BY GABE LICHT
MINNEAPOLIS, MN As Nick Jordan finished his set during the Are You Local? 2017 Showcase at First Avenue Feb. 17, Star Tribune music critic Chris Riemenschneider took the stage and shared a few words about Jordan’s performance.
“He made a statement that, last year, Prince came and watched the acts,” Jordan said. “He said, ‘I wish Prince could have been here to witness Nick Jordan’s set.’ I was like, ‘Wow, you don’t have to say that.’”
Riemenschneider’s statement was fitting, given the influence Prince had on Jordan, who was raised by his mother, Faith Meyerson, in Delano.
“I saw Prince live a couple times and danced at Paisley Park and was so influenced by his music,” Jordan said. “For that, I’m forever grateful.”
He’s also grateful for the Are You Local? best-new-band contest that paved the way for the experience.
Jordan’s friend, Ness Nite had been a finalist in the contest a year earlier, providing a glimpse of the opportunities the contest could provide, and prompting him to enter the contest this go-around.
“I told myself, ‘I’m still local in the Twin Cities, and it’s an option that makes sense, so I’ll apply,’” Jordan said. “I had every intention to take it all the way.”
He was confident that, given a chance on the stage, he would be able to do so. Getting to the stage, however, was not a given.
“They had 92 submissions,” Jordan said. “From there, critics at the Star Tribune narrow it down to 16. Voting becomes open to the public. You can vote for everyone from 0 to 10. People can vote once a day. That determines the top five who move on to the showcase at the Turf Club.”
Public voting injected uncertainty into Jordan’s fate in the contest.
“The thing that scared me was the voting,” Jordan said. “What kind of followers do these other acts have? I don’t have thousands of followers, but I have a very supportive community of family and friends who have always had my back . . . People came through.”
With his supporters doing their part, it was now up to Jordan to come through with a winning performance at the Turf Club Feb. 6, despite jet lag from a seven-hour flight from Iceland on top of a six-hour time difference.
Despite his exhaustion, Jordan took a nap in the green room and took the stage with confidence.
“It felt really good,” Jordan said. “It was a really solid performance.”
In a Star Tribune article, Riemenschneider wrote, “He took the stage like a tornado, his billowy white shirt twisting in the wind while two male dancers got swept up in his rapid movement.”
Eight Star Tribune critics planted in the audience to judge the contest took notice, but Jordan wasn’t sure it would be enough.
“We ended up tying with Kiss the Tiger,” Jordan said. “They’re awesome rock-and-rollers led by an awesome young woman named Meg. They’re super good. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m screwed.’”
But the tiebreaker was based on the number of 1 ratings each artist received, putting Jordan on top.
“I was shocked. My dancers were really excited and jumping up and down,” Jordan said, referencing his friends from Energy Dance Collective.
That win netted Jordan $1,000, a guitar amp shaped like the state of Minnesota, and the First Avenue performance, which was surreal for Jordan.
“That was just such a moment,” Jordan said. “I was blacked out. I don’t remember the performance.”
Little things about performing at First Avenue meant a lot to Jordan.
“I had my own Glam Doll donuts,” Jordan said. “Sometimes, for artists performing in the Mainroom, they send them to the artist. There’s one shaped like a star like the ones on the wall there . . . I was like, ‘I have a Glam Doll donut with my name on it. It’s legit.’ We had to take pictures.”
Both Jordan’s shows at the Turf Room and First Avenue were highly regarded by local critics.
Riemenschneider referred to Jordan’s contest performance as “full-bore” and “no-doze,” while Lillian Speakman, of the Current, called his First Avenue performance “enthralling.”
“The range and power of his voice, as well as his unwavering energy throughout the set, made it clear why Jordan had emerged triumphant as best new act,” Speakman wrote.
Their praise meant a lot to Jordan.
“It’s just very humbling,” Jordan said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to show what I’m about. In some senses, it seems like it’s from out of nowhere. In other senses, we have worked for this. I’m 23, which is young in some eyes, but there are a lot of moments when I thought something was going to happen, and I got humbled many times in life by the closing doors. You really have to be patient and trust it will come your way when it’s time.”
Jordan has come a long way since his days growing up in Delano, which was a mixed bag for him.
“In one sense, I had good friends and really good teachers, especially at the high school,” Jordan said, referencing theater director Barb Roy, English teacher Jim VanCura, and science teacher Karen Hohenstein by name. “In another sense, there’s really a lack of focus on the arts in Delano and there’s not a lot of diversity. There’s not a lot of people who look like me or are interested in the same music.”
It was as a junior or senior at Delano High School that Jordan decided he wanted to pursue a career in music. Initially, he thought that career would be in the theater.
“I thought maybe I’d go into theater,” Jordan said. “I can sing, dance, act, OK, fine. As I got older and about to graduate . . . I was fatigued with the thought of performing six days a week and constantly being handed someone else’s script and being told to interpret it. I felt I had something to say myself and wanted to take more creative control.”
Jordan honed his skills while majoring in business administration and music business, and minoring in recording arts at the University of St. Thomas. He spent a lot of time training his voice and body and “writing a lot of bad songs.”
Jordan estimates that 95 percent of his early songs were “garbage,” but he kept working at it until he found his writing style fueled by life experience.
“I suppose a lot of it is just life in the most general sense,” Jordan said. “It starts with things I’ve been through. The more songs you write, the less it becomes like a journal entry. How can you make it real, but also applicable so others feel it’s their story, as well? . . . You have to find a balance between making it personal and making sure it’s like everyone else’s story, too.”
Jordan also strives to find balance in his day-to-day life, which has included a struggle with depression.
“I’m honest about mental illness,” Jordan said. “It’s not something that goes away. It’s something I have to learn to deal with and handle. I have to find ways like trying to exercise every day. With being with Energy Dance Collective, I get to move and get the endorphins going and be with my friends and laugh. Writing new music if there’s things I’ve worked on, I need to put pen to paper and write. Even if it’s not good, it will make me feel better.”
Throughout his journey, Jordan has learned a lot about who he is.
“My blackness and my queerness extend beyond my identity,” Jordan said. “I embrace otherness. I’ve never been comfortable with labels.”
That includes the labels on his music.
“It’s hard to define my music genre-wise,” Jordan said. “It’s rooted in R&B. I embrace the otherness and try to live my life in a way that, ‘Let’s just be honest about everything.’ I don’t have anything to hide.”
What does the future hold for Jordan?
For starters, a new project to follow up his EP titled “NJ,” that he released October 2015.
“I have a title in mind, but I’m keeping it to myself,” Jordan said. “I put out my first single called ‘Petty.’ It’s streaming on my Soundcloud. I wanted to see how it would do.”
Pretty well, so far, considering it is playing on the Current.
“Petty” is just one example of what Jordan is trying to accomplish on his new project.
“I’m expanding my sounds and challenging myself with the melodies and stories I can tell,” Jordan said. “I love telling narratives and being creative. I’ve worked a lot on the production of it.”
Long-term, Jordan has lofty goals.
“I’d like to find national management that can help me get shows outside of the Twin Cities and Minnesota,” Jordan said. “ . . . There are a lot of things to look forward to. I want to go all the way.”