The insightfully bubbly musician offered her wisdom of her experiences and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Candyland lineup and tickets will be dropping December 17th. Catch Jordanna on February 23rd for the grand event and stay tuned for new projects.
My name is Jordanna. I am 23 and a singer/songwriter in Chicago.
Your creative career didn’t actually start with music, but with ballet. Even as a dancer, how did singing and music play a part in your childhood?
Singing wasn’t part of my childhood but music was always tied in because I was a dancer. I was trained in a very serious, pre-professional company that siphons people into the larger national companies. When I went through puberty, I didn’t get taller and I got curvier. The company told me I was too short to go anywhere from there. It happened to so many girls. I ended up moving to a smaller company where the girls did ballet for fun, but I’m super driven and ambitious and didn’t like the idea of doing it for fun. I transitioned and decided singing was the next best thing since music was already deeply rooted in who I was as a person. I specifically remember being obsessed with Hannah Montana as a kid because of her double life of being a pop star and being normal. I didn’t want people to think I was self-obsessed to be a singer. I always thought that would be selfish of me to make people listen to what I had to say, which is deeply rooted in a patriarchal society. I booked my first show myself at a coffee shop when I was 14 and invited all my friends. I was writing songs and my mom was so nervous, she thought I was going to embarrass myself and make a fool because she never heard me sing. I’m happy to say she was pleasantly surprised. I took influence from nontraditional singers, like Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger. They could sing but were also shouting and unconventional. They had something to say so I knew that even if I wasn’t the best technical singer, which I’m still not, I always have something to say and hopefully people will want to listen.
How did you battle the uncertainty, especially from your mom?
I’m still battling uncertainty from my mom, but honestly, looking at other female icons helped. Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin were huge. I got into Tina Turner because she had a romantic, tragic story. I was into those Sid and Nancy, tragic type stories. Tina Turner is a success story. I thought if she can do it, I can do it. Amy Winehouse, when I was younger, was having a success story and I was obsessed with her as a kid. The day she died my mom and I sobbed. It’s interesting because even though music tends to be such a male-dominated scene, I never grew up thinking it was something I couldn’t do. I was always driven and I enjoy performance. I took inspiration from other female artists I admire.
You often say that your former band, Glamour Hotline, revolved around a “don’t touch me” attitude that caused you to avoid vulnerability for fear of looking weak. Describe your musical journey from being in a riot grrrl band to performing solo.
I was looking for strength when I was alone after I moved here from Philly. I didn’t have friends. I found Riot grrrl through a documentary about Kathleen Hanna called The Punk Singer. I have a very obsessive personality so I delved in and found strong women with powerful ideas saying exactly what I was feeling. Before that, I had never heard anyone talk about being a victimized, vulnerable woman in music and the world. Glamour Hotline was angry and punk focused. It didn’t even matter if I could play my instrument, it was more about what I had to say. That ended in part because I have a hard time separating myself from my art, which resonates with how I’m behaving in the world. I was in a relationship at the time I could not be vulnerable in. I would flip out all the time and it was very “don’t touch me, don’t ask me about this, I don’t owe you anything” and that’s not how a relationship works. I didn’t realize the power found in vulnerability. While I was performing in Glamour Hotline I didn’t want to be viewed as a sexual being even though sexuality is a critical part of being human. There are women in punk embracing sexuality, being angry and promoting feminist ideas in a healthy way but I wasn’t able to do that. The relationship ended with the band and it was the first time I was alone in a very long time. I disagreed with who I had become in the name of other women who were looking up to me. When I went solo, my music was all about romance, relationships and being an empowered sexual woman. Calling yourself sexy or making other people feel sexy empowers you to be a strong leader. Women have always been told their sexuality makes them a victim. When I was younger I believed if they went out dressed or feeling a certain way, whatever happened to them was their fault. I turned that around and used it to my power by not letting anyone own me in that way. I love and share myself with other people in a way that’s on my terms, consensual and understood in a feminist frame, which is where my music is now.
Was there a specific moment or person that helped you realize that and make that switch?
I went to therapy. I tell everyone to go to therapy. I was angry about the world, and I still am, but I’ve learned ways to protect myself from letting that energy hurt me. I think there’s this idea of self-love that’s popular right now but not everyone is the same. I always encourage people to do their own thing. Don’t necessarily go on Instagram and do what Lady Gaga does.
In what ways has your mental and emotional state changed since going solo?
I still struggle with depression and with everything that’s been going on in the country, I can’t go online without being upset. In our culture, Chicago specifically, the call-out culture is intense. Left and right you’re hearing about people that have done bad things. I try to surround myself with other good people in this scene and only play shows with people I really believe in. I book my own shows and make sure I’m performing with a diverse group of people, not just all white men. I’ve taken control of who I am and who I surround myself with.
