Blinker The Star

Blinker The Star

“My songs are a way of communicating things I would never really want to talk about,” confesses Blinker The Star frontman Jordon Zadorozny (Za-duh-ROZ-knee; Zador rhymes with sadder). And his lyrics bear this out. For the most part, they are impressionistic, elliptical, almost coded. These poetic fragments nonetheless combine with Blinker’s moody, forward-looking rock to produce a very specific emotional state. Jordon describes it as “wistful.”

Though August Everywhere boasts its share of upbeat tunes, its prevailing complexion is, in fact, melancholy, ambivalent (and at times downright hallucinatory). Its title provides a clue as to why. “It’s about sex in the last weekend of August,” Jordon says before probing the deeper meanings. “Late summer/early fall is my favorite time of year. I love walking around late at night. It lets me enjoy the full experience of the season. I can smell the dying leaves and school starting up. I can smell Sunday night at seven o’clock.”

He concedes that the waning of summerno small event in his Canadian hometown of Pembroke, Ontario is a metaphor for change and loss. “A lot of the material for this album was written in August and early September,” he says. “That’s when I moved to Los Angeles, which was a pretty scary thing, especially since I’ve always loved Pembroke. A huge chapter of my life was ending because I was moving from this small town to ‘Sin City.’ I was afraid of losing a part of myself that I wouldn’t want to see gone.”

Jordon also recognizes the appearance of “satellites” in the record, explaining: “Some people have a clear direction in life. They follow their gut and know what they need to do. And then there are people who revolve around others, who need something neither you nor anyone else could ever give them.”

August Everywhere is a creative leap for Blinker The Star, which also numbers Pete Frolander (bass) and Kellii Scott (drums). While the spirit, energy and some of the more angular melodies found therein continue to suggest Jordon’s fondness for the established geniuses of punk, the album’s sophisticated songcraft and arrangements intimate the influence of classic pop artists.

“I’ve come to understand the value of brevity, of economy,” he declares. “I’ve got a much better grasp of counter-melodies and the sneaky little things that come in and out when you have good arrangements.” Remarks drummer Scott: “August Everywhere is a very musical recording, as opposed to, ‘Let’s just translate our live thing by turning everything up really loud and jumping all over the place.’ The music speaks for itself more, and I think that’s because Jordon has truly arrived as a songwriter.”

The ambitious sonic scope of the album is apparent in its layered harmonies, piano, synthesizers and strings (arranged by David Campbell, Beck’s father), in addition to guitar, bass and drums. Despite moments of orchestral sweep, however, recording August was a largely spontaneous process. “It’s meaty and complex,” Jordon asserts, “but we really banged it out.” Kellii confirms: “It was very off the cuff. When we went in to do the drum tracks, we wanted to produce results in a hurry I had to perform on the spot. But it really worked; this is by far the best I’ve ever sounded on record.”

Producer Ken Andrews attributes this extemporaneous ease to Jordon’s openness to musical ideas and to his innate abilities. “Jordon knows song structure and motifs so well that he can sit down with a guitar or piano and write a song in half an hour if he wants to. He understands all the technical stuff, but he also knows how to mine those emotional veins and blend the two together. It just kind of oozes out of him.”

Jordon’s been oozing music since he was a boy. His father, Peter Dawson (Dawson is a stage name), is an accomplished bluegrass musician who plays guitar, banjo and mandolin but mostly focuses on fiddle. He has released numerous albums and for years maintained a residency on the Wheeling, W. Va.-based “Jamboree USA.” Jordon’s mother, Carol Zadorozny, is a violinist and music scholar, though her specialty leans toward traditional Celtic music. She is what her son calls “a real feel player,” as well as a respected composer. (Jordon recently played on and produced an album for her that will be distributed to the many performers who wish to assay her compositions.) Younger brother Corey (three and a half years Jordon’s junior) is also a musician.

Moreover, while Jordon was growing up, his parents owned and operated a musical instrument store in downtown Pembroke, where the young man spent many a happy hour. “My father would be in the back of the store making violins, just toiling away, the patient craftsman,” he recalls. “My mother, the best salesperson in the world, would be selling people expensive organs they didn’t really need. The store sold everything from two-cent guitar picks to grand pianos, so all kinds of people would come in. There were the rocker guys, who’d blast ‘More Than a Feeling’ and ‘Centerfold’ out of their muscle cars, and the former draft dodgers, who were really into folk music and sought out my mom to teach them about ancient Celtic music. People were always coming in to bring dad coffee and shoot the breeze.”

