Jordan Stephens debut EP, P.I.G (Pain Is Good), is released on Friday. “I feel quite vulnerable and exposed. It feels different because I’m a different person.”
Jordan Stephens answers our WhatsApp call in the middle of feeding his dog, Spike. A collie-retriever who’s name, Jordan assures, is not a tough name at all. “Except maybe the Spike in Buffy, which is quite scary”.
It’s a midweek evening, and I never expected to speak with Jordan about the necessity of communicating with your partner to make sure you’re good at giving head. But it’s these discussions that he is having in his debut EP, discussions around consent, communication and numbness. P.I.G (Pain Is Good) is going to be pivotal, and Jordan is “really proud of this stuff because I feel it more than I have done in the past. I want to encourage others to feel proud of themselves.”
On the day we spoke, Jordan had been brainstorming for a new TV series: “I’ve been commissioned to write an episode of a series. I’ve never done it before. As we speak, they’re trying to find a writing partner for me, but like, I’m an only child, so I want to try it myself before they do that.”
The show will be called ‘Woke’. “I’ll leave it at that,” says Jordan, “I’m actually confident that from that title, you know where I’m at. All I will say about it is, it’s an exploration of the humanity of it all. In a world where everyone has to be right, there are also just human beings who always get things wrong. That’s quite a good tag. I might remember that.”
Multifaceted, multitalented, and once upon a time, he “was like a different person”.
“It feels weird” to be releasing music as just Jordan Stephens, he says. Jordan was one half of Rizzle Kicks, as well as releasing music in band Wildhood and under the name Al the Native. “I feel quite vulnerable and exposed” to be releasing music alone. “I’ve had the opportunity to release a couple of albums in the last few years, one album as Al the Native was a hip-hop album, and I didn’t release it because I had a breakdown. But this music [P.I.G] is music that has come at a time when I am sober and feeling everything. And it’s fucking scary.
During Wildhood “I was totally off my face,” Jordan explains. “I can’t remember making a lot of those songs.” And the first track released from the new EP, ‘Found in Space’, was one of the first songs he wrote sober – and not rapping. He tells me, “I sent it to my mate Josh who said, ‘I reckon that’s one of the best songs you’ve ever written’”. And Josh isn’t wrong.
‘Found in Space’ faces issues with relationships and mental health. In Jordan’s latest, he opens up about feeling numb to his struggles: “I feel like a zombie / I feel numb inside / so I tell you this is why I / struggle with my mind / let me get my mind right / there are times you ask me why you feel as though I’m out of faith / and I say plenty of love is found in space / let’s find our way.”
With each new release, he says “It’s scary because I’m watching it and I’m feeling it. I’ve always got that thing in the back of my mind that I’ve already, in the UK at least, done the journey, but for me now it feels different because I’m almost like a different person.”
Jordan was “totally off my face”, during previous music projects. He says there are different versions of him high. “Towards the end of the second Rizzle Kicks album it was very much alcohol and harder drugs, but then for a lot of the other albums, I was actually overdosing on this non-prescription ADHD medication that made me hyper-productive, unbelievably productive, but I think I was quite in my own head. I was really good at writing really complicated things with loads of words, and I love that, and sometimes I miss that. If I took enough speed nowadays, I could probably get back there, but what I’m interested in now, with this new music, is trying to say more in less, and also more digestible terms.”
As with many artists, Jordan experiences revelations of truth in his writing. “I have a weird relationship with my own creative voice. Often I will write something, and it will tell me how I feel about it, and then I’ll choose to listen. I wrote one song that never came out, it was a whole song about intimacy issues, and I only established my intimacy issues a year and a half after it was written. I was like, how have I written an entire song about it and not realised? With this [EP], I felt like I could’ve done better lyrically, that I should’ve written in a more ambiguous, poetic way. But when ‘Found in Space’ came out, I thought to myself I take a few of those lyrics for granted, because they are touching on me battling with myself. It’s a good reflection of my own investigation around love. I’m going to investigate love a lot for the next few years.”
“Love is everything,” Jordan says.
“I hadn’t even considered the fact that not many people had been singing about similar things to what I say in ‘Found in Space’. I’m sure I’ve heard artists sing similarly, but that vulnerability or whatever, that is definitely a space I would like to occupy in regard to personal relationships.
And love comes in many shapes, sizes, and expressions. It’s all love, as long as there is communication and consent. “There’s one song on the EP about going down on a girlfriend,” Jordan begins to discuss the track, ‘Teach Me’. Jordan sings, “I can pay attention / Like every good boy should / I don’t want to be anywhere other than here / Grab my hair if you want to / Take a look when you need… I don’t think you understand how much I like it”.
“I sent it to this artist to draw something, and she sent me this really wicked pocket essay back talking about how important it is to talk about healthy consent between a couple. I hadn’t looked at it like that; obviously I knew that girls probably liked it because, why wouldn’t you want to hear that someone likes going down on you? But I actually hadn’t looked at it from a consent perspective. But I fucking mean it as well, you’ve got to learn this shit. You’ve got to communicate. You can’t rubbish at giving head.” And so Jordan says it, so shall it be done.
