“I was so shy, and I think every day after the show, I would cry, just go in the back and just cry. I knew I wasn’t in the right place, and I didn’t have the connection that I finally have now with my audience. It was so awkward! People would just stare at me,” says singer-songwriter Wynter Gordon on her past experience of badly billed tours. Luckily, however, those days are long passed, and Wynter Gordon has found her niche.
Born Diana Gordon, she grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, a child of six raised in two bedrooms. At five, she began performing at church funerals, and for the first part of her life, was only allowed to sing gospel. After high school, Gordon, who is named after Diana Ross, changed her name to Wynter, because “The biggest diva in the world is named Diana”. She decided to fully embrace her dream of making music, launching her career by writing songs for other artists. In 2004, still just a teenager, she began a working for Mary J. Blige’s 2005 Grammy-nominated album, The Breakthrough—Blige’s biggest selling album to this day. Soon thereafter, with such impressive credentials under her belt, she was signed to Atlantic Records, and began working on her debut full length. “When I first got that opportunity to write for Mary J. Blige, that was my first real foot in the door as a professional. I did have horrible stage fright when I started. I guess songwriting first led into other things, led into artist development, and then I got the balls to get on stage and perform.”
The fan of A$AP Rocky and Lana Del Ray believes in artists who are “doing it for themselves… No one’s giving them their power, their accolades, except for the fans. It didn’t come from a label push, it didn’t come from a radio push, it wasn’t brainwashed into people’s heads. I think that people who are really in touch with what’s going in youth culture right now, those are the important people, and they’re changing the way music is.”
“You don’t even have to speak a word on music, you can just feel it. I think music is a power, actually. A power that people are born with. You don’t have to learn it…It’s a superpower.” Check out her new single, “Stimela”, which will be part of a series of four EPs she is releasing, called Human Condition. The first, Human Condition: Doleo was released on July 9, 2012, and the second, Human Condition: Sanguine, hit the shelves January of this year.
Check out the full interview with Wynter Gordon for The Music Issue 6
Indira Cesarine: How did you get started with music?
Wynter Gordon: Well, I always wanted to be a performer because (…) and we used to do all these little shows in the house and perform for each other.From that age I knew that’s what I wanted to be.
IC: How old were you?
WG: Four! I still have videos of those performances at four.
IC: How did you come up with your performance name?
WG: That’s funny. My manager at the time, his daughter’s middle name is Wynter. My real name is Diana, I was named after Diana Ross. That’s taken already! The biggest diva in the world is named Diana. We were in the basement of a club one night and throwing names around and we decided on that one. Here I am today, I’m Wynter.
IC: Amazing. Well, it’s a very original name. There’s something about it that’s very colorful and vivid. It creates a lot of visualization.
WG: Yeah, it makes people think I’m cold.
IC: I think it sounds wicked! What was it like to transition from songwriting for others to performing as an artist? I understand that you used to write for other musicians as well?
WG: I still do. I don’t know if it was much of a transition as it was a build-up. I always wanted to be a performer and that was just my foot in the door. When I first got that opportunity to write for Mary J Blige, that was my first real foot in the door as a profession. Someplace where I was gonna make money and build a career. I always had plans of getting on stage. I did have horrible stage fright when I started. First songwriting led to other things, which led to artist development, and then I got the balls to get on stage and perform.
IC: How long have you been working in the industry?
WG: I started when I was 19.
IC: What was the first song you ever wrote?
WG: For me, I wrote this graduation song in high school where I won a college scholarship. I won the BMI’s song writing scholarship. That was the first song for me. And then I wrote this song called “Daddy’s Song.” And the first professional song I wrote was for Mary J Blige’s The Breakthrough.
IC: What was your breakthrough moment?
WG: Yeah. I was a teenager trying to find my way in life, and she’s [Mary J Blige] an icon. The album that I wrote in is her biggest selling album today in all her years; that was her Grammy nominated album and simply being a part of that was huge.
IC: Wow. That is a major achievement. Do you have a favorite band or musician?
WG: Yeah. I’ve seen Sky Ferreira play recently and I really loved it. I’ve been a fan of hers for a few years. I met her because we had the same writing partners and we hit it off, she’s really cool. I’m listening to a lot of old music right now like Blondie’s Greatest Hits, pretty much every day. I also listen to Florence and the Machine every day.
