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“It’s a taste of where I have been and where I’m going,” says Jordan Arts, aka HIGH HØØPS of his just released debut album Seasons On Planet Earth.
Appropriately enough, the record marks a new chapter for Arts on the business side of things, too: it’s the first long player to be released on A Label Called Success, the company he has set up with friend and collaborator Connor Nestor.
But whether it’s creating music or developing a business strategy, this he is determined to pursue his career on his own terms.
Arts was previously one half of electro popsters Kids of 88, which he formed with his school pal Sam McCarthy and who enjoyed spectacular success at the beginning of the decade thanks to hits such as ‘My House’ and ‘Just A Little Bit’, with the latter winning Single of The Year at the 2010 Vodafone NZ Music Awards. However, their follow-up album, 2012’s Modern Love, failed to reach the same giddy, and although the band made some international inroads, by the time they called it day two years later, Arts was feeling pretty jaded about the whole music business.
“Sam and I were confronted with these massive opportunities that were fuelled by a bigger machine,” he recalls. “Now for me, it’s a time to regroup and say ‘this is what I really want to make’. In my early 20s, I would be thinking about who would enjoy it or where it would sit in the music scene. But now it’s about me enjoying it – and it’s a peaceful place to be.”
Since Kids Of 88, Arts’ career has followed an eclectic path. As well as being a member of Kiwi pop ‘supergroup’ Leisure – whose self-titled 2016 debut reached #2 on the NZ album chart – he has collaborated with artists such as Kiwi hip hop artists SWIDT and High Beams, Netherlands-based producer Moods and Australian electronic act Roland Tings, and also made music videos for the likes of Broods and Matthew Young.
However, Seasons On Planet Earth sees him very much in solo mode: as well as playing every instrument on the album, but also took on all writing, producing, engineering and mixing duties.
A joyous blend of supple dancefloor grooves (‘People, ‘Madly’, ‘Burn It Up’ and downtempo slow burners (‘Blue Eyes’, ‘Dangerous’), the mix of moods reflects his changing outlook on life over the past few years.
“It’s about the emotion that is attached to any of my times over the last two or three years,” he explains. “I have had quite a few switch-ups – living scenarios, relationships scenarios etc – so some of the songs are two or three years old, while some only just made the final deadline.
“The latest single ‘Madly’ is one of the fresher ones and is one of the songs that I am truly excited about because it’s a fair representation of the music I want to make in this period of my life. But every track on the record has had its moment of me loving it for more than a month. That’s almost my test: if I can listen it to for a month and still love it and then I will keep it.”
The album also finds Arts feeling much more comfortable these days with his vocals. “Leisure was a time when I started to sing more,” he says. “It was that confidence of thinking ‘I can actually hold a note’. I’m not a natural singer and never have been, but once I came to terms with this, I could use it as strength and a core of individuality. There was a lot of music I listened to in my early 20s that I would try and emulate, but now with my voice, there is now only one person who can make it sound like that – me – and that’s liberating.”
So far, HIGH HØØPS has been pretty much a studio-only affair, but Arts hopes to flesh out the sound of the album with some live dates. “It’s going to be nice to have a few extra bodies on the stage to give it a more human expression,” he says. “I am looking forward to that – it should be a cool 2019.”
He is also enjoying juggling both the creative and business side of his career. And he sees Seasons On Planet Earth as a statement of intent for A Label Called Success. “You have to believe in your own creations before you can start believing in anybody else’s,” he reasons. “But it was a cool opportunity to put the HOOPS record first – hopefully we’ve set a tone, a vibe for the label.”
The idea for starting their own label came about two years ago. Nestor says initially it was a vehicle for the music he had been making with Arts, but it started to snowball when friends of theirs began sending them tracks as well.
Arts adds: “What we found with a lot of our friends that they would be sending us demos that were fresh and exciting but wouldn’t necessarily fit on pop radio or indie alternative radio.”
With a distribution deal in place with Sony Music, the label’s roster include neo-soul artist Bailey Wiley, who has collaborated with the likes of Raiza Biza, PNC and Sola Rosa, electronic duo Imugi, who will be performing at next year’s NZ leg of Laneways, and Lilly Carron, who Nestor describes as an “amazing” new singer.
At this stage, the label’s plans for the latter three artists are still to be finalised, with the pair saying that it will come down to what sort of release strategy each artist wishes to follow.
“It’s about understanding the context of who the artist is and what they are saying in their music spectrum,” Nestor says. ‘It is interesting to approach each project differently. Even for a new artist that we start working with, it’s like ‘what do you want to do and why do you want to do that collection of songs’? Is this a statement piece that sums up a particular moment in time, or do you want to keep putting out songs as they come?”
Arts says one of the challenges for A Label Called Success is finding a fresh angles on how to put music out in this new digital age where people are often more interested in individual tracks than long players. The pair hope to bridge that gap with a ‘singles club’ next year, which will see a different release each month from a wide range of new artists, with a compilation to follow at the end of 2019.
“We started just putting out singles and we want to get back to that core,” adds Nestor. “We want to work with a lots of people – that’s fun for us.”