On Being a Virtuoso, with Jordana and TV Girl’s Brad Petering

The friends also talk the power dynamics of The Strokes, and musicians trying to be funny on social media, and Jordana's debut album.

Brad Petering is the vocalist of LA indie pop band TV Girl; Jordana Nye is the 19-year-old bedroom pop artist who just released her debut record Classical Notions of Happiness. Here the friends talk the album, social media, The Strokes, and so much more.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Brad Petering: Your debut record — congratulations.

Jordana: Thank you, Brad!

Brad: How’s it feel to finally be barking with the big dogs, so to speak?

Jordana: [Laughs.] It feels pretty good.

Brad: You’re 20 years old, right?

Jordana: Not yet. I’m gonna be 20 in June. 

Brad: You’re effectively 20 years old.

Jordana: Yeah, I’m 20. Not right now, almost.

Brad: Here we go: Bob Dylan, Carole King, Paul McCartney. Do you know what they all have in common?

Jordana: They’re all, like, 78 or something?

Brad: No, wrong. They burst onto the scene at the tender age of 20, just like you.

Jordana: Whoa, really?

Brad: So do you feel as though you’re in the lineage to compete with those greats, or that you’re on track to become as iconic as they did?

Jordana: Yeah, I feel like a mini Paul McCartney.

Brad: With a little bit of Bob Dylan, the ‘tude.

Jordana: Yeah.

Brad: When I was 20 I was in a band called the Ginger Snaps, and we were doing covers of Moldy Peaches songs and stuff, so I was not on track. I was so far away from releasing a body of work like you have already.

Jordana: Well it’s a different time, don’t feel bad about that. [Laughs.]

Brad: I read an interview — you come from a musical family, and you were a virtuoso of the violin, if I’m not mistaken, at a young age.

Jordana: At a young age, the tender age of nine.

Brad: Why that one, not piano, say, which is more common for kids to learn, maybe?

Jordana: I don’t know, but I wish I could go back and learn piano.

Brad: You can still learn piano. I just learned piano at the tender age of 30.

Jordana: Wait, really?

Brad: Well, I suck. But yeah, man, I’m coming out with a whole album on piano. Me and Wyatt [Harmon, of TV Girl] have been locked down, just working on that pretty much during quarantine time.

Jordana: Wait, where’s Wyatt?

Brad: He’s still asleep. It’s 1:30 and he’s still asleep.

Jordana: Oh, my god.

Brad: I know. His lifestyle is kind of fascinating, to see it up close.

Jordana: Especially with all those photos — did you see his Instagram?

Brad: Oh, yeah, he’s been on a tear recently. He’s been pretty prolific.

Jordana: Yeah, he’s going crazy.

Brad: I was thinking about your online presence, and maybe mine is a little too — I feel like a lot of musicians, when they’re on Twitter or Instagram, are trying to be funny. They’re almost like comedians. You post a lot of funny Vines. That’s the main thing you try to do on your accounts, is that fair to say?

Jordana: I do. Sometimes I feel like it’s a bit too much, do you agree?

Brad: No. Well, then maybe we can discuss this — a lot of musicians are trying to be funny, [but] they would never incorporate humor into the music that they do. And if they did try to do that it would be the cringiest thing.

Jordana: It would be corny, yeah.

Brad: You could easily post a Vine about Baby Yoda, for example, but if you wrote a song about Baby Yoda then you’d be one of the musical comedians with ukelele or something.

Jordana: Oh, that’s so sad.

Brad: Why do you think that is? Why do you think humor is such a topic that’s forbidden in music, or it’s at least looked down upon?

Jordana: I felt that way about Will Ferrell when he was in a funny movie, and then I saw him in a serious one and I was like, Whoa, what? What is this? I feel like comedy has to be more of its own lifestyle, maybe.

Brad: Hm. You would never record a song that was humorous in nature?

Jordana: I might put a couple little whimsical things in a song. I don’t know if I would write a really funny one.

Brad: And on the reverse side of the coin, if you started posting really earnest poetry or something on Twitter or something… Some people do that and it’s kinda cringe-y also.

Jordana: Yeah, yeah. Especially if it’s switched back and forth. Is that cringe-y? Is that cringe-y to switch back and forth to be funny sometimes, and then be really serious? Or does that work?

