Jordan Wayne Lee is a Los Angeles, based artist who creates experimental rock music inspired by the organic randomness of nature and the soundscapes of spirituality. Taking conventions and then throwing on his unconventional methods, Jordan Wayne Lee creates looping guitar tones done in single takes and then throws in his spices from a 1971 Fender Rhodes. Jordan Wayne Lee's experimentation has led to his EP ' Constructs Of a Human Sanctuary' and we will be diving right into the opening record "We Are The Sacred Temple."
"We Are The Sacred Temple" opens up with a tense, esoteric drone that resonates with our minds and allows us to tranquil our thoughts. The drones slowly build to more exciting and harmonious sounds that jell together through intoxicating one-off reverb throws. Every sound in "We Are The Sacred Temple" feels like it is all part of the same, all have the same organic source but then is fused with complicated delay and reverb chains to create never before heard tones that will quickly put your mind at peace. "We Are The Sacred Temple" has a bit of that neo-classical soundtrack aesthetic to it, there isn't a dedicated time, but there is still a unified movement between all of the parts that keep the energy flowing. After hearing this one, we will be listening to the rest of the 'Constructs Of a Human Sanctuary' EP.
Meditate to “We Are The Sacred Temple” here.
Welcome to BuzzMusic Jordan Wayne Lee! Your latest release “We Are The Sacred Temple” felt like the perfect tune to meditate to, what types of delay and reverb chains did you have going on to create the esoteric tones?
Thank you! I am so glad to hear that you find it perfect to meditate to. I am excited to share a little about my process and my perspective with you!
For my mix of tones, I have been experimenting and playing with different sounds for about 2 years. I feel like I have finally landed on a mix that is pretty unique and original to what I am trying to do. I run multiple effects to create a mixture of delay and reverb. In my chain I have a BOSS ME-50 running lower levels of sustained reverb and faster delays I can add or remove when needed. This goes into a vintage AKAI Head Rush 2 pedal - It took me a long time to find this pedal and I’m so happy I have this in my arsenal. I run delays and loops through here which I can manage between other tracks. I have it set up to send a signal both through and bypassing to my preamp rack.
From here I have a JamMan Delay where I program 3 different delays set at 72bpm so I can stay synced with analog settings. This also runs separately from my AKAI Head Rush but sends a signal to my preamp rack. The preamp rack is a vintage Yamaha Rev 100 where I add in the reverb before sending the signal out. I also have a 512 effects processor where I can add in more effects and manipulate them manually (reverb, delay, chorus, etc).
From here, I send everything to two separate channels where I can mix both what I am looping and what I am playing live either over the top or underneath loops. This setup allows me to play multiple guitar parts, multiple guitars, and bounce between my two Fender Rhodes pianos live. I also play my guitar with a pick, a cello bow, and with my fingers at various parts to get different sounds and loop on top of each other.
I also have a few other effects and pedals in my chain. The trick is to keep everything minimal and build on top of each other to create a layer of sound and loops. The sound comes out to a Marshall 1960 Lead cabinet where I record straight into my computer. I keep the mixing and engineering to a minimum because I want it to sound like you’re there, in the room with me while I play. If you listen closely, sometimes you can hear the clicking of pedals or room noise. I like it that way. It’s a different approach from the perfectly in-sync over-engineering of music. I like it feeling a little human and natural.
It’s taken me a while to get this tone and setup down for what I needed to accomplish and I’m happy with the results. I intentionally stay away from buying off the shelf gear to sound like any other “xyz” artist. My gear is a collection of vintage and used equipment that I have been finding over the past few years before putting out these records. I’ve gone the other path of buying gear, but I like this approach. As a designer, it feels like I’m collecting layers and textures and creating new sounds.
You told us that you work using self-imposed restrictions, what are some of the restrictions you had in place for your release ‘Constructs Of a Human Sanctuary’?
