All Photos By Joe Ortega
You would never know it by the floral button-up, short shorts, bushy beard and overall goofball mentality but Kevin Jordan is actually a pretty serious dude, especially when it comes to music.
Starting his career behind a drumkit and eventually finding his way to the front of the stage singing and playing guitar for his chilled out acoustic duo This Wild Life, Jordan is what you call a musical virtuoso – meaning, the guy can play just about anything you put in front of him from the piano to the harp.
See, we told you. Now in order to get to know a little more about the multi-talented musician, as well as his band’s forthcoming album Petaluma, we took Jordan to the Musical Instrument Museum just outside of Phoenix, Arizona.
There, he and fellow bearded Noise contributor Jimmy Smith explored everything the approximately 200,000 square-feet museum had to offer while also diving into This Wild Life’s third full-length record.
To check out the hang with Kevin and Jimmy as shot by the wonderful Joe Ortega, be sure to look below. Afterward, make sure to not only pre-order Petaluma before it hits stores June 22nd but also grab tickets to see This Wild Life out on the Vans Warped Tour all summer long.
This place has over 6,800 instruments from around the world. What was the craziest thing you saw here at The Musical Instrument Museum today?
Kevin Jordan: I think all of the Asian [instruments] were pretty crazy because they’re obviously so different from Western music. The instruments they had over there are gnarly compared to what we’re used to. Some of them looked like weapons from Diablo.
Are there any instruments you’ve never seen before that you want to put on a record or experiment with asap?
Maybe not ones I’d want to put on a record [laughs] cause I think they’d sound so odd compared to what Americans’ hearing is like – or what we like to hear in music. But definitely a lot of cool stuff I’ve never seen before.
Well for this new record Petaluma, it sounds like you guys experimented with a lot of different sounds. What were some of the things you did in the studio?
We boxed ourselves in. So before we made the record, we said we’re only going to allow instruments that can really be played. So no samples, no virtual instruments, nothing like that. And you would think that would limit what you can do but it really opened us up creatively to make what we feel is our best record. We had real string players come in, real brass players come in and woodwind players. We have songs where you hear these stacks of a brass melody following a vocal and it will be a trumpet, trombone, sousaphone, sax, flute all stacked up and it’s these huge sounds you just can’t fake. Like, some of those instruments you might have synth tones that sound similar but they just can’t hold a candle to the real thing. So bringing in additional musicians to play these parts allowed us to have different sounds than what we can play on our acoustic guitars and it opened a ton of doors.
From the album art and the two singles you’ve released so far, the vibe for this record feels a lot more summery. Would you agree?
That was another part of the box we kind of created for this album. We said we want it to be a summer record because we think that’s about the time it will come out and that’s the most different from our last record. Our last record we felt was a winter record. It was really dark, it was really vibey [with] brooding tempos. With this record, we were like it needs to be up-tempo, sing-a-long, windows-down tracks and that was awesome because it got all the arguing out of the way before we started writing [laughs]. We’re like, if this doesn’t fit within this mold that we want to create and play for the next couple years, we’ll just move past it. We’ll just move on writing the next thing.
Yeah, [the album’s] definitely more up-tempo. Even in the tracks from the demos. We did all the demos and we were like “these are a lot faster from our last record” then when we went into the studio the day we started recording we were like “let’s bump everything up like five BPM.” You know, it just made it a little bit quicker to keep it feeling urgent. We knew we were going to be capturing a record that was organic and live. Everything was really played. So bumping up the tempo is what you would do naturally live, you get excited and you play stuff faster when you’re vibing with the crowd and stuff so everything feels more energetic, more urgent. It’s cool.
So how was that for you personally? With the album being more upbeat and summer-oriented, did you find yourself leaving the recording process happier?
I think the concept was we’re going to play these songs live. On our last record Low Tides, it was a studio record. We made the record in the studio and all the stuff was created there. We never thought about how it would be played live. It was just like let’s make the coolest sounding record we can and let’s explore a bunch. And then we went out, you know, for the next year and toured playing those songs and we realized some of them that are awesome to listen to on headphones aren’t that fun to play live and it doesn’t really work with the people that we are and what our crowd interaction is like. So we focused on this one like, “let’s make these songs big and fun to play and really open and spacious.”
[I wouldn’t say it made me happier] coming out of the studio. I love making darker music, I love making sing-a-long stuff. I just love creating. But I know it will make me happier on tour playing those songs. And that’s what you end up doing the most. You make the record but then you have to go and play those songs hundreds of times. It can just be draining playing songs that are straight-up depressing. In one way, you write a song and it’s like this emotional outlet…
But then you get reminded of it every time you play it?
[Laughs] Exactly! It’s almost like grueling at times. This record still has some of those lyrical aspects. For example, Paramore’s After Laughter. That record is so fun and upbeat but those lyrics are really heavy. They’re super emotional, dramatic as hell. But the songs, there’s a juxtaposition there, they feel super happy and super positive and energetic. And I Iove that record – it spoke to me a lot.
So there are songs on our new record, one of them is called “Come Back Down,” it’s a song I wrote about my oldest brother passing away and you would never, hearing the song – it has whistling in it, it’s really really up-tempo and fun. I wanted it to be that way because that’s the person my brother was. He’s not the type who would want a somber sad song about him. He’s the most fun dude ever, the funniest guy in my life. So I wanted to do a song that’s up-tempo, bright and happy like that. But you can still touch on those things. You can still touch on pain but deliver it in a different way.
It’s gnarly to think you wrote a sad song where everybody in the audience will be smiling while they hear it.
