Winner of December’s songwriting competition is an indie-folk multi-instrumentalist whose home is Florida, Tennessee and 46 other states of America
ncredibly, another 5,000-plus hopefuls entered our monthly songwriting competition with ReverbNation last month, and it certainly doesn’t get any easier for us to consider every submission and pick just one winner. The music we get to listen through varies greatly in both style – ranging from folk to hip hop, via electronica and Christian rock – and origin, with entries coming in from across the US, the UK, Europe and beyond. If there’s anything we’ve learnt from this contest, it’s that there are a lot of people writing songs out there, and that the ‘songwriter’ is a diverse role that can be pivotal in practically any genre of music.
December’s winner, Jordan Eastman, is a great example of a singer-songwriter who is as difficult to pin-down as our contest is. Leaving his family home of Florida to live in his truck and travel across the US, Eastman has spent the last several years sleeping in graveyards, playing on street corners, and playing over 200 US shows a year across 48 states. What is even more impressive is that he’s managed this gruelling tour schedule without the assistance of agents or management – an admirable feat of determination and desire to perform his songs.
But we didn’t know any of this when we first heard Aweigh! My Weight! Away! – Jordan’s excellent indie-folk pop song that successfully grabbed our attention. We also didn’t know that he began writing and playing piano at the age of five years old, and has since expanded his musicality to play more than 20 different instruments. In fact, there was a lot we didn’t know, so we caught up with Jordan to find out more…
So you’re in Nashville now?
“Yes sir, I’m originally from Florida, but moved to Nashville in 2011. One day, completely on a whim, I woke up one morning and was talking to my dad, and said ‘I think I’m going to go to Nashville’. He said ‘When are you going?’ and I was like ‘I’m leaving tomorrow morning.’ I sold all my stuff that day, moved out and I’ve been here ever since.”
Were you writing your own material back in Florida?
“I’ve been writing since I’ve been a little kid, but in Florida it was a lot more rock’n’roll based and I was playing bass mostly. I’d play folk songs, but I sped them up and played them. It wasn’t until I came to Nashville that I started busking on the street and accepted the fact that I could play a song the way it was written, instead of trying to make it something it wasn’t.”
Have you been writing on your own, or do you ever collaborate?
“I write mostly on my own. I never really do any co-writing. I like to bring other people to sing with me, but it’s always something that I’ve written.”
What instruments do you use to write?
“When I’m on the road it’s usually the guitar or the banjo, because I’ll have them readily available. I’ll write on the mandolin a little bit, but I don’t feel the same versatility. If I’m in a music store and I pick up a random resonator, or a ukulele, I can sit down and hash out a song really quick, before someone kicks me out. I really like writing with the piano a lot – I come up with completely different songs.”
What’s your creative process?
“It’s not really a process. It’s more that I hear a song in my head and I write it down. It’s pretty much a daily thing too. My little brother and I would race each other trying to write songs. I did an ‘ironman’ songwriting competition one time to see if you could write a whole song in an hour… and I wrote ten!
“I’m pretty introverted, so when it comes to songwriting it’s about the thing I want to say to someone, but I don’t necessarily want to say to someone face-to-face. So I don’t ever really sit down and try to write it – I just hear the whole song and say what I want to say over it.”
Do you ever go back to a song and re-write it?
“Never, it’s always the first time and it’s finished. I might find that I’ll sing it a little differently, but as a general rule I’ll write it down and then it’s done.”
That’s very much a Dylan approach to songwriting, and he’s obviously an influence. Any other musical heroes that inspire what you do?
“It’s funny because I don’t really listen to that much Dylan, but he’s definitely an influence. I’m a huge Joe Strummer fan, I really like Woody Guthrie and John Hartford’s another big one. Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthem would be a current one that I’m a big fan of. They all appear like human beings saying what’s on their mind. There’s not that whole rockstar mentality or trying to be something they’re not. They’re very down to earth, very grounded and say something in a way that I completely believe what they’re saying.”
Have you been touring much recently?
“Yeah, I just got back from a North East tour. In 2012 I played 271 shows and then in 2013 I did 201, so I’ve probably covered over 100,000 miles in the last 3 years. I’ve just tried to hit as much ground and make something happen, I guess. I sort of have an American cowboy lifestyle. My stuff’s all packed up and I’m ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
“It’s been really cool from the storytelling songwriting aspect: I’ve been able to get under the skin of different cities. I’m living in my truck, so I have to find something to do, otherwise I’m sitting in a Walmart parking lot! I’ll go to open mics, meet people, play a show, and hang out with people afterwards. It’s cool because I have such a different perspective. I think it’s helped my writing and helped me understand what true American culture is.”
How do you feel about the idea of mainstream success? Does it worry you that you couldn’t keep that same grounded quality to what you do?
“I definitely would want to have mainstream success – that’s the goal. I think if an artist tells you they don’t, they’re lying! An artist wants to be able to make a career out of it; they don’t want to have to work a day job. I definitely feel like, with my personality, I could handle mainstream success without feeling egotistical or feeling like I lost that, especially as I’ve spent so much time really diving into culture and getting to know people. In a way I would have a broader spectrum to observe and draw from.
”The ultimate goal would be to have a label, tour and do it for a living where it’s not a struggle and support a family. I think the goal of any musician is to make it your job. I mean, it already is, but I guess I want to be able to tour because I want to, not because I have to. Right now, I can go on a tour three years straight and be completely fine because each show is paying me to get to the next show, but as soon as you try to stop you have a month before you need to get a job.”
What’s next for you?
“This year I’m trying to record another album, and I’m making a music video for Aweigh! My Weight! Away!. In February I’m leaving for a 3 month tour of the US, but I’d like to come and do a European tour sometime over the summer, even if I can get over there and play on the streets.”
Interview: Aaron Slater
Jordan Eastman’s album 1924 is out now and you can watch the video to lead single Hold To Your Anchors below. Also check out Jordan’s excellent song Aweigh! My Weight! Away!, that was this month’s winning submission, on his ReverbNation profile here: www.reverbnation.com/jordaneastmanmusic
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, then the good news is, our monthly songwriting competition is still ongoing! To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation and submit your track via the competition page. Each month, we’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one.