Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive! Podcast Episode 011
My guest today is singer-songwriter Marc Jordan. With numerous ASCAP, JUNO, SOCAN and Smooth Jazz awards to his credit, Marc Jordan’s work has appeared on some 35 million+ CDs. He’s written for and with Diana Ross, Chicago, Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Natalie Cole, Olivia Newton-John, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, Josh Groban, Cher, Rod Stewart — including the #1 hit, “Rhythm of My Heart” and currently for Stewart’s upcoming album — and wife, singer/songwriter Amy Sky.
Marc has just released his first album in six years called Both Sides with a collection of chilled out romantic contemporary jazz arrangements of popular songs by some of his favourite composers, along with previously unreleased original compositions.
We had a lovely conversation about songwriting, the music industry and his other creative outlet of painting.
Some songs we talked about…
SHOW NOTES: Transcription
Diane Foy: Hello, welcome to the show. When you look back at your career, what highlights stand out to you most?
Marc Jordan: It’s when people said yes, and I think that is something that when you are young you don’t really understand that it only takes one or two or three people in your life, really, to say yes. Most people will say, no. Most people won’t get what we do. Especially if you are original and you should be original. It’s two things, it’s sort of human nature, not to stick your neck out like I’m talking about record companies and people like that. People who need to further your career. It’s easier for them to say no to you because then it’s not on them if it fails and so it kind of gets it. It’s a little bit not depressing, but it’s hard in the beginning because nobody wants to be that first person who will stick their neck out a say you are great and I am going to help you. So you gotta find that person and it’s hard.
Diane Foy: And you have to have thick skin to accept all those no’s.
Marc Jordan: That’s right, but that’s the thing, you have to remember your product is you, when you are in the media or if you do music or if you are an actor or dancer. Your product is you so you don’t have that to sort of buffer between you and some other thing that you are trying to promote or sell. Like if you were selling coffee or something it would be different.
Diane Foy: If people don’t like it, it’s not you personally.
Marc Jordan: That’s right. They’re not saying no to you. They’re saying, well, I don’t really love this. But when it’s art, it’s a bit more personal and that’s what makes it hard, but it’s worth it because it’s important.
Diane Foy: Who was your first big yes or important yes?
Marc Jordan: Well, it was a very important first Yes. His name was Doug (?). He lives out west in Edmonton and he was the first guy that said I like your songs, I’d like to publish some of your songs and he did. He published some and then he scraped some money together and we made a record out of it in Vancouver. It didn’t do very well, but we were just kinda feeling our way and I was really young. Uh, and then um, the CBC years ago they used to have a thing where they would bring you into the studio and they would make what was called transcription records. So they would record you and then they would play the recording on all their different stations across Canada. So number one. It was great learning in the studio and then you got exposure across Canada so it helps you tour. and then I took those or my manager took those recordings and went to L.A. and immediately got a deal.
Diane Foy: You come from a musical family. What kind of music was around your house when you were a kid?
Marc Jordan: Everything. My dad was a classical singer, classically trained, but he loved any music that he thought was good. In fact, his favorite and this helped me later on in life, his favourite music was Maritime folk music. Even though he was like a classical guy, so we had those maritime folk songs from the forties and 50s around the house playing all the time. So that really, you know, everything is an influence, it comes from the strangest places so when Rod Stewart was looking for a song, he kind of has a little bit of that maritime folk thing crossed with American R&B. It’s sort of a hybrid, what he does. So I knew what he wanted.
Diane Foy: Good training ground.
Marc Jordan: Yeah.
Diane Foy: What was it that made you decide that this was going to be your career or was it just always something that, that was it, that was what you were going to do?
Marc Jordan: Well, I’m very dyslexic so I wasn’t a very good student and I thought, no teenager wants to do what their dad does, really.
Diane Foy: You got to rebel.
Marc Jordan: You gotta, so I thought I’d go into film, because I love film and I did and I studied it, at Brock University for a couple of years. You know Brock University has this tower, It’s right across the lake from Toronto and I thought geez, all my friends are there playing music. They’re all in bands and it was the flowering of Yorkville and all that music that came out of Toronto. So I quit school and joined a band and hit the road. We played Creedence Clearwater Revival songs and stuff like that.
Diane Foy: So your new album called Both Sides and there’s a lot of cover songs, so I’m interested in for such an amazing songwriter. What made you do cover songs?
Marc Jordan: They’re songs that I’ve always wanted to do and its a bit of an homage to my dad. A lot of these songs I grew up with, although there’s a very eclectic mix as there is everything from Hoagy Carmichael to Lou Reed. When I approached Lou Pomanti, who produced the record, he said let’s find an orchestra and we decided to go with the Prague Symphony.
