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Juno Nominee JRDN As New As He Feels

Photo credit : Handout
Juno Nominee JRDN As New As He Feels

What’s new? The answer is all relative.

Take Best New Artist Juno nominee JRDN. He’s the 33-year-old R&B singer whose lady-wooing jams “U Can Have it All” and “Like Magic” were Top 40 on the Canadian singles chart -- and whose first album arrived in 2007 (No Dress Code, a record produced by fellow Juno nominee, rapper Classified, who even made JRDN his +1 to the 2006 Junos).

But JRDN is feeling “newer” than an artist with two records behind him might. That vowel-deprived name, for example: that’s new. New-ish, anyway. Raised Ralph Jordan Croucher in Halifax, the singer re-christened himself in time for the November 2010 release of current album IAMJRDN (which is up for a R&B/Soul Recording of the Year Juno).

And with a new name came the attitude of a rebooted pop artist. Never mind his aforementioned discography, according to JRDN, his current (and technically second) album is where he wants his story to begin.

“I still feel like a new artist because IAMJRDN was my debut,” says the singer. “For me, that was my debut even though I had released something before, the process was totally different this time.”

JRDN explains: for No Dress Code -- let’s just call it Album Zero -- he describes the process as rushed, a record put together by a musician who was still very much a student of studio-craft. The 13 songs he had time to record were the 13 songs that made the album. For IAMJRDN, he re-evaluated who he was as a singer and how he wanted to introduce himself.

“To me it’s more R&B than what I was into before. Before I was doing a lot more hip hop, but this time it’s more at home for me, like the music I fell in love with,” says JRDN, who frequently cites ‘90s hitmaker Babyface as an inspiration. He also took his time, recording 70 songs with Toronto production duo Kulya (Shawn Desman, Nicole Scherzinger) over three years -- and between cities including Toronto, New York, Atlanta and L.A.

The Juno nominee is actually calling from a Toronto recording studio as he relates all of this, “getting excited” about JRDN album No. 2, though he admits the project is in the “really early stages.” (“My plan is hopefully to release a single before the year is out, in the fourth quarter some time, but we’ll see,” he says, revealing he wants the record “to be sexier this time around,” presumably adding a little more synthesized steam to IAMJRDN’s songs of radio romance. “Newly being single for about a year now, that’s probably inspiring it,” he laughs.)

“I feel like I’m arriving as an artist as opposed to before where I was just, you know, trying some things out,” JRDN says, though he adds, “it doesn’t take anything away from the old work that I’ve done. …It’s a growing process.”

Again, “new” is all relative. And whether you mark JRDN -- or Jordan’s -- start date in 2003 or 2010, music, for him, is a relatively new deal. His first career was in basketball -- which we say in warning to anyone competing against him at this year’s Juno Hoops. He won back-to-back national titles in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 while playing university basketball at StFX. And after graduation, he played for a professional team in France. He wasn’t much of a musician during those days -- unless you count karaoke nights, the occasional gig singing the national anthem and “a couple of shows in Antigonish” jamming with some jazz students. “That was pretty much it besides putting my headphones on and making everybody mad by singing on the bus,” he says.

While he was in France, though, JRDN began thinking about what he wanted to do with his life. “I had a lot of time to myself, so I started to think about what I could do -- if I don’t make it to the NBA, what’s something I could do? And I loved singing,” he says. He started writing lyrics, and by the time he returned to Halifax -- his first season in France finished, and finding himself between job opportunities -- he brought his material to his friends (or at least the ones who’d be able to help him land studio hours).

“I’d be like, ‘Hey man, let’s go to the studio.’ And they didn’t believe me, like, ‘You play ball. You’re no artist.’” JRDN recalls -- though he got his chance, and, he says, “I started working with rappers from my community.” The singer was a member of Halifax group N.E.P., releasing mixtapes with them, and opening for the likes of Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Nas at local shows.

“And I really started to fall in love with just creating and writing and, you know, being able to go into the studio and coming out with something,” he remembers. “It was amazing.”

And that feeling, says JRDN, is “still new.”

“I kind of treat it [music] like a sport. Like, I was pretty successful in basketball and had a lot of accomplishments, but that came over so much time, and so much energy put into it. I still feel like I can be a better artist.”

JRDN is nominated for Best New Artist and R&B/Soul Recording of the Year. The 2012 Juno Awards are broadcast live from Ottawa, Sunday, April 1 on CTV.