The multitalented musician puts several of her well-honed skills to work on the road with the soulful rock artist.
Since leaving her native Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Los Angeles, California, Jordan West has drummed with the likes of Seal and Andy Summers of the Police. But she really met her match in her current gig, on tour with another singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and L.A. transplant—Grace Potter. West, who released the single “Ten Feet Tall” in October, has a lilting, soulful voice and writes multidimensional pop that’s right in sync with Potter’s sound.
The two share an entrepreneurial spirit as well as an artistic one. West composes and records music for television and created a series of video drum lessons for Reverb.com, while Potter founded and runs Grand Point North, an annual music and arts festival in her home state of Vermont. “We have a lot in common—we’re even both Geminis!” West says. “Musically I think we’re on the same page about a lot of things.”
MD: You started out playing jazz, while Potter came from the jam band scene—both genres with an improvisational nature. Does that inform the way you play together?
Jordan: Definitely. Grace loves outer space (in real life and onstage—she’s a huge Trekkie) and we go there often. I think one of my strengths as a player is being willing to let go and really commit to a moment, for better or for worse. Some of my favorite times during shows are when we don’t know what’s going on and everyone is just creating a feeling onstage, in that moment, that will never happen again. Sometimes Grace will get on the talkback and give us a vibe to go for or hits to play, and it’s really fun to hear it all come together. I’ve learned that it’s important to me to have room to improvise. I like to be able to stretch and experiment.
MD: What kind of prep did you do before heading out on this tour, and how helpful was it when you actually got on the road?
Jordan: From the start, this gig was one of the most intense I’ve ever played. The music is energetic and truly 100-percent live—no click, no backing tracks. Just the five of us onstage giving the best performance we can. I’m hitting the drums really hard, and after our first two shows (and a few pulled muscles and sprained ankles), I realized I was not physically in shape enough for what the show required. We play two-hour sets a lot of the time, and I’m singing quite a bit throughout, so I picked up swimming and interval training to help my cardio. My brother is a personal trainer, so he’s also been helping me with weights to strengthen my muscles and protect from injury.
Practice-wise, it took a lot of time to get the vocal parts down without sacrificing any of what I’m playing on the drums. During the weeks leading up to our first gig, I was practicing four or five hours a day, focusing mainly on the vocal/drum coordination and playing with power.
MD: Singing while drumming can be perilous for staying on key or in time. How did you master it?
Jordan: I started singing when I was twenty-one. At that point, I’d already been playing drums for ten years. So it never felt as difficult as it seemed like it should’ve been, because I had a lot of muscle memory that I could rely on. I think that was helpful.
I also did it all the time. I sang lead in my band, and at our first show it really didn’t sound great. But after a year of playing shows, the improvement was crazy. Even though it’s scary, getting out and doing it in front of an audience is the best practice.
For the Grace gig, I repeated and repeated things. It’s actually a lot harder for me to sing backup than it is to sing lead, because I’m not singing the melody, and my focus is on blending and following Grace. I started by singing along with the recordings—no drumming, just hearing the parts. When I went to do it while playing, some of it didn’t work, so I sang random notes and words when I could and tried to lock in.
Don’t worry about being perfect. Just try to get your brain to realize you should be doing something at that specific time. Once your body and mind get used to the timing of things, it will become easier to focus on the right note or the right word. But at first it’s going to sound really strange and terrible for a while. Once you get it into your muscle memory, though, it’ll stick for good.
MD: You sometimes use acoustic and electronic drums together, as we see in the photo. What’s your current touring kit?
Jordan: For now, I’m fully acoustic. We’re trying to keep things organic as a five-piece, as live as possible. I’m using a Ludwig Classic Maple kit with a 22″ kick and 14″ and 16″ toms. My snare is a 5×14 Black Beauty. For cymbals, I’m using all Zildjian, many of them from the new Sweet series.
MD: Was there anything specific you brought along for Potter’s material?
Jordan: I made sure to have enough different-sounding cymbals to effectively play her newer and her older material. The newer stuff is more about touch and groove, and I liked warmer, darker sounds [for those songs]. The older stuff requires cymbals that crash well and cut without being too harsh.
MD: Potter is a very physical, high-energy performer. What impact does her style have on your playing?
Jordan: She really is one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen, let alone played with. In the past, my default drum face kind of looked bored or mad or both. I’d only ever smile if I messed something up. With Grace, I’m jumping out of my seat, flipping my hair everywhere, and wailing on the drums. It feels great to really let loose and give an exciting performance. The energy she gives off is contagious, and you feel the need to match it. It is definitely exhausting, though, and I’ve learned to try and pace myself on the longer shows.
MD: I read that you like to write and record on the road. What are you working on in your precious off hours?
Jordan: I’m still releasing and performing my own music, so much of my free time is spent on that. I’m lucky to have a great group of musicians I play with in L.A. who help me flesh out and finish recordings, so the goal is to get demos down through sending sessions back and forth when I’m on the road, then cutting the final tracks in a studio whenever I’m back around. I’ve always been really inspired while on the road playing for other artists. It makes me want to write all the time.
MD: What are some essentials you take with you on tour? Give us your “survival kit” list.
Jordan: Oh, man. I feel like I need someone to give me a list, because I’m constantly running to CVS. Aside from obvious stuff, I’d say Band-Aids and Liquid Skin for blisters; ibuprofen and something stomach-related, because eating well on the road can be an issue; dry shampoo for when showers are scarce; workout clothes and shoes; refillable water bottle; something fun like a Frisbee or rollerblades (our band is very into Frisbee); mobile recording stuff (laptop, interface); earplugs for getting sleep on the bus; and a cozy blanket and pillows to make your bunk more homey. I also have a Nintendo Switch that I bring everywhere. Obviously all the drum stuff too, like a million drum keys, practice pad, etc.
MD: Name some of the players who influenced you and what you learned from each of them.
Jordan: There are so many—but here’s a short list:
Joe Morello: his musicality on the drums is so inspiring. He was so melodic and tasteful, he played my favorite drum solos of anyone.
Steve Gadd: I’ve always admired his feel and finesse on the kit. I strive to play with his level of conviction and certainty.
James Gadson: His pocket and touch is unreal. Effortless and smooth.
John Bonham: His raw energy comes through in everything he plays. One of the most genuine and powerful players ever.
Nate Smith: To me Nate is the perfect combination of pocket, chops, and tastefulness. He knows when and where to speak out and when to keep it locked.
Jordan West plays Ludwig drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Roland and BOSS electronics.
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Barry Alexander with Jonny Lang