Interview by Nina McQueen on behalf of Inner Circle Magazine
Record Paradise in Brunswick was a virtual paradise last Sunday, blessed by the captivating voice of Sophie Payten (a.k.a Gordi), who filled the store with live renditions of her poetically enticing music to celebrate the release of her first album, Reservoir.
Most people associate Gordi as the young down-to-earth, folk-tronica, indie-pop musician, based in Canowindra, rural New South Wales. Over the past year her name has popped up across the globe, supporting artists like Of Monsters and Men, Asgeir, The Tallest Man on Earth, and more recently, Gang of Youths. An emotionally raw synergy of low mellifluous vocals with blunt electronic sounds and earthy acoustics binds and characterises Gordi’s unique style. Her name is no stranger among Triple J listeners; being Triple J’s Unearthed most played artist in 2015, and more recently having her album, Reservoir featured on the latest Triple J feature album of the week.
For me, though, Gordi is something else.
I was first blessed with hearing Gordi’s talent in 2015. At first, I naïvely thought, yeah, she’s alright, and downloaded a few of her songs. She latched onto whatever reward system lies in the auditory compartment of my brain one morning as I caught the bus down Hoddle Street. I chucked one of her songs on and, basically, that’s how my music palette was changed forever. The tapping drumsticks introducing Can We Work It Out could probably be heard from my earphones every 4 minutes and 21 seconds throughout that bus ride. Besides from the head-bobbing instrumentals and cool overlaying vocals, the thing that really affected me were the lyrics, and I think that’s where my love of Gordi’s music began and still continues to thrive today. I’ve never appreciated song writing or poetry until listening to that song; later, I fell hard for So Here We Are, and am still so very happily in love with it to this day. The general vagueness and simple yet stunning language of her song writing allows for your own personal interpretation to come alight. For whatever reason, it affected me in a way music never has succeeded to before.
After that bus ride, Gordi’s music became more than just music to me.
She’s the invisible adventure-seeking passenger trapped inside my car’s CD player. She’s my hypothetical opponent, battling out too-loud singing wars with me (yes, I always lose) whenever I take a shower. She’s the gentle voice swirling around my head lying heavy on a pillow sodden with heartbroken tears. Her music has hugely shaped and impacted me, inspired and reassured me, and I’d be lying if I said her music didn’t at least slightly change me as a person.
I could easily write an essay on this, but to cut the long-winded fangirl story short to the simplest of terms – she is my favourite musician ever. If not, my utter hero.
So it was beyond an honour when I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with the voice I religiously listen to on a daily basis, to talk about the very highly anticipated release of the new voice I’d be listening to, featured on Reservoir.
Inner Circle: So, really, this is the best day of our lives. For you, your album is out today. For me, your album is out today…
Gordi [laughing]: It’s a big moment for both of us.
IC: Yeah, exactly! But how are you feeling about it anyway?
G: Yeah, I’m stoked! It’s been so exciting, y’know, there’s a big buildup to these things and the record’s been finished since the end of February so I’ve been busting to get it out and it’s so strange to finally think now that you can just look it up on Spotify and listen.
IC: For sure. What’s been the most surreal experience between beginning your album up until now?
G: Um, it kind of happened yesterday. I wrote this letter to my favourite album and I was obsessed with The Sound of White – the Missy Higgins album in my early teens and it was kind of what got me onto song writing and, y’know, was one of the most momentous albums in my young life, and I was super fangirl of Missy my whole life. So a couple of days ago, this article came out and yesterday she reposted it, and it’s essentially a love letter to the record and she said something really nice on Facebook and I was just at home on my computer and suddenly felt so overwhelmed. That was the moment that made me realise all the wonderful stuff that’s happened and I couldn’t help but think of my 12 year old self playing that disc and now…here I was, put this record out and like…my hero had just written to me on Facebook and it was just this crazy, yeah, surreal experience. It’s why we do it. Yesterday was such a time stamp for me and it’s almost come full circle a little bit.
IC: Is there a song that deeply resonates for you above all else? Either on this album or your EP?
G: Yeah, I think probably Heaven I Know on this one and then on the EP probably So Here We Are. Heaven I Know was the last song I wrote for the record, which also made it kind of special since some of the other songs I wrote a few years ago so I felt a little less connected to. But, y’know, definitely remaking them in the studio reconnected me to them. Heaven I Know was such a new crush. I had such a connection; all of last year I was basically coping with my best, closest person in my life moved away to the other side of the world and I was feeling that unpleasantness and I was trying to work through that and that song was the combination of that struggle – that idea that you part from someone who knows you so well and grow up and it’s funny with a lot of the songs, because when I sing them on stage, I’m very in the moment but not exactly thinking about the day I wrote this song. I’m in the crowd but also I’ll have to close my eyes because I have to concentrate so hard to not go out of time. But I get really transported back to writing those words and sitting at my mum’s piano and finishing the song and how much it has affected me. It was also the first song I had a go at producing so it’s definitely a special one.
