At Everything Is Noise, we take absolute pride in championing the idea that no one territory of music is superior to all others. We feel that our musical world is borderless – populated by rich and diverse sounds that sometimes mingle – and yet no matter how different, still unified in a common denominator: that every black metal band, soulful songstress, and outlandish experimental avant-garde album (yes, all of them)… Everything is noise. Just variations of squiggly air. Each has an audience they cater for and this commonality helps propel our goal of providing exposure to countless deserving artists that people may otherwise overlook at their peril. So far, so business as usual.
That said, think a little further afield. Literally everything is ‘noise’ in the sense of providing fragments that populate the passing seconds of our lives, manifested as responsibilities of adulthood, time with loved ones… even that extra episode of the true crime show you swore you weren’t going to stay up and watch at 2am. While such moments can be hugely enriching, many can feel like clutter that prevents us from the pursuits we perhaps truly dream of. The concept of a ‘noisy’ life, then, might seem like a risky and unrewarding prospect. If so, you clearly aren’t au fait with Jordyn Blakely.
Even sitting down to talk with Blakely felt something of a miracle. A multi-instrumentalist and all-round busy bee, you’d be forgiven for thinking that such a renowned drummer and active participant in multiple projects (seriously, it’s quite the catalogue, from Stove, Maneka, and Jackal Onasis, to recently joining with Bartees Strange) would surely be too occupied – nay, devoured – by a hectic work schedule and decorating various venues around New York and beyond with her phenomenal drum/vocal work.
Taking this into account, it’s incredible to discover that this particular artist’s bow apparently cannot have too many strings. As a result, Blakely’s new (and solo) project, Smile Machine, sees the songwriter emerge from behind the kit and to the forefront of our attention, taking up the duties of almost everything you hear on the venture’s debut EP, Bye For Now. I was honoured to horde a small pocket of Blakely’s time between shows, rehearsals, and the mundanity of adulting to discuss the past, present, and future for Smile Machine; I wanted to uncover more about what is under the hood of this particular contraption.
Photo credit: Felipe Torres
Having been surrounded by music for a long time personally and professionally, Blakely shared that, ‘I started writing more and playing more guitar at home since it can be hard to find a place to play drums here in NY. I write slowly but when I had enough songs to start recording I decided to put an EP together.’ As many creatives have found in the past 18 months, the interruptions of certain well-worn global circumstances have been problematic, but even this did little to throw Blakely off track, who found ways to work around the limitations in conjunction with Dan Francia, who handled production on the EP alongside her:
‘In person you can play something or try recording it and it’s just done. Over email or the phone it’s hard to describe what you want for editing. With the guitar leads and keys solo in “Pretty Today”, there was a lot of back and forth for which sections to put them over, but I would use language such as ‘at 0:32 seconds until 1:09 minutes in the song this should go here’, as an example.’
Fast forward, and her persistence and patience have paid off: Bye For Now dropped a little over three weeks ago courtesy of Exploding In Sound Records, and I took great delight in singing its praises. I’d gladly regale every thorough justification for its inescapable appeal all over again, but the spotlight here is on the artist – not the fact that I could wax eloquent enough to launch my own artisan candle store.
I will, however, provide footnotes for the uninitiated. Bye For Now is a thoroughly enjoyable slab of melancholic yet cautiously optimistic indie rock. Brandishing walls of guitar that juxtapose Blakely’s serenely wistful tunes, colossal drum work (surprise, surprise), ravaging bass, and little flourishes galore, it’s a 17-minute barrage of punkish grit that’s just as fiery in your bedroom as it is at a live venue.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that Blakely’s musical influences and heritage are far-reaching. She gladly reeled off a plethora of acts from her formative years (such as Blink 182, Thursday, and Jimi Hendrix) and more current entries (including Neil Young, Elliott Smith, and Meat Puppets). Subsequently, each listen unveils fresh homage to the musical forces embedded in Blakely’s life, aiming to emulate acts such as Black Sabbath, and The Cure for guitar parts in particular.
One of my favourite elements of the record, the lo-fi texture in particular might be a divisive choice for some. However, Blakely pursued it consciously and with strong conviction:
‘I love the sound of drums on tape; my old band, Michael Jordyn and Greg, recorded drums this way and it’s my favorite way to hear drums. I was inspired by “The Glow Part 2” by The Microphones, that drum intro, and Elliott Smith‘s “Speed Trials”; it didn’t end up sounding exactly like them but that’s what I was going for going in.‘
I’m inclined to agree. This move, along with the decision to ingrain ‘the loud, fuzzy sounds for bigger dynamic moments’, bathes the entire EP in a glow of nostalgic, ’90s-infused noise. It sparks and grooves without relent, whether in the onslaught of visceral opener “Bone To Pick”, with its angered, Distillers-esque vocal shouts, the pace of “Pretty Today”, or the more subdued mid-tempo riffery of “Snail S(h)ell”.