I think it’s cool. I didn’t want to write nothing but just happy-go-lucky songs but this record does have a few straight-up love songs on it. I wanted it to have variation to it. I felt like our last record was all sad all the time. I can listen to that stuff and really really enjoy it but I do find that the records I go back to and listen to the most aren’t all of one thing. They have a range of emotions, they have a range of dynamics like people do.
So being that we’re here at the Musical Instrument Museum, can you tell us about when you first started to play music?
I started playing drums when I was really young. My next door neighbor had a drum set so my brother wanted to play the drums cause our neighbor played on the drumline in high school. So I learned how to play drum line songs that my brother was learning. Like if he was playing the snare parts, I played the bass parts and that’s really how I got started. And he eventually joined a punk band in high school. I got a drum set – like a garage sale Frankenstein kit. So I jumped on that and learned by what my older brother was playing. And eventually, with bands coming over practicing in our garage, there would be guitars hanging out there and when they would go to lunch or screw off or whatever I would just sneak in and play guitar. I think the first thing I ever learned how to play was Rage Against The Machine’s “Guerilla Radio” because it’s like the easiest [mimics playing the opening riff]. And from there it was Nirvana, classics and stuff like that.
It’s interesting to hear about your musical journey from drums to guitar to then singing in This Wild Life which wasn’t really meant to be your role, right?
I wrote our first EP for a different singer [since] I was just going to be playing guitar. And then, we actually recorded our first EP, the Pop Shove It EP, with another singer and he quit before we ever played a show. Our first show, we played a sold out show with The Wonder Years in San Diego and I was “filling in” for the band – you know, filling in for my own band. And on stage, I said, “If anybody can sing better than me, come see us at the merch table because we’re trying people out.” [laughs] We tried people out and it just never worked, we never found the guy that felt like the right person. And I didn’t want to [sing]. I always wanted to have a band like a New Found Glory with Jordan [Pundik] upfront – this energetic, iconic frontman who gets in the crowd and I never felt like that was me. I have fun playing guitar and I have fun playing drums but singing is really stressful to me and I didn’t really feel like I was that guy. [But] I think this incarnation of This Wild Life now fits me a lot better because it’s not about that diving-into-the-crowd energy and confidence. Our music doesn’t require that now because of the style change that we’ve made. So I feel more confident now doing what I do but singing is tough [laughs].
So with This WIld Life being three records in, you definitely feel more confident now?
I know now more than ever what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. Early on, I didn’t want to play to my strengths. I wanted to emulate the things that I loved rather than be the best version of what I do [well]. And now I’m far more certain of what my limitations are and what I’m good at and I definitely cater more towards them now and with that comes confidence.
Was it hard to have a passion for pop-punk or just punk in general and find yourself slowing things down musically?
I love both [styles] and to this day I feel like I’ll always be a bigger fan of music than I am a participant because I listen to a lot more music than I play, even though I play a lot of music. So I still get my kicks from going to shows – I go to sooo many shows. I love seeing live music. I love the environment, I love the community, I love the production, I love everything about it. I just geek out on that stuff. So I don’t feel like I left it because I still feel like I’m a part of it, whether I’m playing punk music or not, I still feel like I’m a part of that world and I think I always will be.
And you can always tour with those kinds of bands too.
Yeah, I mean we’ve toured with Beartooth. We’ve toured with Turnstile. We’ve toured with a lot of bands that are obviously so different from us. And I think that’s the one thing that I’ll say about our band is that we’ve always been pretty fearless about playing with bands that sound nothing like us because if we were to sit around and wait for the next City And Colour or Jason Mraz tour to fall in our lap, where other guys are playing acoustic guitars on stage, it’ll never happen. And we’re not going to sit there and play at your local coffee shop. We want to play shows, we want to play venues and we want to be part of that community of people who are fucking really passionate about music – not people who like that one song from that one band they heard on the radio that day. Casual music fans are cool but I want to personally play music for people who really fucking care, who are like absorbed by it and are involved with it.
Well, you’ll of course see a lot of diehard music fans at the final cross country Warped Tour this summer. What are your goals for Warped this year?
The one thing I told myself on the last two Warped Tours that I didn’t do enough was that I wanted to watch every single band at least once. And most people think, “Oh, you play a half hour a day. It’s easy, you can go watch a million other bands.” But your day is busy when you’re on Warped between loading in, press, doing a meet and greet, waiting in the catering line to get food, and just working there’s not that much time in the day. I want to watch a ton of bands this summer but Anthony [Del Grosso, bandmate] and I have both talked at length that this will need to be the hardest two months of our lives. It needs to be the most we’ve ever worked. We’ve never had a big crew that helps us do things – I load the trucks every morning and that will be no different this summer [even though] we’re playing the main stage. If I’m the only dude from a band loading the trucks on the main stage, I’ll be super happy because I just always want people to see how much we appreciate being involved and having a chance to do what we do. So I never want somebody to see me walking around without a box in my hand or just dicking around and stuff. I mean, the tour is fun for sure but I want everybody that sees This Wild Life to know that we want it more than anybody and more than we have ever before. So we’ll be selling CDs ourselves, we’ll be working the lines, we’ll be loading the trucks, we’ll be doing two-hour meet and greets. We’re going to be hustling all day because we have a record that comes out [June 22nd] and we are so proud of it that we’re not going to wait for anything to ever fall into our laps. We’re making a music video for every single song that we’ll release over the next year and we’ll personally be selling thousands of CDs ourselves because we’re not going to wait for Epitaph to do it. We’re not going to wait for the radio to decide that we’re relevant. We’re not going to wait to be in the next, you know, Twilight soundtrack or something. We’re going to do it ourselves because no one else is going to hold our destiny in their hands. Fuck that. Let’s do it. Let’s work as hard as we can.