Exclusive Live Performance of “On My Side”

Interview with Sophie Payten


Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers

“You keep memories and feelings that you don’t
want to think about every day. It’s like a little vault.
I have always gone to that place to write.

— Gordi

Gordi, real name Sophie Payten, is a singer-songwriter from Canowindra, Australia. Her first EP, Clever Disguise (2016), was met with critical success, and she is set to release her debut album Reservoir this August.

We met up with musician Gordi at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles to record an ISSUE House Arrest and discuss her forthcoming debut album, Reservoir. Gordi, whose real name is Sophie Payten, is gearing up for her album release in August while studying for grueling medical exams. She has played with the likes of label mate Bon Iver while maintaining an international roster of shows following her well-received EP Clever Disguise. Gordi discusses the inspiration behind Reservoir’s tracks, how she blazed a trail as a new musician and what’s next for her.

Where are you from?
Sydney, Australia.

When did you start making music?
When I was about 12, but I probably started playing as Gordi when I was about 19. I’m now 24.

Billy Joel
American singer-songwriter Billy Joel has sold over 150 million records worldwide and his Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 is one of the best selling albums in the US. He his a six-time Grammy Winner and a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Carole King
American composer and singer-songwriter Carole King rose to fame in the 1960s, writing over two dozen hits for numerous artists with husband Gerry Goffin. King’s sophomore album Tapestry (1971) launched her to fame as a solo artist, and she became the first female recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2013. King is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

James Taylor
Born in Boston, American singer-songwriter and guitarist James Taylor went on to fame following his move to California in 1970 at the age of 22. A five-time Grammy Award winner, Taylor has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

What was it like growing up in Canowindra and what impact did that have on your musical development?
It’s a tongue twister. Most people say “Cano-win-dra” but it’s “Ca-nown-dra.” It’s a town of about 2,000 people, and I grew up on a farm about 20 kilometers outside. I guess the biggest way it influenced me was that there was a lot of like free time and space to create stuff in. It was a really supportive community, so any time there was a performance opportunity I really felt the weight of the whole community behind me. Even now, any time anything happens, it’s on the Canowindra news. They are still very supportive which is important to me, but yes, I think growing up there listening to my mom’s records like Billy Joel, Carole King and James Taylor, that was probably the biggest influence that stayed with me.

“The way I felt coming out of that show
was the way I wanted to make people feel.
I was going to write music no matter what,
whether as a career or otherwise.”
— Gordi

Missy Higgins
Australian sing-songwriter and actress Missy Higgins is best known for her award winning albums The Sound of White (2004), On a Clear Night (2007) and The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle (2012). Higgins has sold millions of albums and has won multiple ARIA Music Awards.

How did you decide this is what you’re going to do?
In 2011 I went to see Missy Higgins, an Australian artist, playing in Sydney. I remember walking out thinking, “That is kind of what I have to do.” The way I felt coming out of that show was the way I wanted to make people feel, and I was going to write music no matter what, whether as a career or otherwise. I missed performing. You get to perform all the time at school, and the performing part of my life had stopped. It felt like this thing that I had to do, and going to that live show really reaffirmed it for me.

How did you get started?
I went home that night and uploaded a demo to a website called Triple J Unearthed. If you’re a non-commercial artist in Australia that is sort of your big ticket, getting a song on Triple J, the main alternative radio station. The Unearthed program nurtures young emerging artists, so I put a song up on that and got an offer to play a show. I got a band together and kept playing shows for a number of years until I eventually recorded a track and uploaded it to Unearthed at the end of 2014, and it got picked up by the Triple J. I kept putting out music, and it kept being supported by Triple J and got picked up elsewhere.

Where does the name Gordi come from?
Gordi is a name my brother came up with when we were little. He called me Gordon. We don’t know why. He called me a lot of things, and that was a name that stuck. My sister shortened it to Gordi, and my family would always call me that. They never call me Sophie, which is my real name. Then I guess five years ago now we thought it was kind of a good idea to go under a different band name to keep some sort of anonymity or separate them for my own sake. I stuck with it, although when we first started doing it I was so uncomfortable that I wouldn’t introduce myself at shows. I’d play a whole show and get off the stage. People would be like, “We have no idea who you are because you didn’t say your name.” I’ve come to terms with it.

What was the inspiration for the name Reservoir?
Reservoir is my debut album which comes out in August. “Reservoir” has always been a term that I referred to as this space everyone has inside them where you keep things. You keep memories and feelings that you don’t want to think about every day. It’s like a little vault. I have always gone to that place to write, and I’ve explored it more as its own space—the sort of things I keep there and the sorts of things I think about when I’m sitting in that space. I thought for a long time about what to call the album, and then suddenly it was “reservoir,” which is what I’d always called that place. I was like, “Of course, that’s what it’s going to be called.”

“I was so uncomfortable that I wouldn’t
introduce myself at shows…
People would be like, ‘We have no idea
who you are because you didn’t
say your name.’”
— Gordi

What life event has impacted you most and what role has that played in your music?
A pretty major event for me was going to boarding school. I went away to school when I was 12 to Sydney, so I left my parents in Canowindra. It was for better opportunities. They were more readily available to me in Sydney, but I guess that has probably impacted me the most because that’s when I started writing. As an adolescent, you have a lot going on emotions-wise, but it’s really magnified when you’re forcing yourself to become so independent because you’re living away from your parents, surrounded by 200 other kids your age. That was a really formative experience for me and really put me in touch with my own emotions. I was forced to funnel that through some channel, and that ended up being a creative channel by writing songs.

Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
Carole King and James Taylor, but especially Carole King. She wrote every good song for the last 30 years. I think she’d be my number one.

What are your interests and passions outside of music?
I’m a big sports fanatic. I’ll watch pretty much any sport but car racing on TV. I love to cook, I love to go out. I’m also studying a medical degree outside of some music so I wouldn’t say that is a hobby or necessarily a passion, but it’s something that I do. I live in an area of Sydney where we have a really lovely kind of park near it, so getting outdoors and going for walks, going to the beach, that sort of stuff.

What are your plans for your medicine studies?
I’m in my sixth and final year of medicine now. I have my final exams in September, which now I’ve broadcast so everyone will know if I pass or fail. I want to finish my degree, and maybe there will be a time in between albums to do some time in the hospital. For now this music is the priority.

What are your favorite book, film and music right now?
I’m reading a book by Australian author Hannah Kent, who is really beautiful writer. One of my favorite films I’ve seen lately is Arrival with Amy Adams. I’m not usually a big sci-fi person, but that’s one of my favorites. I’m listening to another Australian artist, Julia Jacklin, a lot. Also a New Zealand female artist, Aldous Harding, and the new record called Afterglow that just was released by Ásgeir, the Icelandic artist.

What is next?
Going home. I’ve been away almost six weeks. I go home in a few days which I’m excited about, then I’ve got a round of shows in Australia supporting Ásgeir and also my own shows. Then I’m coming back to the States in August for a headline tour. Then the album comes out end of August. Following that, we’ll see. Got to get the album released.

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