Perhaps the best way to achieve absolution, whether from self or higher being or elsewhere, is to give a voice to each and every part of you that needs cleansing, and to sing out your sins. Reverent, the new(ish) project from multi-disciplinary artist/writer/label owner Jordan Reyes, incorporates soulful harmonies and beautiful rhythmic patterns and wholly intimate lyricism, done entirely in a cappella, and emanating entirely from one voice. “Hums” and “ahh’s” and “bums” and other onomatopoeic delights are fed through a loop pedal, constructing a melodic cathedral for the most unorthodox confession to take place. The composition is simultaneously raw and elaborate. Everything predetermined to a T, the pinpointed singing of every note acts as a brick upon which the next [loop] will be built.
A new cassette was just released by Reyes’ new tape label, American Damage, and on it is the capture of a brilliant and passionate live performance at the Kitty Cat Klub in Minneapolis, from last September. Reverent (formerly Reverence, trademarks be damned) manifests the singular character of The Reverend, through whom Reyes expresses himself, and bares all. It’s the most personal and private choir performance you’ve ever witnessed, like sitting for a mass and seeing the priest (or reverend) strip and etch “I’m sorry” into his flesh with a crucifix. And if you’re lucky enough to have seen a live performance, it’s not too far off from what you get. Donning a fishnet top (when I saw him/pictured) and delivering every note as though life itself depended on it, Reyes spills his guts in ways that are both magnificent and uncomfortable. It feels like you shouldn’t be invited in so closely. To anyone. But there it is for you to see, to feel, to hear.
Listen to the whole damn thing here, and check out a great Q+A with Reyes below.
Impose: When did Reverent start as a concept? And then in practice?
Jordan Reyes: Reverent basically began at the very end of 2015 while living in Miami. I had been playing folk music as Architeuthis and then Jordan Reyes before that. I used to play every month at this bar Lizard’s Liquid Lounge in Chicago from 2013-2014, which used to be Chicago’s oldest lesbian bar – nothing that even remotely resembled industrial music, even though I had a lot of love for that realm, and have been a bit obsessed since I read the Industrial Culture Handbook years ago. This Miami head Kenichi Ohme was doing a thing called Cyborg Sundays at Churchill’s pub, and he asked if I’d do a set like two days before the show. I was like “Okay – fuck it. I’m going to do try this,” and came up with the name “Taphophile” for the project. That first set was just me running vocals through a few pedals – distortion, a memoryman, and a Dunlop wah – doing power electronics. My mic cut out at the end, and so I just screamed myself raw, and couldn’t speak for like four days. I loved it. But I felt limited, and my background as a dude who performed in musicals in high school and did dance started to rear its choreographed, consonant head, so I decided to try and write basically pop songs again. I don’t think most people define my music as pop, but that’s kind of how I think of it.
I: How’d you land on the name/identity of Taphophile? What prompted the change to Reverence/Reverent?
JR: I originally called the project Taphophile based on it being a power electronics project, and it was named after a person who’s no longer in my life who enjoyed cemeteries. There’s kind of this over-the-top, somewhat absurdly comedic aspect of power electronics, and so the Hot Topic-esque name made sense back then. But as the project turned to being more personal, dwelling on the ideas of sublimity and divinity, I thought a name change would be suitable. I was talking with my girlfriend about the name, and kind of how “Taphophile” made me cringe. She’s kind of my filter or editor since she understands the project extremely well, but also knows when I’m being too self-indulgent or bombastic. But when I said “Reverence,” and explained the definition and its application, she was into it, and when she’s into something, I know it’s good to go. She’s like the gatekeeper. I had to change it to Reverent very recently just because of a copyright thing – another band owned the trademark to “Reverence,” and told me I needed to change it, so I did.
I: Could you speak a little about the aspects guilt and shame embedded in the project?
JR: I’m not the kind of person who discounts religion, even if I feel like it’s damaged me. But religion and a strict upbringing can build an innate sense of unworthiness, and shame. A lot of religious learning and texts have conditioned me to be ashamed of biologically-programmed functionality. I felt particularly guilty about sexuality, and Reverent tries to capture the feeling I had a lot – and sometimes still have – of being trapped in skin that makes you do things you feel terrible about, but can’t stop. That’s what the first song I wrote – “Ghost” – is about, feeling like a ghost when you’re most vulnerable and intimate.
