Rochelle Jordan Is Manifesting Magic
Story by Jhoni Jackson / Photography by Nicholas Needham
17 December 2021
After releasing her 2014 progressive R&B work debut, 1021, Rochelle Jordan found herself stuck. The muck in which she was mired was made of multiple issues and the Toronto-bred artist, who now lives in LA, fell into a “really intense depression.” Back then, fears that her unreleased music might never come out became a “bridge-burning situation,” she tells PAPER.
Another seven years passed before she would release new material, but for Jordan, everything happened right on time. “Lessons learned and no regrets,” she says. Play With the Changes, which dropped late April on TOKiMONSTA’s Young Art Records, is a reclamation of Jordan’s artistry — and also a result of learning to do just what the title says.
Laboring through an evolution into the “fuck off and never again mindset,” Jordan then found new perspectives through the practice of manifesting and affirmations. She reminded herself that she is the artist — ”the captain.” (It’s advice she often emphasizes to other artists now.) At the time, she was also dealing with severe flare-ups of sickle cell anemia. “The stress of that whole process also wasn't helping because I was falling sick quite often just trying to scratch my way out of that,” she says.
Raised in the ‘90s on the house and drum and bass her two older brothers constantly blasted, Jordan reached back to her childhood as she returned to music-making, incorporating what she loved growing up into the styles she’d already honed. Created in collaboration with producers KLSH, Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar, Play With the Changes melds together all this into a fresh blend: the album is danceable yet ambient, introspective yet offers earworm hooks, is patient and understated yet with dynamic and complex textures.
Later this month Jordan will open in Toronto for Kaytranada, whom she met through VanJess and is now working with on musical collabs. She aims to take Play With the Changes global, too, especially across Europe and Asia.
Below, PAPER spoke to Rochelle Jordan about her journey: how she managed the past and the lens through which she sees the future, as well.
Let’s talk first about Play With the Changes.
So much went into this project. It's just amazing the way it turned out. It really represents exactly what I wanted to feel from an album, through and through. It took about six years to get it all the way to what I wanted it to be. I had put out a project, my last album, in 2014, and at that point I was kind of on a run, just dropping album after album after project after project. After 1021, I had a moment with myself as an artist where I was bored. It was a bit of burnout and a little bit of boredom at the same time. I knew that I was at a place where I wanted to channel some deeper roots. I'm from the UK, I was actually born in England.
Oh, I didn’t know that.
Yeah, I was raised in Toronto. I moved to Canada at a pretty young age. I was about five years old, but I have two older brothers. They're 10 years older than me, so they came to Canada with music galore from the UK: a lot of drum and bass, a lot of house music. I have one brother in particular that’s autistic and he would play all the rhythms from the UK obsessively because he lives with OCD and he's obsessed with music. When I was young, I was listening through the wall at all times. When I hit that [difficult period] in 2014, I realized a couple things need to happen. I need to silence everything going on in music right now and I really need to tap into some roots from myself. And also be more imaginative with music because I've been doing more progressive R&B, sometimes a mix of different things. But this time I really just wanted to bend the rules and merge genres, which I've always loved: deep house, R&B, and drum and bass.
I was just looking into the UK garage, since you posted on Instagram about asking your mom to dig out a particular comp of that genre that you used to have. Did that style play a factor too?
Definitely. I mean, I was begging my brother like, "Bro, can you tell me the titles of the songs?" Because he brought a briefcase of tapes from the '90s, so as you can imagine, all of them are destroyed or becoming destroyed. It's funny because I've taken on a little bit of the way he goes about music. He's an ear person; he doesn't even know the names of these artists, but he could DJ you a set and it would be crazy. He knows the songs all by heart. [I’d ask], "Can you just tell me the name of the artist? Because I'm trying to find this track." And he's like, "I don't know, but this is what it sounds like," and he'll just play it. I'm kind of the same way too; I'm very much a listener, just taking in what I'm hearing and I just repurpose it and put it back out there.
I was trying to dig for all I could to find sources for inspiration. But more than anything, the silence really helped. Because I knew what I wanted from KLSH, my producer, Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar. I told them what I was going for and, obviously, they're producers so they would know exactly what to tap into from what I was describing to them. But for me, it was just about, can I go back to my inner child and find the inspiration from within, and repurpose it and put it out in my own way without any harsh influence? Obviously, hearing things here and there, from back in the day that I really love, but it was more for me to just be creative on my own, within my own power.
It does. I also really like Play With the Changes as a title. It resonates with me on a certain level in terms of flowing with life and taking life on its own terms. I don't know if that's what you were going for?
You're right on the dot with that. As I was trying, I didn't want to go too deep into it, but at the point in 2014 where I hit that kind of burnout and questioning myself as an artist. There was a lot of stuff going on with me, just a lot of changes happening in life and, at that point, I was becoming very depressed.
I was having a rift with music, too. We have these talents or these gifts and it's like you're having a relationship. People kind of think, "Oh, it's just always perfect and ever-flowing." No, sometimes it can take a horrible course and just kind of stop, and it's for different reasons.
For me, it was a lot of changes. Some would look at it as maybe negative changes, and that's how I was looking at it for a long time until I started to get into manifesting and affirmations. I was spoken to by Jimmy Edgar and his wife, Pilar. They really told me to take it seriously, so I had about a year of getting into that, just channeling my inner spiritual self. In return, [life] was paying me back artistically at that point. I started to look and have a different perspective over some of the things that maybe could be looked at as bad, but were also really crucial learning lessons for me in the business of music especially.
I realized then that these changes that are happening, I can either resist them or I can play with them. I took that and moved that into the music side of things, like, let's be more playful, let's be more imaginative. Let's have more colors, let's be nostalgic, but let's think of the future. What do you want to hear moving forward? And yeah, that's kind of how the title came around. I was like, just play with the changes, just be free.
That's awesome. You know it's not often anymore that you hear of someone taking their time with an album the way it sounds like you did. You really let it organically develop, ferment.
The hiatus is needed with artists sometimes. I realized how much I needed that. I don't think I'm ever going to be an artist that will be on just a rotator that can just put out a body of work like that every year. And I know that, in this day and age, that's a little bit scary because people want everything instantly: instant gratification, instant this and instant that. But for me, I need to feel fulfilled first or you're never going to get a great product. That's just how I feel for myself as an artist.
The hiatus was needed, the lessons learned and that time was needed. The album also evolved. It wasn't always called Play With the Changes. It was called a couple different names. It wasn't always those songs, you know? Some songs came later on down the line, and it just fell together and flowed together so, it was by choice that time, and it was also by circumstance that time. But again that's leaving it in the universe's hands, you know? And just trusting that in the end it would find its way to the ears of the people in the way that I always wanted it to feel like and be like. I feel like I did that.
Photography, production and art direction: Nicholas Needham
Photography assistant: Tanner Abel
Styling: Evan Dombkowski
Hair and makeup: Rochelle Jordan
Location: Nicholas Needham Studio