Singer-songwriter Sophie Payten – better known by her alias Gordi – has just released her debut EP Clever Disguise. Delicately balancing acoustic folk reminiscent of Laura Marling with electronic elements, clever lyrics and occasionally unusual structures, the record brims with emotional maturity and shows that sometimes less is more.
I talked to Sophie about the EP and the inspirations behind it, as well as what it was like to take a different spin on Courtney Barnett and the origins of her unusual stage name.
Hi Sophie, how are you at the minute?
I’m well thank you! I’m just about to board a plane to the UK.
First of all, how did you adopt the name Gordi?
It’s a family nickname. When we were little my brother came up with all these weird and wonderful nicknames for me and for reasons unbeknownst to all of us, “Gordi” stuck.
Your debut EP Clever Disguise is out; what have been the major inspirations behind it?
Everything I write comes from something personal, things that I have learnt about myself or the people around me through relationships and particular circumstances.
Is it true that you wrote the songs on the EP in your university dorm?
Yes, this is mostly true. ‘Nothing’s As It Seems’ I wrote in my parents’ living room but the others I wrote sitting on the end of my bed at uni.
How easy has it been for you to balance life at University with producing the EP?
Easy is probably not the right word but I have a great support system so it’s manageable. There are times when I feel like I’m treading water but the business of a music career ebbs and flows so I just try and prepare as best I can when it flows!
I’ve read that some of the songs on the EP are quite old but they’ve taken on a new life while recording Clever Disguise. How have some of the songs transformed during the recording process?
They definitely have. I’ve written the songs over a three year period and the production phase of recording always sheds new light on how you want the song to sound. ‘Can We Work It Out’ was originally a slow song that I wrote on a mandolin, basically because it was sitting next to my bed and my guitar was too far away for me to reach, but in the demoing phase I realized that it needed to have a percussive drive and it really shaped how the song turned out.
A lot of the songs on Clever Disguise sound very personal; as strange as it might sound, do you find it more comfortable to write about more personal situations?
I only know how to write about personal situations. I feel like a bit of a fraud if I write about anything else because the only thing I’m expert in is my own life if that. It is weird then sharing that with the world but I guess I pretend that no one is putting two and two together that I’m writing these things, so therefore must be going through them. I usually hope the lyrics are just ambiguous enough so it doesn’t sound like a diary entry.
On ‘Wanting’ I noticed that the song begins and ends pretty much in exactly the same way, which reflected the frustration of the same situations happening over and over. It made me think if, when you’re constructing a song, it’s important to you for the music to reflect the story you’re trying to tell as much as the lyrics do?
I’m glad you noticed that about ‘Wanting’ because for me that’s the most important thing about the song. I always loved studying English in High School and loved how the form of a poem can sometimes echo its meaning. I like lyrics to tell a story and for there to be an evolution from verse to verse, and if the bridge is the climax then it should have the most dramatic lyrics.
Your songs have gained numerous comparisons to folk legends like Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Are they big influences on your sound?
Those women are enormous influences on my sound. The music of Joni Mitchell and Carole King is timeless, I think, not solely because of their chord progressions and melodies, but because their lyrics still mean so much to people.
I can’t help but notice that, particularly on songs like ‘So Here We Are,’ that there are some strong synths and effects. Why did you decide to embed these electronic elements into your songs?
At the beginning of 2013, I heard Asgeir’s album In the Silence and I realized that I wanted to make music like that. Music that was really beautiful and rooted in folk but that explored this new electronic wave that we are in. I think it works well with the songs and turns them from more classic ballads into something more meaningful in this current landscape.
Would you ever consider making these electronic elements even more prominent in your work or do you like the balance you’ve got now?
At this stage, I like the balance I have now. I’ve always been mindful of not turning into an electronic artist because that’s not what I am – they’re an element of my music not the heart of it. But I think it’s important to be open to exploring new directions, so I’m open to seeing what works with the music I’m writing.
Since a few of the songs on Clever Disguise have been around for a little while, have you got more songs in the pipeline that you’re planning to release in the near future?
Yes, I’ve got a bunch of songs I’m excited to get out into the world – but timing is everything! They’re still in the early phase so I’m looking forward to exploring the production on these tracks over the coming months.
On a different note, you covered Courtney Barnett’s ‘Avant Gardener’ a while back and a lot was made of the fact that you stripped it of its wry humour and played it quite straight. Were you at all nervous about taking such a different approach to Courtney’s work?
I was quite nervous, I’m such an admirer of Courtney I didn’t want people to think that I wasn’t respecting the way she writes. But I love her lyrics so much and I wanted them to be the focus so I changed some of the chords and the melody to bring them to the forefront.
Have you got any plans to come to the UK at all?
Yes, I’m on my way there now! I’ll be playing the Great Escape and touring with Highasakite in London, Manchester, and Dublin. And I’m sure I’ll be back again before too long.
Finally, is it true that you know all the words to ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ by Eminem?
I’m going to say yes under the proviso that I’m never asked to rap the entire song.