Photo credit: James Cafaro
Although Smile Machine is still in its nascent stages publicly, the songs that make up the five-track EP have been a labour of love – and sometimes frustration – for Blakely, demonstrating the culmination of four years of work. The investment is more than worth it, however, and smeared across the canvas of Bye For Now. Blakely’s command of voice and each instrument alike is impressive, particularly as an undertaking for someone so used to the safe barricade of a drum kit. So, how did Blakely find that transition? ‘It’s been fun; with drums you use your whole body and there are so many components going all at once: with guitar it feels more concentrated, it’s more your fingertips and it feels more upper body, it feels lighter and more delicate.’
That lightness and delicacy is audibly a growing point of comfort for Blakely. Aside from a brief foray onto six strings for Stove song “Duckling Fantasy”, her time composing on the guitar prior to Smile Machine had been arguably somewhat minimal in comparison to her percussive and vocal work. Don’t be presumptuous though – Blakely knows how to write a kickass tune, and those meaty rhythm sections pair perfectly with a meandering, whimsical voice that makes itself heard among the colossal noise surrounding it.
Each song is infused with a disarming power and pointed honesty. Blakely utilised this record to address several challenging points in her life. She offers, ‘A lot of the songs are about processing certain relationships in your life, their endings and how they change and influence how you see yourself.’ As such, lyrics make for frank, emotive reading without trace of embellishment: ‘Your spoiled apples burn my mouth’, from single “Shit Apple”, speaks of ‘…any relationship where you feel like you can’t be yourself…just feeling like it’s better not to talk, or trying to minimize yourself to avoid conflict.’
Another example is “Pretty Today”:‘It alludes to feeling like your worth as a woman is revolved around appearance, and constant pressure to look beautiful and be on best behavior…that confidence/happiness is a fleeting moment and you don’t know how you’ll feel tomorrow, or if others will accept you.‘This sense of feeling buried beneath expectation is epitomised by the lines, ‘Make my teeth feel small/Claws retract and dull/There’s nowhere to hide/Since your shelter’s mine’.
However, the sense of catharsis Blakely exhales with her melodious vocals and deliberated, distorted instrumentation is not simply one that we as listeners are to passively experience:
‘Whatever a listener needs from it in that moment, whether it be just entertaining, or even if they hate it, I hope it evokes some sort of feeling. It’s healthy to have an emotional response to music, so if it does that I feel it was worth it and served its purpose. If it inspires anyone to try writing and recording themselves who thinks they can’t, then I hope for that too because several times I thought to myself I couldn’t do it, or finish it, or doubted whether it was worth finishing, so I’m happy I didn’t give up.’
Photo credit: James Cafaro
After our conversation, I’ll admit that Blakely’s calm, cheerful disposition and extensive time devoted to thoughtfully answering my questions left me questioning whether this was in fact the person responsible for the energetic, fuzzy frenzy I’ve been bathing in constantly for the past few weeks. Even when considering my usual closing question (her ideal three-act gig lineup? Living: Meat Puppets, Neil Young, Kendrick Lamar. Dead? Aaliyah, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin), a sense of humility and reverence for her peers is ever-present, despite this first solo foray receiving high enough praise to afford her more than a mere pat on the back.
With live shows materialising at an increasing rate, Blakely’s transferral of her multi-layered sound has – despite what certain one-man bands may suggest – seen her enlist help onstage. Dan Francia (who I mentioned earlier) slots in on bass, Steve Hartlett takes over on drums, and David Shapiro adds a second guitar to aid in recreating the power and characterful cacophony that Smile Machine is responsible for when blitzing through your speakers:
‘I’ve played with Dan and Steve for years and feel comfortable with them so I wanted them to be part of the lineup. Dave I met through Steve; they’re roommates and we were jamming one time I was at their house rehearsing with Steve, and later I saw Dave play a solo set on guitar and felt like his feel and ear would be a perfect fit.’
Ultimately, Smile Machine is yet another reason to be compelled by the endearing humbleness and genuinely likeable personality of the hard-working powerhouse that is Jordyn Blakely. Ever-reflecting, her creativity, integrity, and work ethic appear to be just as limitless as the sonic realms she roams; Bye For Now is the latest stop along a journey of musical exploration and creation that I for one don’t see concluding any time soon. But what of the future from the perspective of Blakely’s own eyes?
‘…I hope to be touring, and have enough material for a full-length. I hope to have a quiet space, maybe somewhere closer to nature, where I can record ideas and practice drums every day, and expand beyond having my bedroom as my main writing and demoing space.’
Photo credit: Adam Kolodny
Smile Machine is:
Jordyn Blakely – guitar/drums/bass/vocals
You can easily stream or purchase Bye For Now via the usual outlets of Spotify and Bandcamp – including suitably retro cassettes via Exploding In Sound. Since Blakely isn’t on Facebook (and who can blame her?), be sure to seek out the project’s other pages on Twitter and Instagram. One thing’s for sure though: based on what we’re hearing so far and Blakely’s penchant for great songwriting and insurmountable effort towards her craft, this particular musical machine has a great many reasons to smile.
WFA article header photo courtesy of DJ McSweden.