Two years after the release of your first EP, Sweet Tooth, it’s still such a smooth listen. What was the process of creating the EP?
Those were the songs I had written when I came out of Glamour Hotline and I was this newfound person in my life. I was meeting myself for the first time. When I was at Columbia I met these guys who are in a band and the first time we all played together it was magic. They knew exactly where each song was going. The songs are about the relationship that ended after Glamour Hotline so it was a therapeutic experience to make that EP. There’s a poet named Ruth Stone who’d say her poems would come barreling through the air and she’d have to catch the poem in order to put it down on paper. I love that. Many writers and artists can relate to that feeling. I’m into the idea that music or whatever talent you have is a separate entity, almost like a magical little bean that you have to put into a guitar, your phone or a piece of paper.
Though you’re originally from Philadelphia, you radiate Chicago pride. What has Chicago offered you that other cities haven’t?
I have never been anywhere as collaborative as Chicago. When I got here I saw the openness of working together or sharing ideas and skills. The community is very organized. There are so many DIY places and organizations like Candyland, Babes Only and Cliche Collective that have amazing women running them. There’s magic in the air. Everyone is talented and there are opportunities to grow and become something great. Philly is competitive, but I love Chicago. I can definitely see myself here for a long time.
Talk a little bit about Candyland and how that came to be.
Originally I tried to plan a big party for my solo release of Sweet Tooth since I worked really hard on it and it was a huge part of me. One day I came home and Jenna Cohen, my roommate, had made great posters for the release and suggested we expand the party into a show. We’re both very hardworking Virgos and, out of nowhere, we were booking sponsors and had Tasha and DJ Dapper headline. It was an enormous show that we called Candyland as a candy theme for Sweet Tooth and this is the second year we’re putting it on. When I was booking the show it was important for me to have women and queer people perform. Last year we solely promoted it as a celebration of women and nonbinary artists in Chicago, but this year we’re taking that tagline away because I’ve found that promoting it that way is furthering the stereotype that women are a rarity in this scene. Instead of telling people to come to an all-women show, why can’t it be promoted as a regular show that happens to be all women? You’d never promote a show because it’s all men. I do think we should have all women shows, but we need to stop saying it’s a special thing that happens once a month. Why isn’t it happening four or five times or however many times Twin Peaks plays a show with all white men? We’re not calling it that anymore, even though that’s what it is. Men who play in the bands are fine, but we’re looking for women and nonbinary artists.
You’ve expressed a view that you feel that the punk scene is white-washed. In your time being immersed in the music scene, has the industry become more inclusive?
I think outside of punk it’s a lot more diverse, but I’ve also seen many people of color in punk begin to book fellow people of color and venues are working to not book such white-washed shows. I can’t speak as exclusively on the topic but I try to do my part in not booking shows that are all white people because we get enough opportunities. In my band, I tend to work with more people of color. In Chicago’s underground scene, there are a lot of people working to make a change.
If there’s one thing people can take away from your shows, what do you hope your message to be?
Definitely an array of things. When I started performing solo and first wrote the songs that are on Sweet Tooth, I was using an acoustic electric guitar with a looper pedal and I’d sing and interact with the audience. I’d pass out roses and clipboards with questions on them to make people think like, “How are you making your community a better place?” or “What’s your favorite thing about yourself?” One of the goals was to make people feel connected. So much of my life has felt really lonely, physically or mentally. I wanted people to come to my shows alone if they wanted to and feel a sense of community and comfortability talking to me or the people around them. That’s still something I strive to create for my performances. I try to be as real as possible, such as with not wearing a lot of makeup on stage. I want people to feel safe and ultimately, leave feeling more empowered to take control of their lives. I never want there to be a strict boundary between artist and audience member in a superior way. We’re all on the same level. One of the reasons I love performing is because it’s such a sensation of energy between the listener and performer. I’m saying what I have to say but after the show come talk to me and tell me what you have to say.
On Instagram, you captioned a heartbreaking decree about the dangers you feel as a Jewish woman. How do you think art can be a stepping stone in helping build better communities, specifically in Chicago?
Art is a good way to expose you to people who aren’t like you. Those who hold hatred in their hearts don’t know anyone different from them. One of the biggest takeaways from that post was to talk to those who are different than you. If you live in a rural area and can’t personally get coffee with someone that believes something different than you, watch interviews online or go to a forum and be open. Don’t be defensive. That’s hard especially as a liberal person because sometimes I don’t want to listen to someone who has very sheltered or hateful ideas, but if you don’t have those conversations you’re not going to move forward. The internet is a great place to do that if you can open your mind.
Written by: Andrea Carrillo
Header photo by: Keeley Parenteau