With poetic, heartfelt lyrics and distinctive vocals, 20-year-old singer-songwriter Dorée Gordon has a song for everyone.
Dorée’s first, six-song EP is titled “Otherside.” Complete with upbeat harmonies on “Kites,” saxophone solos (Declan Sheehy-Moss and Marvin Carter) on “The Things They Carried” and haunting vocals on “You’ve Got Me,” the EP showcases the singer-songwriter’s range without overshadowing her distinctive voice. She called it “Otherside” because even though the word is supposed to be separated, she liked the one-word spelling better.
The NYC-based artist has already made a splash in the local music scene, but she’s looking for more than that. “I just wanna be somebody right before I close my eyes,” she sings in her titular song “Otherside.” When asked about the inspiration behind the song, Dorée said that “I think a lot about existing and what that means and what comes next … I and everyone else wants to make a mark on the world in one way or another or else there is no evidence of you when you die in the conscious world.”
Compare her to Joni Mitchell; find some Ella Fitzgerald-style scatting in “I Don’t Wanna Get Excited Yet;” take the piano away from Sara Bareilles circa “The Blessed Unrest.” You won’t come close to capturing Dorée’s unique sound.
The artist grew up listening to Billy Joel, Martin Sexton, Harry Nilsson and pre-“÷” Ed Sheeran. Queen, the Beatles and Neil Young were the family car ride soundtrack. If Dorée could play with one artist, it would be Paul Simon, who told WNYC in 2016 that “writing a hit song is easy when you’re young because ‘you don’t know anything.’”
After graduating from LaGuardia High School in New York City, Dorée went on to study contemporary improvisation at New England Conservatory for one year. “It felt like a major for people who didn’t have a solid major,” said the singer, who is on an indefinite break from the college. After long days of studying music written by other people, she lacked the motivation and energy to write her own songs. Now, Dorée spends three days playing and writing music nonstop and then puts her guitar away and goes about her life.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the singer-songwriter splits her time between Brooklyn and Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, gardening for the first time and strumming in her room for the thousandth. Like many other musicians, Dorée has started livestreaming performances for Instagram. Social distancing has been both good and bad for her music-writing process. Not wanting to become an artist who only sings about breakups, Dorée has been introspecting and spending more time thinking about the things she wants to sing about, although she will continue to draw inspiration from her own experiences and the people in her life.
All this alone time has not been helpful for Dorée as a performer. Her great-grandmother, Broadway actress Doree Leslie, passed her name but not her stage confidence on to the young artist. Singing in front of people has always been nerve-wracking: “My hands get really cold and then I can’t strum,” Dorée confessed. While she has performed at small concert venues such as The Bitter End in New York City, the livestreams from her bedroom, a completely new stage for the young artist, bring the same nerves.
Dorée is no stranger to strumming alone in her room. She starts most of her songs with just guitar, playing with different tunings until she finds “shapes that sound good.” A melody and lyrics come later, followed by the full arrangement.
Her creative process began with poetry at age 5, which she turned into melodies in her head without any musical training. The poems turned into songs when she picked up guitar at age 8. “It’s hard to describe my own music,” Dorée admitted sheepishly. She would describe herself as an acoustic singer-songwriter because that’s how most of her songs start out, but ultimately, she said, “I guess I’m sort of alternative pop.”
An internship at the Big Orange Sheep recording studio in Brooklyn, New York, gave Dorée the opportunity to record some of her songs with recording engineer Michael Perez-Cisneros. Her favorites are “Undignified” with bass player Ean Valte and “I Don’t Wanna Get Excited Yet” with Guy Paz on drums.
“I Don’t Wanna Get Excited Yet” is a song you can’t help but dance and sing along to — but not too loudly so you can hear the scatlike vocal arrangements. Dorée credits Paz’s drumming for bringing the song together.
“Undignified” is real, raw and “true to how I wrote it,” said the artist. The track sounds like it’s being sung directly to you. “I envision people listening to ‘Undignified’ when they’re feeling sad. The song is really about feeling lost and unsure of everything — and everyone feels that way sometimes. I hope people can relate to it and know that that is a common feeling and they’re not alone in having felt it.”
So, what’s next for Dorée? She may go back to the New England Conservatory next year because “it’s hard to find musicians your own age and have them see you as their peer when you’re not in school.” For now, she wants to improve her vocals, get comfortable playing outside of her bedroom and release acoustic versions of her songs. Once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, she can’t wait to go to house shows in New York City and Boston, where her sister plays in the bands Houndsteeth and Queen Crony. For now, she’ll continue streaming Angelo De Augustine on Spotify, learning how to garden and doing livestreams from her room.