Jordan White: Double Trouble 2014
White performing with Rusted Root in 2013. Photo courtesy of Joshua Gabrielle
If you live in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, know your music but haven't heard of his name you could be under a rock. Singer/songwriter Jordan White has been on everything from magazine covers to TV shows to performing in front of thousands up and down the east coast. He's been linked with famous actresses and gotten into a war of words in the press with U.S. Congressmen and other politicians. He was a featured artist on Myspace (yes, remember Myspace?) and was voted as "America's next big thing" on music hub Reverb-Nation. He's toured with national acts and sung the National Anthem at Philadelphia Phillies games. However, that was in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, he seemed to fade a bit from the radar. However soft spoken White is in person, he's not shy about discussing his significance on the music scene, stating boldly, "if you asked me if I belong on a list of the area's best songwriters, the honest answer is yes, I really do."
First off, White, 32, admits to biting off more than he could chew in 2014. He's worked hard honing his craft playing open mic-nights and for most anyone who would listen since 2006 to finally find some real success only to be schooled in his first brush with the negative side of the business. Jason Linkins, a writer for one of the most popular internet news websites, The Huffington Post, belittled him on a front page article. In a scathing opinion piece, Linkins wrote that White's cover feature on Philadelphia Weekly "chased memes, the mystery of perceptions, and ignored judgment necessary to inform the public." As confident as White speaks, he seems a tad defensive on this topic. "I was stunned at the response. I was hoping people would e-mail me about the songs, instead I got hundreds of them just about everything else. It was the last thing I expected," he quips. "The number of hits crashed my website."
For those unfamiliar with the ordeal: in early '14 White landed on the cover of the popular weekly entertainment magazine Philadelphia Weekly. At first glance the article described the life of an aspiring singer/songwriter on the verge of big success, then controversy erupted. It began when an editorial in City Paper, a rival of Philadelphia Weekly, criticized the article for being "fluff" and misleading. A quick check on White's Wikipedia page, and yes he does in fact have one- explains the situation further. Indeed, White was featured on the Philadelphia Weekly cover just days after performing live on CBS-3 Philadelphia's "Talk Philly" program, including an interview with beloved Philly newscaster Ukee Washington. Everything was falling into place. But it didn't end there. It got big, really big. City Paper's editorial piece viciously attacked Philadelphia Weekly for it's focus on White's Twitter and Facebook followers and questioned the credibility which was then picked up by mega-worldwide news outlet, The Huffington Post. White points out that the author of City Paper editorial was a former Philadelphia Weekly employee. "I remember thinking, well that certainly seems like a motive. I don't know," he says. Controversy did ignite additional interest in White's music to which he replied later during a live television interview several days later, "guys, keep writing all the articles you want."
"The added sales was nice but I hate not having control of it," White says. "People say if that's the case then I'm in the wrong business," he laughs. "But it moved more copies of 'Four Songs'." ('Four Songs' was White's first official release, an organic effort EP released in 2012). For an indie artist, even one who had been courted by several major recording labels (Sony Music & Island Records to name two) it was a double-edged sword. "People were saying nasty things about me and I just, I don't know, I didn't understand it. What did I do to them? It's not easy to see yourself being trashed on the front page of a site like Huffington. Probably a million people read it and I felt like going into hibernation."
It would get worse. Months later his personal and professional relationship with longtime girlfriend and part-time manager, whom White referred to as "Rose" disintegrated. He found himself depressed, unmotivated, and uninspired. "At first I was living this incredibly domestic life with her. Just her and I in a house with dogs and cats. We got an enormous salt water fish tank. We picked out paint, we picked out new furniture. I worked on our cars in the garage. It was like that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song. We had parties, my brother and his wife would stay over in the guest room." White speaks of this time period even recent as last summer with heavy nostalgia. So where'd it go wrong? Was it salt in an open wound? The spice in his voice wanes. "I had no energy. I couldn't get out of bed. I cancelled shows and laid down for months. I lost weight and had no appetite. People were getting worried about me." White's conservative 5'8" frame had dropped to under 140 pounds, his lowest weight since he was 15 years-old, he says. Pressed on discussing other contributing factors he starts to open up, then seems to catch himself and stops. He won't say exactly what else was troubling him and slides into metaphor.
"It felt like I was disappearing. I didn't want to leave the house and that took a major toll on my relationship. She would say to me, 'I want an equal partner' and this and that, but I just couldn't do it. I really wanted to be what she wanted me to be though. I really did try." Similar to a domino effect, White's career seems to have suffered the most, going from an "it" guy on the music scene to avoiding venturing outdoors and letting the momentum dissipate. He says he had even been contacted to do an interview with Time Magazine about independent artists. Time called but he didn't answer his phone. "Depression and anxiety just hit me like a train," he says.
White, who now participates in regular psychotherapy, says he's learned some root causes of his depression from the combination of intensive sessions paired with proper medication. A therapeutic setting has allowed him to focus more on possibilities instead of failures, he says. "I used to seriously dwell on the past and think of all those gray, rainy days that followed me around. Now I'm trying to look more towards the future. Don't get me wrong, it's not easy because that sadness is always hovering in the distance. It could be a lifetime battle for someone like me." White says he has some "big things brewing" for the year 2015. He's currently finishing up vocals for his original song "Crazy Girl" recorded with Grammy Award winning producer David Ivory (The Roots, Patti Labelle, Erykah Badu etc.) He will also be returning to television networks and there's 24-date European/American tour in the works set for this summer and fall. In the meantime he's gigging regularly, learning how to play the harmonica and writing new songs. "I had this creative burst this past winter and I wrote half a dozen songs in just under a month. That may not sound like a lot but for me it is. Sometime I only write a few new songs a year." Indeed, it seems White has seen more than some musicians who've played music for decades longer. And he has advice for future songwriters and singers. "Play out and practice as much as you can. Never give up. It will be difficult at times, but if you're meant to do it and don't stop, you'll find a way."