Meet Your New Heartbreaker: Gordon Voidwell
Bringing the past forward and the future back. Gordon Voidwell stands to be the new "Prince" of synth pop fusion.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the heavily influential and incredible album/film, Purple Rain, created by Prince, one of the most important personas in all of music. We all know it too — Prince is the fucking man. The dude was raunchy, sexy, and made some jams back in the ’80s. And those jams still vibe hard to this day, with multiple people taking direct inspiration from him and grabbing cues from his personal gender-bending style.
About four years ago, a man dabbled in Prince’s technique and took some influence from the dude, sprinkled a little bit of newcomer charm and sexy synths together, and created a piece called The Voided Checks Mixtape. Naturally, his vocals have received heavy comparisons to Prince from a slew of critics. It was a super soulful, groovy, funky, danceable tape, showing off a promising new talent that had potential to be the next big thing, especially with chillwave being on the rise at the time.
But Voidwell kind of stayed in the shadows for a while. He stayed in the background after releasing The Voided Checks Mixtape, studying important black musicians, meticulously learning different styles of writing, and understanding the universal idioms of music. He crafted and crafted until he decided it was time to release a follow-up mixtape called Bad Études, now available for free via AFROPUNK.
That little break where folks thought he was doing nothing? Yeah, that was absolutely fucking worth it. Bad Études is everything Gordon Voidwell could possibly have done to better his craft than ever before. It’s more polished, with laser-chopping synths, dreamy bass-pounding, glitched beats, ’80s bopping, and falsettos that could put anyone in a trance. And the Prince comparisons should definitely cease now, as it seems Voidwell has welded a style that only his pockets could wear.
Voidwell creates a unique combination of retro themes and places them in the future, and that’s a great thing. It’s an atmosphere of influence. There’s a slew of stand-out tracks, like “Dig You Out,” which sounds similar to Morris Day and the Time if you glitched their vocals and handed Morris a weapon from “Star Wars”; or “Brick,” which is a hip hop influenced instrumental with loads of bells, chopped samples, and nods to British pop.
All those past collaborations with Das Racist, Chiddy Bang, and Twin Shadow were the start of a promise from the artist. The Voided Checks Mixtape was to embed his name into your mind. Gordon Voidwell on Bad Études? He should damn well be a household name by now.
As if the black Bart Simpson album cover, created by graffiti artist Emmanuel Mauleon, doesn’t already grab you, take a chance and read the wise words he shared with Mass Appeal on the album below.
Mass Appeal: Alright, Gordon Voidwell, who are you?
Gordon Voidwell: I’m a music-maker from the Bronx who is informed by pop culture, post-modern philosophy, the Ensoniq ASR-10, and dumb fashion sensibilities. I’m interested in making hybridized art — usually music. Sometimes visual shit too, I guess.
MA: How important is that visual aspect? Your ‘Ivy League Circus’ video seems all about visuals. Your persona seems to be as well, with fashion and all.
GV: Well for me, it’s all one central idea. Whether it manifests itself in music, art, fashion, Twitter, love notes, whatever — the medium is arbitrary. It’s all about conveying my unique experience on this earth in hopes that it resonates with other human beings.
I guess I want us all to feel less alone while realizing how subjective existence actually is. It’s like “alone together,” or something. I think visuals help convey music. We are all sensory beings who like to have all of our senses stimulated at once. But at the end of it, it’s still just one central idea and the medium is arbitrary.
MA: With Bad Études, what’s the imagery there? What are you trying to convey on the mixtape?
GV: The whole idea behind Bad Études was simply giving friends and people who dig my music a glorified status update. I’ve been living in Minneapolis working as a songwriter, a producer, a singer, a jingles writer, etc. I’ve been studying so many different styles and sounds and really learning to engage different styles of writing. This mixtape was really meant to just share where I’ve been at with friends.
Also, all my work is meant to be pastiche. I like the idea of cutting things up and putting them next to the wrong thing to make something that somehow feels right. This mixtape is an attempt at that. It’s also an attempt to make sense of my experience living both in Minneapolis and the Bronx and seeing the parallels. An “étude,” is a sorta sketch composition, a study. So these songs are sorta meant to be studies of where I’ve been at before the actual “ALBUM ALBUM” comes out.
MA: Any word on when that is?
GV: Nah. I’m like five songs in with Chris Zane, who is a very busy producer, man! Hoping to do at least another five. Hopefully be done by summer though. Otherwise, I’m going to have another mixtape out soon. I write pretty quickly.
MA: Chris Zane is responsible for a lot of danceable stuff.