JR: I’ve also been sober for more than four years at this point, and sometimes thinking of myself pre-sobriety seems like a bad dream. It’s hard reconciling the two. Sobriety has taught me a lot about compassion and second chances, and is probably the best decision I’ve ever made and will ever make, but when I think about myself from years eighteen to twenty-three, which were the years I drank, I can’t help but wish that history weren’t there.
I: You’ve spoken of the redemptive qualities of the project. Where does it come from for you? Where would you hope it comes from for your audience?
JR: I’m going to answer this by talking about hijacking my own worst tendencies. Everyone handles addiction differently. I see my addictive personality as a superpower. I wonder if the same obsessive quality that made me catch the 151 original Pokémon also informed my need to drink. I know there’s something inside me that can only function at an extreme, which is both a blessing and a curse. When I first quit drinking, I realized that the only things I cared about were music and stories. For lack of nuance, I replaced Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with shows and books, and I became deeply, unwaveringly addicted. A lot of people don’t feel the need to be redeemed, but I do. I always have. I feel a need to do penance. Sometimes I feel a need to be punished. But one of the reasons I am so entrenched in my addiction to music and literature is because I think it has the capacity to make us love each other more fully and more realistically. I think that sharing stories and art increases empathetic response. I’ve yet to see that not be true. Redemption is an ongoing process for me, but every time I connect with someone, whether it’s through Reverent, selling records, or enjoying a nice tea, I’m trying to impart the idea that I’m not unfeeling. I guess I hope that anyone listening continues that.
I: Your performances have also been described as overtly sexual? Could you speak on the sexuality behind Reverent?
JR: Absolutely – my lyrics have always had a lot to do with sexuality, but not necessarily the delivery. For most of the first year I was playing, I wore street clothes, but that was imperfect. Presentation is important. Around fall of 2016, I began exploring aesthetic by wearing masks and costumes, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the look until the first day on my tour last June. Before, I was wearing my standard fishnet suit and this terrifying custom-made scarecrow mask, which my girlfriend doesn’t allow me to openly display in the house, and I would put it on after the first song of a set, masks suck to sing in, so I bought this lipstick for the “transformation.” It was more subtle, but also jarring. I’m a tall bald dude with a lot of body hair, and when that kind of masculinity gets co-opted by something feminine or queer or private, it makes for a great response. I’m not an essentialist, by any means, but I also realized that I could move in a more “feminine” way to seem seductive and alluring while performing, which emphasizes the sexual aspects of the performance. I try to make a lot of softer, wave-like movements with my body to make it enticing.
I: You’ve moved around a lot [from LA to DC, to Chicago, to North Carolina, to Miami, to Minnesota, and now back to Chicago again]. How would you say this has affected you you and your approach to Reverent?
JR: Each place has imparted something different to me. When I was in LA, I learned to walk and talk, which are good bases for starting a performance project. Just kidding – kind of. In all seriousness, the thing about moving a lot is you get very good at being alone and also at making friends easily. I also realized there’s so much incredible shit going on everywhere. I don’t remember the last time I was bored. Even while I was living in rural Minnesota the last 1.5 years, there was cool stuff to do. Like – there was this one guy in a tiny town called Blooming Prairie who owned an antique shop, and he had a taxidermy museum in the back of his shop, which even had a passenger pigeon – they’ve been extinct for over a hundred years at this point! Insane! That kind of stuff is everywhere. All you have to do is pay attention. Reverent has definitely benefited from years of solitude where I was just writing and reading and practicing in my apartment, but it’s also benefited from a need to push.
I: Now that you’ve moved back to Chicago, you’ve started playing with Ono. What’s that like?
JR: Man, ONO is the fucking best. They are true freaks. It’s a complete honor to play with them. Every time I talk to P Michael or Travis, I get my mind blown. God, how many book, movie, and music recommendations have I gotten from them? They’re people who light a fire under you – like “what the hell have you done, motherfucker?” Obviously, no one in the band would ever say anything like that, but they don’t have to! You know – Travis was in New York during the Stonewall Riots. P Michael is a veritable encyclopedia of music. They played with me last June, and both really loved hearing the Reverent material, and P Michael’s always talking about how he wants more voices in the band, so he started thinking about how my “dystopian doo wop” could fit into the band.
I: You’re also a writer. Could you speak on this part of your life? Might I ask, much because I’m trying to seek a similar path, how do you fit both writing and music into the mix?
