Updated: Sep 29, 2022
I set up a zoom interview with Sophie Payten, aka Gordi, to get to know her a little better and what went into her process of creating this beautiful, intimate, and emotionally impactful collection of songs that, “explores the trials of humanity, from love and faith and religion, traversing the spectrum of sorrow to celebration”. After getting past the obligatory technical issues and perfunctory introductions, here is the conversation we had:
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you this week?
“I’m looking after someone’s cat at the moment and she’s very old, she’s like 15 years old. I think she has dementia. So she’ll like, have a little cuddle on the couch, and then she’ll walk out of the room and then she’ll come back and be like… “who the fuck are you?”, and it happens like every time she leaves the room. So I’ve just been constantly reestablishing myself with this cat. It’s a very hot and cold relationship.”
Who were some musicians you were listening to while working on Inhuman?
“Hmm. Good question. There were kind of different references for each of the songs, I think. But I started out listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens, and then like everyone else, I became obsessed with all that footage of The Beatles that came out, so I was kind of doing a real deep dive into The Beatles at some points. And then was returning to Taylor Swift’s epic, Folklore. But overall, a bunch of sort of wide ranging references and things I was listening to.”
You traveled a lot while putting this EP together, doing recording sessions in several different areas. How did the different locations inform or shape the tracks?
“Yeah, you know, the one that I wrote longest ago was in Reykjavik - in Iceland. And that’s kind of when I was making my first record. And I think just in the places, it held a context in my life, so I guess that was sort of weaving its way through the lyrics. I look back on the song “Stranger” and it’s funny coming back to songs a while after you wrote them, and looking at it being like, “shit. I was going through some things at the time that maybe I didn't really realize”. But I was kind of in the depths of Icelandic winter so any sort of distance or isolation I was feeling was probably magnified by the fact that I was in this place where there was daylight for like, four hours a day. And then I wrote “Visitor” in my hometown in this place called Canowindra, which is in the central west of New South Wales in Australia. So I’m going back as an adult, I always get that feeling that it’s always going out to visit and then coming back to wherever I’m living at the time - just that like, indescribable feeling where you’re sort of going back through all those familiar places, but so much in your life has changed. And you can feel sort of like a visitor to your old life. And that comes with such a complex set of emotions. So I feel like the places were as important as the personal context for me.”
You just played some shows back in Australia this summer, how was it being back? What are your thoughts on living in LA? Does it stack up to Sydney?
“Yeah I played quite a few shows in the first half of this year, which was amazing to be back doing it. I spent a lot of the pandemic living in Melbourne which was the most locked down city in the world, and there was a real sense as that was ending that people were desperate to get out and see live music and we were all desperate to play. There was a really nice energy about that. But I think that everywhere in the world has sort of progressed a little bit on that journey and the live music industry is kind of being pretty hard hit by people being hesitant to buy tickets to shows. And with all the complications that come around, getting struck down with covid and that’s definitely the case in Australia as well. I sort of feel like after having two years really solidly there, I was super ready for a change of scene and the weather in Australia is terrible at the moment. It’s super cold and rainy, so I got to LA and I've just been sweating for 28 days. But it is really nice to be here and feel, just purely by being in a different place, getting that different energy.”
You’re in a relationship with another musician, Alex Lahey, are there any challenges that arise from being in a relationship with another musician? How do you make it work when one of you is on tour?
“I guess you could look at that situation from the outside of two musicians being in a relationship and imagine some issues might arise, but I don't know, it kind of doesn't. If anything, it makes things better, because being in that sort of relationship with someone who does the same thing as you, it can go one way or the other. Luckily for me, it goes the good way, which is you have this shared understanding of what it involves and the ups and downs and the busy periods and the really slow periods and that being on tour is not a constant party, it’s actually a massive slog and really hard word. I think that we both acknowledge that being at our best is doing what we love, which is music, and touring just sort of comes with the territory of that. It’s never ideal being away from your loved ones, but if the end result is that you're being the best version of yourself, then it’s just a much better outcome. So to sum up… it’s a good vibe.”
Love that. And I know you both collaborated a bit on Inhuman. What do you find most challenging about the music writing process? Did your work as a doctor during the pandemic inspire your emotionally heavy lyrics?
“Yeah so Alex produced “Grass is Blue” and we co-produced “Stranger” as well. And I always love collaborating with anyone and so that was a really nice process. In terms of working in the medical world and how that has impacted the lyrics, the title track from the EP, “Inhuman”, kind of sprung from that. And this is sort of the heart of the EP - the struggle that was really magnified in the past two years of this conundrum that lots of artists face of, when there is so much happening in the world and around me, how do I continue to write from my own perspective and is that useful and is that valuable? And I think that was particularly magnified for me working in hospitals, because the past couple of years, that suffering was so intense across the board. So then to go home and try to shake that off, because what else are you supposed to do? And that’s sort of where the title track came from, because it feels like you kind of get put in this place where you get two options: either sponge all that up and feel like you can’t wake up the next day because it’s so much to take on, or, just try to move past it and put it out of your mind. And that can kind of make me feel like an inward looking robot, where you kind of like… how am i supposed to engage in these situations? And then just like, go home and write another love song. That friction, I think, is sort of the essence of this record.”
Are you familiar with the song “Flesh and Electricity” by Camp Cope?
“I know Camp Cope pretty well, personally, but i can’t think of that song, but I’ll look it up.”
Yeah, it presents a similar struggle of someone working in a medical field and feeling like they’ve become desensitized to everything.
“Well it’s funny because the lead singer of Camp Cope, Georgia Maq, and I have worked together before and during the pandemic - so Georgia’s a nurse and I was working in these vaccination clinics as the doctor on staff and I arrived at one of these clinics one day, and you kind of work with different people every day. And I always try to keep - it wasn't hard - but I always try to keep a low profile on the music front when I’m at work, at hospital, or wherever, because I just find that it’s a bit awkward. And so i walk in one day and the nursing staff are already there, and Georgia Maq is there in her nursing gear and she turns around and she’s like, “Doctor Gordi!” and I was like *[she lets out a protracted sigh]* “Please”. So yeah, we both got rostered on this clinic together and it was a hoot… as much of a hoot as a vaccination clinic can be.”
What are you most proud of in regards to Inhuman?
“I’m most proud of the fact that I largely made it on my own and it reminded me of my really early days of making music and just doing it for fun. I didn’t have the pressure of putting out an LP. It was just this collection of songs that I had time to sit with and it’s just me tinkering away at my little writing room studio. I was in this tiny little room above a pub in Brunswick, in Melbourne, and there were - it was a really old building and there were all these pigeons living in the walls and the ceiling. So every time i tried to record anything I would here this like *[she deftly lets out an impressively accurate pigeon coo]*. So it was relatively hard conditions, but I just had a blast and obviously I love collaborating, but there's something nice about just going on your own journey and getting to the end of a song and being really happy with it.”
I really love your lyrics. Are you reading anything lately?
“I’m reading a book at the moment which is called Love and Virtue which is by a pretty new Australian author (Diana Reid), which I’m really really enjoying. Also Maggie Nelson, On Freedom. Those are the two books that have been most recent for me.”
-Interview by Ben Billand