Gordi is Australia’s golden girl. Transitioning seamlessly from medical student to singer-songwriter, she is now one of the country’s most promising young artists.
I caught up with her as she landed in Seattle. In a chat that started with us trading stories of our families, both hailing from Canowindra, we then began discussing balancing her hectic study and music schedule and the concept of writing about what you know.
It’s safe to say that Gordi, otherwise known as Sophie Payten, was feeling the exhaustion that comes from pairing a US tour with the mounting pressures that come as a result of being a medical student.
“It’s a pretty hectic time at the moment because I’ve got my final exams in September. We’re on this tour now and then I get back next week and the record comes out… Then we have the Gang Of Youths tour and it’s pretty much exams time. It’s going to be a busy month ahead. Come the end of September I’ll find a beach to lay on.”
With her debut EP Clever Disguise earning her credibility across radio, Payten has cemented herself as one of the most exciting lyricists to come out of Sydney. As a result, her recently released album Reservoir has been met with much anticipation.
So how does Reservoir compare?
Clever Disguise chronicles a relationship breakdown with singles Can We Work It Out and Wanting both seeping with emotional depth, packed with catharsis.
Payten was clear in noting that while the EP did resonate with her personal experiences, there was still plenty of personal-growth that contributed to the making of the album.
“That’s what songwriting has always been for me. That cathartic process, of looking in and looking out. Looking at the relationships around me and how they’re affecting me and how I’m moving through them or the way I think about the direction I’m going in with my life. That’s continued on from Clever Disguise onto this album. At the end of the day I’m not old enough to write about things I don’t know. I haven’t had enough life experience to write about things beyond my scope of being in my early 20s and going through relationships.”
Listening to the album I was somewhat taken aback by the re-use of Can We Work It Out, having already appeared on the EP. It seemed like overkill to throw in a track almost a year on that many in Australia had already experienced.
When I brought up this conflict Payten explained, “We didn’t give it a push overseas. We wanted to put it on there because we feel like in the States especially, it still has a lot of life left in it. I kind of wanted a little bit of the EP on there because it is so important to me. It’s a nice paying of respects to what came before it.”
Although it may seem like returning to Australia is returning home, don’t expect to see Payten at the Canowindra local anytime soon. Heading on the road with Gang Of Youths in September and with both artists having just dropped killer new albums I was eager to hear what Payten thought of the band and their latest release.
“Because I’ve been so madly on the road I haven’t had a chance to give it a thorough listen. But if it’s anything like The Positions, their debut album, which is one of my favourite records of all time, then I know I will love it a lot.”
She went on to express admiration for the band’s creative drive.
“David Le’aupepe writes so beautifully… they write really good songs. I’ve heard some describe them as dad rock, which I think is funny because it almost does them a disservice because there shouldn’t be any shame in writing really good songs that connect with people.”
The album carries with it some big names. It was produced by both Peyton and Tim Anderson (Solange/Banks), Ali Chant (Perfume Genius/PJ Harvey) and Alex Somers (Sigur Ros).
“I felt incredibly lucky and occasionally out of my depth. Coming across all these people who are so talented and willing to share that and it made for a great varied record. They mixed all the different strengths that these people had and I think you can decipher pretty quickly who believes in the music you’re making and who doesn’t… Everyone who played a part, no matter what it was, became really invested in the whole process, which was really important to me.”
Among the most exciting elements of the album is its featuring of artist S.Carey, a member of Bon Iver who has been formative in the making of Payten as an artist. His unmistakable vocals swell throughout I’m Done, bringing it to new heights.
“I knew I wanted a male vocalist and I was listening to one of his records and thought ‘Shit, it should be him’… I’d done some singing with Bon Iver and then I met this guy Zac Hanson who was drumming for The Tallest Man On Earth when I went on tour with them. He is one of the house engineers at [April Base Studios] which is Bon Iver’s studio in Wisconsin… That’s where I went with Zac to get the record together, I had recorded myself singing the second verse and I was like ‘I really want a male vocal to sing the second verse instead’ and he was like ‘Do you have anyone in mind?’ Then I said ‘I’d actually really love it if Sean could do it,’ [and he said] ‘He lives ten minutes away.'”
A small-town girl with big dreams, Peyton has carved for herself a life of balance, traveling the world with her music, darting in and out for uni exams then back home to country NSW for family. For Peyton, the connection to home never wanes and it would seem that the rural community are some of her biggest fans.
“The town is so supportive. Just the other day I was on page three of the good old Canowindra News, it’s such a lovely place to be from. They seem genuinely stoked for any progress that I make in this and it’s lovely to go back every now and then to see people and play little shows.”
She also went on to describe the importance of home in shaping the artist that she has become.
“The biggest thing is that it shaped me, which is so important when you are making personal music. Any artist that I like that makes personal music I want to relate to them as a person, I guess that’s why it’s still important to tell people about that stuff because people like seeing what they can connect to. Those little facts and details.”
So why the transition from medicine to music?
“I didn’t have it in my mind that I would pursue music as a career, but I was at uni and I had completed a year already and I went to see a live show of an artist that I love and I walked out of it thinking that that was the thing that I missed. That was was what was missing from my life, not having a music career, but just performing”
She went on to further express her desire to explore her music career and gave an insight into how this developed.
“The way that I felt leaving that show I just knew that that was the way I wanted to make people feel. I didn’t do that with the idea of that being my life but I just started performing again little by little. I saved some money and recorded a song and put it on triple j Unearthed and then triple j picked it up and played it on the radio and then I recorded another few songs and they did the same thing… Then I signed to this label and now I’m here. Suddenly, I realised I wanted it all and I wanted to keep going.”
After months on the road, Peyton has been burning both ends of the candle, and as I left her to eat her dinner in Seattle, she revealed the moment that made the whole experience worthwhile.
“I was playing in DC and I was so tired, I did 12 performances in eight days, so it was the second last day and I was pretty knackered… I didn’t know if I had enough energy to get out there and perform. And I went out there, and I was like I don’t know if anyone is going to be here, or whether anyone would show up. It was a pretty packed room and everyone was quite drunk because it was a friday night. There were these two girls almost spilling onto the stage. And when I played Can We Work It Out, they were obviously best mates, and they turned to each other and absolutely blared the lyrics of the final verse and as it dropped into the final chorus they just fell into each other hugging. That was amazing.”
She’s a star on the rise and without a doubt one of Australia’s most promising young artists. With lyricism well beyond her years and with the insight to know the scope of her own experience, Gordi has ventured into the world with humble grace and astounding maturity.