A Conversation with Jordan Reyes of American Damage

We talk with Jordan about his new label, his music, his melodic dreams, Buchla synthesizers, Foma Jaremtschuk, and so much more!

By: Jason Behrends

August 16, 2018

I get these dreams with orchestras and human choruses chanting/singing songs - I know that’s a weird thing to say, but it’s true.

Jordan Reyes returned to Chicago earlier this year with the hopes of launching a record label that would help him tell the story of and tell a story through experimental music. The result is American Damage and we recently had the opportunity to ask Jordan a few question about the label, his music, and the future of both.

The Deli (TD): At the start of 2018 you moved back to Chicago and launched American Damage. What prompted you to start your own label?
Jordan Reyes (JR): So 2017 was kind of a crazy year for me. I was living in rural Minnesota in a town called Owatonna, about sixty miles South of Minneapolis. People come from all around to go to the Cabela’s Hunting Store in Owatonna, to give you an idea of the town. According to most standards, I had a great job, but I spent so many nights anguished over whether I was doing the right thing for myself. I quit that, moved back to Chicago, and have been self-employed since.
JR: I was doing Moniker Records alongside Robert Manis during 2017, but I wanted to put out releases that didn’t fall in line with Moniker’s aesthetic or mission - experimental music, basically. There were plans for me to do a subsidiary tape label actually for a bit, but we weren’t really aligned with what would fit, and I wanted creative control if it were going to be my baby, so to speak.
JR: I wanted to be label owner and art director, but also a storyteller. I wanted to take the idea of a record label further, and perhaps even give the release trajectory a narrative aspect. For me, that meant maintaining and cultivating images, themes, and stories. I decided to explore a universe where things are not what they seem - that a smiles conceals sharp teeth, that the walls watch, that there’s a person in the cornrows. Sounds a bit like ours, doesn’t it? In this case, it meant by using words. I have zero background in graphic design, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve been completely captivated by the written and spoken word. In the Bible, God creates the world through speaking. In Qaballah, the Aleph - or first letter in the Hebrew Bible - indicates Y-hw-h’s Sacred Breath, from which all things are made. The power of creation exists in the letters, words, and phrases.

TD: There is a clear aesthetic to the American Damage tapes, but in your mind what’s makes a good fit musically for the label?
JR: It started from a place of curiosity. Let’s take Autumn Casey’s tape, for example. Autumn is my homie from Miami, and she plays in one of this country’s greatest and filthiest noise rock bands - Snakehole. I lived in Miami from late 2014 to mid-way through 2016. I would hang at her house pretty frequently because it was a show spot and practice space called Palacio De Los Jugos. Autumn had this piano in there, and she’d sometimes play it, and it would just fucking blow me away. She’s a classically-trained pianist, in spite of the fact she makes some of the nastiest tuneage in the world - I was like “How is this not available to have at home?” So that was really the jump off. I was curious what would happen when someone who hadn’t done solo music before did solo music. Skyler Rowe’s tape was pretty much the same.

JR: In terms of the actual sound, I have to say that I really like melodies, or also variations on a theme. There are a lot of abrasive sounds, but I think their origins or foundations are consonant. Then again, I’m about to release Crepuscular’s "Predation Risk" (Sept. 21st), which is a straight power electronics tape. But when I think of the label releases, I think of distorting the laws and rules of music theory. Like taking something beautiful and symmetrical and contorting it into something asymmetrical and fascinating.

TD: You also carry books and other items, how do select the items you sell on the website?
JR: Hahaha - so honestly the reason that I have the distro is because I wanted to order records, tapes, and books internationally, but the shipping is so expensive, and I just thought “Well, if I want one of these, I’m sure someone else does, too!” So I started asking to buy things wholesale from all over, and pretty quickly realized that there were so many people interested in similar things. It’s just grown and grown since. I’ve probably got close to a thousand individual titles for sale at this point, but in general it focuses on underground and outsider cultures of the world, which can mean things as disparate as the Russian outsider artist Foma Jaremtschuk to the new batch from Thousands of Dead Gods to literally anything related to PSF Records, which is one of the greatest labels of all time for those not yet in the know.

TD: One of the three upcoming releases on the label is a live album from ONO, “Your Future Is Metal". You are also the co-owner of Moniker Records, label that released the last few ONO records. Is there any conflict there and how did this tape land with American Damage vs. Moniker?
JR: So I ran Moniker Records with Robert Manis from March 2015 until the last days of May 2018 when we released Waveless’ As One More Folded Paper Crane. Robert had asked me to join as partner in 2015, and I happily accepted. We had a great time running it together for three years, but during 2017, we decided to split. There was a lot of change happening with both of us personally, and we hadn’t lived in the same city since he had asked me to join.
JR: I am playing in ONO these days as second vocalist, backing up Travis, and this specific performance was P Michael Grego, Travis, me, Ben Billington, Connor Tomaka, and Da Wei from a set we did on July 2 at the Hideout. I had previously played as a guitarist for ONO back in 2016 for two Brooklyn shows and a WFMU set. When I moved back to Chicago, I could practice with them consistently, so I joined up as a full-time member. I also do a decent amount of the admin work for ONO.
JR: Your Future Is Metal came out of this idea that P Michael and I had about doing like a run of bootleg tapes since we run out of tapes so quickly at shows. I figured I’d just put it out on American Damage because it would be quick and painless, which is a massive benefit with tapes. Zero production delays! And Robert gave me his blessing on the live cassette. Da Wei is always recording our sets, and so PM just asked me if I wanted to pick one to put out, so I said yeah. That set was going to be released as a cassette called Duppy Know Who Fi Frighten And Who Fi Say Good Night, but we kind of pulled the plug on it for a sound quality reason. There is one test cassette of that release, actually.
JR: Ben Billington had the idea of matrixing a set recorded by his friend Joel Berk’s Zoom Recorder with a soundboard, and once he did that, it was like a revelation. It sounds amazing - honestly could have been an LP.
JR: ONO has a new full-length called Red Summer, which should be out in early 2019. In the meantime, between Your Future Is Metal and Red Summer, ONO has a TON happening! We have a lathe cut 7” of the smash hit “I Dream of Sodomy” coming out on Cold Moon Records, which should be out halfway through September. Each lathe features a unique, hand-drawn piece of art by Travis. I can’t really express how amazing these are. Travis, PM, and I are working with Cold Moon on what will happen with all the drawings, but I just have to say that the experience of seeing them all together is virtually unparalleled. I think Travis had to remove my jaw from the floor after I saw them at his place. We’re also jamming at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in September, playing Columbia Experimental Music Festival in October, and I’m sure a few more things will rear their heads.

