Jordan West is a Los Angeles–based drummer and singer who has also worked with artists such as Judith Hill, Seal, Kailee Morgue, Ari Herstand, Joy Downer, Clans, and MILCK. At age 21, she found her voice and love of songwriting and eventually moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana to begin her solo career. She released her self-titled EP this year, which combines her love of classic pop, rock, and soul while embracing un-hipness and exploring what it feels like to move across the country in the search for something more.
Women are underrepresented in the percussion world. Our weekly series, Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW), aims to recognize, celebrate, and inspire female percussionists of all stripes. Each Wednesday we’ll feature a profile of a drummer, who will share tips, advice, and videos. Want to be featured yourself? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org telling us more about you.
What is your city, country, and age?
Los Angeles, 28 years old.
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
My primary kit is a Ludwig Classic Maple (champagne sparkle) with a Black Beauty or Acrolite snare, usually some kind of Roland triggers or pads like the SPD-SX or TM-6, triggers on my kick and snare, and sometimes some extra mesh pads around the kit. Sometimes I also add a looper, keys, or guitar to my set up depending on the situation.
Do you have endorsements?
Roland, BOSS, Ludwig, and Zildjian.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
The roster of artists I’ve played/recorded with includes Judith Hill, Seal, Kailee Morgue, Ari Herstand, Joy Downer, Clans, and MILCK. I also play drums and sing in my own project under my name.
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What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
I had to take a musical aptitude test in second grade—basically they had us play every instrument and see what we naturally leaned towards. Drums was far and away my favorite and the one that I had the most natural knack for. Once I started, I knew I never wanted to stop. I had a series of great teachers and mentors, and a really supportive family that always made sure I had private lessons, drove me to gigs, and came to support.
As far as songwriting and singing, I didn’t start that until I took a required songwriting class in college. I found out I really loved singing and writing as another way to express myself that was totally different than drums, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
That’s always such a hard question! I love Steve Gadd and Jeff Porcaro for their dexterity and feel, Nate Smith and Steve Jordan for their pocket, and Joe Morello for his musicality. There are so many though, honestly. It’s tough to choose less than 30.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
I really love playing along to tracks. I play along to a lot of James Brown, Bill Withers, Vulfpeck, etc. It’s the next best thing to locking-in with a band and really helps develop groove and feel. I’m not a huge fan of exercises that teach specific fills but rather concepts or rudiments that can be applied in the moment. Mark Guiliana has a great book that explores this idea called Exploring Your Creativity On The Drumset.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
Definitely check out the book I mentioned above. That’s how I like to approach playing. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was when my teacher told me I would never be Steve Gadd, but that Steve Gadd could never be Jordan West.
He meant that you can try to emulate people as much as you want, but you’ll never get there because you aren’t them. You have to be true to who you are as a player because that’s what truly makes your music interesting and authentic.
Find what you’re great at and hone it in—be unapologetic in your sound. This isn’t to say transcribing other players solos and grooves and learning them isn’t worthwhile—it totally is. But when it comes down to performing or recording, make sure you’re still speaking with your own voice.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
Success is being proud of what you are putting out into the world. It doesn’t matter if three people hear it or 3 million. If you aren’t happy with what you’re doing, or aren’t happy with how you’re doing it, you’ll never feel successful. It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn not to base my view of where I’m at on other people’s perceptions.
The ultimate goal for me is to be able to play or write music every day, to collaborate with players who inspire me, and to put music out that makes people feel something. Making money while doing these things is definitely also a goal, but it is not the primary mission. If you stick to your vision and work hard, the rest will come.
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
I try and find a progression and melody I like, then I sing gibberish over it and find words that phonetically fit the nonsense I’m singing. Then I spend a lot of time on the drums finding the correct groove for the song, and after that everything else kind of has a natural pocket it sits in.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
There’s a saying: “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough” (or something to that effect), and I believe that to be true. Failure and how you respond to it is what creates your character. It also makes your successes that much sweeter and allows you to really appreciate the people who dig your music or the great things that happen to you.
I also think that it can show you how much you really want something. If you aren’t willing to get back up and try again, you may have reached a point where whatever you’re attempting isn’t worth it to you anymore, and I think that can be the universe’s way of telling you it’s time for a new direction.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
Just work hard and know your stuff. When it comes down to it, that is all that matters. Because of women being underrepresented, there is still a huge novelty aspect of women playing drums. Because of this it can sometimes be a little easier to get gigs—lots of people want a girl playing drums in their band and will specifically ask for that.
My advice, though, is always be undeniable. Don’t ever feel okay with the fact that you got the gig just because you’re a girl. (Even if that literally is the reason you got the gig.) Make sure you are also the best drummer for the job and prove it time and time again. People might say a lot of stupid things to you but if your playing speaks for itself, that’s really the most important thing. Just focus on the music.
Where else to find Jordan
And I’m releasing new music every month starting in June on my Spotify (Jordan West).