This musical Bohemia permeated the Zadorozny household as well. “I’d come home and there would be people I’d never seen before in the kitchen, playing bagpipes and accordions and singing,” Jordon reports. Such activity was made official every year in early September, when the Zadorozny family would host competitors in the biggest fiddling contest in North America. Says Jordon: “On the Friday and Saturday nights, they have the actual competitions for fiddling and step dancing at the hockey rink. Thousands of people turn out. Then, when the contests end at 1:00 in the morning there’s an enormous hoe-down at our house, with different kinds of music in every room and everyone drinking and stamping their feet in time to the music. It’s wild.”

Nor did Jordon and his brother suffer from a lack of musical activity away from home. His parents both toured extensively (Mrs. Zadorozny as far away as Africa, where, according to Jordon, “she played 15th-century aires for people who’d never seen a white person before”). They hit the road together and alone, before their children were born and after (they are now separated but friendly). Every summer, the family would pack up the station wagon and wind their way through Canada’s Maritime Provinces and upstate New York, the boys watching their parents perform for thousands of people at various folk festivals.

Jordon fondly recalls vomit-inducing battles with Corey (not to mention bare-fisted encounters with some prickly jellyfish) during these adventures. With such colorful road memories, it’s no wonder he went on to become a musician. He started his professional performance career at seven. “My real intro to showbiz was this little song-and-dance routine I did with a girl I knew from school,” he explains. “We’d make 200 bucks a weekend.” (He later earned cash playing guitar for the Royal Canadian Legion swing band.)

By then, Jordon was also playing piano and guitar, picking up the former through lessons and the latter through an employee of his parents’ store. All along he’d been playing hockey, “but then Van Halen came out with 1984 and that was the end of that,” he states. Jordon also cites Top 40 radio, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles as early favorites, singling out a recording of The Fab Four performing “Twist and Shout” somewhere live in America that, he says, “just drove me wild I’d never heard anything like it.”

When Jordon was 12, his father equipped the family store with an eight-track recorder. He purchased it for cutting demos but never really had time to use it. Jordon and his friend Doug seized this opportunity, spending hours in the shop after it closed writing and recording songs. “We wrote about our little fantasy world,” Jordon says.

The pair later started a cover band, fronted by Doug’s older brother. “He was like 30 and we were 15, but he was a good singer,” Jordon points out. “He worked from midnight to eight every weekday and then hung out with us on the weekends. He had a huge record collection, with all the good stuff. The problem was he only wanted to do Bad Company songs the ones they recorded in the mid-’80s without Paul Rodgers. He hated the stuff we were getting into.”

Asked why he didn’t sing himself, Jordon responds: “My plan was always to get a band together where I’d write all the songs and have some amazing vocalist sing them. I would be the mastermind, but I wouldn’t have to sing I wouldn’t have to expose myself. But my mother was always saying, ‘With someone as headstrong as you, you’re never going to find anyone to do it right. You have to do it yourself.'”

Jordon did sing with a band called Potz Tillerman that included Doug and another friend. His first live rock gig was playing guitar and singing for Tillerman “at the outdoor bar of a white-water rafting place near where we lived.” He elaborates: “Everyone’s rafting and then they come in and drink. This band of kids gets up and plays, and the people at the bar just sort of scratch their heads.” He says of the experience: “I was scared shitless. I didn’t sing for a long time after that.” What made him finally give singing another shot? “Listening to Dinosaur Jr. bad singing, basically. It took the intimidation out of it. It was so loose. It made me see that I could go out and perform even if I wasn’t fully formed as a singer.”

It’s thus notable that Blinker producer Ken Andrews was initially drawn to the band because of Jordon’s voice. He says: “For most people, when you hear new music, in the first few seconds you either connect with the voice or you don’t; you either believe it and are pulled into the music, or you aren’t. Jordon’s voice sounded so real, like, okay, this guy has lived some kind of life. There was something behind it character.”