Diane Foy: Were you in the room with all those musicians?
Marc Jordan: Well, no, but it felt like it because what you do is you, we did the bed tracks in Toronto, with drums, bass and piano, and a rough vocal and you send that to Prague with click tracks and the score and then you tie line it into the studio. So you’re virtually there, I could see everybody you could talk to everybody on a big screen, so it’s almost like you’re there. It’s just a half a second later. And it was, uh, it was amazing. They were so good, they did it quickly and they sound beautiful. And we did the same thing with Measha Brueggergosman who sang on “Calling You.” She was in Banff and we did the same thing with her, we tie lined her into the studio. We were in Toronto and she was in Banff.
Diane Foy: I love that version of “Calling You” that you did. It’s so beautiful.
Marc Jordan: Oh my god, what a voice she has.
Diane Foy: Such a great song. It is. I always remember Holly Cole doing that one.
Marc Jordan: That’s right, she did. Yeah. It’s a beautiful unconventional song. As is you know, Walk on the Wild Side. It’s such a strange, document.
Diane Foy: Maybe pick a couple of songs that are on the new album and explain what makes them a great song.
Marc Jordan: Ok Let’s talk about “Walk on the Wild Side”. What Lou Reed did in that song was and I don’t think he did it on purpose, that song is the connective tissue between beat poetry from the 40s and 50s in New York and hip hop. That’s right in the middle of the two. It wasn’t sung. It wasn’t spoken, it was somewhere in between how Lou Reed did it. And it’s not slick. It’s rough. It just says New York in the 60s and 70s. It’s a document about how things were at that moment in time. It’s like a movie. so that is what makes it a great song for me.
Diane Foy: And what about both sides?
Marc Jordan: I think “Both Sides Now” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, I remember hearing Joni Mitchell sing that song when she was maybe 20 in her high voice and I loved the song then. Then I heard she did it again with the London Symphony Orchestra and her voice, she was maybe in her 70s and her voice was deep, and the song changed for me. It was about, it became deeper, and more resident. So that is the hallmark of a great song, a song that depending on who’s singing it or, or how it’s being produced can bring something extra, bring something new every time. I also think that song could never have been written today because it’s about looking at clouds from a plane and nobody looks out the windows anymore.
Diane Foy: we’re all on our phone or computer or watching a movie or
Marc Jordan: And we put the shade down because we don’t want the glare on the screen, but you know you’re missing a lot of. There’s a lot of stuff in the sky, there are clouds, there is the sun in the clouds, there is rain, there are sunsets and starlight and there is little towns that twinkle like jewelry on the black earth. The crazy quilt of farms in the midwest in the day. I still think flying is a miracle so I always try and look out the window because I just think it’s fascinating and I see a new world with a different lens.
Diane Foy: What inspires your songwriting? Is it something different every time?
Marc Jordan: Money.
Diane Foy: Money, ha ha ha
Marc Jordan: And we both laugh. What inspires. I’m driven to write.
Diane Foy: Do you write every day?
Marc Jordan: I write every day, I do. I feel so lucky to have music in my life and to have been able to make a living at it. I love it. It completes me. It allows me to say things that I might not otherwise say. I loved it. I also love to sing. I love to go out, do concerts, we have a bunch coming up in May. You know, when I was young I didn’t enjoy it so much, because it was all about me. But then I realized very quickly that it’s not about me at all. It’s about the people that come to see you and it’s about that two-way communication between the singer and the listener. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s a great gift I get from the audience and I hope that they get something from me as well. but I do love it now, I love the people, they are so generous.
Diane Foy: You are in a bit of a songwriter supergroup now, how did that come about?
Marc Jordan: Lunch at Allen’s. Murray McLauchlan used to have these lunches at Allen’s restaurant on the Danforth here in Toronto. We were sitting around having lunch and he had been asked to do a songwriters circle event. He doesn’t like doing them so he said I’ll do it if I can have Marc, Ian [Thomas] and Cindy [Church]. And so he brought it up at lunch and we said yeah and we were going to just do one, but there was an agent in the audience and he said you want to do three more? Because we play like a band. It’s not like a songwriters circle, everybody plays with everybody else. So I get to be a sideman on Cindy or Murray or Ian’s stuff and it’s great. You know, you get a deeper appreciation for other people’s music when you’re a sideman.
Diane Foy: You get to see other people interpreting your songs too.
Marc Jordan: Yes, exactly. And um, you know, it’s a lot of fun, we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun. Murray and Ian are very funny and we have all been doing it a long time so we all have stories and it’s very cool
Diane Foy: So what comes first for you when your songwriting, is it the lyrics or the melody?
