By Arabella Ahearn and Feronia Ding
With Loreto Normanhurst alumna ‘Montaigne’s’ recent success in Eurovision, the talents of other Loreto graduates within the music industry have also been on the rise. We had the amazing opportunity to interview Sophie Payten (who performs under the stage name ‘Gordi’), an alternative artist who graduated from Loreto Normanhurst in 2010 and has since achieved wider national and international acclaim with her recent album, “Our Two Skins.”
Q: Your stage name is Gordi and we were wondering where you got it from?
A: My brother, who is four years older than me, when we were kids, called me heaps of weird nicknames. We had no idea where they came from and one of them was actually Gordon, like the man’s name, the other members of my family shortened it to Gordi. The first show I played under my own name [Sophie Payten] and then I decided to try that out.
Q: How was your time at Loreto? Was music one of your favourite subjects while you were here? What was boarding like for you?
A: I loved my time at Loreto. I was there from 2005-2010 and boarded the entire time. I studied music all the way through to year 12 and did music 1 in year 11 and 12. I participated more in the practical than the theory. The lesson would start, and I would vanish to the music cells.
I remember in Year 7 arriving and we were in this big dorm. There were 26 boarders in my year to begin with. I used to hear older girls playing the grand piano down in the reception room which was right underneath [the dorm]. We would listen with our ears on the floor and I was like “maybe one day I’ll go and play down there” and once I was in year 9 or 10 I decided it was my time to go and play in the reception room. I used to go down there at night. I reckon I spent about 50% of my time at Loreto playing the piano.
I loved boarding as well. I was very close with my year going through and yeah, it was really fun. People used to ask me if my parents moved to Sydney would you be a day girl? And I was like “nah.” There was something so special about being a boarder, I loved my time there.
Q: Other than music, what were your favourite subjects?
A: I loved Modern History; Mrs Murdoch was my history teacher. She was a legend. I loved Modern history. English, History, and Drama. I don't know if Mrs Woods is still there?
Us: Yeah, she is!
Great! (laugh) Mrs Woods was my drama teacher. One of my faves.
Gordi performs "Sandwiches" on JJJ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3P2EcUvOy4g
Q: We wanted to ask about some of the artists you’ve toured with and what that experience was like?
A: They were total ‘pinch me’ moments to get on stage and look over and see them. It’s been really cool; I have met a lot of people that I admired for a long time. People I listened to in the dorm. That stuff is kind of indescribable.
Q: We know that you’re a doctor, how was it striking a balance between your two professions?
A: I am still working on that, as you know there are so many opportunities to perform at school with chapel and assemblies, I really loved performing. When I left school, I realised that those opportunities don’t really happen unless you do music. I took a year off, went travelling, and then started at UNSW doing undergrad medicine and throughout that year I was missing performing and out of that I realised that I wanted to release a song.
There were a few points throughout my degree where I thought “should I give this up and just focus on music?” But something always stopped me. I am really glad I finished it because last year I was supposed to spend the whole year on tour and obviously that didn’t happen, and thankfully I had this other thing that I could do, which was go and work in hospitals. I am really thankful that I persisted. The balance is hard, and it always will be, but I think you just make time for the things that are important to you.
Q: What is your song writing process like?
A: It's changed a lot over the years. When I first started writing songs, when I was at school I would think of a line or words and I would just start strumming a chord. I used to be embarrassed about people finding my lyrics. I wrote them so small that when I went back to them, I couldn't read them.
Now, I come up with an instrumental loop, like drums and keys, and I always have a bank of words and lyrics I write down in my notes app as I live my life and as the music I have made is playing through the room I see what fits or if it all comes out of nothing. I think the first step for me is always creating the mood - what is the tone and feel of the music and what lyrics will go with it.
Q: Have you been in contact with artists who have also come out of Loreto schools, for example Montaigne?
A: Yeah! Jess is a wonderful person and she is really hitting her stride with Eurovision which is amazing to see. She is an artist I really admire because she is who she is, and I think that is a really powerful thing.
I think that something I always really loved about Loreto is that is wasn't like an “academic factory”, it didn’t produce the same type of person two times over every year, it did really make room to an extent, for people to be who they are and explore who they want to be in an extracurricular sense. When I was coming through school there was so much talent, people who were amazing at singing and playing their instruments. There was talent everywhere and Loreto was really good at fostering that.
Q: What is your favourite song that you've written/released?
