A year on from releasing her debut album, ‘Reservoir’ in 2017, Gordi has only just clawed her way out of the other side. “I felt like I’d been spinning for the past few years, going at this constant rate,” she ponders, speaking from her family’s farm “Alfalfa” in the rural Australian town of Canowindra.
With a medical degree to finish up, and hospital rotations to complete – alongside bearing her first full length ‘Reservoir’ to the world, and trying to squeeze in a few tours, all at the same time – that flurry of activity was followed by a difficult period of serious burn-out. After recording her first full length all over the world – hopping between Iceland, LA, and Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio, her sudden jolt back to reality proved taxing. “I released my debut album, and two weeks later I sat all my final exams,” Sophie Payten – aka. Gordi – remembers. “I was very close to having a nervous breakdown, but got through it. I needed to take some time for myself. I had nothing to write about.”
Though Gordi’s based in Sydney these days, she returns to Canowindra often to find much-needed quiet. While there, she picks up shifts at her old job, weeding baby roses at a remote nursery out of town and running away from the occasional redback spider.
“To use huge cliches it keeps me grounded and makes me a better human,” Sophie explains. “I was in LA, like, a month ago, and three days later I was back here in gum boots pulling weeds, 20km out of town. As my grandma said, ‘how the mighty have fallen’. Coming to places like this I get in quite a sort of meditative headspace.”
Replenished in a practical sense, Gordi was renewed in a personal sense by a head full of inspiration, the start of a new relationship and a new perspective on emotional connection. “I basically believe in fluidity of all things”, she says. Reflecting on a period of personal transition, Payten elaborates, “I met this person who changed my whole view of everything, and that has been a big part of me being refreshed and having a better disposition.”
Gordi then turned her attention in a different direction, pondering the sort of artist she wanted to become. After so much isolation – the loneliness of long tours, the chosen silence of Canowindra – she found herself searching for a musical community. “I wanted to do things outside of being strictly Gordi, I wanted to become more of a collaborative artist.” At one point in this winding journey, she found herself stood next to Memphis musician Julien Baker. The pair played a 40 minute improvisational set in a place called Music Box Village, using nothing but a musical treehouse. As you do.
It’s an eccentric insight into the creative world started by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. The pair met years ago when Gordi joined them on vocals for a performance on Jimmy Fallon. That initial collaboration led to some US and European shows together, culminating in Sophie borrowing Vernon’s Eau Claire studio to record part of her debut, and has since become part of the same circles. Pushing herself towards new experiences with Julien Baker at Vernon’s Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin, she also performed with Big Red Machine, and The National, collaborated as part of the PEOPLE residency and festival in Berlin and has begun mentally shaping her next record, too. Stepping far outside her comfort zone has proved liberating. “I’d be playing harmonium in a room of people playing free jazz, and I was like… this is not where I belong,” she laughs. “But placing yourself in a community with like-minded artists has been integral, for me, with feeling energised by it all.”
In her Atlantic crossings, Gordi spent several weeks in Iceland with producer Alex Somers working on the tracks “Bitter End”, “Aeon” and “Something Like This”, allowing the production of those tracks to be inspired by their dramatic, wintry surroundings; evoking a sense of isolation that complements her time in Wisconsin and back home in rural Australia. Somers and Payten first collaborated on mixing and production for her song “Wanting” which features on her first EP ‘Clever Disguise’.
While finishing her full length, Gordi also met up with Troye Sivan, who has long been a supporter of her music since he chanced upon her 2016 EP, ‘Clever Disguise’ while on a long-haul flight. The two of them got together by a tiny white piano in Los Angeles. Three hours later, they had written most of ‘Postcard’ from Sivan’s latest album ‘Bloom’. “Most of what you hear on the song is just from that day. I really like what he’s about, and I think with everything happening in the world, someone like him and what he stands for and what he promotes, has never been more important.”
A trip to New York, where she put on a month-long residency at Brooklyn venue Baby’s All Right with her friend and collaborator The Tallest Man on Earth, only solidified the importance of community. “It sounds super lame, but it was just about the music. It was really special,” Gordi says. “While I was away in New York I wrote a lot of the second record, and this past month I’ve been meditating a lot about what it should be about, what it should be called, the visual aspects of it, and I think I have a clear vision in my head, which is nice.”
Gordi ended up producing a handful of tracks on ‘Reservoir’, and looking vaguely towards her next record she’s eager to take the helm as much as possible when it comes to production and engineering. And on the flip side, revisiting ‘Can We Work Out’ for one last time before moving forward – an EP cut which also made its way onto ‘Reservoir’ – she wanted to cut it loose and pass over the reins for a change. Pop whizz Shura, and Solange and Frank Ocean collaborator RAC have put their own spins on a track that, for Gordi, reflects an older headspace from the past. “This track has been around for a little while, and I owe that song a lot,” she says.
Ultimately, a year of artistic growth has proved vital for Gordi moving forward. “I’ve been a little sponge for the past 12 months,” she concludes.
Gordi wraps up 2018 by joining Sam Smith on his sold out arena tour around Australia and New Zealand. She will kick off 2019 with an Australian tour alongside Julien Baker, including a special hometown show at the local hall in rural Canowindra.