Marc Jordan: They kind of come together and I’ll tell you why. Because melody is language. The first language was this, people beating on trees, and then I guess they started chanting over that and in a way, rhythm is language. The trick with writing a great song is saying the same words that the melody is saying and it doubles the power. So that’s when I try to do, I try to listen to what I’m singing, I sing all sorts of crazy things and as soon as I sing something that suggests a word or a phrase or an idea or an emotion, I write it down and that’s how I get started.
Diane Foy: Do you ever get writer’s block?
Marc Jordan: I used to, but I don’t anymore. When I was in LA because I was working, you know, for many years I was a staff writer at Warner Chappell in Hollywood and then Geffen publishing as well and then back to Warner. so I was writing, you know, it’s a lot of pressure actually. So if I ever had writer’s block, my trick was I would put on, in those days it was cassettes, I would put on Joni Mitchell cassette in my car and drive through the hills. When I came back in an hour, the writer’s block was gone. She is so brilliant, a genius for sure.
Diane Foy: Is there a song that you’ve written that stands out as you have great satisfaction of completing because it was a struggle to write?
Marc Jordan: Yeah. There was a song actually, the original title was Amazon and it became Burning Down the Amazon, and that was a three year period that it took me to get there. I wrote it with my writing partner John Capek in LA. It started out to be just about the Amazon, but right around that time they elected a guy who wanted to burnout big chunks of the Amazon. So people were, you know, I mean the Amazon is where a lot of the oxygen comes from, it’s really the lungs of the planet, so it takes in carbon and spits out oxygen, there was a lot of protests going on, so I changed the song to Burning Down The Amazon. We recorded it at Capitol studios in Hollywood and a lot of people sang on it, sort of a We Are The World thing.
Diane Foy: Was there a song that just came so easy to you that it flowed out?
Marc Jordan: “Marina del Rey” was the fastest song that I had ever written.
Diane Foy: How long did it take?
Marc Jordan: Under an hour, that song just came to me. I just got to L.A. and on the way to the hotel I saw the sign along the highway that said next exit Marina del Rey, and I thought what a cool thing that was and it just stuck in my brain. I got to the hotel and I wrote it.
Diane Foy: Do you write better on your own or when you are collaborating with other songwriters?
Marc Jordan: I used to write on my own all the time, but I got too lonely.
Diane Foy: Do you do any of the sessions where it’s like, you know, five writers in a room or is it more of a duo thing.
Marc Jordan: Duo thing, I never did the 5 writers in a room thing.
Diane Foy: or 20 with Beyonce songs
Marc Jordan: Anybody in the room. No. You had to be a contributor and I had people I worked with. Three or four people that I worked with all the time.
Diane Foy: Are there any newer artists or songwriters out now that you kind of think, oh wow, they have something really special?
Marc Jordan: Well this is going to sound nepotistic and maybe it is, but my son and daughter, Zoe Sky Jordan and Ezra Jordan. My boy is on the charts now in the states. And they’re just doing it themselves and you know its so much harder now because you have to do everything yourself and there isn’t the infrastructure there was, there isn’t the immediate cash that there was in the industry when I was starting out.
Diane Foy: Now you have to raise your own funds for the recording and everything.
Marc Jordan: They used to give you a bit of dough so you could just do what you do. About the only thing I can do is play the guitar and piano, and write songs. Instead of having to do promotion and this and that, blah blah blah, road managing and booking. They gave me a little bit of money, so I can rent a pad and I can just do what I do. That was good.
Diane Foy: Yeah, I find working with artists now that’s their dream, but we always have to kind of go, okay, but the reality is if that’s all you want to do, good luck with that.
Marc Jordan: It’s hard because as you said, you gotta do all those extra things, but it’s slowly changing and it will change.
Diane Foy: In what way?
Marc Jordan: I think the streaming rate will go up, it just did but they are fighting it. There is a lot of money in the system, it is just going to the wrong people. The record companies grab a lot of it and the creators don’t get enough of the pie.
Diane Foy: In some ways, because the artists are doing everything themselves. I guess the theory is that they will get a bigger part of the pie because there are no other people involved.
Marc Jordan: But it makes it hard to begin.
Diane Foy: Because you have to learn all about marketing and the business of the industry. What advice do you give your children about navigating the entertainment industry?
Marc Jordan: They know more about it than I do now.
Diane Foy: They’ve been around it
Marc Jordan: They’ve been around it, they know, they know what to do. As I’m watching it, I realize it’s hard. Listen, it was hard in my day for different reasons, there were things that were very tough. so every generation has their ups and downs, but I think it’s just a little bit out of whack right now. I don’t think the royalty system is quite right yet. I think artists need to get a little more. the industry is still generating bucket loads of money, it’s just that it’s not trickling down fast enough to the kids that are making it.