As a one-man project, you can run the risk of adding too much into a mix or song for compensation because of a lack of other members in a band or overcompensating to fill out a mix on a song. The more I intentionally stripped away the expectations of filling out the sound of a song, the more I find myself enjoying creating new things with these restrictions.
From a design perspective, in my visual work, I lean into foundations around grids, layouts, rules of thirds and golden ratios. Thinking in this way related to music meant approaching the sound in a structured way while also giving me the ability to create and explore within those confines. The use of looping was limited in these songs. It can be very easy to loop multiple sounds and layers to build crescendos and so I wanted to be aware of this and limit myself with the amount of looping and layers I put into each track. I kept the layers and loops at no more than four, but usually sat around 2-3 for these songs. Distortion can be a crutch in ambient post-rock. My distortion levels are set very low. I have two distortions I use. One is very light and the other serves as more of a boost to get sounds over the top of other sounds. For “Constructs of a Human Sanctuary” I used very little distortion. Instead, I used a cello bow on the guitar strings set on clean tones to get that sound.
For instrumentation, I only limited myself to using a guitar and a 1971 Fender Rhodes piano. I play everything in single takes so they are essentially played as live recordings. Composition, arrangement, and effects all happen live. I wanted to be able to create these sounds not just on a record but to be able to play it live as well. It can be very easy to build layers of tracks and do multiple takes for a song, but the challenge here was to create music that is essentially all sounds and tones that are happening in realtime. In ambient post-rock genre, it can be easy to overdo effects and tones. Stomp on multiple pedals and get some weird tones. However, I am a huge fan of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, Russian Circles and Caspian. If you listen closely to those bands, they all have very distinct tones between light and heavy effects. Somewhere in there, I found a tone for what I am doing that sits in a minimal-less-is-more approach to the use of tones and effects. Letting the delay and reverb shine through between notes and layers of sound. The Rhodes piano serves two purposes in my music. First is to build low-end drone layers and soundscapes. The second is to add sparse looping melodies.
The last part of my self-imposed restriction was to create compositions that are minimal in nature. I think my music exists more as an atmospheric experience or environmental feeling. So to try and fit my work into a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus type structure doesn’t make sense. Instead, I create songs that have no resolution. It just exists. It might crescendo. It might be built to nothing. It might go nowhere with only two parts that complement each other. I think composition is somewhat expected in the commodification of current music and I want to step outside of those expectations and explore more of the tonality and feeling within the song rather than try and drive the arrangement to a familiar place. This also somewhat explains why some songs are 9 minutes long. They exist and go where they need to go without being forced. So I limit myself in the arrangement and let the composition take it where it needs to go.
Since playing in multiple styles of bands and then studying music, how have all of those experiences helped shape the music you are creating today?
Part of who I am is the idea of standing at the edge of my own existence. What I mean by that is I am driven to explore look at the world from the edge of culture. In my early days of music I was playing punk rock and hardcore in the late 90s and early 2000s, before these genres started becoming mainstream radio hits as we see in pop-music today. So, I think that this post-modernism is now the status quo. I want to explore and ask myself “what’s next”? Where are the boundaries and explorations in music that I could explore?
There is a sentiment and attitude within the early days of punk rock, hardcore, and 90s shoegaze that gets somewhat lost in the computer-generated technology of music production. Working in “pixel-perfect” digital design, I wanted my work in music to feel more natural and organic in the ways that old underground bands used to get together and play shows at the local VFW or Masonic Lodge with their friends. Those days are gone, but there was a beautiful culture around those scenes. So I think my music is informed by that sentiment but exploring a more beautiful approach to the sound while embracing the rugged, rough, and organic approach to creating and recording.
Music theory definitely informs how I create. Understanding the rules and then figuring out how to break those rules. Either through alternate tunings, playing with modes and inverting scales and keys. Knowing where to go, but asking myself “how can I get there in a different way”. I intentionally choose keys and tunings that create tension within the songs but then actively choose to find ways to make it sound pleasing within the tension. I lend a lot of that to really taking the time to understand music theory.
