Lessons in Empowerment from Wynter Gordon
Anyone who’s stepped into a club or rave within the past four years has heard the work of Wynter Gordon. Her certified platinum dance smash ‘Dirty Talk’ was omnipresent throughout the majority of 2011, catapulting her into companionship with the likes of Skrillex and Deadmau5.
But Wynter has spent the last several years reshuffling the sound that brought her name recognition, splitting with her management and essentially going back to the drawing board. Taking cues from the classic R&B artists of the past, Wynter has reemerged as a singer/songwriter to be reckoned with, distinguishing herself from being just another pretty voice on top of a hammering dubstep beat. Her new vision is encapsulated in the freshly dropped Five Needle EP, a collection of songs where her heart is put firmly on her sleeve. Milk Made’s Jake Boyer spoke to Wynter about the highly personal nature to her new work, her incredible struggle against an overbearing family, and finding true love in Paris.
I’ve read in some of your previous interviews about how much your home life had an effect on you and your music… I understand that you had a pretty strict upbringing?
My parents were very religious. Like in a Carrie’s mother sort of way, no lie. I grew up in a super religious home and my mom went to law school, my step-father was a very strict teacher and a pastor as well. So it wasn’t like reform school it was just like…you couldn’t do anything.
Did they discourage you trying to express yourself in music?
I moved out at 17. I really couldn’t take it anymore, it was too much. I needed to find myself. I was smothered by too much parenting and too much religion and I wanted to find God for myself, like, ‘who is this God you speak of and do I actually know him?’ And I did find God myself, but it wasn’t the type of God that doesn’t let you do anything. It was really a lot like Carrie without all the powers.
I hope not. That would be pretty interesting if you burned a whole high school to the ground.
No I didn’t burn! I never got in trouble in school.
You weren’t a rebel at all?
My home life didn’t let me! If I would have brought home a bad grade…you would not imagine the type of shit I would have had to go through. I have five brothers and sisters, I pretty much had custody of my little brothers when they were like 14/15. They moved in with me so I kind of had to take care of them. And so I had to have a job, and in high school when everyone was partying I had three jobs and I was interning at a record label to get credit for school. I had no time for anything, I was trying to make money for rent. So the rebel in me…I didn’t have the time to be a kid or a teenager and I think I’m just doing it now.
The ‘Five Needle’ EP is quite a step away from your previous work. What do you think spurred such a significant musical transition?
It wasn’t a quick departure. I was tired of doing dance music and I had split with my management, I asked my label president to let me go and it felt like one night I did a dramatic “please I just need to find myself.” So after that I put out two free EP’s on the Internet that were very different to anything previously. Those two EP’s were a departure from everything I had done in dance, but it still worked out! I worked with Nick from Empire of the Sun on those EP’s and one of the songs without any promo at all has reached a million views on Youtube.
Did you feel trapped in the ‘dance genre’? Do you think about your music in any terms of genre?
I don’t think I’ll ever be stuck to one genre. I look at in terms of Madonna, how Madonna evolved with her time. You know, she did her dance albums, and in the 90’s she did her cool esoteric shit. She does her thing, and I think in that way. Once I start producing music consistently and on time, I think people will realize and grow with me, and they’ll understand how I am as an artist. I’ve been writing for so many artists and so many different genres that everything comes to me second nature.
What do you think you’re presenting now that might surprise people? Is there a side of yourself that you’re consciously showing for the first time?
I think my true fans–like those that I can call by name, the kind that know every song that’s ever leaked on the Internet– they’re kind of expecting this. I mean, the dance fans will probably be like ‘she’s doing all ballads’ and I definitely think there’ll be a little shock. But the music…the music is good. The lyrics are good, the stories are real, so I definitely think that it will resonate with people because we all pretty much have the same life stories. Different characters same stories, but I don’t think that being able to dance on about three of the tracks would surprise anyone. Certainly not me.
What are some of the real stories that you’re trying to tell now?
Oh real stories, lets get into that! There was one point—now I won’t call myself a conspiracy theorist cause I don’t believe in that—but I have very strong opinions on politics and where the world is and what we need to be focusing on and social media and so I wrote this song. It’s a pop song, called ‘World on Fire,’ and it’s about how we let machines get in the way of our life, how we’re so distracted while the world is burning to the ground but I say it in such a pop way that it’s not in that realm of shoving it down your throat.
That’s a pretty weighty message.
But in terms of a story, it’s how I feel, you know? It’s where we really are. The hook is ‘we set the world on fire and we’re standing right in the middle of it.’ But it’s not all about the end of the world. Another truth is a song called ‘Bleeding Out’ not about my first love but the first person who was my first real lesson. There’s some people who force you to move to the next level in your life and force you to say ‘I want this in my life and I don’t want this.’ And the person that ‘Bleeding Out’ is about really taught me what love is about, because at the end of the day it wasn’t about sex or being obsessed with him. In my mind if he burnt to a crisp and needed someone to wheel him around for the rest of his life I wouldn’t care, it was about a love so strong and then being betrayed by that one person. So I see this man now, for ten years we were very close, and I see him on the street and he walks past me as if I m a ghost, he wouldn’t even look at me. I’m really getting that emotion out, and I feel like a lot of people are fucking going through it.
Is it hard for you to express those feelings? Or do you get a sense of catharsis when you deal with that through your music?
I thought it was therapy for me until I started having terrible anxiety last year so I guess it wasn’t. (laughs) But! What it is…it’s inspiration. It’s more inspiration for music, it gives me words. It literally spills over and I think that that’s the stuff that people relate to. That’s what makes for good music at the end of the day.
You’ve had an incredible journey, so what do you think one of the most important things you’ve learned has been?
To take control of my life, take control of my career, and be consistent. And to be kind, to be honest. In that is where I’ve gotten my best experiences, and I mean, I’ve LIVED. I got to travel the world, I toured with like Skrillex and Deadmau5 and I’ve been on stage at Fete de la Musique in France. I’ve had a romance in Paris with this one guy that I met who looked like Leonardo DiCaprio, let me tell you. He climbed the wall and threw roses into my room. Janet Jackson walked into the bathroom on me once at Tyler Perry’s house. Like, I’ve fucking lived.
Photo by Jason Hardwick
Download the ‘Five Needle’ EP here