Over complex math-rock riffs, the singer freely explores issues of race, police brutality and mental health

Singer Jordan Sandidge wrote nearly all of the lyrics for Sounds May Swell’s two EPs — 2019’s The Shape Nature Makes and the just-released The Shape Nature Makes, Pt. 2 — in a two-day span in May of 2018. And in the course of writing, he couldn’t help but think about the Black men and boys who’d been killed by Columbus police in recent years, particularly Ty’re King and Jaron Thomas.

“How easy the decision/To hate without reason/Shaky hands, falling victims/Blue lives escaping prison,” Sandidge sings on Pt. 2 track “Conditioning,” raising his voice higher and louder on the chorus: “I can’t feel a thing/The numb of conditioning.”

“‘Conditioning’ is about police brutality and the conditioning therein,” Sandidge said recently by phone. “It's [written] from the eyes of blue — from the eyes of someone who was trained and conditioned to not feel compassion for someone, and how a job can become you in that way.”

While the song’s origin dates back to 2018, the local math-rock band’s single dropped at the end of May, right after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, serving as a grim reminder of the evergreen nature of the issues Sandidge explores in the song. “It wasn’t bittersweet,” Sandidge said. “It was just very, very bitter.”

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It also felt strange to promote anything during the height of the uprisings, as the band wanted to make sure it didn’t cross the line from exploring these issues to exploiting them. Some of that discomfort has lingered as Sandidge has attempted to make sense of being an artist during a pandemic and an era of protest.

“I don't know what to post, what to say, what to put out there, what to offer, how to offer it, and in what capacity I'm able to do it — budget-wise, but even my emotional budget, like, ‘How much do I have to give?’” said Sandidge, who’s also currently working on a solo project with Joe Amadio at Moonlight Audio. “I'm working three jobs, trying to make ends meet, but then also trying to create and keep myself sane in that way. I can't live without creation.”

Fortunately, Sandidge’s Sound May Swell bandmates, whom he met at a New Year’s Eve party at the end of 2017, have consistently encouraged him to experiment and reach for new heights — sometimes quite literally — with his voice.

“They let me fly as free as I want to fly and go as difficult as I want to go and as creative as I want to go, like adding a spoken-word element to our music,” said Sandidge, who touches on mental health issues like depression and suicidal thoughts in Sounds May Swell’s music, along with songs about one-night stands and painful relationships. “They push me, but I think I always had a yearning to make the sounds that I'm making. So what they did was really unlock me.”