Gordi (Sophie Payten) made her stellar US debut at this past CMJ, and now she’s back to play a more extensive set of stateside dates; we couldn’t be more stoked that she’s poised to play Rockwood Music Hall here in NYC this Thursday, so I got caught up with her over the phone last week to talk about what it’s been like to blow up internationally the last six months or so, as well as about what it’s been like to pursue a music career while simultaneously studying medicine back home in Australia. (Don’t worry, we totally figured out a way to tie in Grey’s Anatomy.) We also talked about the recent Sounds Australia debacle, what it’s like to be in front of the camera for a music video and more, so internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, grab tickets to the show, and then be sure to snag a copy of Gordi’s recently-released EP Clever Disguise, because it’s fucking fantastic. HERE WE GO:
So you’re in Seattle at the moment, yeah?
Yeah, we’re just checking out the scene here, and we just had some waffles, because we thought that was really American. [Laughs] Now we’re about to drive down to where Sasquatch is going to be.
Amazing! That must be super exciting, but also, I bet a lot of your US dates will be first-time visits, right?
Yeah, I’m really excited! I haven’t actually been anywhere in the States other than New York, so it’s cool to get to visit these places, let alone play shows there. I’m really excited for Sasquatch, because the lineup looks amazing as well; it’ll be fun to attend as well as play at.
Totally! And you just played Great Escape, right?
Yeah, down in Brighton. It was really good. Showcases are always hard (like CMJ) because you’ve got these quick changeovers and a lot of gear and a lot of acts, but it was a really nice vibe there, and the shows all went pretty well. (At the first show, my guitar didn’t work, but the second one was good. [Laughs]) And then just played some shows around the UK with Highasakite, and yeah, it all went really well. We just arrived in Seattle yesterday from London.
Have the shows gotten progressively bigger-sized in terms of audience for you?
Yeah, so the Highasakite shows we played were sold out to like 650 people, and that was the biggest overseas show I’ve ever played. I also just finished an Australian tour with Of Monsters and Men, and we were playing to venues of about 4000 people, so it’s been really nice lately to have those experiences, because I haven’t ever played to that number of people. I’m sure Sasquatch will be much the same; there’ll be lots of people milling around, and I’m excited to get in front of some bigger crowds at the other shows I’m playing in the States as well.
So did you ever (or do you still) get stage fright? Because I know the bigger-sized crowds actually are weirdly less intimidating for a lot of people, because the vibe is not as intimate as when you’re playing to a smaller room.
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of different things that can contribute to me getting nervous before. Often those showcase things, like Great Escape and CMJ, I get a bit nervous because, you know, there are a lot of industry and media people there, and you don’t want to screw anything up. But some of the bigger venues, like one that I played in Melbourne, Australia called The Palais (which is a really majestic, old, well-renowned venue) can be sort of intimidating, but I’ve never really had too much of an issue with nerves, fortunately, because I think I just enjoy performing so much that I get more excited than anxious.
I guess the key is just as long as I feel like we’re ready to play as a band and well-rehearsed, there can’t be too much that would go drastically wrong that would make me too nervous. Although, at our last London show with Highasakite, we ordered our back line as we usually do, and there was an oil spill in the tunnel where the guy delivering our drums was coming through, so a journey that should have taken him twenty-five minutes took him over four hours, and the drums didn’t arrive in time. [Laughs] So that made me quite nervous, but my drummer is quite extraordinary, and he kind of rejigged the whole set onto an electronic SPD thing, and we just kind of made do. I think those kinds of experiences make you more resilient, though.
Oh yeah, silver lining for sure! And the last time (well, first AND last time) that I spoke to you was after one of your CMJ shows, so what was kind of the immediate timeline of events like for you after you went back home? Because I know you were talking about how you had some schoolwork to do, but it seems like things have really picked up steam in the last few months for you; would you attribute some of that momentum to coming to NYC to play those showcases in the fall?
Yeah, I feel like CMJ was a real turning point, because we were over there talking to the people at Jagjaguwar to potentially sign with them, and also we were kind of on the cusp of signing with booking agencies in North America and Europe, and so since then all that stuff has happened, and I’ve signed with a label in Australia (and New Zealand, that whole territory) as well. So the last six months have kind of been about getting all those pieces in place, whereas last year was more about the discussions and trying to see where the right fit for me was on both sides of the fence. So I signed on the dotted line at the end of last year, and then the main objective for us at the moment is trying to get Australia on the same page as the rest of the world, because obviously my music has been being played in Australia for a couple of years now, and we’re trying to catch up the other territories and get everyone in line.
But the EP just came out a couple of weeks ago, which I was really excited about, because it’s been ready for a little while, but we just wanted to wait for the right time, which we felt was on the 13th of May. But yeah, it seems like the response has been really positive so far around the world, and I’m looking forward to this run of shows, plus we’ll play some shows back in Australia, and then we’re hopefully looking to release an album in the first quarter of next year. It feels like everything’s rolling towards that, and then I guess it kind of all started back at CMJ.
It’s crazy, too, because have you heard about all this Sounds Australia stuff and how they didn’t receive some critical funding?
Oh, yeah. They’ve cut a whole lot of funding for them, which is a shame, because I played at CMJ and at Great Escape, and they obviously put on their Aussie BBQ or whatever show it may be, and it’s such an asset to Australian musicians. So it’s a real shame that they’ve lost their funding, but these things all change with the government, so hopefully it won’t be too long. And there’s been such an outcry about how crap it is that they’ve lost their funding that hopefully they’ll get it from somewhere.
