Gordi On Her Beautifully Honest 'Our Two Skins' Album
On the eve of it’s release Gordi spoke with The Creative Issue about renegotiating who she is and how she fits in the world while making her stunning second album Our Two Skins.
We fell in love with Sophie Payten, the person behind the moniker Gordi, when she released her debut album Reservoir back in 2017. Since then she has toured Australia, and the rest of the world, and established herself as an in-demand collaborator, working with the likes of Troye Sivan, Alex Somers, S. Carey, Julien Baker, The Tallest Man On Earth, Big Red Machine and Bon Iver.
Since the beginning of 2020, Gordi has treated her loyal following to five singles and now the wait is finally almost over for the full length sophomore album Our Two Skins, wherein Gordi explores identity with complete disarming honesty, and in doing so has created an album that effortlessly resonates with listeners.
The Creative Issue: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us this morning.
TCI: Firstly we want to congratulate you on such a stunning album. ‘Our Two Skins’ has such an intimate and honest feel to it. Both lyrically and sonically. It’s an absolute pleasure to listen to.
G: Thank you so much I appreciate it.
TCI: You’ve mentioned that you restricted yourself while making this album, saying you are much more creative when you’re surrounded by nothing than when you’re surrounded by lots. That concept is really interesting. Can you tell us a little more about your approach to making Our Two Skins?
G: Yeah for sure. I think when I made my first record, it was very much the approach of whatever I wanted to put on there we would do. You know, there was a string quartet, there was a flugelhorn, there was a bunch of different stuff. And I think coming into this record I sort of felt paralysed by the idea of having all that choice.
Before I make a record I spend a lot of time demoing the songs and making recordings on my laptop. I often find that the most creative I am is when I’m sitting at my desk in my bedroom and I have not much around me and I think “Oh, I want to make this particular sound.” and I don’t have a whole array of stuff so then I’m forced to be more creative, and I basically wanted to channel that into the actual album making process.
We made the album in four weeks, in a little cottage that was built in the 1860’s, on my parents farm that my family have lived on for over 100 years. There were a lot of reasons I wanted to go back to Canowindra to make a record but one of them was this idea of putting me, and Chris Messina and Zach Hanson, who I made the record with, in this situation where we really didn’t have a whole lot of choice.
So six months before we started the record we made a list, like an excel spreadsheet, of our five or six favourite things each, like a couple of microphones and a few pedals. We were kind of talking about that Netflix series that talks about sparking joy. And Chris was like, “We need to go through this list and be like does this spark joy? Does this instrument, or does this pedal spark joy?” It was like don’t bring your keyboard you’ve had for ten years because there’s no way that sparks joy anymore. So we made a very specific list of what we wanted to use. And it was good because it meant we had to do a lot of thinking before we made it about the restrictions and how that was going to affect the music. So by the time we got in there it was like “Well this is all we have so we’ve got to give it our best shot.”
TCI: That’s a really interesting approach and it’s made for a really incredible sounding album. In that same line of thinking, you were talking about going around that property and scavenging sounds. Taking familiar things and manipulating them to sound new. I suppose that feeds into that minimalistic approach. I’ve noticed as well that, on songs like ‘Unready’, you’ve also used vocal loops. Do you feel that adding in those loops, and adding in textures from around that property, has made for a more personal or individual album in a sonic sense?
G: I think so. I mean there are only so many ways that a Juno can sound, or any particular keyboard. There’s only so many things you can do with it. Whereas a gate swinging open is a really individual and unique sound. And that sound design was a real core principle of this record.
Given that I’ve been playing for a few years, and I’ve put out a record, I felt a lot surer going into this album of what my sonic identity is. One of the things I come back to is using my voice in a variety of different ways. There’s always a lead vocal line but then there’s singing through different pedals and different amps.
‘Unready’ is a good example because there are so many different types of vocals in there. I sang through a bunch of different pedals and stereos and amps to get all the different vocal textures. And that comes back to that first question. If we had had 100 more instruments we probably would have used them rather than saying “Ok we have this one instrument being my voice, what are all of the different things that we can do to it make a really unique sonic identity.”.
TCI: You’ve flagged identity as a major theme on this album and it’s a really vast and complex concept to explore. I found it interesting that so many people see you as ‘Gordi’, an artist, when in fact you’ve also been studying medicine as well, is that correct?
G: Yeah that is. I finished studying in 2018 and then worked all of last year as a doctor in Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, and then I quit at the start of this year to be a touring musician and here I am in Sydney still, because I can’t go anywhere.
But yeah the question of identity is a big one on this record. I was 25 or 26 when I wrote it and I guess had, what I look back on as, a bit of a quarter life crisis. I was finishing uni, I’d put out my first record, I’d come out of a long term relationship and felt so overwhelmed, and excited, and anxious and those sorts of things. Then another aspect of my identity that I was discovering was along the lines of the spectrum of sexuality, and that was again exciting and terrifying, and this album really dives into that. It dived into this new relationship that I was in.
