When Wynter Gordon entered the music business, it was as a songwriter for established artists. Jennifer Lopez, Mary J. Blige, and Estelle are among the stars who benefitted from Gordon’s sonic penmanship. But like any true artist, it got the point where Gordon could no longer hide her emotions in someone else’s music (she did, after all, attend Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, the so-called “Fame” school), and the 26-year-old New York native finally released her debut record, With the Music I Die, last year.
Now, Gordon is shifting directions from the seductive dance pop of her first record with her self-released, immensely personal four-part project, The Human Condition. “Stimela,” the first song off Condition, was released last month and features a chorus sung in Zulu (Gordon says the song was inspired by South African music legend, Hugh Masekela). We recently caught up with Gordon to talk about the personal and sometimes painful nature of her new project, how growing up in New York has helped her career, and the differences between singing and songwriting.
Can you talk to me about the The Human Condition project?
When I started writing this project, I was going through a lot musically and publicly. I felt like I wasn’t being true to myself and getting out the things that I wanted to do, and it was bothering me. I really wanted to change that. Relationship and family-wise, I had just met my Dad, and he died. There was just a whole lot going on in my life and I was feeling depressed, very angry, and painful. I felt like I needed to run or get away. I began this project and I didn’t know what to call it. When I was in the process, I was healing and just getting these songs out. I felt like I had other places to go with it, it was changing and getting happier, the mood was getting better. I decided I wanted to reflect on us as humans, our feelings, and the things that we go through as people on the daily, in a really expressive and creative way.
There are four parts to the project. This part is pain, the second is going to be passion. It came about when I was in high school at LaGuardia, I did a show with Paul Simon and Hugh Masekela at Carnegie Hall, and they taught us about 25 songs in Swahili and Zulu. “Stimela” was one of the Hugh Maskela songs. The African part is part of an old song I learned, and I remember the language, it rubbed off on me so deep, just the feeling and emotion of it.
You grew up in New York City. How has that affected your career?
There’s a strong fanbase here. When I do my shows in New York, a lot of them come out, the same people over and over, and my family and friends are here. It just feels right on the stage and I’m comfortable with New York, but, I can be comfortable anywhere.
You’re not only a singer, but a songwriter too. How do the two inform each other?
I think for me, songwriting and singing go hand in hand, because I have to really feel the song to connect with it. I didn’t even mean to become a songwriter first. I always wanted to be an artist, but I don’t think I had the confidence at the beginning. I was very shy. It fell into my lap, I think it was meant to be and the stars aligned.
Who have you enjoyed writing for most?
Probably myself! I’ve written for a lot of people like J.Lo, Mary J. Blige, David Guetta, but those really aren’t the sessions where I’ve had the most fun. Really, when I’m with my friends who’ve helped me on this project and old projects like D’Mile—people that I can take off my shoes with, eat, sit on the floor, and really just kick it like old friends. Those are the best sessions.
There’s been some controversy surrounding your song “Dirty Talk.” Can you talk about that?
I grew up in the church and my parents were pastors, so when that happened, it was really shocking for me. When it blew up, I would do interviews and everyone would say, “Talk dirty, Wynter.” For me, on the inside, it was kind of crushing. I want to be a role model, but I believe in sex as adults. I’m free with it, but I didn’t want to put that image out because I know kids listen to it. It blew up and I kind of didn’t even know how to handle that situation. It was really crazy.
If your music were an outfit, what would it look like or where would it be displayed?
My music is like Armani. Old school Emporio Armani. Pure Naomi, Kate Moss.
Are you outfitting yourself for the summer tour?
Yeah, I actually make clothes with my friend Sammy B. We design pretty much everything I wear.
Did you learn something from your experience overseas that influenced your fashion?
Well, I’ve read about seven thousand magazines on those flights! Visiting Paris, going to fashion shows, it rubs off on you and it brings out all of the stuff you saw on TV as a little kid, all the cool things. When I first started music, I was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt because I didn’t have much confidence. I felt like I let my guard down, and becoming more myself and I didn’t care what people thought of what I wore.
You’re kicking off your tour July 9 at Santos Party House. Are you excited?
I think it’s perfect. Everybody who I need to see is going to be there. I’m just going to put it all in the music and lay it out there. I don’t want to just do pop music that means nothing to me anymore, songs that mean nothing, that aren’t deeper, that don’t really change anyone. I want to do something really great and I think that the people that come are going to get something out of it.
Photography by Kirill Was Here