Brad: I don’t know, I just think a lot of times that online, at least on Twitter and Instagram, it’s not normally used to be serious. And if you do, you’re really putting yourself out there to be made fun of, maybe.

Jordana: Yeah. I feel like you have to really be online all the time.

Brad: I just notice a lot of musicians, you listen to their records and they’re pretty serious, or they’re not trying to be funny, and then their online personas are completely… There’s a huge disconnect between those two things. It’s just bizarre to me, a little bit.

Jordana: Yeah, you think it’s two-faced?

Brad: Sometimes I feel like if I’m being too funny, I’m like, what am I really trying to do? Am I trying to be a comedian? 

Jordana: Yeah, I feel like that too, because especially with the “Signs” music video. It’s a goofy one, and I really started thinking about that, because then the “Crunch” one came out and I was like, Wait, this is two different things.

I would like to say, the TV Girl music videos, I love them.

Brad: I think that’s one area where you’re allowed [to be funny]. I think of great music videos, like the Beastie Boys or something, they’re all hilarious, they’re really funny. It’s really hard to do a serious music video that’s cool. Most of the times people do try to do a really poetic, beautiful music video, they just don’t have the resources to pull it off, so it just comes off as really corny. It’s easier to be funny. Maybe that’s what it is, it’s just easier to be funny.

When I tried to do a music video, it wasn’t trying to be serious, but I was trying to do one that looked cool, that looked visually good, and wasn’t trying to be funny at all. That’s the one that I hired that girl Dasha [Nekrasova, now a host of the podcast Red Scare] who was a famous or maybe infamous person. But that music video didn’t turn out the way I wanted. To me it was just pretty cheesy and corny. I didn’t pull off what I was going for at all. I’m pretty sure she resents having been in that video too. [Laughs.]

Jordana: No. Does she follow you?

Brad: No. I never talked to her after.

Jordana: Really? Wait, did you record it?

Brad: Yeah, I hung out with her for two days straight.

Jordana: Dang, was it fun?

Brad: Yeah, it was fine. It was fun to go out there and do that. She was cool. We had a good time. It was chill. I knew that she was going to be… I knew that there was something about her, she was probably going to be famous or something.

I feel like I have a good eye for talent. I feel like I indicated that when I got to you before you were blowing up as big as you are.

Jordana: You know how to pick ‘em.

Brad: I remember when you only had 5000 monthly listeners.

Jordana: [Laughs.] Yeah, right?

Brad: It seems so long ago.

Jordana: That’s crazy. You helped me grow, Brad, you helped me grow!

Brad: I guess I can just say this, because who gives crap, but when we were planning the tour, I was like, “Oh, we’re going to have this girl Jordana open for us,” and [our agent] was like, “Well. I’ve never heard of her, she has no draw. We should really think about getting someone who has a draw.” It was just a bunch of crappy bands who were horrible and probably didn’t have a draw anyway. I’m like, “She’s already popping off, she’s probably going to have more of a draw anyway.” At the end of the day it was just like, “No, she’s going to be the opener, and that’s pretty much it.”

Then later, when you did start getting a lot of press, he came back and was just like, “Man, this Jordana girl is really working out, this is a good find. I think it’ll work well.”

Jordana: Damn, really?

Brad: Completely changed his tune, and it felt pretty vindicating.

Jordana: That’s cool.

Brad: People have their eye on you, Jordana, be careful. The wolves are going to come out — they smell talent and everyone wants a piece.

Jordana: They’re going to jump at it, attack. But you Brad, you’re a rock star. Everybody wants you, everybody wants to grab you.

Brad: That’s not true at all.  We had our moment where we were buzzy and people were coming out of the woodwork. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Jordana: You still have 900,000 monthly listeners. Almost a million.

Brad: Oh yeah, we have actual fans, which is better. But I’m saying at one point we were being courted by big record labels and big agents and stuff. That doesn’t happen at all anymore. Those people want to get on the ground floor, because they can probably take advantage of people better that way. You know what I mean? If someone tried to sign us to a record label now, I probably just wouldn’t ever do it.

Jordana: It’s worked this far without it.

Brad: What could someone offer? But when you’re starting out, they promise the moon and the stars.

Jordana: And they give you one star.

Brad: They give you a bucketful of coal. A sock full of ash.

Jordana: A sock full of butter and slap the shit out of you with it.

Brad: They say, “Here,” and they expect you to thank them for it. “Here’s your sock full of butter, now give me my thanks.”

