By Paul de Revere
What’s it like to have your long-dormant band, which has gone without a full-length release in seven years, rise to its most-visible publicity yet, and then happen to share a name with Edward Snowden, the most wanted man in the world? Serendipitous, strange and kind of funny, said Jordan Jeffares, the frontman and creative force of Austin, Texas band Snowden.
“I can’t take any credit or try to align myself with what this guy is absolutely risking his life to do,” Jeffares said, differentiating himself from the wanted NSA leaker now hiding in Moscow, evading espionage charges. “I totally agree with it. I think it’s brave and heroic to put your stuff on the line [like that]. I don’t know what his motives are. I don’t know if they’re completely pure, regardless of what they are. But it’s simply neat to be tied in with that, if only by name.”
Jeffares said the band has gotten more attention (in website hits, social media feedback) since the news of the Edward Snowden manhunt, but with no evidence of new listeners just yet.
It wasn’t a quick or easy journey for Snowden — a band that built a career alongside the likes of Deerhunter and the Black Lips in Atlanta around 2003 — to earn the listeners it had already. After a modest but successful dry run with Jade Tree in 2006, the label’s staffing changes prompted a drawn-out separation process from the now-dormant Delaware label. Near-successes with courting or being courted by labels went on for years, leaving the band in something of a purgatory. But after touring and developing a relationship with Kings of Leon in 2007, the big-time rockers took on Snowden for their new Nashville-based label Serpents and Snakes, which is comprised mostly of local acts and/or those who rock a bit harder.
“We’re kind of- we are the weird band on the label,” Jeffares joked.
Jeffares is reserved and thoughtful when speaking but doesn’t shy away from expressing an opinion, however unusual or political. Interviewed while on tour supporting his band’s latest release No One in Control, he said he forgoes music listening on the road sometimes for public radio news programs like This American Life and Fresh Air. Snowden’s 2006 debut Anti-Anti was, almost from the sound of its title alone, political.
“I’m very progressive and that’s there,” he said. “I try not to be too obvious.”
So is No One in Control another political statement from Jeffares?
“It’s much less political,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to preach as much on the second record. I ended up writing from the heart instead of the head, I think.”
“I guess because [George W.] Bush wasn’t in office anymore, I was able to relax a little bit,” he joked.
For the first time, in earnest, Jeffares wrote love songs for No One in Control. More than he ever had before.
“I got a little bit romantic and sexy,” he said. “Instead of trying to dodge writing ballads, I went ahead and just relaxed and let them come out.”
Hence the titular surrender of No One in Control. It’s there sonically, too. Songs like “Don’t Really Know Me” drip with absorbing, rich guitar tones and melodies reminiscent of The Cure, Jeffares’ baritone and a confessional passion. The refrain of “So Red” (“You’re so red/That it hurts”) gets buried, muffled inside a throbbing beat recalling the gurgling sounds of a heartbeat.
“‘So Red’ is a love song,” he said. “But ‘Don’t Really Know Me’ is a very twisted love song… trying to be romantic with someone who’s wacko obsessive.”
As languid, passionate and lovely as Snowden’s music can be — almost tailor-made for solo headphones listening — Jeffares says that has always written his songs with the dance floor in mind as well. It’s perhaps the band’s strongest mode: uptempo, fuzzed-out and hi-hats ticking. It culminates in music that’s introspective but still moves your body to dance.
“Rhythm-wise, at the very beginning, I wanted to try to make [Snowden’s] drumming not as angular and straight-forward,” Jeffares said. “I wanted syncopated beats, as a kid in Atlanta listening to hip-hop and R&B.”
In addition to his hometown’s Southern rap, Snowden’s sound has been influenced by Jeffares’ older brother and band manager/business advisor Preston Craig’s dance-night DJ gigs, where Snowden’s music was first played to an audience.
“It caught on pretty quickly,” Craig said. “It was definitely music created by its surroundings.”
Ten years later, with No One in Control, Snowden reaches a much wider audience… with an unexpected assist from a wanted criminal with a shared name.