Rocketships and Cellos; if you talk to Kalamazoo-based cellist, Jordan Hamilton (@jordanhamiltonmusic), the two have more in common than you might first realize. Fusing cello, beat sequencers, loops, effect pedals, rapping, and singing, Hamilton creates a sound that’s all his.
The Stray recently had the chance to sit down with Hamilton and learn about his music career, as well as his thoughts on the creative process. Beyond his solo projects, he performs in Last Gasp Collective and the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra. Since 2017, he’s recorded and released three full albums as well as a handful of singles and EPs. Some were created alone, while others involved collaborating with musicians or producers such as his friend Jay Jackson.
While many of his songs are instrumental, a handful of them feature him rapping and singing, such as in “Rat Race”. Hamilton mentions that “Rat Race” is one of his songs that listeners seem to connect with the most. In an Audiotree Live session, Hamilton says: “That’s the rat race we’re in right now. We all have daydreams; things we want to accomplish in life, or see in life, or give in life. We have to go through that process in the rat race we call ‘the grind’. I appreciate you all going through the grind, your quarantine, your workflow. All of it. May you find peace in it.” This mindset, in relation to his music career, reappears when he shares his view on creativity with us.
Hamilton asserts, “Creativity is an Action more than a Feeling.” It’s not a divine gift only bestowed onto a lucky few of us, nor should it be a mood that just occasionally strikes us. Rather, it should be a practice---done daily until our biology incorporates it and craves it like it craves our morning
Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Hamilton mentions there are different times in life that his love for music has changed due to circumstances surrounding his work. There’s nothing quite like when he fell in love with the Cello in third grade, because he was just starting to learn how to play. Yet as his career and relationship to his instrument continue to develop, so has his love for his craft.
Hamilton’s latest solo project, Vibrations, is “a compilation of feelings expressed in sound with no words.” The whole album is a sonic soundscape sitting over heavily swung electronic beats. Shifting from hip hop to jazz and even into a classical sound, it’s a journey through tone and texture.
His newest collaborative album, Tri Magi, introduces the assertive nature of saxophone into his trademark electronic cello sequences. The album was created alongside producer The Lasso, and the often-comedic, always-impressive Saxsquatch. The opening track, “Born Tempo,” boasts an atypical rhythmic structure. The saxophone add-ins by Saxsquatch mimic the unique nature of Arabian music's timbre, dropping the listener into a dark night in the Middle East. The album continues to feature all three creators' skill sets in new ways as it explores off-kilter beats, dreamy textures, and dissonance.
When it comes to music, Hamilton shares that he needs a healthy balance of studio and stage. The two can fuel each other, but too much of just one will leave him feeling dry. Most of his performing takes him around the Midwest, into Canada, and occasionally back to his childhood hometown in Maryland. However, one of his most unprecedented performing experiences came when he was on tour in France. Music is a language that every nation and culture can understand, but interpretations may differ. Hamilton’s experience in France gave him a new perspective on performance and audience reception that fuels the vibes behind his current shows.
After many different performance experiences and experimentations in musical style, Hamilton knows how it feels to find a propelling creative groove. He compares his inspirations to inertia pushing him out of the “atmosphere” of musical struggle and into “space,” where his ideas can flow freely and he feels satisfied with the outcome. Just as a rocket ship spends most of its fuel getting up into orbit, he finds that he needs most of his energy for getting started on his projects.
The key to escaping the atmosphere, as Hamilton puts it, is devotion. “The world will suck up your time if you let it,” he says. He shares that he has to be vigilant about tuning out the world and tuning up his instrument every day; otherwise, he can feel a disconnect starting to form between himself and his craft.
Hamilton has a lot to say about giving yourself time and discipline to find your creative flow. He anecdotally compares this discipline to a pottery class with two different tasks: 1) to make as many pieces of pottery as possible, or 2) to spend time making just one piece as good as it can be. Hamilton explains that given the two approaches, the students who spent their time making as many pieces as possible consistently end up making better work than those who put all their time into just one piece.
Just like the pottery students, Hamilton points out the repetition vs perfection approaches in the workstyles of SpaceX and Nasa. Whereas Nasa is a government organization and is thus under pressure to get things right the first time, SpaceX has its own funds to spend on trial and error. The results are irrefutable. Here again, we see Hamilton draw a parallel between space travel and his creative endeavors.
Having a team of people allows Hamilton to reduce the weight he carries when doing solo work, though he loves doing both solo work and team work with his band, Last Gasp Collective. He shares that his approach is different between the two. With his solo projects Hamilton tries to push the limits of what sounds he can create with a cello. When he’s performing in Last Gasp, he says his goal is to sit in the pocket and contribute to the cohesive sound of the whole.