Jordana: And the money.

Brad: Yeah, and the dough. “Gimme da cash,” they say. Music industry people are all scum. Anyway, moving on.

Jordana: My publicist isn’t going to like this.

Brad: Oh, no, he’s a dear. There’s obviously exceptions.

Let’s go back to you being a virtuoso at a young age. I was going to say, I was reading a book, [Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group] by Ian Svenonius, and he was theorizing that virtuosity a lot of times is a liability for becoming popular, because if people don’t know their instruments that well they’ll default to things that are more primal, simple, and direct, which are usually the things that appeal to people the most and become hit songs and stuff like that. Whereas knowing all about theory and really complex ideas, you’ll probably put those into motion in your own work, which won’t appeal to a broad audience sometimes. What do you think about that? Do you think that’s true?

Jordana: Yeah, I feel like people who are heavily involved in that — you’re talking about learning over time, just different instruments, right?

Brad: No, I’m talking more like, for example, a prog rock band. You know prog rock, right, Jordana?

Jordana: Yeah, I think what… Wait.

Brad: It’s just — or even heavy metal, which has lots of different time signatures, and it sometimes apes classical composition techniques. In your music, do you apply your virtuou-istic training into your current rock & roll pop project?

Jordana: Well I’ve found that it’s harder to incorporate violin and stuff into my music. I don’t know why. I know violin probably better than any other instrument, but I don’t really record with it as much as I do, like you said, the stuff that actually appeals to people, like guitar.

Brad: Have you ever written an original song with lyrics and everything on a violin?

Jordana: No, I haven’t.

Brad: Huh. Why not?

Jordana: I don’t know. I just… 

Brad: It’s hard to think of bands or people who are original songwriters who use violin as their main instrument. Can you think of any?

Jordana: Lindsay Sterling.

Brad: Oh yeah.

Jordana: I was obsessed with Lindsay Sterling.

Brad: There’s other bands though, like the Bad Brains and the Police — do you know those bands, Jordana?

Jordana: I know the Police.

Brad: They were all virtuosos, like classically trained jazz musicians who then reverted to punk and credit it as helping them, because they were able play faster, for example, than other people could, or just play with more intricate styles than the average punk band could. So there’s different philosophies on this.

Jordana: Yeah, they were tired of being the kid in the jazz band lunchtime session.

Brad: When I was in high school, there was a canon of rock bands that if you’re into music you eventually get around to. You’re told through magazines and bands talking about, “Oh, the Velvet Underground was the best band, you should check them out.” Is that still like that? Or with the internet now, everything’s just available at all times, [so is] there not really that… old school canon of rock music that’s passed along? When you were in high school, did people still listen, people who were into music, were they big Nirvana fans or something like that?

Jordana: Oh, yeah.

Brad: That’s still a band that you have to listen to at some point in high school?

Jordana: Yeah, you would walk around the halls and see people in Nirvana shirts, and Ramones too. I was a Strokes girl.

Brad: That was my favorite band in high school

Jordana: What, really?

Brad: But it’s funny, because for you they are a retro-seeming band, huh?

Jordana: Yeah. Well, I was in love with Is This It, and stuff like that. Room on Fire is my favorite Strokes album. What is yours?

Brad: I like the first one. Although Room on Fire is just as good.

Jordana: Yeah, I was more into that Strokes-y era, but now I feel like they’re just, I don’t know.

Brad: Well, it’s scary — if I think about it, when I was in high school Nirvana was probably as old to me then as the Strokes were to you.

Jordana: Dang.

Brad: How do you feel about that new Strokes album?

Jordana: I didn’t listen yet. What’s it called? The New Abnormal or something? 

Brad: Yeah, I think that’s what it is. It’s a stupid album title.

Jordana: Yeah, that’s really weird.

Brad: They went off the deep end because now they have an equal say, all the band members. But those two first albums apparently were like, Julian just wrote every part, told everyone exactly what to do. It was tightly under his control, and that’s probably why they’re so good. But now they’re all grown men and they won’t put up with that anymore, and so now their music suffers I think a little bit.

Jordana: Yeah, that’s weird how it’s just the power dynamic.

Brad: Yeah. Shit.

Jordana: I feel like I want to be able to pull off that thing, the multiple genre thing, I want to do that.

Brad: What do you mean?