A: I think probably a song from my last record called volcanic which I wrote when I was overseas in 2018 doing a bit of travelling between Stockholm and Berlin. I like that song because it moves away from the traditional structure which I often get trapped into and it was sort of opening a door to explore song writing in a different way.
Gordi performs "Volcanic" https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=290585192322795
Q: What advice would you give to Loreto students who were wanting to pursue music?
A: The ten thousand hours thing is real. You've got to put in the time, you’ve got to put in the effort. I was playing the piano every spare moment of my schooling life. It is something that takes work and refinement and that's something you only get if you put in the hours. But you know, you should always enjoy it first and foremost if music feels like a chore for you then maybe your passion lies somewhere else. If it is something that you really love doing, then there are really viable career options in the Australian music industry.
There is such an emphasis on particular types of careers when you go to a private school, but I think to keep an open mind about your future and not get locked into some degree that you don't really want to do because you feel like you should do it. You are always going to be more successful if you follow your passions.
Q: What does your most recent album mean to you and what inspired it?
A: The album I put out last year, ‘Our Two Skins’, came out in June . It was a really personal record and it was really special to me because I made it in the town where I come from, Canowindra. I made a sort of makeshift studio in the cottage there for four weeks and made it with two friends of mine. The context of the record is that I was making a lot of discoveries about identity, it was on a backdrop of Australia voting on same-sex marriage and it was all sort of pretty turbulent time in my life. I think that I would emphasise the importance of being yourself – sometimes there are structures around you that make you feel like you’ve gotta be something that you’re not, but through music I have found who I am and I am very grateful for that, which is what I was exploring in my second record that I put out.
Q: Favourite Book?
A: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Q: Favourite song of all time?
A: “The Gardener” by The Tallest Man on Earth
Q: Favourite movie?
A: Circumstance, it's made by this Iranian female filmmaker. It's very good (you should watch it).
Q: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
A: I started at Loreto in January of 2005 and in 2004 Missy Higgins released The Sound of White. I was obsessed with that album; she had been to boarding school as well and I was like “she's like me!” I was starting at boarding school and I had my guitar and I was so obsessed with it for so long and in January of this year I got up with her at this festival and sang the “The Sound of White” as she played it on piano. I was beyond stoked.
Of all the cool opportunities I have had with artists outside of Australia, there was something so special about the fact I loved that album when I first learned to love writing songs and I was standing there and she was smiling, it was crazy.
Q: What is your favourite country or city to visit?
A: I think probably Iceland. I made some of my first record in Reykjavik and spent a couple of weeks there and then I went back in 2017 or 2018 and played at their festival Iceland airwaves and toured with this Icelandic artist Asgeir. Everything about that place is a fairy-tale.
Q: What albums did you listen to growing up?
A: I think we all listen to our parents' music as kids, at least for a little while before we figure out what we like but the music my mum listened to, I still like. It was Billy Joel and Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchells, and The Beatles. That was what I grew up on. And then as I got older, I moved into Tallest Man on Earth, Bon Iver, those kinds of more folk/electronic/rock hybrids.
Gordi performs "Wrecking Ball" on JJJ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMMtq1qpxC8
Q: What do you do when you’re facing writer’s block?
A: I read. And I write. I try to get out of whatever I am doing. I think of creativity as a well and you’ve got to fill the well. If you’re experiencing writer’s block it’s because the well is empty, so you've got to get out, go see an art exhibition, see a play, listen to a record. I often find that engaging in non-music mediums is a good way to do it. Read poems, read a novel - just gather more experiences. You’ve got to go at it from a bit of a more lateral position, which is to go outside of whatever it is that you’re trying to create.
Q: Who are some artists that inspire you?
A: When I heard this record (“In the Silence”) by this Icelandic artist named Asgeir, that was a real crystallising moment of being like, that is where I want my music to go. Coming through school and in my early years of uni I didn't know what production was, but when I heard this record I was like folk music can be not folk music it can be this hybrid with all these electronic sounds and that sort of drove me. Since listening to bands like The National and artists like Sharon Van Etten who have some of those alternative rock elements but at the core it's just really beautiful song writing, they're sort of the artists that have inspired me.
Q: How have you changed as a person since you were at Loreto?
A: I think I'm just sure of myself and I am confident in who I am. It's pretty natural when you're at school and even in uni you’re almost trying on different things, you're trying on different versions of yourself “do I like being this kind of person?” I think it probably took till I was 25 or 26 to just feel I had settled and obviously I will continue to change forever, like we all do, but I'm more sure of what I want and who I am. At the core I probably really haven't changed all that much, I can just identify more easily who I am.