Toro Y Moi Touring Guitarist and Pussy Wizard Mastermind Jordan Blackmon Rolls On

Hunter-Gatherer: Friday, March 7
By Kyle Petersen
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 |
pussy wizard
Pussy Wizard’s Jordan Blackmon | photo by Tonje Thilesen

Jordan Blackmon isn’t very comfortable in the spotlight. He’s a tall, soft-spoken guy who could blend seamlessly into the tapestry of any local coffee shop, so it seems odd that he is also in fact the touring guitarist for one of Columbia’s most successful and critically adored musical exports — silky smooth bedroom funk act Toro Y Moi.

But followers of the local scene shouldn’t be surprised. Blackmon spent years demonstrating his musical prowess and versatility, bouncing through stints with the instrumental prog-pop act No Way Jose! and the sinewy post-punk trio Alaska the Tiger. His working relationship with Toro comes with equal precedent: He and ringleader Chaz Bundick have been friends since high school. 

Joining Toro was “a drawn-out process,” Blackmon recalls, explaining that he began to get more involved with the project as Bundick toured his first record, 2010’s extremely solo Causers of This.

“He was just touring by himself, and he would ask friends to come with him just to keep him from being in a car by himself all the time,” Blackmon explains. “After being unemployed for three months, I figured, ‘Whatever, I don’t have a job anymore.’ I started tour-managing him, and at the end of every tour I was like, ‘If you ever need another member ....’”

Eventually, following the 2011 release of Toro Y Moi’s second LP — the live instrument-oriented Underneath the Pine — Blackmon became the guitarist for Bundick’s touring lineup, a welcome and necessary addition to a crew that also included fellow Columbia musicians Patrick Jeffords on bass and Andy Woodward on drums. 

What: Pussy Wizard
Where: Hunter-Gatherer, 900 Main St.
When: Friday, March 7, 10 p.m.
With: Those Lavender Whales, Dear Blanca
Price: $5
More info: huntergathererbrewery.com

Despite his position in an internationally renowned indie rock band and the fact that he has been calling California (first San Francisco, then Los Angeles) home for the past six years, Blackmon’s musical heart is still very much tied to Soda City. With Toro Y Moi on an extended break while Bundick works on new material, the guitarist is spending a few weeks playing shows in the Carolinas, donning his side project nom de plume Pussy Wizard and teaming with old pals Aaron Graves and Chris Gardner.

The three founded the scrappy local imprint Fork & Spoon together, and while Blackmon’s been away, Graves and Gardner have kept up their chemistry playing with the sprightly folk-pop outfit Those Lavender Whales.

“We were all still obsessed with music being made in Columbia, even though none of us were living there [at the time],” Blackmon says of the label’s founding. Gardner and Graves have since made the town their home, and, since 2010, the label has released a stream of records on vinyl, CD and cassette, assisting an eclectic array of acts affiliated with the city, perhaps most significantly Coma Cinema’s 2011 LP Blue Suicide, which recently sold out its initial vinyl run.

In an odd way, these regional dates, which also include former Free Times music editor Patrick Wall on guitar, represent the first time Blackmon has presented his own creative efforts in a live setting for quite a while. Since the disbanding of Alaska the Tiger in 2007, Blackmon has only sporadically played solo shows, although he’s continued to release music online in a trickle. In 2012, when he swapped out his Brave Horatius moniker for Pussy Wizard, a name inspired by his own whimsical drawing of a wizard riding a cat, he seemed to be spurred on again, dropping two EPs — F.J.V. 1 and ABRACOOLDADBRO — in under two months.

“It was kind of to the point where I was taking myself too seriously, and the idea of what I was supposed to sound like or what the songs were supposed to sound like,” Blackmon says. “I would take forever to write music, and I would always be dissatisfied with the way it sounded.”

The other impetus, of course, was the feeling that he might stagnate as a hired-hand in Toro. “The Toro tours are always a blast, but I guess I was afraid of not having a [creative] outlet,” Blackmon says. “I could just as easily be content to wait for Chaz to record something and me to learn it because it’s all so much fun to play” — which is what he did for most of 2013.

But despite his anxiety over releasing his material, the lo-fi recordings that comprise both Pussy Wizard and Brave Horatius are quite compelling, moving smoothly from distorted guitar-riff nuggets like “Black Eyes” to an eerily beautiful re-reading of the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why.” Throughout, Blackmon’s versatile guitar and keyboard abilities shine through the cheap production, betraying his love for late ’80s and early ’90s college rock from the likes of Sebadoh and Guided by Voices, while his earnest but still off-beat songwriting bares resemblance to the early works of Bright Eyes or pretty much anything by Elliott Smith.

For all these efforts, though, Blackmon still prefers to play in a group, which makes this current tour all the more exciting.

“All the stuff I’ve done by myself, I’ve always been really slow sometimes, and it always feels really imperfect,” he says. “But when you find the right group of people where there’s creative chemistry, it just feels effortless, and a lot of fun.” 

More than anything, though, he just feels inordinately lucky to be playing music for a living. His own work might not yet have achieved the renown it deserves, but his current existence is something close to a dream.

“Middle school me is really proud of myself,” Blackmon quips. “I’m not a professional skateboarder, but ....”

Let us know what you think: Email music@free-times.com.

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