GV: Yeah, he’s also the king of hybrid sounding live/program drums. I’ve learned a lot already, like how to produce versus how to write.
GV: Well, in the contemporary world of music where everyone has access to all the same tools, so many amazing sound designers and programmers really think of themselves as producers. Chris Zane is sorta more of a traditional producer. He knows how to arrange and make shit sound good. He doesn’t “make beats.”
So for me, I write quickly because I get inspired by a sound and just move, but it’s not as if the song always translates. Chris is like an editor coming in and being like, “Is this supposed to be a hook?” And if that’s not clear, he suggests how that might work. It’s a really unique skill set that is drastically different than being a sound designer or a beatmaker — which are both crucial to making dope songs, but still not necessarily the same as being a producer.
Or rather, after working with him, I feel like I know how to write songs, make beats, and design sounds, but it’s more difficult for me to “produce” my own songs . . . for now. Until I learn all his tricks. Then it’s game over.
MA: Then you produce your own album and experience?
GV: Honestly, I think I never want to produce my own stuff. Part of being a master of communication is allowing others to weigh-in on what you’re saying. I feel like it’s super important to trust someone like a producer to be like, “I don’t get what you’re saying,” and let them inform how you’re communicating your shit. For me, the whole point of the thing I’m doing is to engage people.
MA: It’s essential to have someone else come in and look at your craft and say, “Do it this way, because it makes more sense.”
GV: Yeah, I have zero ego about that at this point. Like, everyone’s perspective is valid to me. But also, I KNOW MY SHIT CRACK! [Laughs]
MA: What’s been an inspiration in where you headed toward with this tape? Do you pull any influences from anyone else?
GV: I think the big inspiration for this tape was just the generations of black musicians who have been making pop and funk music, but being informed by jazz idioms. Mtume, Bobby Nunn, Sheila E., Andre Cymone, ESG, Nile Rodgers. It’s like part of the tradition of black music to make shit that is simultaneously complicated, off-kilter, and sharply informed by a dumbed down pop sensibility.
It’s like Dubois’ double consciousness. So yeah, people still do it today too, obviously. But I think black musicians are like afraid to say, “Oh yeah, this is black music by the way.” I don’t feel that weird about it. Like, this tape was partially about honoring the tradition of black musicians who made the sensibility that we now refer to as “pop music.” Also, I don’t mean to essentialize blackness. Obviously, black music means so much, but I guess for me, this tape is also about exploring the fantasies and reality of black musicians’ contribution to the pop idioms.
There’s a lot of samples on this tape. And a lot of them are chopped up in ways to expose some of the complexity in sound design and arrangement of older songs and put them in a contemporary context, where all of a sudden, we can draw lines between the past, present, and future. Time becomes transparently constructed.
MA: So this tape is an exploration of every black musician you’ve been inspired by, taking bits and pieces of everything you’ve appreciated. Not just as icons, but also as composers and musical arrangers.
GV: And sound designers, too. I wouldn’t say “every,” black musician, but I certainly was interested in fleshing out very complicated textures, arrangements from an era that people seem to just think of as being “fun.” The fun part is cool and real, but there’s a lot of layers. I’m trying to share some of them.
MA: Is that why you released this as free? It seems almost like a soul-searching journey you’ve done by creating this, too.
GV: For sure. I think every piece of art I put out there is me going on some sort of journey. The music being free also has to do with the fact that — who’s kidding who? — no one’s buying music. I’d rather people hear the music than buy the music. [Laughs]
Also, I’m actually not very militant. I felt my pro-black tirade is maybe important, I dunno.
MA: Hey man, culture is important. Race or otherwise. I feel like your project is an embodiment of that, for sure.
GV: Yeah, I guess it’s just overtly something that informs my music. Writing from a certain voice that I’m aware of and at peace with.
MA: I think that’s something your past collaborators, Das Racist, also would feel.
GV: They were on that. Sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, but definitely on that.
MA: Do you feel New York was a big part of your upbringing and cultural awareness?
GV: For sure. I grew up in the Bronx. Music is everywhere. Style is everywhere. So many different people doing weird shit. But it was also super important for me to move and step away and look at it from afar and realize that life can be elsewhere too, though.
MA: What’s next man?
GV: Probably make a million dollars. Try to uplift the Bronx by making Bronx kids dress like me and make good art. Sleep better, die, be reborn. Do it again.
Play awesome shows I can’t mention yet. Writing for some very big artists I can’t mention yet, either. So basically, you’ll have to take my word that even if it seems like nothing’s happening, I’m doing very well. Because god is my bodyguard.
Download Bad Études for free at the official AFROPUNK Bandcamp page.