Sophie Payten is working on her 6 year degree in medicine, while her musical moniker Gordi is forging a global music career.
The most striking thing about Sophie Payten - who is mainly referred to in a musical context by her stage name Gordi - is her dedication. And not just to music, but to life and work in general. Sophie grew up in a small country town, and then went to boarding school as her siblings had all done before her, and worked hard studying and dealing with the anxieties that come when a teenager is away from the comforts of their familiar home. According to a few interviews already given to other music publications, Sophie sought refuge in music. Music had always been somewhat of a friend to young Sophie who grew up singing with her musical mother and she attempted to write songs from a young age.
When she graduated from high school, Sophie was accepted to study a degree in medicine. But then, after uploading some of her original songs to triple j's Unearthed website, a few people started to take interest in her music. Things have steadily grown over the years - from demos to singles to festivals to a very successful EP released last year. That EP entitled Clever Disguise and its songs led to tours with Asgeir, Bon Iver and Of Monsters and Men. Even, a spot singing for a choir hand picked by Bon Iver on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in New York City. But despite all of the touring, writing, recording and publicity for her music - a hybrid of folk and electronica topped by her unique and deep voice - Sophie has not stopped pursuing her degree. In fact, while many would have dropped it once the invitations began to roll in, Sophie did not, and she will finish the course in a matter of weeks.
Her commitment to her education is met equally with her commitment to her art. Sophie is a fierce protector of her voice and goes to great lengths to preserve this gift, and she is also continually on a learning curve to refine her craft and her sound. Which - as the world will hear tomorrow - is nothing short of a journey of artistic triumphs. Her new album Reservoir showcases her sensational voice and unique instrumentation, of course, but the real X-factor comes with her ability to capture her affection and understanding for her life and lessons learned so far. It's a brilliant record and hard to believe it was created by someone who is just 24 years old.
Such remarkable dedication not only to her music, but also her studies, demonstrates an air of gratitude, humility and faithfulness which ought to be recognised and will no doubt carry Sophie - and Gordi - on to many a success. Perhaps as a doctor, but without a doubt as one of the finest artists to ever come out of Australia.
Sophie took some time in the back of an Uber while in the States on tour to have a chat to Music Love all about her brand new full length album Reservoir which is out tomorrow. You've been told - it's a beauty. Make sure you get your ears across it.
Last year you ended up on the Jimmy Fallon Show - how did that happen?
That was pretty cool. We got an email from Bon Iver's management... and they asked if I wanted to come over and sing with them. And I said, "Ah, yes."
Yes, let me think about that!
Ha, yes exactly.
Your music seems to be very well received in the US - how does that feel?
It's cool. The States is really great. I came here last year - we did a bit of a tour in May for the [Clever Disguise] EP. It's been really nice to come back and hit those cities again and see how the crowds have grown and see the people are responding to the music really well. People seem genuinely excited about the record... So I really love coming over here and I'm sure I'll be coming here over the years.
How has your unique sound evolved?
I guess it's like listening to other records, basically. I didn't really understand what producing a song was until a few years ago. I didn't think about [production] as another process. I just thought about the bare bones of instrumentation. And then I started listening to music that was combining those more produced aspects with more acoustic elements. A big moment for me was listening to a record by an Icelandic artist called Ásgeir. His debut album In The Silence was a real turning point for me. I was hearing what production was for the first time. Combining slick cool electronic stuff with earthy organic original folk music - and I just heard it and I was like, that's what I need to be doing. I kept diving down that hole, listening as widely to artists who were doing that. I definitely didn't have a map of the style I was going to create for myself when I started doing it. It just started to evolve a little bit. With the [Clever Disguise] EP, I was more conscious of walking that line. I would listen to a mix and be like, "Ok there are too many electronic elements, add more folk elements," because I thought every song had to be a representation of everything in its entirety. Whereas this record I felt a lot freer - I felt like I had established a bit of a blue print for a rough style. I felt free to explore the boundaries of that rather than stick so rigidly to it this time.
How would you describe your music?
It's a tricky one. Whenever I enter the States at passport control and I say I'm a musician, they ask me what type of music I play, and if I say "Folktronica" they look at me like, I don't know what you just said. So at the moment I've landed on "electro-acoustic" - it's kind of what I'm going with. It changes all the time. The kind of music I love I find hard to define as a particular style so I guess that's the music I'm trying to create as well.
Your voice is so different. When did you discover your that you enjoyed singing and your voice?
I've always sung. There's a video of me as a two year old singing a song from the musical Oliver and it's kind of always been a thing that I did. My mum was really musical so she was always playing the piano and I'd sing along. I was in the car with my 93 year old grandmother the other day and she said, "We always thought we could sing, but we never thought you could sing." (Laughs). I could always hold a tune and when I got to high school, I had six years of singing lessons. When I first started singing, for me, it felt different and it sounded different to my ears than it does now and it has on this record. Even if you listen to Nothing But The Same - the first song I ever put out - in contrast to one of these songs on this record, they're quite different and that comes through playing live. And I actually remember this distinct moment when we were were opening for Of Monsters and Men in Brisbane last year, and I don't know what happened but I suddenly projected my voice in a different way and I was like, "Oh, I've never done that before." And making this album was a really good process for me because it taught me the voice is as much of an instrument as anything. You can project it and you can hold it back and you can sing falsetto and sing nice deep rich tones. And I think that the combination of lots of touring and experimenting with my voice in the studio have kind of allowed me to find the place where it sits the best.
Do you care for your voice?
Yeah a lot. I sleep with a vapouriser. I actually call it the Gurgler because it sits in the corner of my room and gurgles away. I warm up and I warm down and I drink lots of tea. When I play shows I try not to go out to the crowd when there's loud music playing and shout over the top of anything, especially when I'm on tour. I've learned to speak differently so I'm not using the vocal fry which affects your voice. Lots of little things I'm learning along the way to protect it. It's important to.
Do you get paranoid about hurting your voice?
Yeah, it's not worth risking it. Through all this touring I've really learnt how to properly take care of it. In recent years I've had a couple of bad bouts of laryngitis but, touch wood, I haven't had it in a while because I've learned how to take better care of it.
Have you finished your degree yet?
It's a six year course and I have my final exams in September.
How has it been having two focuses? For your fellow students - the degree would be the only thing they're doing, but you're forging a major music career the same time.
(Laughs). It's the weirdest thing. The other week we were touring with Ásgeir. I had a show in Melbourne on the Monday night and I had a uni day on the Tuesday, but I couldn't go but the hospital placement [team] didn't know. I had a show in Perth on the Tuesday night and I had a red eye flight so I could be back by 8am on the Wednesday and walked in and people said, "Hello," and they had no idea. I couldn't complain about being on the red eye back from Perth, it's kind of funny and it's like I'm keeping it a secret. The faculty have been super supportive and that's why I've been able to do it so freely. That's why it has all worked out. I started the uni degree and the music career started after that and I wanted to finish it.
That is so admirable
And did you faint over a woman delivering a baby by C-Section?
(Laughs) About a week ago I was burning the candle at both ends. One minute I was on my feet and the next I wasn't, so maybe I'm not cut out for it.
Maybe you're just tired. Which women in music stand out to you?
My biggest influence of all time - which is a big call - is Carole King. She's an amazing songwriter and artist in her own right, but also she wrote every banger for the last couple of decades. She's really someone that I love. But today, it's such a great time for women in the Australian music industry. Courtney Barnett is a real leader of the pack. But then you've got a whole lot of people coming through like Meg Mac, Montaigne, Alex Lahey, and Vera Blue - there's a real contingent of successful young female artists and it's really a great time to be part of it.