Gordon Voidwell, né Will Johnson, is a hard act to categorize, and frankly, that's how he'd prefer it.
The New York native's music has seen him compared to anyone from Prince to TV on the Radio to Huey Lewis -- yes, that Huey Lewis. Voidwell recently released his single "Ivy League Circus" in conjunction with Ralph Lauren, putting him one polo-clad step closer to busting through.
Check out Voidwell tonight at Piano's where he's playing with frequent collaborators Das Racist and Brahms.
Where in New York did you grow up?
First off, I should admit I was pretty much born grown up. Not like Benjamin Button per se -- but like, I saw very "real" things at a very young age. Father in handcuffs. Mother with bruises. Best friends killed. Then I turned 2 and realized "Eureka! Most of my thoughts on life are fully developed!"
Not much growing up since then. But technically, I guess I "grew up" in the Bronx where growing up happens at an accelerated rate.
You're often compared to Prince, who is of course notable for his love for Minneapolis (among many, many other things). Being a city kid, how has New York inspired you and your music?
At one point (during the Dinkins and Koch mayoral eras), New York City had this overwhelmingly schizophrenic energy. It introduced me to fear, happiness, sorrow, pain, pleasure, love, hate, etc. etc. It also had a specific visual and aural aesthetic which was equally schizo and hybrid. I'd like to think this aesthetic runs throughout everything I do -- not just in my music, but in my life. I try to make things complicated and confusing but still specifically branded. That is New York City to me -- at least before Urban Outfitters started selling it as a simulacrum (see: Baudrillard) to kids who aren't from here.
And speaking of Prince, you also go by a stage name. What's the meaning behind Gordon Voidwell? Do you ever go by Will anymore, or is the transformation complete?
One night on the train a pretty girl came up to me and told me she was "queer for me." She asked, "Are you Gordon Voidwell?"
I didn't know what to make of it. I'd never heard the name before, but I liked her vibe, so I assumed the name. She is now my queer girlfriend. Otherwise, I don't believe in transformations. I've always been Gordon Voidwell.
(Photo: Crystal Gwen)
You went to a progressive school that preaches multiculturism, and yet you seem to take a few pointed shots at institutionalized diversity in some of your music (specifically "White Friends"). Do you think New York City private schools fail at this part of their mission?
Anything that is "private" and preaches a doctrine of pluralism should be critiqued. I have mixed feelings about institutionalized diversity -- especially the type that's auditoriumized at New York City private schools.
At the same time, there's no single "truth" regarding race or class and how it should be spoken of or dealt with. I don't knock people for trying to be PC or inclusive, but I must say it generally makes me smirk and I'd, in turn, like to make others aware of my smirking. Hence, a song like "White Friends."
You just teamed up with Ralph Lauren on the release of your single "Ivy League Circus." How did you get involved with them?
Ralph Lauren and I have been playing squash together since... I guess, '92. We're pretty much besties.
You've also written articles about fashion -- is that something you see yourself getting into more down the line?
Mostly, I hope to re-write a lot of fashion articles that other people have written. I also hope to re-write a lot of music articles that other people have written. And then, finally, I will re-write the history books that kids read in New York City public schools.
What other up-and-coming artists around here are worth listening to?
Ugh, none. No one's saying anything worth listening to -- just listen to Tecla Esposito and call it a day! Oh, and then listen to Das Racist and Iron Solomon and Brahms and Boy Crisis. I really like a lot of other New York City music too, but these are people I find to be the best looking.
It's a little early, but got a prediction for song of the summer?
It will be something by a band that is "from brooklyn" (but actually from elsewhere). It will have guitars, but also an "electronic" or "sampled" sound. It will not sound nearly as good live as it does on the record and it will be produced by someone from another, bigger band. Take your pick.
Lastly, what's your worst subway experience? Every New Yorker always has one subway story at the ready.
Once when I was on acid, I took my shoes off on the F train and fell asleep. I woke up in Coney Island with a bunch of Bloods surrounding me. Luckily I was still on acid so they all looked like cartoon characters. I started laughing because they were cartoon characters! The only thing was, they were transit cops who were yelling at me. It sucked when I realized they weren't cartoon characters. Ah, to be 13 again.
LISTEN: Gordon Voidwell's single "Ivy League Circus"