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Gordon Voidwell
the artist formerly known as w. johnson
by: Nancy Chow - June 30, 2010

Few people in the city can call themselves native New Yorkers. Nine times out of 10, this rare specimen has stories to tell and a lot to say (note: not an actual statistic). William Johnson is one of the select individuals who can proudly brandish the title he was born in Brooklyn, grew up in the Bronx and returned back to Brooklyn, where he currently resides. He uses the name Gordon Voidwell to tell his tales of love, race and class to funky, fat synths laid over soulful, beat-laden pop melodies. An immediate comparison can be made to Prince for the ability to successfully fuse funk, R&B, pop and soul in a palatable form for mass consumption.  So far, the songwriter/producer/recorder/sound engineer has released the digital EP “Ivy League Circus” and a 26-song mixtape for hip-hop site OkayPlayer, featuring original songs by Johnson and remixes for Das Racist and Boy Crisis.

Why the name Gordon Voidwell? Do you view this as a simple stage name or an entirely different persona?

Gordon Voidwell, my father recently told me from a hospital bed, was my fate since birth. I can't pretend to entirely know what that means as he was heavily medicated at the time, but I shall take a stab. My parents were extremely methodical about naming both me and my sister, both named for our grandparents incidentally, my sister's name is Shirley Constance. Apparently, they chose my middle name, Gordon, almost at random. It was a wildcard a name given to me so that I might have some freedom to "be my own person" as my father put it. My father was from the jazz world though also, and Gordon seems like the name of a jazz player. I think he chose that name, maybe also, because he hoped I'd become a jazz player. Nope. Sorry father. I don't do jazz.

Whatever the case, Gordon Voidwell is more than a stage name. It connotes the immense void we all feel in life and it makes an attempt to confront this void through music. For me, it's got as much to do with music as it has to do with trying to do right in this world, and cope with psychic suffering in a responsible way.

What are you listening to now and what did you listen to when you were growing up? Which do you think has a bigger influence on your songwriting?

Before I discovered rap music, I listened to a lot of '80s R&B and pop, some quiet storm, electro-funk and uptempo freestyle music. This is the music that simply was around me as a boy and so I listened to it. I really loved some of it. I also hated some of it. When I discovered rap music, I'd buy bootleg cassette tapes in Parkchester, underneath the 6 train. I pretty much never stopped listening to rap music until college, when it began to bore me. Then I started reading Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan and Vice and blindly consuming that type of shit. I got all into indie music, especially the dancey shit. I think all of it's been influential though. I've since learned how niche-markety/sexist/racist the "indie" scene is and now feel fairly turned off by that too. I now just sort of listen to random shit, and I do a lot of research on old electro-funk and boogie. But yo! Don't get it confused I'm making rap music for the hood!

You've played with some local musicians that have a great deal of rhythm. Who do you think has the best dance moves?

Francis (of Francis and the Lights) is easily the most impressive dancer I've played a show with. In fact, I actually can't think of anyone else who actually "dances" when they perform. Everyone wants to be cool. Guillermo Brown who plays synth bass with me is pretty damn good too. My girl Lizzy Shramko – she's not a musician – but she comes to a lot of shows and does a mean “Flashdance” routine.

When's the official full-length coming out? What's it going to sound like?

Not sure when it will come out. After the 12-inch with Cantora, I'm thinking of simultaneously releasing two EPs that have already been recorded. I'm hoping the full-length, however, sounds like a mix between David Bowie's "Let's Dance," Talking Heads' "Speaking in Tongues" and Jodeci's "Diary of a Mad Band." A lot of the work I've been doing has relied heavily on synths and drum machines. On my LP, I'm hoping to incorporate some more non-electronic sounds in there – whatever that means. These albums I mentioned have a good mix of both.

What's going on with BiLLLL$?

What's not going on with BiLLLL$? We're collecting massive royalty checks for all types of shit. We transfer the same million dollars back-and-forth between each of our accounts just for kicks sometimes. Actually, it's funny BiLLLL$ originally started as me and Guillermo Brown, who was then my professor at NYU. We wanted to make pop music that was experimental and intelligent. But now, BiLLLL$ has sort of become a catchall term for a massive collective of unbelievable musicians who all have similar artistic visions. Here's a little list: Guillermo Brown, myself, Cocheme'a Gastelum, Kassa Overall, Neil Ochoa, Keith Witty, Tecla Esposito, Shoko Nagai and Liberty Ellman. I'm sure there are some more, but yo, all of these people are insanely talented!


" Gordon Voidwell, my father recently told me from a hospital bed, was my fate since birth. "

Gordon Voidwell
"Ivy League Circus"

listen to "

what it is

R&B-infused synth pop, for those who like: Boy Crisis, Prince, Francis and the Lights