TD: Another upcoming American Damage release is your latest album, "Afraid of Death". I really enjoyed your last album, “Isn’t That Fun”, especially your take on “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. What can fans expect from this new album?
JR: "Isn’t That Fun" was an album about my mom - she’s one of the smartest people I know, and also a classical pianist. But she always does this thing where she plays some insane song on piano, and then, like it’s absolutely not a big deal, she turns to you and goes “Isn’t that fun?” So funny. I hope one day I can seem that calm, cool, and collected. I’m happy you liked “Hurt.” I do this thing where I will field record for hours at a time the things that just happen to me. In this recording I was in a used book store called The Used Booksmith in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I was just passing through. I ended up talking to this older gentleman named Dave for an hour or so just about this or that, and he motioned to this piano that was covered in books, and said it was his, so I asked if I could play it and sing, and he said “Oh yeah, sure!” And so I played “Hurt,” but I was thinking that he wouldn’t know who Nine Inch Nails were, but Johnny Cash were a reference, so I used that as the signifier haha!
JR: Afraid of Death is an album dedicated to my Aunt Julie. She died from an aggressive form of cancer this winter at a young age, and it really affected me. Julie was the person in my family who introduced me to New York Dolls, Wim Wenders, and other subcultural figures. She also made me feel like I could do anything. I come from a pretty conservative family, but Julie was totally unafraid- real world standards, be damned! I remember once I was like 19 years old at this family reunion, someone was making fun of my earring, and I was just kind of calmly like “Yeah, but I like it.” Julie was not calm, and she put that guy in his place. Was honestly sick!
JR: Afraid of Death does have a couple pop-based songs on it, some field recordings, but it also is the first release of mine to have modular synth on it. I’ve always loved synthesis, but I started building a eurorack system about four or five months ago. For some reason, synthesis and electronic music just really started to click for me at that point. I’ve been completely obsessed since, and actually just got to play the world’s first Buchla synthesizer at Mills College recently when Maggi Payne was showing me around. Total dream come true!

TD: You also record as Reverent, when you are writing or creating how do you decide if an idea is a Reverent idea or Jordan Reyes idea?
JR: Reverent songs kind of come to me in my dreams. I get these dreams with orchestras and human choruses chanting/singing songs - I know that’s a weird thing to say, but it’s true. I’ll snap out of a dream, grab my phone and record something from the dream into a voice memo, and then go back to sleep, and that’ll basically end up being the basis for the whole song. Reverent also deals more explicitly with my experience as a recovered addict, as a person who has historically had a difficult time with trust and intimacy, and as a person who feels intense and deep shame. I used to write my songs by trying to inhabit the periods when I was at my worst in terms of addiction and behavior. Most people have only known me as a sober person since I’ve been sober for over 4.5 years at this point. Reverent explores all of that - shame, the sacred, addiction - and sees me exploring a past shell, but it’s also a character. That’s why there’s a costume as well when I play live.
JR: When I write a song on guitar, it will almost always be a Jordan Reyes song. I’ve written hundreds of songs, and a few of them have become Reverent songs, but the most stay with my real name. I also think the Jordan Reyes material explores what I’m thinking about/considering presently - you know, it’s the real me trying to figure myself and the world around me. I don’t have to put on another skin, even if components of that skin have existed in my past.

TD: What’s next for American Damage and Jordan Reyes?
JR: So much! For me personally, I’m doing a Reverent tour down and back from Texas in late August, then the shows I mentioned earlier with ONO, another tape on Miami label Heavy Days that should come out in December, and probably at least one more thing.
JR: For American Damage, I’ve got my tape and the ONO tape coming in August, the Crepuscular tape coming in September, and then a bunch more. I’m doing a tape with South Florida noise queen Sharlyn Evertsz, and I’m super excited about that. Sharlyn rips! She’s out of this world good, but she doesn’t have much material out, which I’m excited to rectify. Then I’ve got a tape by Chicago’s Chelsea Bridge - that’s Mallory from Mkot Pt and Looms doing solo experimental music with her violin and more. I’ve got the debut tape coming from Philadelphia’s Carrie Ford, a tape from Weeping Icon’s Sarah Lutkenhaus, a tape from Minneapolis’ CGW doing spoken word + music. It’s gonna be a big year! I really want to get about 20 tapes out, but we’ll see. I’d be happy with fifteen releases in the first year haha.