IC: Who is the most inspirational person in the music industry?
WG: Well, there’s so many parts in the music industry right now. There are so many subcultures going on. The most inspirational person, for me, would be Lana Del Rey. It’s the culture of the artists who are doing it for themselves. ASAP Rocky… those are the artists that inspire me because they are doing it themselves. They are creating the buzz themselves. No one’s giving them their power, their accolades, except for the fans. It didn’t come from a label push, it didn’t come from a radio push, it wasn’t brainwashed into people’s heads. I think that for people who are really in touch with what’s going in youth culture right now, those are the important people. They’re changing the way music is.
IC: Which artist has been your favorite to work with?
WG: Angel Haze.
IC: If you weren’t in music what would you do?
WG: If I wasn’t in music, I’d probably be a teacher or a relic hunter or something. Not an architect…a historian. Or I would start a farm, I’m really scared about the future and being green. Maybe I’ll have my own farm.
IC: What was the most difficult performance in your career?
WG: Early on in my career, I was trying out different things but I was really shy at the time. I knew what I wanted to do but I wasn’t really speaking up and the people around me were kinda influencing the type of music I made. I went on the Keisha Cole tour, in 2006, and I wasn’t really a soul/r&b singer singer singing about problems at home and that was kind of the audience that she drew in… and it was a really different crowd than the one I wanted to reach out to and I was so shy and I think everyday after the show, I would cry, and just go in the back and just cry… because I knew I wasn’t in the right place and I didn’t have the connection that I finally have now with my audience now. It was so awkward! People would just stare at me.
IC: I imagine that must have helped you get over that stage fright… if you can do that, you can get through anything, right?
WG: It helped me determine where exactly I wanted to be, what stages I want to perform on, and what audience I want to perform to, the type of music I wanted to make… it made it so clear, what I was supposed to be doing. And finally, I’m at a place where stage is home. Like, I can command the stage in my sleep. It’s a totally different thing.
IC: Do you have words of wisdom you live by?
WG: I live by my actions. I don’t really go by a saying or anything. I just work, all the time. You go place where you wanna be by working, there’s no other way. Working and relationships. You work, yourself and keep good relationships with people. That’s what life is about.
IC: What is it about music that you love?
WG: I love the way I can move people with it. I love the way it moves me. You know, it can help change my mood into anything if I’m feeling sad, happy; it’s a mood changer. It pierces the soul. You don’t even have to speak a word on music, you can just feel it. I think music is a power, actually. A power that people are born with, you don’t have to learn it — It’s a superpower. I think there are people who possess that gift, whether it’s playing an instrument or using their voice.
IC: What is your favorite song you have ever produced?
WG: I have two: Stimela and Reach Out.
IC: Reach Out is one of your new ones, no?
IC: Are those new songs or ones you’ve had for a while?
WG: Stimela I wrote about two years ago. We just released it in July. Reach Out I’ve had since last summer.
IC: Any upcoming projects we should look out for in 2013?
WG: I’m working on The Human Condition series, and there are four parts to it. I’ve already put out the first two. I’m in the studio finishing three and four, which I believe are going to be joined since there are a lot of songs on them. I hope to be touring, but everyday a new situation pops up. All I can do is make the music and give my best interpretation of the visuals that I see in my mind and hope that my fans and people gravitate towards it. It’s a really big leap of faith, when I’ve halted on doing dance music outside of features, so I’m waiting on touring right now. I wanna do Bonnaroo, I’m doing SXSW, and I’ll be promoting The Human Condition.
IC: And the Human Condition is an album series?
WG: It’s an EP series.
IC: Your management sent us a couple of songs, are those a part of that?
WG: Yes. It’s called Sanguine, which means optimistic. Each EP is based on an emotion. This one was Doleo, which means pain. The second one is Sanguine, which is optimistic. The last ones, I’m kind of still going over the titles. It’s a big thing for me. I wanted to give the music away for free because this is not what my fans are used to from me… so I wanted to give them a chance to get acquainted with where I am currently, you know? In my head and in my heart. So I said, I’m not gonna force this upon them and I’m gonna give them a chance to hear it and really decide if they do love it. So far, they love it, so I’m happy.
IC: It’s amazing. I love your work and I’m so happy that you can be a part of The Music Issue!