After the release of his debut album, Red Wine Joint, Jordn. Cleo talks about using music as an emotional release and why there’s no such thing as a “perfect” album. Get to know the talented multi-instrumentalist and producer’s mentality and creative process in our exclusive interview.
Jordn. Cleo (real name Jordan Argrett) is a breath of potential and possibility.
After hearing his debut album, Red Wine Joint, we immediately knew that this young producer is at the very beginning of a long and extremely successful music career. The ethereal atmosphere of Red Wine Joint comes in at just over 20 minutes and is filled with smooth tracks defined by Jordan’s fervent saxophone, jazz piano, noodling bass, and head-nodding drum lines.
Just last year, the only music you could find from the young producer and multi-instrumentalist was spread across a handful of SoundClouds listed under a variety of pseudonyms. But 2019 was the year everything would change for Jordn. Cleo. In just five short months, Jordan released three full projects – including Red Wine Joint – before graduating from one of the world’s leading research universities with his B.S. in Environmental Science.
One listen through Red Wine Joint shows you that this man has the skills and the ear. But, as our conversation made utterly clear, he also has a true creator’s mentality and craves personal growth like few others I have interviewed.
Jordn. Cleo Interview: The Making of an Artist
Who are you?
Jordan: Who am I… My name is Jordan. Jordn. Cleo or Jordan Argrett, whatever. I’m from Los Angeles. I’m a musician, an aspiring environmental scientist, and a recent graduate from Emory University here in Atlanta.
What is your favorite DAW for making beats?
Jordan: I’ve gone through a lot of them. Right now it’s Ableton, that’s my favorite. Ableton has the best creative flow in my opinion. I used Ableton for all three of my projects: Red Wine Joint, Single in February, and Content Vol. 1. I started out using Logic Pro and then moved to Garage Band after awhile just because of the price. I then tried FL Studio for a stretch when I first began making hip-hop, but I just didn’t really like the look and feel of Fruity Loops. I’m trying to switch over to the SP drum machine now, so not even using a DAW at all. I don’t think I’ll be spending much time in cities over the next few years so I need something that has a long battery life and can exist outside of society to an extent, and all the old drum machines can do that. [laughs]
Have you had any formal musical training?
Jordan: I started playing piano and learning music theory when I was four. My parents forced me into it. I wouldn’t say that I was from a musical family per se, but my parents always thought it was important that I stuck with the music. Everything else I was doing, including basketball, they’d let me stop if I said I didn’t want to do it any more. I always hated the piano as a kid but now I’m extremely grateful to them because it gives me an outlet and an instrumental foundation to make music.
Let’s talk about your debut album, Red Wine Joint. On your Bandcamp page it says that Red Wine Joint is an “attempt to express your experiences over the past year and a half.” What has made the last year and a half such a significant period in your life?
Jordan: I feel like the years between 19 and 21 are often a very monumental time in a lot of people’s lives. For me, it was a time where I was trying to figure out who I am and what I am about, and how to express that. I was going through a time of, I wouldn’t necessarily say “depression,” but I wasn’t happy. And I felt I needed something to pull me out of that state. This project was really a catalyst for a lot of work I did on myself. It served as a rediscovery, a redefining project for myself.
It seems like so many people are having a similar kind of identity crisis around this age nowadays and some never seem to find an outlet that provides them some comfort or relief.
Jordan: Absolutely. I was lucky to have this music as an outlet. I was already built in a way to express it through music – and I really don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t had a place to go and make beats. The process in creating this album really, really changed things for me and helped me through the dark period.
Did Red Wine Joint conceptually begin as a project or was it a more spontaneous, organic process where you made a song which led to another and another?
Jordan: It was a mixture of both. I approach my creative process kind of like a sketchbook. Whatever I’m doing throughout the day, whenever I have an idea or a flash of inspiration, I jot it down on my computer. Some of the beats came from my need to process how I felt about a class or interaction. Some of them came from a more intentional attempt to create an experience, like what it feels like to be extremely crossed at a party. Each individual track kind of defined itself and then, once it defined itself, I gave it direction to meet the concept of the project.
Can you elaborate on your creative process and inspiration for any specific track on the album?
Jordan: Definitely. The first track, “Strange Lemonade,” was actually about my experience riding the bus every morning to my first morning class. It was an environmental science class about management and assessment of environmental problems. The song is a build-up vibe, filled with anticipation about the day – and also is a shout out to one of my favorite KAYTRANADA songs, “Bus Ride.” It’s really all about me trying to channel some of the energy I take from in my surroundings and influences.
From an external perspective, this project provides a mould of sorts for the listener to fill with their own story. But at the same time, for you, it seems to tell a story that you’re already intimately familiar with.
Jordan: 100% on both of those things. I’ll touch on the mold part first cause I like talking about that one a lot.
So for me, I like my “beat music” to be versatile–to be able to operate in both the background and the foreground depending on the situation. So you could listen to it to provide a soundtrack while you’re cooking or while you’re cleaning. I personally feel like that’s when it sounds the best – but at the same time, each individual song also has a lot of meaning and application for specific situations. For example, the second song “Fro Therapy” has two layers.
