I’ve given Jordan Reynolds a nosebleed. Don’t ask me how. I’m calling her from a secluded corner on Fernbank’s property, to inquire about the sublime vistas of her debut EP as Rose Hotel. And yet, the moment she answers the phone, she’s wrestling with her bleeding nose. The crisis subsides quickly though, so we can joke about it. I jest that Reynolds should definitely deal with the nosebleed before we begin; slyly she replies, “Blood is definitely easier to deal with than interviews.”
Fair play, Reynolds. After all, as she expounds on so eloquently in Rose Hotel, interpersonal communication can be just as messy and disorienting, if not even more so, than random effluxes. But the Michigan-born, Kentucky-raised singer-songwriter can navigate alien territories: after spending much of her childhood orbiting around her hometown of Bowling Green, studying in Michigan, and touring around the South with her old band, she migrated permanently to Atlanta just three months ago. And now, after finding her feet and settling in with old friends, Reynolds is ready to release her Always a Good Reason EP, a humble slice of lush confessions that showcase her knack for understated alt-country ballads.
After losing myself in these landscapes for a while, and marveling at the frank, direct conversations that Reynolds conducts across them, I knew there had to be some story here that I was missing. Thus, to our conversation, as we discuss small towns, the Waxahatchee model of a “band unit,” the domestic studio where the EP was cut, and, indeed, the difficulty of communication itself.
I wanted to talk first about moving to Atlanta from Bowling Green. What was that like? You told me [over email] that you wanted to move because you wanted to get away from a small college town, but elaborate.
Bowling Green is a small college town; it’s an hour north of Nashville. I moved around a lot as a kid, so I grew up in Bowling Green for about a year or two, here and there. I spent probably all of elementary school in Bowling Green. And so then I went to high school in Michigan, and then came back to Bowling Green the summer after my freshman year in college. And then I lived there from about 2012 to 2017.
Bowling Green is… it’s hard to describe. It’s in Kentucky, so it’s in the South, right? And then there’s a mixture of a really cool community of artists and musicians, creatives if you will, mixed in with just a lot of families. And then there’s not a huge ton of stuff going on — there’s maybe two bars where people play shows at. The house show scene there is great.
So when I was in Bowling Green, I was in a band for the five years that I was there. And that was when I started playing music more seriously, through that band. And we just played in Bowling Green all the time. But yeah, it’s a cool place. There’s lots of outdoorsy stuff to do, but you have to search out the stimulating activity, or be around the artistic community who are curating those type of events. It has gotten better in the past two or three years, but I was just ready to live in a city.
Yeah, I get that. When you start to talk about Bowling Green, it sounds A LOT like Madison, Georgia. When you said there were two bars there? I believe the one coffee shop in Madison just started hosting shows five years ago. It’s definitely a small town situation.
Now, there was one coffee shop in Bowling Green, Spencer’s, that I still cannot find [the equivalent of] in Atlanta — you know, a coffee shop that makes me feel at home. I played a few shows there when I lived there.
Did Rose Hotel start exclusively here, in Atlanta, or did it start back in Bowling Green?
No. Rose Hotel started in my mind two years ago. Basically, I was using Rose Hotel as an outlet for songs that I was writing that didn’t fit in the band that I was in. And it was just the stuff that I was working on, on my own. So I made a little 4-song demo EP thing last spring, and I had played some shows here and there. But I started taking Rose Hotel much more seriously when my old band broke up, or dissolved. So I recorded this EP back in February, then moved down here a couple of months later.
Yeah, because I was wondering — on your EP, there are several other instruments, like the flutes and the trumpets and that wonderful French horn solo. So is Rose Hotel just a “you” thing, or will it be with other people?
I very much want Rose Hotel to be like what Waxahatchee is for Katie Crutchfield, or what St. Vincent is for Annie Clark, where they are the primary songwriters, but it’s still very much a band. So I write all the songs. For this EP, the horns, and the flutes, and that steel guitar — I just brought in friends to do [those parts]. Now, at my show tomorrow, I’m playing three songs on guitar with no band, and one other guitar player, and then my friend will play flute and trumpet, and then I’ve got a few songs for the full band.
But the end goal with Rose Hotel is that it’s going to be a band unit. I’ve been doing it solo strictly out of necessity, because I moved out to Atlanta just by myself. Also, when I was going in to record this EP, I already have enough material to do a full-length record, full band. But I had a few songs that didn’t translate well to full band, so I figured I’d just do this short, 6-song, mostly solo EP, and then, once I get to Atlanta, I’ll compile a band and record with the full band. So it’s kind of a step-by-step process.
Where was this [EP] recorded, exactly? To me, it sounds like a legit studio space.