As his vocal confidence grew, it seemed inevitable that Jordon would again become a bandleader, a fact perhaps foreseen by Champlain Senior High School counselor D. M. Field, who wrote in a 1991 evaluation (full text of which accompanies this biography): “[Jordon is] a personable and persuasive person, a natural leader. When he wants people to do something, they seem to want to do it, too.” Still, Field also wrote: “I regret that his unconventional intellect and outstanding talents have not yet been reflected in concrete achievements.” Concrete achievements were in the offing, however.

After high school, Jordon moved to Montreal to study English at Concordia College. Upon arriving in the city, he posted an ad that read: “Looking to form a band. Influences: Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, William Burroughs.” Jordon relates: “This girl answered the ad. We jammed together and I gave her a tape of songs I’d recorded on the eight-track [which by then had been moved to the basement of the Zadorozny home]. She played it for some friends in a band called Tinker, who said to themselves, ‘Oh, we have to steal this guy away from her.'”

By the time Jordon joined Tinker, they were already a sensation in Montreal, due largely to the star power of their bassist, future Hole member Melissa Auf Der Maur. He recounts: “Melissa would walk down the street and these guys would just follow her around. The band was a democracy, so the songwriting process was very, very slow every member had to be present when the songs were written. It would take two weeks to write a song, which would result in these amorphous, jammy grunge things. I wasn’t very well suited to that process. I was still writing on my own, driving back to Pembroke on the weekends to record what turned out to be the first Blinker The Star album.”

In 1994, the live incarnation of Blinker “just started doing drunken gigs” in Montreal and Ottawa. “Those were pretty exciting shows, really fun to watch,” Jordon remembers. “They were loose as hell and wild bleeding from the hands and just some inspired stuff.” He insists the band’s first record was equally rough, disclosing, “It wasn’t meant to be a record I had no idea what I was doing.”

A&M Records felt otherwise. The label issued Blinker The Star on its Treat and Release imprint in 1995. “My mom wanted me to stay in school so if music didn’t work out, I could go teach somewhere,” Jordon says. “But I had absolutely no desire to do that. I said, ‘Give me a year. If nothing happens, I’ll go back to school.’ A month later, I somehow had a record deal.”

Ken Andrews, singer, guitarist and producer for the now-defunct band Failure, had been aware of Jordon since hearing some demos at his manager’s office. (Failure released three critically acclaimed albums 1992’s Comfort, 1994’s Magnified and 1996’s Fantastic Planet before splitting up in 1997; Kellii Scott was their drummer). Ken had attended Blinker’s first Los Angeles gig, and a mutual admiration society was born. When it came time to record A Bourgeois Kitten, the band’s 1996 follow-up to Blinker The Star, Ken was the natural choice to co-produce.

“I feel really secure with Ken,” Jordon confides. “He and I have a very easy relationship where there’s no ego involved. If we disagree on something, we’ll go play ping-pong, and we always end up working it out. He’s really my editor. He knows how to give each little part its own space, which sometimes means eliminating parts. But it’s all for the benefit of the song.”

The rapport he and Ken have developed in the studio is succinctly expressed by Ken, who says: “My whole thing is getting to the point, getting to what is the core of Jordon’s idea and kind of stripping away the other stuff. And we’ve gotten to where he trusts me not to strip away the good stuff.”

The lyrical content of August Everywhere is likewise honed to its essence. Jordon says of his spare approach to wordsmithing: “There’s not a lot of strict narrative going on. A lot of my lyrics are snapshots of a mood or feeling. And even though the feeling is mine, sometimes the scenario is borrowed. In those cases, I think the song is me expressing how I’d react to a situation someone else is in.” Observes Kellii: “You can get all sorts of different stories or meanings from Jordon’s songs.”

For Kellii, listening to August Everywhere is a constant process of discovery: “When you play it repeatedly, things pop out at you that you hadn’t heard before.” The album’s tendency to develop in the listener’s imagination as the disc is spun over and over reflects Jordon’s own creative blossoming. “At some point early in the process of making this album,” he says, “it became pretty clear that I was turning into something else.”

Turning into a songwriter, turning into a bandleader, turning into an Angeleno all this can indeed be heard on August Everywhere. These are bittersweet, stop-and-start transitions. But they show that Jordon’s fear of losing a part of himself was unfounded. They prove his embrace of “the bosom of hellfire,” with its “science and live wires” (the L.A. of album track “I Am a Fraction”), has helped him find a part of himself and fulfill the potential his high school counselor spotted all those years ago.

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