Interview: Snowden

Peter Gerstenzang

By Peter Gerstenzang

on 05.28.13 in Interviews

Often, when a musician goes nearly seven years between full-lengths, it means something is amiss — either they’re drugged-up, written out or Paul Simon. However, in the case of Snowden (the nom de disque of Jordan Jeffares) it was another impediment altogether: getting free of his label. Having done that, he’s proven that good things take time. No One In Control, Snowden’s new record, is a singular, shimmering gem full of eerie, ear-wormy melodies, unique electronic sounds and lyrics that seem to recount Jeffares’s hard times. However, talking with him, one finds Jeffares isn’t moping about music business woes. He’s got bigger things on his mind.

eMusic’s Peter Gerstenzang recently got the lowdown from the man who was saved from pop purgatory by Kings Of Leon.

You haven’t put out a full-length record since 2006 and your legal wrangling is no secret. Even if it’s metaphorical, would you say that some frustration from all this bled into the new record?

There’s pounds of frustration all over my music, even on the first record. I feel I just got better at writing about it.

So what sort of stuff were you dealing with? Was it trying to get off your label?

Well, I was three years out of school when I made [the record for Anti-]. I toured a lot and about a year after the record came out, there were a lot of changes at the label, to put it lightly. They went from a four-man operation down to a one-man operation. The two heads of the label pretty much went on to other professional jobs. They said that everything was going to be fine. You know, Yada yada yada, but it wasn’t nice. It was “Let’s talk about what it’s going to take to let you go.”

So who’s distributing this thing?

This is a joint venture between BMG Publishing and a label called Serpents and Snakes, which is Kings of Leon’s label.

Are they helpful and hands-on? Or are they just using their name?

My main contact is with the bass player Jared [Followill]. He’s the one who always wanted me. We’ve been friends over the years. I was at his wedding last year. We love a lot of the same music and he’s always really loved Snowden. And when this label came along, he was my champion there.

One of the songs on the new album I found particularly pointed is “Keep Quiet.” Is that related to feeling like you’ve been squelched?

No. That’s looking across the room at someone you long for, but who will not have you. That’s one of the main cases of me, all over the record, of trying to express longing for someone. But I don’t want to just say that. It’s, how do you talk about love without saying “love”?

Is that the same case for stuff like “Don’t Really Know Me” or “Not Good Enough”? Are they connected to that same sort of feeling?

“Don’t Really Know Me” is pretty obviously a twisted love song. That comes out of dating someone that was bipolar. That one is pretty straightforward. “No One in Control” and “So Red,” same thing. They’re both pretty much written about the same person and during the same time period as “Keep Quiet.” Songs about longing and frustration.

“Hiss” is coming from a different place. It actually sounds like dance music. Are there people you listen to that influenced the groove of that song?

I struggle to write upbeat stuff. I always have to work at it. My stuff is usually sort of melancholy, partly because I record and demo all my own material. And that tends to make my music melancholy. That [sad] stuff comes off better; it comes off easier, working alone. I’ll be working on upbeat stuff and then put on something like the Big Pink and then my mix sounds like total shit. And I give up. And I go back to writing my smarmy, neurotic music. But yeah, that’s me forcing myself to make something that chugs. With my upbeat stuff, I’m sitting there thinking, “Does this get the heel tapping on the floor?” This is one of the few scenarios where I’m actually writing, thinking about the reaction. When you’re writing, you’re trying to write new things to keep it fresh.

Reading the press release, I got the feeling you were scrambling around the country, recording wherever you could, and that this album was not made under the most relaxed circumstances. Did you have to go here and there to make this record?

No, each place I was there for one year, two years, in a bunch of different cities. I tried to move to New York but I couldn’t figure out how to. It takes a year or two where you can get to the place where you can pay your bills in New York. And still have two days off to make music.

So you were working regular jobs?

I’ve always worked regular jobs.

What kind of stuff have you been doing to supplement this?


Will that allow you to go out and promote the new album?

It’s why I work in this industry. It’s one of the few jobs you can come back to with no problem.

Did you actually have to take the mixology course?

95 percent of bartending is the vodka tonic. Four percent is the classics: Old-Fashioneds and gimlets. The rest is Aviators, Sidecars and Singapore Slings. I could teach anybody to do the job in about 10 minutes.

You get big points for not writing a Harry Chapin-type song about how hard it is to be a bartender.

Oh my God…[chuckles]. No, you’ve got to dig a little deeper than that.

Now, I have to ask you one literary question: Have you read Catch 22 more than once? Was the name [Snowden, a character in the novel] picked because you liked Joseph Heller’s novel so much? Or did it just sound right to you?

I love that scene where Snowden dies. It always had a big effect on me. It’s the protagonist [Yossarian] and his realization that Snowden has died. They open his flak jacket and his guts spill out there on the floor. And he keeps saying he’s “cold.” I read the book as senior in high school. I really wanted the band’s name to be called Snowden’s Secret, because that was his secret; he was mortally wounded. But it didn’t roll off the tongue. If I could go back? I wouldn’t name the band Snowden again.