In the title of the record, Our Two Skins, “skins” is really another word for identity, you know, the different people that we feel we are, and the different identities that we have, and who we really are, and how much do all of those things play into that. I went on a real journey of thinking “Ok, if I’m discovering this new aspect about myself what does that actually mean for my core identity, for who I really am?”. Writing this album helped me arrive at the point where I realised I’m actually still just me, I’m still the same person, this is just a new colour in my life.
TCI: Do you find that writing music is a bit of an outlet, or a way to process unconscious thoughts you might have about identity, or who you are, or the world around you?
G: Yeah absolutely. I sometimes find that writing a song is like pulling out jigsaw pieces of a puzzle, and you don’t have the picture on the box, and then finally you have the song and then you are like “Oh, I didn’t know this or that I was feeling this but there it is”.
But I think with this record I was a lot more conscious of what that puzzle was going to look like because I was right in it. Like the first track for the record, ‘Aeroplane Bathroom’, is a good example because I was right in that emotional anxious space, and as the song says “I couldn’t get my shit together.” and my only way of talking myself down was to write. So I sat in that aeroplane seat and wrote that song and that has always been the way for me to forge through whatever it is I’m faced with.
TCI: With that in mind, do you ever feel like it’s difficult to be so honest? Is it confronting when you put something so personal into your lyrics and then people are going to be listening to your demos, or you’re standing there tracking vocals in front of your producer and engineer? Do you ever feel like, no I shouldn’t put that in it’s too personal?
G: The short answer is yes. But it’s almost like I can’t help myself. I don’t think I could write a good song if I didn’t put a part of myself in it. As I was writing the record I was uncomfortable with sharing all of this, and I was trying to write general stories or statements I could use when being interviewed or telling people about what’s happened in my life. But as I got to the end of the process I realised that the word “pride” really took on a new meaning for me in the past few years. And that’s really wrapped up in identity. I’ve spent the last two years of my life being the most honest I’ve probably ever been. I thought it would be a real wasted opportunity not to continue that in telling this story. It would have felt like, if I wasn’t transparent in what all this was about I would have felt like, I wasn’t proud of myself, and as proud of my identity as I feel.
I wrote all of this on the backdrop of Australians voting on same sex marriage. I thought of a ten year old who is coming to terms with their queerness looking at politicians saying that they are not normal. Then I think about them discovering this record and thinking “Oh, look at this person who came to terms with a spectrum of sexuality at 25 and they seem happy, and they seem in a stable and committed relationship,” and that’s the frame of reference for me and I think to not have explored that would have been a total waste.
TCI: You’ve spoken about the inspiration behind the production of the album and the lyrical content of the album. In a songwriting sense who do you draw inspiration from? Who were you listening to when writing this album?
G: I was listening to a lot of Sharon Van Etten and I was listening to a lot of this Swedish artist named Amanda Bergman who has this amazing song ‘Falcons’ and I was also listening to a lot of early records from The National.
I was touring with Sam Smith at the end of 2018, and I was in our hotel in Brisbane and I was running on the treadmill in the afternoon before we were going to play the show, and I was listening to Trouble Will Find Me by The National and it was this real moment, like, stop the treadmill, the album should sort of follow these great records! Records like Are We There by Sharon Van Etten or Trouble Will Find Me by The National, you know, records that, start to finish, feel whole and complete and the listener feels like they’ve stepped into the studio and wherever it was made, watched the whole thing happen, and then stepped out again at the end. That was a real crystallised moment for me where I was like, this is what the record should sound like because these are the sorts of artists that inspire my songwriting.
TCI: I think Our Two Skins does that. As a listener it does feel like you get the chance to step into your world for the length of the album. Creating an album that feels that way can’t be easy.
It’s great that it feels that way. A lot of that is down to the expertise of Chris Messina and Zach Hanson because they’re good at making records that invite someone into the room. The way they track drums and vocals and the way they set up microphones, a lot of it is about using room mics rather than close mics. We would put a mic in the kitchen with the lino floor that was adjacent to the room with the fireplace where the drums were so you’d get that feel.
TCI: The album is out officially everywhere tomorrow. Do you have any plans for release day?
G: I’m going to hang out with my family. Tonight I’m going to have a listen through at Cottonmouth Records in Newtown and whoever is around can come and do that. But release day is often a bit strange, it’s almost like a weird birthday or something. I’ll probably be glued to my laptop for the first portion of the day, and then my parents and my three siblings are all in town and we’re all going to go out for dinner tomorrow night.
TCI: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. The album is great and I’m sure everyone will love it when they get to hear it, and hopefully we’ll get to hear it live sometime soon.
G: Yeah I hope so too.