Jordana: I feel like, I don’t want to be stuck on a label or anything. I want to be able to release different types of music and not have people be like, “Oh, this is really different from before.”

Brad: If you released something that was not as accessible and people didn’t listen to it as much, would you feel insecure about it?

Jordana: Yeah, I feel like I would.

Brad: Is the amount of people listening to your music important to you, or something you think about?

Jordana: Yeah. I want to have music for everyone. Something that every person can, I don’t know, I guess enjoy or resonate with, or whatever it is. I don’t want to be like, just sad indie stuff.

Brad: So you’d have to come out with a rap project, an emo project.

Jordana: Yeah. I actually want to try rap. I feel like that’d be cool, right? That’d be hip.

Brad: I have a rap album.

Jordana: You have a rap album?

Brad: Yeah. You haven’t heard it?

Jordana: No.

Brad: Check it out. Maddie Acid. Mixed reviews. Definitely the most controversial of the releases I’ve ever done.

Jordana: Have you ever done acid?

Brad: Yeah. Yeah I did.

Jordana: Do you like it?

Brad: I did like it. I was just in a good place and we went up to Joshua Tree, and I had these two buddies and we just did it, dropped it, started seeing all the good stuff, the colors, then walls were bending. All that stuff.

Jordana: Wow. Have you done shrooms?

Brad: I microdosed them, never the full psychedelic dose.

Jordana: I did five grams.

Brad: Under quarantine?

Jordana: No. It was at the beginning of the year. That was when I had an epiphany — my fake epiphany. I was like, Oh, shrooms, this makes me feel so good. Weed makes me feel like shit. But that’s not true. It’s just because I wasn’t taking my medicine. Take your medicine, everybody. It helps your little brains.

Brad: Well my favorite drug is molly and every time I do it I think, Man, it’s weird, why can’t we just be like this all the time?

Jordana: Right.

Brad: I should probably just do this all the time, because I feel so good and I feel just love. But you can’t do that all the time.

Jordana: I know, it sucks. Why can’t my brain work like that without doing it?

Brad: Why did God make us like that? Why did he give us the ability to experience that level of chemicals, but just keep us down?

Jordana: Right? God hates us.

Brad: I know. There is no God, but if there was he would hate us.

Jordana: Yeah. Do you believe in god?

Brad: No.

Jordana: I thought that I did, but I don’t really know anymore. I feel like we all have just this free will.

Brad: What do you think about the idea of determinism. Do you know about this?

Jordana: What is it?

Brad: Alright, this might be heady, and I don’t really explain it right. So it’s like: Imagine you could go down to the most subatomic level. You could see the direction and velocity, which way atoms were flying, and then you could predict where they would go, and how they would interact with other things, and you could extrapolate that basically to the farthest level where if you could just see the things that were happening, you could be able to predict everything that would happen forever. Basically it’s the idea that we are fated to do things. It’s already written what we’re going to do, because at some level you can already see the way, you can already predict the future. If you could just see it, you could predict what was going to happen. So if that’s true, then it must be that these things are already going to happen.

Jordana: My god.

Brad: What do you think about that?

Jordana: I don’t even understand that. I feel like I need to bonk on some cheeba before I even think deep about that. Shit. 

Brad: Alright, alright. JoJo, I think that’s going to have to do it for us.

Jordana: Yeah, JorJor and Bradley.

Brad: JorJor Bonks.

Jordana: Big B the Whippersnapper and JorJor Bonks back at you again.

Brad: Signing out. Congrats on the new album. Stay safe out there, and send the love to the family and all that good stuff.

Classical Notions of Happiness is out now via Grand Jury Records. 

(Photo Credit: left, Jacob Clark; right, Zane Roessell)

For 19-year-old Jordana Nye, kaleidoscopic bedroom pop songs aren’t merely outlets for observations, but ways to endure and embrace turbulence. Listeners will hear in full when she re-releases her treasured debut album Classical Notions of Happiness with three brand-new songs on March 27 via Grand Jury Records. 

Growing up in North Beach, Maryland, Jordana was surrounded by music in the most devout sense of the word. Her father, an organ player at the local church, encouraged her to learn piano from a young age. Instead, she found herself drawn to the violin, which she played for years before eventually switching to guitar. Classical Notions of Happiness is the culmination of a decade of practice and a slow delve into the expanses of SoundCloud.