at the time, and I mentioned that I was already listening to “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye and also other artists like Al Green and Curtis Mayfield. I was just trying to get into that kind of classic soul sound while also making it a bit more modern. We were just like let’s take Marvin Gaye’s theme and make it a bit modern and apply it to what we were going through this morning.
You dropped the Physics EP back in 2016. Your song “Yours to Keep” is honestly phenomenal; it’s one of my favorite songs ever. Why do you think that song has resonated in the way that it has?
Mackampa: I think really and truly it’s because of the simplicity of it. Like the actual writing your name on the bottom of someone’s shoes and then, your name on their shoes just so you know that they’re yours and you’re theirs. That declaration of love is something someone either has experienced or wants to experience, and the way that they find that is through the song. Plus, everyone loves Toy Story.
It’s just one of those songs that people have really connected with, and the funny thing is that we didn’t even release it as a single. Literally, it’s just one of the songs on the EP, but that’s the song that people come up to me the most and be like, “This is my favorite song.” I’ve had multiple requests to play that song at weddings, which is just crazy.
Tales from the Broken was your next EP release, with songs like “Salt” and “Saint” that saw you lyrically delve into figuring out life and mortality. It had a darker, more mature, and less wistfully romantic side to it. How did you land upon the EP’s title to exemplify what you were trying to say?
Mackampa: The title actually came from a post that I saw on Tumblr. There was a picture of a broken vending machine and a piece of paper on it that said the light inside is broken but I still work. I was like holy shit and I just felt like that was something that everyone who’s gone or is going through a rough time can relate to. That kind of ethos of that the lights inside maybe off but I’m still here and I’m still trying to work on myself and be happy again.
I guess that reflected within the moods of the songs. Take “Salt”, for example, that’s about just being honest and taking ownership of how we hurt people sometime with our lies. If we had to calculate all the lies, we’ve ever told and if one grain of salt was equivalent to one lie, how big would our own piles of salt be?
It just makes people accountable for the things they’ve said. Whether it was to harm someone or protect someone, at the end of the day, it’s still a lie. Now I’m 25, and I can’t tell you how many lies I’ve told. Whether they were like good lies, bad lies or just ones to protect myself, they’re all still lies. It’s just one of those songs that makes you think about accountability and the effect of not being truthful within ourselves.
Songs like “Teardrops In A Hurricane” are completely different. That song was a weird one because it took me two or three sessions to nail down. I wrote that song with Matt Ingram, who ended up producing it. The sentiment of throwing a teardrop in a hurricane is insane; it’s something that just kind of goes unnoticed. It’s just like that thing of if you shout in forest no one’s going to hear it.
We just kind of spiraled from that, and it just kind of took on a mind of its own about going against the grain when the right thing to do is just to follow the course. Like the pre-chorus where it’s like it’s not wise to go out in the rain and get caught is just trying to say don’t try to be smarter than what’s already the right thing to do.
The whole EP just had the theme of maturity across the songs, so that was a huge jump for me. I wouldn’t have wanted to release an EP like Physics. I just wanted to make something that was a little bit more mature, and reflected what I was going through.
Atwood Magazine premiered the video for your single “One in the Same” last year. I adore that song, and it also makes me reflect on my life every time I hear it. The song questions the nature of relationships in our world of virtual connections. What triggered you to start writing that track?
Mackampa: I kind of felt like I was losing genuine relationships with people. I was like I’ve spoken to one of my best friends literally every single day on the phone, but I haven’t seen her for like 7 months. So is our connection really as strong if we’re not speaking face-to-face, and actually having real deep connections. At the end of the day if you turn your phone off, it’s a black screen and the only person you’re going to see is yourself reflected in it. Like can you say you’re happy with the connections that you have with people when the phone goes off. I feel like the person we are online and who we are in person are two different people.
Going off of that, as a musician, how hard is it not to get wrapped up in the online side of things? Like streaming numbers and followers and all that.
Mackampa: For me, it’s not something that struggle with at all, but I know it’s hard for some other artists. I like to think I’m the same person online and offline. If anything, I’ll just be more welcoming in person because there’s only so much you can do when you greet someone, or you introduce yourself online. Actually giving someone a hug and saying hi is just a completely different level of connection.
You’re about to head out on a tour of the States with Amber Run. How are you feeling about that? Do you find playing to a room of people who might be unfamiliar with your music daunting?
Mackampa: I’m definitely someone that thrives under pressure and I’m also someone that doesn’t get nervous on stage. Nervousness is something that affects a lot of artists, and that’s really unfortunate. But for me, that rush of adrenaline means I’m just raring to go. I’ve had people asking me to play shows in the states for like seven years now, so to go out there with a band I actually adore is just an absolute dream come true.
You’ve got a whole array of headline shows coming up, too. What can fans expect from those shows? And when you’re crafting the live show with the band, what do you aim to achieve with it?