It’s awesome that you think that! It was recorded at my friend Mike’s house; he has this little studio in the spare bedroom in his house in Nashville. So he’s a really awesome guy. He plays in a band called Kansas Bible Company, and in another band called Okie Dokie. Last summer, I went on tour with Kansas Bible Company, selling merch and singing back-up vocals with them, just for fun, and became really good friends with all the guys in that band. And I showed [Mike] some of my Rose Hotel songs that I’d been working on, and he was like, “If you ever want to record any of these, I’ve got a studio at my house!”
And it was so funny, because we were recording in his house, and we had to make sure that his dog wasn’t walking by the door, and make sure there wasn’t any noise in the background. And actually, on one of the songs, you can hear Rosa, which is his dog, which I find ironic, because you know, Rosa, Rose Hotel, but you can hear her collar jingling. I can’t remember which song — I think it’s in “One Thing.”
Wow, I’ll have to listen for that now. I don’t think I heard that before.
It’s very, very subtle. I don’t remember where it’s at. And Mike was like, “That’s actually pretty cool, let’s just leave it.”
Happy accidents! I love it. Now, I wanted to talk about the songs themselves, and the lyrics. The way I heard it, it sounds like you acting out the kind of conversations with people, about intimate conversations, that it’s really difficult to have. So I was wondering — what inspired you to write in that way, and what are you trying to achieve by writing in that style?
That’s a really good question. Well, for me, I’m very much more of a confessional songwriter. I can’t really write about anything that isn’t real to me, or something that hasn’t happened to me, or to someone close to me. Writing is my way to work through the things that I wish I could say to people, but I can’t say them to their face. Which I guess is kinda weird…
No! I understand that completely.
But it’s just harder for me. Especially on songs like “Honestly.”
Yeah, or “One Thing.” Those are all about relationships that I’ve had in my life, and working through the emotions that arise from having intimate relationships with people. And “Honestly,” specifically, was my way of speaking to somebody and taking a little bit of responsibility for what had happened. At the time, it was hard for me to explain that, because when you’re in the middle of a break-up, it’s hard for you to see what you’re doing wrong.
But yeah, it’s basically my way of working through the conversations I wish I could have with people. Sometimes they’re real, or sometimes they’re more metaphorical.
Right, like “Earth & Sky.”
Well, some of that’s very direct and some of that is much more metaphorical. That song is my saltier song, I guess. Sorry, I’m gesturing with my hands, and I know you can’t see that — it’s funny, the progression of the relationship. The songs that I wrote right when it was starting to end, and the ones I wrote after it was over, have such different moods. I’m a very moody person, I guess.
Are all of these about one particular relationship, or several?
Well, I’ve only really had two relationships in my life. And one of the songs isn’t even about a romantic relationship, it’s more about a relationship with another person in my life that wasn’t romantic.
Well, those can be just as important, if not more so, than your romantic relationships.
Yeah. The last song on that EP isn’t even about a romantic relationship, even though the person I was with thought it was about him. But yeah, the whole thing’s about relationships, or thoughts about relationships, even if they aren’t necessarily detailed from my own. “Wanderer” is more about me talking to myself.
No, I think that’s important, though. Because, from my experience, expressing your thoughts on desire in an intellectual way is SO hard to do in public.
Yeah. And the only way I can do that is through singing.
How long have you been singing, exactly?
My whole life, basically. I started by singing into hair brushes. I was in choir in elementary school through high school. And I did a lot of theatre stuff in high school and college, and did musicals and stuff. That’s not what I focus on anymore, but yeah, singing has always been my favorite thing to do. I think I only write songs so I can sing.
Hey, that’s completely legit. I know several singers who do the same thing for themselves. And then you also play guitar — how did you start there?
I started taking guitar lessons when I was about 11. I can play, but I’m definitely not a guitarist. I can’t shred. It’s more like a vehicle for me to write songs.
Hey, I feel you. Sometimes that’s all you need, that level of proficiency.
And I play keyboards, too. That was what I did in my other band, I played the synths.
What was your other band called?
Nice! And what did they play?
Kind of psych rock. It was very, very different than Rose Hotel. Drastically.
Have you ever thought if you weren’t gifted at singing, or you weren’t gifted at writing songs, what else you would be, if you weren’t a singer-songwriter?
For a minute, I thought I’d be an English high school teacher. I loved my high school English classes, and reading, and literature, and poetry. So if I wasn’t a singer-songwriter, I’d still be a writer of some type. I really, really loved my 10th grade English teacher. He was super inspiring to me, and I think that would probably be what I did. I always tell myself, if I totally failed, I guess I’d just go back to school to be a teacher, but I don’t really want to. I’m sure my life will be happy and fulfilled, but I’ve decided to not let myself have a plan B, and just make plan A happen.