The first is about my own process and experience doing my hair every day. But at the same time, I tried to make it into an additional experience for the listener – the feeling when you start to sip on some wine and get to feeling confident but comfortable. That’s why I sampled 2 Chainz’ verse from “All Me,” to create that feeling of “I’m the shit, I’m that guy” while also coasting on a smooth background.
How has the music on Red Wine Joint evolved from your past projects Single in February and Content Vol. 1?
Jordan: So that one requires a little bit of history. Originally, I actually began making music through two separate avenues. When I started off, I played piano – classically trained and all that – before moving over to saxophone in the 8th Grade. The sax was a rebellion of sorts for me, and got me hooked on composing jazz. I don’t want anyone to hear those early tracks because they’re not good enough for me, but that was my initial outlet for composition.
Around that time, I was also really into EDM, especially Dubstep, and was channeling that electronic, “future bass” sound into my music. I had a SoundCloud page where I housed a lot of EDM remixes and other bassy electronic tracks. Then I decided to combine my jazz composition with my electronic production – the merging of these ideas led me towards Content Vol. 1. Essentially, the project was a compilation of random beats that I’d made over the past 3-4 years. I just wanted to put something out for the sake of putting something out there for people to hear.
So you wouldn’t say there was a theme to Content Vol. 1?
Jordan: No real theme to it at all. It was really just a bunch of miscellaneous stuff, but it was received relatively well by my friends and family which inspired me to work toward a more intentional, cohesive project. Single in February was my first attempt at that, but it was a little simpler, more fun and happy. All the while, I was working on Red Wine Joint – even though I didn’t necessarily know that this work would eventually be Red Wine Joint.
The name you picked for Red Wine Joint is so illustrative and perfectly captures the feeling of the album. What was the inspiration and process behind the naming your debut album?
Jordan: My names always come towards the third or fourth quarter of a project’s development. I needed a concept, and decided to base Red Wine Joint on two of my preferred vices at the time: wine and weed. But it’s not about just getting inebriated. There’s meaning in it. I drink at certain times for certain reasons and I smoke at certain times for other reasons. How they make me feel is determined by so many factors that reach every area of my life. The concept gave me a lot of emotional content to work with.
Did you listen to much music from other artists when you were working on Red Wine Joint?
Jordan: Not really. 2018 was a weird year for me, musically, because I was working on Red Wine Joint for so long. Whenever I’m working on my own stuff, I try to keep my influences at a minimum because once I settle on a concept it’s way too easy for me to wander away from it if I hear something else that I like. So while I listened to a lot of music from last year, I’ve had to go back and re-listen later to really appreciate it.
Earlier you mentioned to me that you have three different SoundClouds, right? What’s the story behind that?
Jordan: Yeah… To be honest, I actually I have a few more than that. [laughs] But we don’t have to worry about a few of them. They’ll never see the light of day.
I have my main page, which is now titled Jordn Cleo. It’s gone through nearly a million different names because I can never seem to settle on one for very long. So, for the time being, it’s Jordn Cleo. I have a side page called Tony Claire, which is my idea of an alternate personality. The idea behind it was inspired by the producer J.robb, who had Mr Surf as his second page. I used to be, and still am, a huge J.robb fan. So I made Tony Claire, which is where I share my most exploratory and weird stuff.
Is there anything from that Tony Claire Soundcloud that people should check out in particular?
Jordan: There’s a whole project on there that has a chicken nugget with headphones as its photo called Some Goodies in a Bag. I don’t know what I was thinking with that photo but it’s worth checking out. There’s also a Kendrick remix on there that I really like:
So then what’s the deal with the third Soundcloud?
Jordan: That one is called “ii.human”. It’s from a weird little exploratory phase I was going through and has more what I like to call “beat beats”. I made most of those tracks using more traditional methods with drum pads and other percussion. That page was me saying “hear me; let me channel this energy.” I just felt like I had to release it. I don’t know what it is about releasing music, but sometimes I feel like I absolutely have to put them out there, even if I never publicize it or tell a single person about it.
What’s an album by any artist, in any genre, that you consider to be “perfect”?
Jordan: Perfect… That’s a complicated question. If I’m gonna answer honestly, I don’t think there is a single perfectly perfect album, if that makes sense. Perfection is something that you can always strive for. But you can get very close. When I hear a project that leaves me unable to do anything but just listen – that’s special. To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar is one that always comes to mind. To step outside the mainstream, I also love Trapo’s latest project, Oil Change. It’s not ‘perfect’, but I don’t know that it needs – or wants – to be. I think he achieves everything he was trying to accomplish with that EP. Any time an artist achieves what they were trying to accomplish with a project, I see it as being as close to this idea of “perfect” as anyone can get. Another project that falls under this category is KAYTRANADA’s 99.9%. That project is probably as close to perfect as we can get.