Editor’s Note: “Front and Center” is brought to you by The Women’s International Network (The WiMN). The interviews showcase accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries, spotlighting successful female performers, educators, managers, publicists and others. Visit thewimn.com to view the weekly interviews and learn more about how to be featured.
Once in a while, you meet someone with so many abilities you wonder if they snuck back on line when the talents were being handed out. Jordan West is one such woman. In her Los Angeles-based band Trackless, West makes use of her talents as a drummer, vocalist and songwriter, and she uses her business savvy as the group’s manager and booking agent. Her original music has been featured on various radio stations, and she’s won several music industry songwriting contests. The band recently recorded its first single with Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen) in Los Angeles. It features a prominent guest guitarist and was released in September.
West also travels to festivals and trade shows as a product specialist demonstrating Roland drum and percussion products, and conducts clinics. Her gig as a Roland product specialist has taken her to the NAMM Show, CES, Starry Nights, SXSW, Gearfest and PASIC. Below, she shares some reflections from her musical journey, describes some challenges along the way and offers insights about successfully matching one’s talents to various career paths in the music world.
Women’s International Music Network: You’re a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist. Please share the progression of things — how and when you came to discover each of those talents and interests, and your musical training.
Jordan West: I went to a fine arts magnet school, where they made each student choose an instrument to learn in third grade. I wasn’t sure what I wanted my official instrument to be, so my parents took me to a musical aptitude test where there was one of every instrument in a room, and I got to try everything. The woman running the test told me I should highly consider playing drums and percussion. So naturally, I chose French horn! After a year of whole notes and running out of breath, I switched to a drum set. I was lucky enough to continue on to a middle school with an excellent music program. I was trained mostly in jazz throughout middle and high school and began gigging professionally in college while taking private lessons. Around age 21, I enrolled in a songwriting class for fun. I didn’t really know music theory at that point, but the class forced me to go outside of my comfort zone. I started my band, Trackless, so we could play original music, and now that’s one of my main professional focuses. I drum, sing and write songs in the band, and love how it utilizes different aspects of my musicality. I also play piano and guitar, mostly to accompany myself at solo gigs or to write.
The WiMN: Did you have any musical influences growing up?
West: My parents have always loved a wide variety of music. I grew up listening to everything from System of a Down to Cher to Bob Marley to Tool and everything in between. Much of my drum training was centered in jazz, where I learned about legends like Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Joe Morello and Tony Williams. I love listening to innovative drummers like Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Mark Guiliana, Sput, Steve Jordan … the list goes on forever. In terms of songwriting, I love Bill Withers, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Amy Winehouse and countless others.
The WiMN: When did you clearly know that music was what you wanted to do for a living?
West: I think I was 12. Middle school was really where I felt music was something I wanted to center my life around.
The WiMN: Drums are your main instrument. As there are considerably fewer female drummers than male ones, were there ever instances where you were faced with discrimination, and if so, how did you overcome it?
West: There have been plenty of times over the years where being a woman seemed to matter more than anything I played — for better or for worse. Some people are impressed that I know how to hold sticks and play quarter notes; others accuse me of being (or use me as) a novelty item. It used to make me really mad. I was letting it get to me and forgetting about the fact that, when it comes down to it, all I care about is the music. If I’m working hard on what I love, and proud of what I’m doing, that’s all I can do. Other musicians who are focused on being their best will gravitate to that; the rest is just noise.
The WiMN: You’ve had a wide array of performance experiences, including recording sessions, live club dates and jazz festivals, and trade shows/clinics. What do you like about each?
West: To me, there is nothing better than playing live for a great audience. Whether at a huge festival or a club or hole-in-the-wall show, I love that feeling. The energy is amazing. I really enjoy being in the studio, too. It’s fun to build a song and add what you can to it; that can be a really creative atmosphere. Clinics and trade shows are fun because they challenge me — it’s half performance and half public speaking and teaching. I love interacting with other musicians and showing them cool stuff they can use. I like the combination of each of those experiences. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to think in different ways.
The WiMN: As a Roland product specialist, you demonstrate percussion products and teach people how to use them. What do you enjoy most about teaching others?
West: I especially love teaching young people just starting out. Their excitement is contagious and they’re like sponges. They don’t have any preconceived opinions, so they’re usually open to trying everything. I also like showing drummers how to integrate technology into their setups. It can be intimidating to enter the electronic world, but it opens up a whole new set of possibilities.
The WiMN: What advice would you give to young girls looking to possibly pursue a career in music, either as a performer or in some other aspect of the industry?
West: Stick with it. Music isn’t an easy career choice and can be unstable and discouraging at times. There’s no one way to be successful, no clear path to take. But that’s also exciting and freeing. If you want to be a player, focus on the music, work hard and always stay true to who you are as a musician. My private instructor told me, “You’re never going to be Steve Gadd, and he’ll never be you.” If you want to be in the industry, know your stuff. Be up on the latest products, music, festivals, etc. Whatever aspect of the industry you’re interested in, know about it. Live it. Breathe it. Become a part of that world.