Sophie Payten (AKA Gordi) talks highlighting the grief behind aural beauty, experimentation in engineering, and capturing the atmospheric minutiae of the cottage on her parents’ farm where she recorded her breathtaking new album, Our Two Skins.
On your last (debut) album Reservoir, you used particular re-recording techniques across the whole to create a textural thread; For Our Two Skins, was there another such quality you used to plait everything together?
We chose to make the record in a cottage on my parents’ farm outside of Canowindra. So the biggest sonic thread is the space itself. We would mic things up from the kitchen with its lino floors, we used the steel chimney at the fireplace as a replacement for high-hats. One sound that featured a lot on the record was this tiny toy Casio Tonebank keyboard. I used to play with it as a kid so it’s decades old and was living in the toy cupboard that my Mum still has for her grandkids.
We also ran a lot of things through a Fostex Tape Machine, that I bought on Gumtree, to give it that warm, warbly feeling. A lot of the process was about recording something and then re-amping it to make it sound more unique and reflect where we were. We found an old stereo in the shearing shed next door and ran piano parts through it. It was an awesome period of discovery and experimentation.
The album begins with a short intro of you walking to the piano, sitting down, depressing one of the pedals, and sighing, before Aeroplane Bathroom starts. Why is this intro track called Goodwins?
The cottage on the farm where we made the record is down a little lane that we call Goodwin’s Lane, so we call it Goodwin’s cottage. I believe people named the Goodwins lived there once upon a time. The farm has been in my family for 150 years so there’s a lot of history! When you listen to the record, I want it to feel like you’ve been invited into the space in which it was made. The creaking door at the entrance is such an idiosyncratic sound and was so synonymous with the recording process for me. So the album starts and finishes with that sample.
There are many small airy details across the album (knocks and murmurs of space) but Volcanic is a primo example of their collection into one song. The vocals also morph into a slightly warped, fuzzed state when you change tempo. How you know that these things are right to include in their places – what feeling do you get that informs you they’re correct for the song?
Great question. I’m always afraid of things that are too beautiful. The things that I write about are so deeply personal and usually reflect something I find difficult to talk about. So the idea that someone listening would miss out on that underlying grief or uncomfortableness because they’re distracted by the beauty is something I try really hard to avoid.
When we’ve laid down the vocals and the main instrumentation and everything feels like it’s sitting nicely, I usually feel a pull to counter that with something gritty.
I wanted Volcanic to live in two parts: in the first part you’re being told the story of what it’s like to live inside an anxiety attack, and the second part is a musical enactment of that. The metronome actually doesn’t change, the piano part is just played slowly and gradually sped up until it’s twice as fast so it feels like a loss of control. And the repeated line “Am I starving you out” is fuzzed out because it’s like an expression of subconscious – the self-destruction of pushing everybody away when you are in that anxious state.
There’s an effect on the piano in several places, where it goes all crinkly – it sounds like the tape of the recording has been degraded (Radiator, Extraordinary Life). How did you create it?
In three different ways. For Radiator, the original piano I recorded in Berlin on a cheap condenser microphone. We used that take and ran it through the Fostex Tape Machine, probably like seven or eight times. Each time you run it through it degrades a tiny bit further, and creates artefacts. Once we had done that we re-amped it again through an old stereo (after banging out a wasp’s nest). Zach Hanson and Chris Messina, who made the record with me, took apart the back of the stereo and the tearing sound you hear at the end of the song is them touching two of the cables at the back onto one another, creating that static.
For Extraordinary Life, I recorded the piano at my parents’ house. My Dad gave my Mum a piano for her 30th birthday, I think; that piano still sits in their house and I’ve written probably half my songs on it. It’s in tune with itself but the entire thing is out of tune a bit less than a semitone. So, I recorded the piano for Extraordinary Life and then digitally tuned it on Ableton, which creates those warps and glitches that I love. And then we probably ran it through tape!
Hate The World contains some beautiful lyrics, which illuminate the power and conviction of gentleness (and it’s reflected in the sonic choices you’ve made). Have you always found yourself in this camp – the one that finds strength in an approach that doesn’t require force or hate?
‘Force’ or ‘hate’ are definitely not words that spring to mind when I think about my philosophies on life. I wrote Hate The World after seeing the Hannah Gadsby show Nanette in New York. She talked a lot about the hate and prejudice of others and the inequalities suffered by women and the LGBTQI+ community. After the show I found myself having this almost child-like response to it; I was thinking “Why would anybody hate anybody? Like, why is there so much hate in the world and how could you hate someone you’ve never met?” It sounds so naive to say it in that way. It was also shortly after the time that Australia had voted on the same-sex marriage debate. Obviously it’s amazing that it got over the line, but I was so devastated by the large percentage of people that voted ‘no’.
The lyrics of the second verse of this song say: “Walked me through the garden where the weeds were growing everywhere and running off their mouths/ Who was it that watered you, that once were sons and daughters too?” I just can’t imagine stopping anyone from doing something that they have a right to do because of the colour of their skin or their gender or their sexual orientation. It begs belief that we are in the 21st century. I think everybody has the right to make their own choices about everything, but that the world would be a much better place if those choices were informed.
Our Two Skins by Gordi is out Friday June 26 via Jagjaguwar.
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