Diane Foy: What do you think will it take to make a change?
Marc Jordan: You have to lobby congress, lobby the government in Canada and Europe. They just changed the royalty rate in Europe, it’s gone up quite a bit. They have done it in the states and I think Spotify is fighting it. I’m not 100% sure but there is some push back on the corporate side but it will happen because Culture is too important to let just anybody with a laptop to make a record. With music, the best and the brightest need to be supported. They need to be able to make a living.
Diane Foy: You are a painter now too, how long have you been doing that?
Marc Jordan: I always painted in my head, I’ve been doing it about 5, 6 years. I always saw things in a painterly kind of way. I don’t really call it painting, I call it flat music. I’m not like a schooled painter, but I do abstracts and I also do…I have a big canoe series called Canoe’s because there is something about the shape that I love. I love Canada and I love the lakes and the heritage of it so I paint a lot of lakes and canoes, but I also do a lot of abstracts, instruments and such.
Diane Foy: Do you see your songs visually?
Marc Jordan: Yes
Diane Foy: Then filmmaking may have been your calling too.
Marc Jordan: Absolutely. I developed a visual thing because I was very bad at the other, like reading, following rules and learning, it was hard for me because I didn’t understand what I was reading.
Diane Foy: Do you write music for film?
Marc Jordan: I have, yeah. I’m actually the chair of the songwriting department at the Canadian Film Centre, Norman Jewison‘s film center. I help with kids who are writing songs for film because I have done quite a lot of it.
Diane Foy: How do you help new songwriters, are you teaching them songwriting or giving them guidance or is it more of a mentorship?
Marc Jordan: I talk to them about songwriting, I don’t help them with individual songs. I listen to what they have done and I make piffy comments designed to make them into geniuses.
Diane Foy: And sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t I assume.
Marc Jordan: There is a built-in thing with writing for film and that is directors tend to be word people, tend to be readers and not listeners. Norman Jewison was one of the exceptions, as is [Martin] Scorsese, he gets music in a big way. But a lot of directors won’t even listen to the music, they read it and because a lyric isn’t a poem, it’s not a novel, it’s not a poem, its something combined with the melody, so you have to listen.
Diane Foy: So they just read the lyrics? But how do you visualize that in a scene?
Diane Foy: So what’s next for you?
Marc Jordan: Well, I have some concerts coming up in May. I will be at the Meridian Theatre in Ottawa on May 2nd, Grand Theatre in Kingston on May 4th, Collingwood Gayete Theatre May 5th, May 6th at the Roxy in Owen Sound and in Peterborough on May 8th at the Market Hall, Guelph on the 9th at the River Run centre and at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa on the 10th.
Diane Foy: And I always ask my guests, what is your why? Why do you do what you do?
Marc Jordan: I’m compelled to do it and I love doing it, It fills a need inside me, it’s a little bit how I communicate with the outside world and its something I can do, and I love it. My dad always said do something you love.
Diane Foy: Is there anything that you haven’t done that you still kind of have as a future goal?
Marc Jordan: Not really. To keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve had number one hits, I’ve played big theatres, what else? It’s just to keep on keeping on.
Diane Foy: That’s amazing. How big a part is painting to your life? Like you write every day. Do you paint every day?
Marc Jordan: Yeah. Well maybe not every day, but I always say I’m in the studio seven days a week, creating something. When I used to take a break from music, let’s say I worked all morning, have lunch and maybe take an hour off, well that hour now I go into my painting studio because it really is relaxing.
Diane Foy: And I would imagine that both would inspire the other.
Marc Jordan: I think so. I think so. I think that’s why I call flat music because for me it’s very much music, its balance, and color, there is architecture in it, and it’s love.
Diane Foy: Have you ever painted one of your songs or wrote a song about one of your paintings?
Marc Jordan: No, I haven’t, I’ve never done that.
Diane Foy: I think I set your goal. Something you haven’t done yet. It seems like if they inspire each other that could be a really cool thing. A cool art and music show.
Marc Jordan: I have done that. I have art shows where I put on concerts sometimes.
Diane Foy: Any parting words of wisdom?
Marc Jordan: I would say that everybody knows in their heart if, you know people who are doing music, if they can stick it out when the times get hard and times get hard, even if you are successful, times get hard. so if you love it that much, do it, because it is a wonderful way to spend a life. Life when you are communicating with people, there is little that is better than that.
Diane Foy: Where can people find you online? Are you on social media?
Marc Jordan: It is marcjordan.com and it all branches out from there.
Diane Foy: Wonderful. Well, that’s all I have for you. Thank you for spending the time.
Marc Jordan: Thank you so much.