IC: Of course. So you’re playing this Sunday in Brunswick at Record Paradise; what’s your favourite thing about Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs?
G: Yeah, I really love Melbourne – I could easily see myself living there. My sister lived in Fitzroy for the past 3 or 4 years and I spent a lot of time there, especially in my earlier days of touring, I’d be down in Melbourne there once a month. Fitzroy is special because they lived there and we’d get croissants and hot chocolates from Bubka. We’d go to the Marquis of Lorne and Gertrude Street, there’s that pizza place, Ladro. I also had one of the best coffees down there, don’t remember the name of the place, though. But yeah, I’ve played at The Worker’s Club and Northcote Social Club. Melbourne is always really special to play at, because in Sydney, although there’s people coming that I don’t know, but it’s often friends and family which is special in a different kind of way. When I come to Melbourne I feel like it’s genuinely just people who like the music rather than supporting me as a person – they come as music fans. It feels like a really pure appreciation of what we’re doing up on stage.
IC: Other than studying medicine at the same time, do you have a secret talent other than music?
G [laughing]: That’s it. That’s as far as I go, I think. Music’s pretty much what I do. There’s things I enjoy: I love to cook, read, watch Netflix- that’s my talent: watching Netflix.
IC: Can relate with you there. Do you have any guilty pleasures?
G: My guiltiest…grossest pleasure is probably eating condensed milk out of the tin. And also just like those people that are like, oh, I can only watch 2 or 3 episodes of something at once – I could easily knock over a season in like, a day or a series over a weekend. I wish I could be like, I read books everyday but for me between uni and music and stuff, I feel like a lot of the time my brain is like…I feel like I’m running around like a headless chook. For me, as basic as it sounds, sitting on the couch watching like Orange is the New Black or House of Cards or Game of Thrones that’s my real ‘me’ time where I can properly switch off and think about nothing else.
IC: Do you have plans for your next album or the future in general?
G: Yeah, I mean, no specific plans yet. I have these final exams in September for uni so I need to get those done since they’re absorbing so much time. But I’m just sitting here daydreaming about making music and I’m really keen to get into more producing and working on my own; get production ideas and go into a studio to track and record it. I’m keen to put my mind right into music without being distracted by other things. I’d like to flesh out songs I’ve been working on. I’m trying to listen to different styles of music, like ambient instrumental music which is making me think about trying to (not that I’m going to make an instrumental record) but trying to have a go at building these soundscapes and combining that with a song I’ve written. So yeah, my mind is ticking over all the things I’ll be able to do once I’ve got a bit more time.
IC: Absolutely. So, this is a bit of a personal question for me rather just to get some kind of…closure, I suppose; So Here We Are is my absolute favourite song in the history of music, and I feel that my interpretation is so different to yours. So I was wondering, what is yours?
G: You should watch a movie called Circumstance. That’s what I wrote the song about. The story of the film is these two women living in the Middle East who fall in love, and for religious and cultural reasons it’s forbidden, and it’s this really beautiful love story. And usually that doesn’t ever happen to me; usually I have to have an experience in order to write about it, but I felt so moved by the film. I was living in like, a college at the time, and I went to the piano in the chapel at like midnight, having a wild Saturday night in, and I just started singing the lines of the bridge, wake up, don’t stop being here with me now. And from there I took the theme and this idea of we can’t kind of help all the things that have brought us here, but we’re here now. So we have to move forward from this point, and that’s where the title came in. Like, whatever it is that’s brought us here we just have to kind of find a way to make it work.
Although I’ve seen Gordi play live a few times now, her performance in Record Paradise didn’t fail to send chills through my blood, erupting goose bumps across my skin. I envied the people sitting down in front of her because I couldn’t hide how much my body was shaking in awe listening to her hauntingly serene voice fill the warehouse-like space. If you love Heaven I Know, you’re going to regret missing this rendition; the most emotional piece of music I’ve heard and seen to this date, Payten’s powerful voice joined with the hushed looped whispers and brusque piano ate away the cool stillness of the shop. It was a moment I can describe as cinematically astounding. I can’t simply express in a non-cliché manner how astonishing her music is, no matter your music preference, there’s a song of Gordi’s that everyone can get around.
Gordi’s incredible first album, ‘Reservoir’ is out now instore as well as online: https://gordi.lnk.to/reservoir.
If you missed out, you can still catch Gordi at Howler in Brunswick on November 25th. For tickets go to: http://www.moshtix.com.au/v2/event/gordi-reservoir-tour/98229
Feature Image Credit: Nina McQueen