One of Australia’s most buzzed indie artists, Sophie Payten (aka Gordi) continues to impress audiences with her music. All the more impressive, her music career has all taken shape while she’s been completing a degree in medicine, hoping to finish this fall. With her debut album barely a month away, it’s been a busy and stressful time for Payten, but that same stress may have also informed her writing. We chatted with Payten ahead of her set in Montreal at Osheaga on August 5 and her album release on August 25th to discuss her dual careers, inspiring recording locations and how friendships inspire her more than relationships.
Northern Transmissions: What did you want to do when recording Reservoir that you weren’t able to do on your EP?
Sophie Payten (Gordi): Sonically one of the differences was the live-tracking on this record. For the EP I would play my own instrument and the rest was programmed. It was partly because I didn’t have a lot of money and it was also part of the sound we were going for at the time. I wanted a richer, bolder soundscape for these songs, getting live instrumentation was important for that. We got a string quartet, recorded a lot of live drums and horns, and that really made a lot of the songs. It’s not lyrically different from the EP, I write about things I know.
NT: What is it about platonic relationships that speaks to you more lyrically than romantic ones?
SP: There are definitely songs on the record about romantic relationships. But I went to a boarding school when I was 12 so my friendships were heightened, like family. I was surrounded by my friends 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it’s an intense experience. You grow up quite quickly and become independent, but you also rely on these people you just met. The intensity of those friendships I’ve found easy to write about. When there’s difficulty in them it’s very inspiring to write about. The feelings are more complicated, when you have a crush and it doesn’t work out, it’s not very complex. When you’ve known someone closely for years and you’re growing apart it’s harder to put a name to, and it’s harder to map out. Friendships are more layered and complicated, it’s more inspiring to me to write about. The lead track “Heaven I Know” I wrote about a friend I’ve been close with for some time, it’s a slow tragedy of drifting apart.
NT: How did you find the time to write while studying medicine and touring, and did your degree influence your writing?
SP: It definitely influences me in that I’m stressed a lot, there’s a lot going on at the moment too. When I get home, instead of relaxing, I’m in the hospital from 8am to 6pm every day. At times like it’s too much, but I’ve got my final exams in September, so the end’s in sight. In terms of influencing my writing, it’s more the balancing of the two, since I’m on a knife’s edge with my sanity and well-being. It’s been creatively productive in a way but I’m looking forward to finishing the degree.
NT: Do you see yourself pursuing medicine soon or is it more something for down the line?
SP: It’s more the latter for now. I want to focus on music for the foreseeable future. I didn’t want to not finish the degree, it’s been such a long time and I was so close to the end. I thought I need to suck it up and get through to keep my options open for the future.
NT: What did Tim Anderson and Alex Somers bring to the record, and what did they bring out of you?
SP: They really brought their own skill sets to the tracks. I spent a lot of time figuring out which tracks to record with which people. Tim brought a left-leaning, out of the box pop-production to my pop tracks, which is exactly what I was after. Still left of centre, but in an interesting way, driving the hooks to stick in people’s minds. With Alex I chose the songs I wanted a delicate and lush sound to them, he does beautiful cinematic music. It was very free-flowing, all in one room with instruments all mic’d up in one room. It was a natural process. In the end working with different producers still sounded like a cohesive record. At the end of the process I spent a week in Wisconsin with Zach Hanson, who I’d met playing drums in the Tallest Man on Earth. We sat with all the songs at the end and added little pieces, and found ways to link the tracks.
NT: Considering you were playing music at a young age, was there something particular that made you decide to go professional in university?
SP: I remember a moment. In 2011 I went to see this Missy Higgins show, and her music was my soundtrack in boarding school. She has a really honest form of song writing. I remember walking out feeling a lot and I wanted to make people feel that way too. I didn’t think at that point it would be my sole career but I knew I really wanted to do.
NT: Did you find recording parts of the record in Iceland and the US influenced the sound at all?
SP: Yes, especially Iceland. The three tracks I did there, I’m still transported back when I listen to them. We’d look out on a big lake in the city and it was constantly snowing. It was a really magical time and a lot of the instruments that Alex Somers, who produced the tracks, brought really captured that feeling. Songs that I did in L.A. turned out to be the more pop leaning tracks. Recording in these different places with different people really helped diversify the record.
Words by Owen Maxwell