Yeah, wow, that describes my life very well, actually! Going back to living in Atlanta — how long would you say it’s taken for you to adjust to living in the city? Because I know, for me, it’s taken about one-and-a-half years to get to point where I’ve felt comfortable here.
Well, I’d spent some time recently in Atlanta, through touring. My old band toured a lot, so we would play shows in Athens and Atlanta a lot. And I was able to get a feel of the vibe, way before I ever moved here — so when I was trying to decide where to move, I thought, “Well, I loved Atlanta.” And the good thing about that is, I already have a core group of friends here, [so] that I knew I’d be able to come, have this support network that cared for me, and could help me find a place, and get a job.
It was weird, though, because I moved here for a week and a half, and then I went on tour for ten days. And then I came back for a month, and then I went out of town for another week. So now — I guess I’ve been here for about three months, because I moved here at the end of August — but I’m now starting to feel adjusted. I LOVE this city. I’m just so stoked to be here, and I think I’ll be here a while.
Good. Yeah, I love this city, too. It’s just taken me a lot longer, because I certainly didn’t know anyone when I moved up here.
Yeah, if I didn’t have my friends here… there was a group of ten people I already knew, through music stuff, so I came and immediately had people I could surround myself with, so I didn’t feel isolated.
Even with that, though, what’s the biggest things you’ve had to adjust to after moving here?
The humidity! That’s a big one. And, you know, just going from a town that’s 65,000 people to Atlanta, and just the details you don’t even think about [in a small town], like traffic, and the higher prices at the grocery store. All those little things. But, oddly enough I feel at home already, which is nice. And I came from Kentucky, which is still the South. So it wasn’t like I came from California. And the people here are really friendly, and interested, and supportive in the community of music. I haven’t met a ton of people outside of the friend group I already knew, but every time I go to a show, or play a show, I’ve felt very supported by people — they’ll come up to me after the show and be like, “I really like what you’re doing! Tell me about Rose Hotel!”
And that’s been nice, because if I had moved to a different place — like, I thought about Brooklyn, and I thought about Chicago. And both of those places would be great, and Chicago seems to be very supportive, too, [but] it would have been easier to get lost in the crowd, among the other thousands of people doing it. But Atlanta, it’s still a huge city, but there’s a pulsing community of artists that support each other. And I don’t even really know that, but it already feels that way.
Yeah, I concur with you. It does feel really vibrant here — almost more vibrant than Athens, even. Because here, it feels like there’s always something constantly new, whereas in Athens you have this group of people who have been there for 15 or 20 years and are more or less doing the same thing.
Yeah, that’s the thing with Bowling Green. It’s easy to get stuck there. And the cool thing about Atlanta is, there’s all these different neighborhoods, and there’s always something cool going on. I live in Decatur, eight minutes from the EARL. So I spend a lot of time in EAV, but I’ve also explored Little Five a bit, just played at Star Bar recently… well, in the Vinyl Lounge under Star Bar. It feels like a bunch of small towns rather than a huge metropolis, which feels cool. I’ve seen the same people at the same bars, and I can recognize their faces, which is comforting. And I know the door guys now, so I can be like, “Oh, I know you! And I’ve only met you three times!”
Yeah, I’ve had the exact same experience. It really is just a series of small neighborhoods, and it’s a lot easier to handle when it’s broken down that way. So I believe that’s everything I wanted to cover, and we’ve already discussed a bit of what’s coming up: the show’s tomorrow, and then you’re planning on releasing a full LP later this year?
Well, most of it’s already written. I’ve just got to coordinate the people that are going to make the record with me, and where I’m going to make it. And that’s all up in the air, but the general plan is I’m doing this three-week tour starting on Tuesday, then I get back, and I’ll be back for about two-and-a-half, three weeks, and then I go again for ten days. And then I’ll be back by the end of October, and then I should be in Atlanta for the duration of the year, and then in that time I should focus on writing and getting a band together that’s committed to recording the record with me. Because I like live tracking; I don’t like doing it piece-by-piece, so I’ve got to get the band tight together. But theoretically, I’d love to be in the studio recording the first of the year, and hopefully have it finished by the time I’d hopefully be hitting South by Southwest, but I don’t know. It’d be sweet to record in December, but I don’t know if I can make that work. We’ll see.
Hey, at least you’ve got a rough idea of a plan. That’s a lot more of a plan than I have for the next six months!
Yeah, I’d like to have the album done by March, and then start shopping it around, and then hopefully have it out next fall.
Rose Hotel will celebrate the release of Always a Good Reason tonight at the Mammal Gallery with Big Brutus, Oakland After Dark, and Thalmus Rasulala. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $7. 18+ to enter.