I think a lot of punk and hardcore music I played in the past was about the energy and emotion of young angsty aggression. As I get older, the aggression turns into understanding. Life experiences inform and shift the strength of the angst to a feeling of acceptance and self-awareness. Instead of creating loud heavy music that the audience experiences like a kick in the face, I ask myself, “can someone experience that same feeling through beauty and space?” I try to create space for the listener instead of imposing any narrative, message or forced ideas within the music. Stepping away from music and understanding life through experiences has informed a perspective about how I approach music. Beyond trying to create a chart-topping single, or fitting into a genre. The music reflects life for me to explore tonality and sound that resonates deeper within myself. It serves as a form of expression informed by my worldview, experiences outside of music, and looking at the world through a lens of culture, art, spirituality, and beyond.
Since stepping away from music for almost a decade, what was the spark of inspiration to get back into doing music?
Life is an interesting journey. For each of us, we are on our own journey trying to define and understand meaning and purpose. When I was younger, I thought that what I had wanted was to pursue a career in music and actively forced that journey. However, the universe, or God, had different intentions. It didn’t work out as I had planned.
I left music and went into design because it was a path that opened up to me after designing websites, album art and merchandise for other bands and record labels - which then translated to a career in design working for brands like Disney, REI Co-Op, Apple, ESPN and many others. But throughout this journey, life taught me many lessons and those lessons came to light in 2018.
I got married and found myself reflecting on my personal journey. I wasn’t happy. I had worked on so many amazing projects and designed a lot of really cool things, but deep down there was a missing piece I had tried to fill. I hadn’t considered the idea of God in a very long time and I found myself searching for answers in every form and fashion.
Seeking answers through different religions, practices, or ideologies. Then I had this spiritual awakening. The idea of meaning and purpose became crystal clear to me. I realized the things I was chasing were not in line with the timing I had imposed on myself. I learned to forgive myself. I quit drinking alcohol and gave up tobacco immediately (an addiction I had struggled with for years) and I found myself seeking after a greater purpose for myself.
This led to me picking up music again. It wasn’t intentional as much as I felt being pulled to create music. I found myself waking up and playing new songs and sounds every day for months before getting to my design work and running my creative agency, Neon Wilderness.
I think the spark had always been there, but when the timing of my journey wasn’t what I wanted or thought I needed, I chose to ignore it and become angry at myself for it. I had to learn forgiveness before I could have created the music you hear now. I think this music is the most honest and vulnerable work I’ve ever made because I made the choice to step into that forgiveness and really seek after what that sounds like in audio form. So for me, my music is more about picking up where the journey left off and it feels like a new chapter built-in strength, forgiveness and love.
There is a really great quote by Carl Jung that I love. He says “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” I think my music is acknowledging both the roots of hell I once had while simultaneously reaching for the heavens. Within that sentiment, as I look at culture from an observational perspective (as a designer) I see that we are on the last phases of post-modernism. Whereas we want to see radical change within the systems built through the modernist movements of society dating back to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment era. Fast forward to today and we have seen the impacts of post-modernism emerge since the 1960s through art, music, and culture. And I believe we are nearing the end of this cultural movement into the next phase which is “Metamodernism”, where feelings of “both/and” can exist instead of “either/or”. Where feelings of sincerity and irony oscillate and we exist within both modern and post-modern feelings. I think this feeling is where a lot of my music exists. Between both feelings is where we find the truth and I think my music is exploring the pursuit of truth without words.
What's next for you?
For Music: Continuing to write and explore through new songs. Collaborating with other musicians. Forming a full band (hopefully) where I envision playing live that feels more like an experience. Considering visuals, sound baths, or new ways to present art in forms of not only music, but visuals.
For work (design/art): I am partnering with organizations across the world developing brand and design strategy to further the mission of organizations focused on environmental, humanitarian or faith-based initiatives with my company Neon Wilderness in Los Angeles.