Yeah, fingers crossed, because I’ve discovered so many great Australian artists through their CMJ presence. But so apart from all of these big developments for you the last few months, you were also featured on The Vampire Diaries, which is super cool! But if you could pick the next placement for one of your songs to be featured on TV, or even in a movie, what would be an ultimate dream come true for you?
For real? Do you watch it?
I love Grey’s Anatomy. [Laughs] Grey’s Anatomy will always be my favorite show, and it’s amazing that we’re in Seattle now as well! And also, actually, through high school and stuff, I discovered a lot of new music through Grey’s Anatomy. So that would be a pipe dream, but getting any sort of feature on a TV show is so great, because it automatically really puts you out there. But yeah, I do think Grey’s Anatomy would definitely be on the bucket list. There’s another Australian musician who’s quite well-known back at home whose name is Missy Higgins, and I remember she had a song on Grey’s Anatomy, and that really kind of launched a career for her. But, you know, we’ll see how that goes, but I’d love to see it on an episode.
Hey, I bet that’s a possibility, though. But you’re right; they’ve had a pretty great soundtrack thing happening. I haven’t watched it in a while, but I specifically remember there being one song by The Cardigans that I searched for AGES to find, because it wasn’t listed in the episode’s track breakdown, and back then it wasn’t as easy to internet sleuth those sorts of things as it is now. So it drove me completely insane, but once I found out that it was, in fact, The Cardigans, I totally bought that record and listened to it nonstop.
Yeah, it really is a good asset to discovering new music.
Absolutely. Now, I know you study medicine, so can you give any insight into like…I mean, is this an even remotely realistic show? I know they have to spice it up with the medical conditions and catastrophes for TV, but also, I mean, do you watch it and are like, “Ah, yes. I’ve read about that rare disease before, and this is how I would proceed if I worked at Seattle Grace…”?
[Laughs] Yeah, it is interesting that the more I’ve studied, the more I actually know what things mean. (But that’s another reason it would be a perfect placement for me, because it’s really bringing together the medicine and the music.) I think some of it’s a bit fantastical, but, you know, as far as dramas go emulating real professions, I think they come pretty close. [Laughs]
So speaking of visual entertainment, you were just sort of on the other side of the camera, too, because you had that music video come out for “Can We Work It Out”; was that enjoyable for you? Or did you find it weird?
Yeah, I probably wouldn’t say “enjoyable”. [Laughs] Not that I don’t like it, but getting in front of the camera is probably not one of my favorite parts of all of this. (Actually, a new clip will probably be out in the next week or so for another single.) It’s always a weird day when you have to…like, we shot one recently, and it’s kind of like you’re on set for a twelve hour day, and you end up getting in front of the camera for like, three minutes. [Laughs] And then the shots they use make up about thirty seconds, so it takes a lot of patience. But the people that have worked on the videos have always been so great and really creative and ambitious and enthusiastic, so I think having a good team working on it is obviously very important. But yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s one of my most favorite pastimes. [Laughs]
Yeah, I feel that, I feel that. Now, getting back to the medical theme for a second, what does your family think about all of this? Are they excited that things have really picked up for you, or are they starting to be like, “…oh…we kind of wanted you to get this out of your system and then be super into school…”
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, to be honest, they’re incredibly supportive; I’m very lucky, because my parents have always been very supportive. I’m the youngest of four children, so I feel like maybe if I was the eldest they might have tried to make me go on a certain path that they wanted, but they’ve always sort of given me free reign to make my own decisions, and they’ve encouraged me to finish my degree. I’ve got another year to go after this, and I definitely plan to finish it, but, you know, I think they know that ultimately I should do what makes me happy, and if this is working out and giving me satisfaction, then I should see where it goes. And I think (generally speaking) you’ve kind of got a window of time to make this work, so I definitely want to give it a go, at least for kind of the next ten to fifteen years. Then maybe I’ll think about going back to medicine. [Laughs]
Absolutely! And how’s it been adjusting to the standard obligations of life as a musician? Like, how’s touring been going for you? You’ve been taking digestible chunks of time to hit the road for these things, but is that taking some getting used to? Are you picking up on things you don’t like about it, or have you realized certain things that make life easier when you’re out there to stay sane and healthy?
I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t like being on the road, because there was so much transit; the actual performing is great, but you spend a lot of time at bus stations and train stations and airports, and you’ve got like, a hundred kilos’ worth of gear that you’re lugging around, but funnily enough (I mean, we’re only one week in, but…) I haven’t resented any of it yet, and the performances have all been so great. Even the things that have gone wrong make for funny stories later on. I’ve also kind of learned that, you know, you feel like you’re on holiday, so you’re sort of eating and drinking like you’re on holiday, which I think is not sustainable, so I’ve been trying to exercise every day, which is always a good way to see a city as well; I was in Dublin for two days, and you don’t really get a chance to get around a lot, so going for a run in the morning you can see the city. I did the same in Seattle this morning, so I think that’s a good way to stay sane and healthy. (And also every now and then having an alcohol-free day isn’t a bad idea.) [Laughs]
I hear that. Now, when you wrap up these dates, I know you said in other interviews that you’re hoping for an album not too terribly far away, but what’s the sort of immediate plan for the next few months?
Once I get home we’ll be looking at shows in Australia and doing a run of dates there, and then, you know, I want to see the EP cycle out and try to get those songs going in circulation for as long as they can be, but at the moment we’re kind of looking at what studio to record in and which producer is going to be best to make the album, so we’ve kind of got to make those big decisions in the next month or so, and then start the recording process. All the songs are there and ready, but it’s just a matter of actually sort of getting in and producing them. Hopefully I’ll have a song out before the end of the year, which should then come from the album in the first quarter. I’ll also probably be making another trip overseas at the end of the year, but it’ll kind of be all eyes on next year for us.