By Sally Svenlén
Coming to university and choosing what to study is a lot of pressure. For many people it may feel like you are deciding upon what you want to do for the rest of your life. Law-fresher Jordan Sheath however will not only be burying his head in contract law books in the coming year but will also be releasing his second album.
Born and raised in Southampton, Jordan made his musical debut at age five in his primary school’s Christmas musical as the singing postman. It was his first time performing on stage and the positive reaction to his performance encouraged him to pursue his musical interests.
Jordan was never interested in taking singing lessons. Instead he started teaching himself guitar at the age of 14, partly because of one of his big music inspirations. “I saw Ed Sheeran, before he was famous, play in Southampton. And you could already see then that he was going to be really, really special. That was the first proper gig I went to. I think he’s brilliant because obviously nowadays in the industry it’s very rare that you get a famous singer who also writes all his songs without any help.”
Jordan’s first attempt to write his own music was when he was 9 years old. He wrote a song about the passing away of his grandma, which he sang for his parents. After that he continued to develop his writing, later adding chords with his guitar.
Doing music professionally was not initially on the map. However one of his school projects that involved producing songs gave Jordan a route into the music industry. Suddenly he was on the top ITunes chart between Ed Sheeran and One Direction (a screenshot his mum now proudly has on her wall at home). “It was the first time I ever thought: okay maybe I can make a career out of this.”
It was also around this time that he met his current producer, Olly. He helped Jordan produce his songs in his school project and they have been working together ever since. Jordan emphasises what an extremely important part Olly plays in the making of his music. Even though Jordan writes the music and lyrics, Olly is “the one who brings all these boring acoustic songs into life. A lot of credit goes to the production side of music because without them it would just be me and a guitar.”
Luckily, they also supported Jordan’s choice to go to university. “They actually find it quite funny I’m going into law because of the contrast. Think of the stereotypical idea of an acoustic musician, a guy with a guitar, and compare that to a lawyer in a suit!” Nevertheless, Jordan had always enjoyed school. His parents pushed him to prioritize studies over music, and he’s always loved writing and been a keen reader. This made law a reasonable choice for his university degree. “I’m also very interested in how law effects everyday situations. It’s a subject that has a bearing on every single facet of society.”
Jordan is not shying away from the extracurricular activities on offer at Durham either. He is taking part in the Jam Society, football team and charity societies as CATSS and DUCK. Charity has played an important role in the development of his musical career too. Since the age of 16 Jordan has been travelling to Africa every year to help with disadvantaged children. On his first visit he decided to bring his guitar and ended up performing his single “Superman” for the first time in public to them. Jordan used to be quite nervous performing: ‘My leg used to shake so bad, I was like ‘keep my leg still, keep my leg still.’’ But ever since that special performance, he’s been really comfortable performing around people. “It was their reception to it that caused me to think: I can actually release this on ITunes and Spotify and maybe make something of it. They gave me the confidence to do that. And that confidence they gave me I try returning every year and just try to do my bit to help out. These kids are living in very difficult situations but they are really the happiest kids I’ve ever seen. They are a big inspiration for me.”
Aside from travelling to Africa, Central and North America during his gap year, Jordan was also in Brighton recording his new album “Skip the Small Talk”, to be released in December or January. Jordan is honest about his albums, commenting on his first album that “my song writing was at that stage still quite immature I would say.” However his new album has really allowed him to grow. ‘It’s about a relationship I had this past year when I was 18. It basically goes through every single stage that relationship. And it goes into quite a lot of detail, it’s quite revealing. And yeah I would definitely say my song writing has matured and started to reveal more and more about the emotional side of relationships.’
Until his album is released, Jordan is just building up his fan base; “Mainly in social media, releasing lots of cover songs, trying to get people interested in my music. It’s been three years since I released my first album so it’s been a big gap I’ve taken.” Jordan is becoming more aware of the fans he already has. One of his flatmate’s sister went crazy when she heard Jordan was living in the same corridor as her sister as she has been a big fan of him ever since he released his first song. She is coming up to visit soon, whether to visit her sister or to see Jordan I didn’t ask. ‘That was surreal, you know, that I had a fan.’
Jordan loves Durham and the many social opportunities it offers, both through the college system and with its small size. ‘Anywhere you go in the city you meet someone you know. I like that community feeling.’ Having a lot of friends around you who you can talk to makes university life a lot more enjoyable. Especially as most people have a lot of important decisions to make ahead. When his first album went high on the charts he had the opportunity to choose going down the music route, but chose academics. If the same thing happens again with the second album, Jordan indicates he would choose to pursue academics again and at least finish his degree, trying to keep all his options open.
Figuring out your life is like trying to write a song. You need to play around with the chords and melodies and tempos, the rhymes have to fit and the syllables have to fall in the right places. And then you need to find that hook in the chorus; the thing that makes it unique and stand out from all the millions of other songs. As Jordan explains: “the music industry is such a hard industry to succeed in. My mum and dad have always told me to just treat it as a hobby. Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t let it become something bigger than it is. At the end of the day, if you put too much pressure on yourself to try and become famous and make a living out of it, you’re not going to succeed because you won’t be enjoying it. The main thing is really to prioritize the enjoyment of it, rather than lusting for fame and celebrity.”
We might see Jordan in London at a law firm in five years, or we might see him performing on Wembley Stadium. For now, however, we’ll see him walking up and down the streets of Durham, half of the time with his guitar on his shoulder and half of the time with a heavy backpack full of Law books, on the way to just another lecture, appearing to many onlookers as just another student.
Don’t miss Jordan’s new album “Skip the Small Talk” coming out at the end of this year. You can also find Jordan’s first album on Spotify and ITunes “What would you do?”.
Photograph: Sandra Kay Foster