He then asks, “Does it feel honest to you? Carrying on from ‘Found in Space’?” after I told him I’d had the EP on repeat since I received it. I obviously start gushing about how magic his new music is. “Really? Genuinely?” he asks, and I’m sure I can hear him smile through my speakerphone. You can feel this music is Jordan Stephens, and he loves what he’s doing, which means you’ll love it too.
Jordan was involved in The Pound Project, a book project which publishes essays. Jordan’s was titled ‘I’m a Pussy’. It highlighted the ease of not using the word pussy. “It’s not that hard. I genuinely don’t use the word pussy anymore. It’s not that hard. I use it in context of an actual vagina; I’d never say ‘you’re a pussy’. It’s really easy to not say that.” He then expands on this, explaining how he’d like to develop a Bechdel Test but for music. “So much urban and hip-hop music I love, but I feel like there is nowhere you can listen to most commercial hip-hop without playing into the same misogynist undertones. Not even specifically hip-hop, but other genres too, I’d love to do a test. You could then have a list of songs that have passed the test that you can rap along to guilt-free.”
Calling someone a pussy arguably comes from someone’s own insecurities. “There should be more of an encouragement for men to encourage other men to present themselves in a different way, I think. I’m just looking at it from the male perspective.”
This idea is touched upon in one of Jordan’s new tracks, ‘WDYWFM’ (Why Don’t You Want to Fuck Me’. But it’s not Jordan. “That song isn’t me, man. It’s this concept that you can earn money and stick on a nice suit and you’re somehow entitled a woman’s body. I find it kind of fascinating. I always saw these guys when I used to go out clubbing, these dudes in this weird space where there is seemingly no shame in terms of encouraging or having to push or persuade [a woman]. I’m not an idiot, I know in the world of dating there is a nuance that some people want to have a little back and forth, but I saw behaviour that was persuasive. It was almost like why are you persuading someone to want to get with you?” Jordan calls it ‘bizarre’ with a shocked giggle. “But those people will never be vulnerable about that will they? They would probably turn around and demonise the girl who’s rejected them. It’s sooooo lame. They act like they rate themselves, but they actually hate themselves. Anyone who is comfortable in their own body wouldn’t have to slight someone.”
In his 2017 Guardian article, Jordan wrote: “If you’re one of these guys who takes pride in jumping from girl to girl or brags about breaking hearts, you have no idea what it feels like to truly love and trust yourself.” But how do men come to love and trust themselves, and be comfortable in their own body? “Take pride,” Jordan says. “I actually have quite open views in terms of relationships. I’m quite unconventional. I don’t believe in a lot of the religious and misogynist undertones to the fabric of a lot of our relationships. I am happily in a relationship, but I think what I’m talking about is you get championed for being emotionally detached in male circles. I know I prided myself on being emotionally detached in the past. I could probably write something else off the back of that one sentence. I don’t mean by any stretch don’t go and have your fun, I know the dating world is shifting, and I’ve been very free before. But I definitely would look back on my own behaviour and notice that I should’ve loved myself and trusted myself a bit more, that I didn’t need to put myself in a situation purely because of a sense of conquering something or the need for validation from a woman. Sometimes those habits can be a reflection of needing to sit with yourself a bit.”
Jordan explains, “I’ve had grown men tell me to fuck as many women as possible”. But where does that come from, society? A man’s prerogative? Or privilege? “I don’t even know what that is; I suppose it’s validation. It’s all we’ve seen on telly or the faux heroes we’ve been brought up to idolise – Bond or whatever else. I think beneath all that, love is fucking difficult, and sex is difficult. I know my own relationship with sex has been tough.
“Beneath the surface of the male experience – it was quite a deep lack of my own validation which was something to be looked at. Or even sometimes a coping mechanism. It’s a lot, and I don’t think our society has enough open conversations around how to actually heal from that or speak to a person and not make them feel ashamed for it. No one should ever feel ashamed for struggling to understand what they want and need. It’s an important conversation too because there are extremes in our culture which mostly end up hurting women, so it needs to be shifted.”
With his TV work, a series of writing (including essays on topics such as mental health and three books to be published with Bloomsbury Children’s Books), new music, Jordan has entered a new stage. “I’ve gone through another phase,” he says, “where I am looking for something else that I feel validated by. But now I’ve realised what drives me and what will drive me towards a sense of real purpose would be to serve, to write something that will serve other people. I know it sounds basic, but I actually think for a lot of creatives, and also people who struggle with addiction, you forget that. I think it’s part of the 12-step process not to want to take from the world but to give back to it. Now when I think of ideas, I want people to pick it up and feel different in a positive way.”
Images above are BTS from ‘Shadow Love’ by @_edreid_, @ _willreid_ and @state.of.denial.