BY L.A. Benoit

The folktronica artist, Sophie Payten, who records as Gordi, talks about releasing her new album Our Two Skins in the throws of 2020, her new song ‘Unready’ and the turbulent year we’ve been living through. 

‘I'm just doing my best, like everyone else to maintain an emotional equilibrium.”

It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and the air is heavy with the recent unrest in the United States and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. Sophie Payten, the Sydney singer/songwriter who records as Gordi, is set to release her second album, Our Two Skins in a few weeks. She ponders on what we’re living through this year: it’s hard times, and she knows it. “I'm just doing my best, like everyone else, to maintain an emotional equilibrium”. Just like her music, her video presence brings a calmness and comfort. 

At the time of our conversation, protests have surged against police brutality in the US, and the music industry led a social media blackout movement in support of Black Lives Matter. These past weeks have added to a year that already felt crazy. “Releasing music and releasing albums during a pandemic or during a massive movement and protest and riot, it does make it pale in comparison” she shares. However, Payten looks ahead on what is to come. “I think we just have to focus on what we can and yeah, I'm really looking forward to this album.”

The release Our Two Skins, out later this month on June 26, comes at the back of her globally successful debut album, Reservoir, which was released in 2017 and opened in the Top 20 in ARIA charts. “There's been enough of a break between the first and the second one, it feels like starting fresh. I'm really excited to eventually tour it. It’s something that will make it come alive for me.”

“I was just following the green lights there and kept doing medicine. I didn't sort of intend it to be this way” 

Four years ago, Payten was releasing her first EP Clever Disguise– with Reservoir the following year, while simultaneously completing a medical degree at UNSW. “It was a lot, and not something I would wish on anybody” she laughs.

“I started doing medicine and playing live, and music started doing its thing. I was just following the green lights there and kept doing medicine. It was enormously stressful, but I got through and made it to the end. Life is hopefully long and I had this thing in my head: ‘if I just kill myself in my twenties and try to do as much as I can, then hopefully, I could get to a point– which, I feel like I got to at the start of the year, where I have medicine that I can go back to when I like, or have this music career that I can focus on. I think the gains were worth the pains.” she says laughingly. 

To her, both career paths developed in a natural, progressive way. The years that followed brought her to perform with Bon Iver on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show, as well as doing tours with him, The Tallest Man on Earth and Of Monsters and Men and Asgeir. 

“I was sitting with her as she died, and got to touch her, hold her hand. I was very aware that, in losing someone, you can never touch them again in that way.”

Today, Payten has graduated medicine, having already completed a year of work, and is ready to share more music. Her latest singles, Sandwiches, a homage to her late grandmother, Volcanic, Aeroplane Bathroom and the more recent, Unready, have become windows into the compelling and striking album that is to come later this month. 

Written about the growth experienced from a tumultuous few years, Our Two Skins comes from a line in the fifth track, 'Radiator'; the title embodying an exploration of identity and the feeling of two skins together.  

“One of the themes underpinning the record is this new relationship that I entered and the intimacy of two skins together, the warmth about two skins. It was the initial spark. But then, during the course of my writing, my grandmother passed away. I was sitting with her as she died, and got to touch her, hold her hand. I was very aware that, in losing someone, you can never touch them again in that way.

“A lot of this record also explores my own identity, and looking at skin as another word for identity, having multiple identities, coming to terms with different identities, and how that fits in with who you are.”

Working with producers and good friends, Zach Hanson and Chris Messina, Payten went back to her hometown of Canowindra to record the tracks. After a long period of overseas travel and starting a full-time job, she felt compelled to stay close to home for this album. “These guys were so good at setting up a real guerrilla style recording set up. It really lent on this strength in the end. Looking back on it now, I don't think we could have made this record any other way.”

The landscape and sounds of Canowindra brought a personal touch in the album’s tracks, offering striking and unique sounds to her tracks. “We'd walk around the field with a recorder, banging scraps of metal. There were trucks going past and sheep in the laying, and cockatoos screeching. All those sounds naturally worked themselves into the record. All of those little textures became really important because I wanted whoever listened to the record to feel like they'd sort of be transported to the place where we were.” 

More recently, Payten released her fourth single, a vibrant and radiant song, 'Unready'. 

The song emanates a sense of immediacy that sets it apart from the previous more reflective and earnest singles. 

“The song itself is actually the oldest song on the record. Lyrically it sits quite separately to everything else, or maybe it was a precursor. It's about how your life feels like it's going in a new direction and how ready you feel for that” she explains. 

“A lot of the lyrics I wrote were about flying to Iceland. The first verse is about me flying in, feeling that this new chapter of my life was about to start.”

"Given everything that’s going on in the world, maybe right now new music is just a background noise to you. And that’s ok. Maybe it’s something you can cling to, something that can give you hope." Payten wrote in a statement before releasing the song on Triple J’s Good nights.

Following the international events, Payten has stated that parts of the proceeds from Bandcamp sales from Unready sales during June will be donated to NAAJA in Australia and NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the US.

Releasing singles, or an album, in the throws of 2020 may look pale in comparison to the world’s issues at the moment, but it is also much needed. It becomes a place where we can close our eyes for a moment, shut our minds from the ongoing turmoils, and bring us a bit of hope.

Gordi’s Our Two Skins is out June 26 via Jagjaguwar and Liberation Records.

Photo credits: Jess Gleeson

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