JR: Well, I just quit my day job a little over a month ago to do music/writing full-time, and I will say that it has gone much better than I expected. I had a comfortable office job before – working in distribution, and for years I thought “okay, well I’ll just do this writing thing at night and on weekends until it makes enough that I can live off it.” And then, you know, you start making money, but you don’t have enough time to nurture it. I decided to quit my job at the end of 2017 the previous April, so I had time to save money. The music writing world can seem very closed off – a lot of it is about who you know, but sometimes the good guys win, too. I feel very fortunate to be publishing content on Bandcamp these days. Jes Skolnik fields my pitches there, and they’re an incredible editor, and that site has let me write about some incredible things. That site is true music journalism – one of the few outlets I will read these days to actually discover new music. I will say that it took a lot of time. I published over half a million words before I got paid. I probably didn’t need to kill myself that much, but I’m into self-flagellation. For a while I wouldn’t write for anyone other than myself – I had a blog called Delayed Gratification back in the day. It’s funny – I used to have to fit music and writing in my day on top of running this warehouse in Minnesota, and now I write and play music and sell records and have to figure out how to fit life as a human being into that. There’s that William Gass quote “You have fallen into art – return to life!” But life’s a fad. It’ll pass. Art is forever.
I: Could you talk about your new label, American Damage? How’d that start?
JR: I started buying and selling used records a long time ago. I’d buy a co-worker’s used records they didn’t want to spend time listing on Discogs, and start selling them. When I decided to quit my job, I started a serious record purge. I mean like 60-70% of my records. But I also started getting in contact with labels and small presses, especially in other countries, to distro their stuff, basically figuring that if I wanted a copy of this thing, then a bunch of my friends probably did, too. The first release was just a demo of Reverent stuff I recorded on my phone like a year and a half ago. I put a line out from my phone into my tape deck to make a master tape and then used a duplicator to make a bunch of copies. The second two releases were pro-dubbed – Autumn Casey’s This Is No Dream and Reverent Live Exorcism 2017. I always wanted to have a collection of Autumn’s piano songs. Autumn used to have this piano in her house in Miami and when I’d hang out there, she’d play. I was like – how is this not being released? It was another one of those – if I want this, probably other people do too scenarios. The Reverent tape was recorded live in September, and I loved how it turned out. I mostly just wanted to have something to tour on for that.
JR: I love writing the poems for the covers. Autumn and I collaborated on hers. I want to write more poetry. Sara Fantry from Weeping Icon asked me a few weeks ago to submit something to her zine Seedy Clips based on the question “When is violence okay to employ?” I had to think about it a lot. Sara’s the truth. Smart. Talented. Eloquent. I think the zine just went to print.
I: And you’re still co-running Moniker Records with Robert Manis. How’s that going? And how do you separate the two?
JR: Moniker’s great! We’ve got some killer shit coming out soon. On February 23, we have the debut LP Eyesore from Minneapolis queer punk band Royal Brat. Seriously catchy songs. I don’t really even listen to punk much anymore, but this band slays! Then we have a 7” from Miami art rock trio Parivh coming out in March called Family Witchcraft Attack. It’s a collection of four conceptual, pop bangers. In April – actually on April 20th – we’re releasing the debut LP from Chicago sultry synthpop band Gentle Leader XIV, which features Jeff from Running, Maria from Hollows, and Lisa McDuffie. And then in May we’re releasing the new LP from Minneapolis postpunk band Waveless. They get lumped into shoegaze, but I think they’re more of like early Modest Mouse.
JR: The two are pretty easy to separate for me. Robert likes experimental music and he loves the dancier industrial stuff, especially early Ministry, but he’s not a noise head – you won’t catch him listening to Genocide Organ or Incapacitants or Koufar or Military Position like me, not that I’ve released any power electronics releases…yet. American Damage is an experimental label that does cassettes, based on a tradition in noise circles. Moniker primarily releases things on vinyl and is based on more of an indie music or punk tradition. Needless to say, both of them are rooted in a DIY ethos.
Check out Reverence on tour!
2.21 – MPLS @ Eagle’s Club
2.22 – Chicago @ Tritriangle (Jordan Reyes Set)
2.23 – Chicago @ Malevolent Planet
2.24 – Bloomington/Indiannapolis @ TBA
2.26 – Nashville @ Mouthhole
2.27 – Chapel Hill @ Nightlight
2.28 – D.C. @ Rhizome
3.1 – Harrisonburg @ The Little Grill
3.2 – Baltimore @ The Crown
3.3 – NY @ Alphaville
3.4 – Providence @ TBA
3.5 – Boston @ TBA
3.6 – Philadelphia @ R&D Vinyl
3.7 – Pittsburgh @ TBA
3.8 – Cincinnati @ Northside Yacht Club