Sophie Payten, AKA Gordi, is fast becoming one of Australia’s most alluring songwriters. Armed with a brooding contralto, impressive production skills, and a penchant for a pop hook, she has gone from strength to strength since bursting onto the scene back in 2015; a rise which culminated in the release of her brilliant debut record, Reservoir, back in August.
From the slow-burning luminosity of opener Long Way, right up until to the blissful final moments of Something Like This, Reservoir exudes this wonderful sense of fragmented creativity. Recorded in bits and pieces in every corner of the world (quite literally), the album feels endlessly inspired, as though injected with countless bursts of energy.
Sonically, there’s a lot to take in: heavily manipulated vocals, barrelling percussion, laser beam synths, blips of samples, acoustic guitars, blaring horns, and sweeping orchestral moments. But it’s all tied together wonderfully, underpinned by rock-solid songwriting, gorgeous melodies, and fantastic ability to seamlessly blend folk sensibilities with electronic instrumentation.
We caught up Payten at the front-end of a three month world tour to chat about some of the gear and techniques that shaped her new record, the process of taking it to a live setting, and the dream of one day owning a Space Echo (which we also share).
Following the release of our her blissful debut record Reservoir, we caught up Gordi to chat fragmented recording processes, synths, and the endless quest to own a Space Echo.
Hey Sophie. How’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?
It’s going well thanks! I’m in London at the moment rehearsing for a tour that starts in Paris on Thursday.
Reservoir is such a brilliant album. Incredibly diverse, sonically. Can you tell us about some of the gear or processes that you felt really shaped the record?
Thank you so much. It was tracked at many different times all over the world and all came together in one final week in Wisconsin. We went through every tracked part and made sure it had the character we wanted it to. We ran a lot of stuff through cassettes and re-recorded it, used the [Teenage Engineering] OP-1 to record a piano or xylophone into and then manipulate it, and reversed the shit out of a tonne of samples.
Nice. More than anything I feel that the vocals are the most consistently intriguing component of the record. How do you approach vocal processing or effects?
I recorded vocals on some beautiful Neumann microphones but also did some takes on just a Shure SM58 through a tremolo effect on an electric guitar amp. I also used the Microkorg vocoder and various tune effects.
I love way the electronic instrumentation offsets the acoustic on the album. What synths and/or drum machines are we hearing throughout the album?
There’s too many to name! Anything from a Wurlitzer, Juno, Korg Minilogue, Mellotron, Yamaha Portasound. Plus a bunch of MIDI effects – my favourite of which were the Speak ‘n Spell sounds.
What was the first piece of gear you bought? Are you still using it?
I bought a King Korg as a very entry level synth to use live – I don’t actually use it because I had kind of forgotten about it until now. I might dig it out!
Do you have a favourite piece of gear?
Can you tell us about the studio spaces you’ve been working in? How did the fragmented recording process help shape the album?
I worked in a studio in LA which was an awesome setup with your usual control room/vocal booth/live room etc. In Reykjavik I was in a one room studio with none of that stuff – it made for a very free flowing style of working because Alex (producer and engineer) sat at the computer and I sat right next to him and would grab whatever instrument, we’d mic it up and do a take right there and then. I recorded in New York and Wisconsin and Sydney as well. Working in different spaces meant access to different gear and different sounds, which inspire different sonic palettes. It was definitely key to how my record turned out.
You just kicked off your tour in support of the album. What has the process of translating the album to the live stage been like?
A really interesting one. I think it’s important to replicate the sound that gives your music its unique quality, but I think it’s a mistake to take a direct translation from the record. A live show calls for more dynamic variation and that can mean using fuller bass sounds and added percussion, and if you’re using Ableton tracks making sure they are complimenting what you’re doing on stage rather than ruling the entire show.
Is there a piece of gear you’ve used but only dream of actually owning?
What are your thoughts on the software/hardware synth debate? Did you use a bit of both on Reservoir? Is there a preference?
I don’t have a preference, at the end of the day it’s whatever gets the sound you’re looking for at that particular moment. Both were used throughout the record and both similarly effective where and how they needed to be.
What’s the most affordable piece of gear you feel like you’ve gotten the most out of?
The Volca Beats drum machine is really sick. It’s great to use live or even when you’re just writing and demoing. It goes pretty cheap and can really help inspire creativity.
If you had to grab a new piece of gear, what would it be right now?
I’m pretty keen to get my hands on an OP-1, and well and truly jump on the bandwagon. They’re so damn handy.