Jordan Hoban wrote the music on his latest release, Songs of Loss, with the same emotional intensity and care as someone writing an obituary for a loved one. It only makes sense. The eight-song album was written in response to the death of a family member.
Hoban does not name the family member that Songs of Loss serves as a memorial too, and he applies that same sense of protectiveness to his art. Only those who really want to hear the new album will find it. That's because Hoban has released Songs on cassette only, and it's available only in select Charlotte music stores such as Lunchbox Records, or by mail via his Bandcamp page.
"It's so personal that I don't want it to just be hanging around online," Hoban says of the album. He did offer digital versions to the eight people who pre-ordered the album. But now, the only way to listen to Songs of Loss is in analog format on a cassette player. "This record is so special and so close to me, I can't imagine it being just out there."
Hoban is a man who thinks about things in ways most people wouldn't consider. A walk through the forest for him isn't just a walk; it is a magical journey; each step a disruption in the earth's soil and each breath shared with the trees and other plant life. Hoban tries to convey those details in his music through light strumming on an acoustic guitar, single notes played on an old piano, or by manipulating the sounds of instruments such as a glockenspiel. The results are haunting arrangements that leave a deep feeling of sadness that lingers long after the tape runs out.
But why doesn't Hoban make his music more readily available? He says it's because he considers his creations sacred. It's not that he's pretentious — it's that he wants his art to be experienced by those who really care about it. In fact, it took a long time for him to decide to release Songs of Loss at all. "I just holed myself up in a room, wrote the album in about a week and just held onto it for about a year," he says.
Hoban treated the days leading up to the release with the same sensitivity. He asked close friends and family members to listen to the album the way it was created: in the forest. "Songs of Loss was written by walking through the park. I would come up with the lyrics and the melodies. The tempo was based on the speed of my cadence," he says. He sent his listeners off for a walk through the park with an MP3 player so that they could experience the music as close to his interpretation as possible.
Hoban took great care to make sure the acoustic integrity was uninhibited by digital conversions. He wanted the authentic sounds of the various instruments, as well as his voice, to remain in analog format. To achieve this, he recorded each cassette separately. What's more, on each solid white plastic cassette case, he etched the words "Songs of Loss" by hand.
During his performances, Hoban may be found standing on stage with an acoustic guitar and a group of people clapping with carefully rehearsed rhythms and blank expressions. Other times he's backed by an improv jazz duo of drums and a saxophone. On still other occasions, Hoban provides audience members with drums and encourages them to participate in a drum circle along with his instrumentation.
Those live performances feel almost like a cult ritual. "I remember the first time I performed live, someone told me it was like Charles Manson and his acolytes," Hoban says with a laugh.
That's a common misconception. Hoban can be so intense with his feelings and the way he expresses them in his music that his performances can come off as violent or forceful. But whether he's feeling sadness or anger, he expresses it in a disarming way. In some ways, however, Hoban does share certain traits with a cult leader: He can be charming, and when he's in the right frame of mind he's a captivating leader.
Born in California, Hoban has spent much of his life in rural areas around Charlotte, where he was able to hone his ability to disrupt emotions through sound. The divorce of his parents at a young age instilled a sense of loss that has never left him. It's part of why Hoban treats things that are special or sacred to him with so much care and protection. As if his creations have their own autonomy and could be harmed, the same way he has been harmed in his own experiences. And that's about as personal as art can get.