‘I’m All In My Head, But the Songs Are Better’
3401 K St NW
Gordon Sterling’s early years as a singer-songwriter and guitarist were driven by the blind pursuit of virtuosity; blazing through one song after the next. As time marched on, the process slowed down.
Maturity can be a real drag.
‘I think my musicianship has matured in the sense of the song content; what I’m writing means more. It’s not about showing off anymore, but writing something to really connect. It kind of sucks because it takes longer to write a song now. I’m all in my head—but the songs are better.’
Born in Queens, New York, to Jamaican parents, music was the backdrop of Gordon’s childhood. His father was a businessman and talented amateur DJ, playing crates of records at home, and spinning at friend’s parties on the weekends.
‘Music is a big part of the Jamaican culture, and when Jamaicans have parties, you don’t leave the kids at home—everyone comes. I got exposed to music at a very early age. It didn’t directly influence me going into music, but when I got into it, it absolutely helped.’
Looking up to the likes of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Dave Matthews Band, Gordon picked up the guitar when he was 15. He started singing soon thereafter, with dreams of being a back-up singer and rhythm guitar player—never presuming he’d one day be the lead on both.
‘I started writing music and singing along, and people I was playing with were like, ‘Dude, you should just sing!’ I never had a voice lesson, but I was inadvertently writing songs to my voice. My parents also wanted me to play piano, and I emphatically said no. Now I feel foolish, because it could have helped me with songwriting.’
As Gordon honed his talent, he studied fellow musicians’ business models—watching Derek Trucks, in particular, forge a separate identity from his work in the Allman Brothers.
‘As young as Derek was, he was so focused on doing his thing with his own band, and I thought that was a good way to own your career from the beginning. It took me years to learn that. I thought it was egotistical to name a band after yourself, but I eventually did it because I realized if anything else fails, I can always rely on my own name.’
Today, Gordon fronts Gordon Sterling and The People, which hosts a bi-monthly jam as Gypsy Sally’s house band, among other gigs. He developed a good rapport with the Georgetown music venue while playing around town, and—two years in this role—says it’s become a hub for the DC jam scene.
‘It’s been a good marriage for us, and an incredible scene with a lot of varying musicians. I’ve seen bands form from it, I’ve seen marriages started from people meeting there.’
Whether Gordon’s performing with Gordon Sterling and The People, or his reggae band NappyRiddem, he says big performance nerves are a thing of the past.
A small crowd—well, that’s another story.
‘I recently played the Anthem, which was surreal and very special, but that was like nothing. I didn’t think about it. The more people there are, the crowd looks like a blob and you don’t think about it. In front of three people focused on you—that makes me nervous.’
This Fall, Gordon is taking a new, six-song EP on the road. With each project, he starts with the shell of a song in his head before bringing it to the band to full flesh out. The best songs, he believes, emerge from a collaborative effort.
The process and product are equally rewarding, but Gordon says this particular album has been a long time coming.
‘The process is usually dope, and the writing process is always amazing, but this particular recording has been challenging. I love the crafting of the music, but then when you hear it once it’s done—it’s like a baby. It’s a hell of a lot of fun making a baby, and then when you see the baby, it’s this bigger love.’
Love, and love alone, has kept Gordon going as a full-time musician; going on his first national tour at 21. Two decades later, his parents still think he’s crazy.
‘I’m not sure they’re wrong. My parents were encouraging, but they had a lot of apprehension, and they still live in fear every day. It’s a sketchy way to make a living.’
Now the father of a 16-year-old daughter, Gordon understands their concern.
‘If my daughter came to me and said I want to be a musician full-time, I wouldn’t talk her out of it, but would try very much to prepare her for the pitfalls. And that might happen, because she’s into acting, and very talented. Joining the circus is crazy, and that’s what I did. As much as I love it, as much as I can’t see myself doing anything else, I wouldn’t recommend it. You have to really be about it, because it’s a grind. But I haven’t gotten it out of my system.’