Mackampa: I guess what they can expect is that even though the venue is like 700 capacity, there’s still going to be the same level of intimacy as you’d get seeing me in a room with 50 people. You’ll still get that kind of one-to-one connection, and, as difficult as that may be, it’s something that I try really hard to achieve. Also, I thrive on trying to make that space just a safe space for everyone. Like whatever kind of problems or troubles you’re facing outside the gig, once you’re there with me at that gig there’s literally nothing to worry about.
For that like hour and half, you can be as free as you want to be. Every time tour rolls around, I have a lot of fun rearranging old songs in the set and playing new songs for the first time too. A lot of the songs that we’re playing this time around are going to be ones that no one has heard before so it’ll be interesting to get the first impressions from people, and see how people take them on board.
It’s also cool to see the crowd’s faces when they hear the old songs. Like what people hear on Spotify won’t be the same as what they’ll hear live. It’ll kind of be the same, but there’ll be a different feel to it. On stage, it’s just me, a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer. We’re a very close-knit group, which is very much reflected in the way that we play the songs.
Your last EP was in 2017; presumably, there’s a project or debut album in the works. What does putting out a body of work mean to you? What does the collection of tracks have to signify?
Mackampa: I guess it just kind of has to reflect who I am as a musician and as a person at that moment in time. If I don’t believe in it right now, it’s going to come across that I’m not passionate about it. I’m just not going to push it out at all because there’s no love in it for me. It would just fade away into the background. When I’m putting out something that’ve worked hard on and really want people to enjoy is leaps and bounds away from just putting something out because it’s been two or three since I’d put out a project.
I’d rather wait until I had a collection of songs that I’m incredibly proud of, and worked on for so long. Sometimes I’d not release something, because I knew when the right time would be to release them. Next year I’ll be just this is everything I’ve been working on for the past 4 years.
You’re an independent artist putting out your music through AWAL. What advice would you give to any promising singer/songwriters who are looking to establish a fan base?
Mackampa: Technically, I’ve signed a record deal with AWAL so I wouldn’t say I’m independent anymore. But, I still have the mindset of an independent artist. Whether I’m headlining or not, I still that every show like I’m the support act. I think that’s a mentality that I don’t think is ever going to leave. It’s sort of that feeling of there’s someone out there who doesn’t know who I am and if they walk away only knowing two songs then those two songs need to be the best they can be.
We sort of spoke a little about it earlier, but there’s quite a variation among your discography. Has that evolution happened quite naturally?
Mackampa: I think it’s just happening naturally. Whenever I’m passionate about something and latch onto it, I’m very outspoken. If I figure out how I feel about something, that’s how I feel and I’m not afraid about speaking out. I’m incredibly vocal about things, and that’s something that people latch onto. The music industry has always had an authenticity problem. When people listen to my music, I feel that they hear someone that is authentic, and that hasn’t followed trends or anything. I think some people confide themselves in my music because if there’s something going on with their lives, they can just turn on my songs and just feel at ease. Like whatever they’ve been through, I’ve been through as well. So, from that, there’s kind of that kind of that link and shared connection. I was going to say shared trauma, but I don’t think that’s the right phrase (laughs)
For people outside the industry or that aren’t artists themselves, what would you say the biggest misconceptions are?
Mackampa: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that people tend to make is that whenever you achieve a certain level of success you suddenly have loads of money. Like there’s a huge difference between being signed to a major record label and being signed on a distribution deal or onto a small indie label. But, being with smaller outfits allows you to have control of how they market you and loads of other different aspects.
The other one would be just how long everything takes. Just releasing a song can take such a long time sometimes. There’s often such a long waiting period. Like I’ve known I was going to release “Under” since January, but it wasn’t released until May.
Is it ever frustrating having to wait that long?
Mackampa: It is. Particularly because I don’t have a lot of patience; I’m very stubborn when things don’t go the way I want them to. I understand that a song needs to be released at the right time, and how everything has to have a domino effect.
If I ended up releasing “Under” in January it probably would have fallen under the radar, as there wouldn’t have been anything on the live side to sort of tie it into. There wouldn’t have been anything to build up towards either, so it’s all kind of about strategy. Just making sure that if you want to release a single you have singles planned in advance so you can keep that momentum going.
For me, it’s just about going forward. Like if you’re going forward, nothing else really matters. There’s also like no shame in taking time out to work on music. There was a year gap between releasing “One In The Same” and “Under”; I literally released them on the exact same day a year apart. The difference between those two songs is like Jupiter and the moon.
Finally, what are you most excited about for the future, and the ways in which you can share your music?
Mackampa: I think I’m excited about being to connect with people on more of an emotional level. Especially with the album coming out next year. Some of the songs on the album are incredible personal and they’ve really struck a chord with people that have worked on them. Everyone seems to have their own individual favourites, so I’m really excited to hear what songs that fans will especially like, and feel as if they belong to them.
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