Gordi on collabs, community and coping

Tuesday, 25 Sep 2018

Gordi performing with Tallest Man on Earth (left) at her recent residency at NYC's Baby's All Right (photo by Brett Lenhoff)

In July of last year and just a month before her debut album Reservoir was released worldwide, songwriter-performer (and medical student) Sophie Payten AKA Gordi was announced as one of 2017's Professional Development Award recipients.

She was joined in the Popular Contemporary category by fellow honourees Julia Jacklin and Ainslie Wills, and pretty much since then, Sophie has been crisscrossing the globe gracing festival stages with Bon Iver and The National, playing club shows throughout the U.S., squeezing in SXSW showcases and the occasional TV or radio performance, collaborating in writing rooms in Nashville and LA, landing major syncs, supporting her songwriting hero Missy Higgins on a national tour and, of course, promoting her album at home and in 13 other countries. And, she is a dual nominee at the upcoming Australian Women in Music Awards in the Artistic Excellence and APRA AMCOS Songwriter Award categories.

Not only has Sophie accumulated a ridiculous amount of frequent flyer points, but more importantly, she has acquired some pretty meaningful professional and life experiences. We asked her some questions about what she’s learned from it all.

Q: Are you a goal-setter? Did you set out with goals for what you wanted to achieve in the past year?

I try to be. I think identifying your goals can sometimes be difficult and overwhelming, and the thought of not achieving them can feel quite intimidating. This year I set out to become a better collaborator, become better at my instruments, write a record's worth of songs and have some solid time to focus on the other important things in my life.

Q: You’ve established your career simultaneously in Australia and the US, as well as UK/Europe. Was that all part of the plan?

We wanted there to be a global feeling about everything we were doing, so I’ve spent a lot of time in those overseas markets to try and make that happen. They all operate in such unique ways so really you just have to put in the hours/weeks/months to make your presence felt. 

Q:   You’ve been welcomed into Justin Vernon’s musical community – from playing with Bon Iver on The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon and working on your album at Justin’s Wisconsin studio, to touring with S.Carey, to joining The National on stage at Eaux Claire, and being part of the eclectic proceedings at the PEOPLE festival in Berlin. What does being part of that community mean to you? How does it support and inspire you?

Community is everything to me. Establishing where I belong in the music landscape has helped me define myself and my music and what I want my career to look like. Being welcomed into that Wisconsin world has really opened my eyes to the importance of collaboration and of just being a good and honest musician. 

On stage with The National at Eaux Claire Festival in Wisconsin (photo by Brett Lenhoff)

Q: And, more generally, for songwriters wanting to connect with other creatives, why is it important to be part of a scene or a musical community? Is it important to be like-minded, geographically close, and/or to have similar foundations or values?

I think finding artists who have similar values to you is really comforting. It’s not about finding people who do things in exactly the same way as you because you’re less likely to learn from those people. Being open to the way other artists approach their music can open up a whole new world and working with other people to achieve their vision is really special. It all comes back to being supportive and feeling supported - because working in this industry doesn’t have to feel like a solo mission.

Q: Your song Heaven I Know, which you solely wrote/performed/produced, is used in the Netflix trailer for Maniac. Do you want to produce more and do you ever write music with syncs in mind?

I definitely want to produce more. I think that’s something I’ll move into more in the coming years. I don’t ever write music for my own albums with sync in mind - the fact that the Maniac team liked the counting in Heaven I Know was quite a funny outcome given a lot of people despised it. I have written to briefs before to pitch music for sync projects but I like to keep that very separate from my own artist work. 

Q: You collaborated with Troye Sivan on the track Postcard from his new album. How did that connection happen and how did the song come to life?

Troye tweeted about my EP when it came out in 2016 and that was the beginning of our connection. Then a year later our respective teams lined a session up for us and that was the first time we actually met. I sat down at the piano and played a few chords, then he told me this story about a postcard and we went from there. 

Q: Along with all the touring and promo duties of the last year, you’ve also found time to go into studios in Nashville and LA for writing sessions with other artists. How do these sessions work? What tips do you have for approaching these sessions and making the most of the time?

It can vary greatly from session to session but usually there’s one or two topliners (people writing melody and lyrics), and one or two other engineer/musicians. Sometimes you’re writing for an artist who is in the room or sometimes just to pitch. I think it’s useful to have a few starters in a notebook - like lines you might’ve thought of that you can go to when you’re stuck. I also usually take along whatever book I’m reading at the time so when we get stuck for a line I can find a word in there to launch off.

Q: With all of the touring, performing and promotion, how do you balance the opportunities with the potential to burn out? How do you re-charge and stay creative and motivated?

This is definitely something I am still figuring out. I think the key is to have other important things in your life - other interests and, most importantly, relationships. Those are the things that keep me going. They give me respite and support and motivation. And by spending time cultivating those other things in my life I’m able to give more of myself to music. 

Q: Last question is just a list: Gordi’s Top 3 highlights of the past 12 months (or so)

  1. Eaux Claires Festival and Residency in Wisconsin - performing and collaborating with Julien Baker, The National and Big Red Machine
  2. My month long residency in NYC with The Tallest Man on Earth
  3. Supporting Missy Higgins on her national tour this year

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