Enter Sophie Payten a.k.a Gordi. She’s supported the likes of Bon Iver, Tallest Man on Earth, Gang of Youths and now Asgeir. Rising through the ranks of Triple J Unearthed in 2015, she recently dropped her debut LP Reservoir. This year she’s been supporting Gang of Youths on their national tour whilst completing her medical studies (just, how…?), and now she’s jet-setting off on her own tour too. Sophie is surely one of our most valuable musical exports available. She has talent to share and some very savvy advice for us this week…
Who was your first musical inspiration and who inspires you now?
I think Billy Joel, my mum had all his records. His album The Stranger was the first record I grew up listening to. For me, it’s such a guiding light for how songs should be written. The melodies and lyrics and stories he tells, that sort of talent I rarely see replicated. That’s it for me. Lots of people inspire me now, there’s a great music industry here in Australia. Artists are coming up through Unearthed and Triple J, like Gang of Youths and Alex Lahey, and I’ve always been a big Bon Iver fan. When you look around at artists who are working hard, they’re the ones I take the most inspiration from.
What advice would you give artists setting off on their first tour?
I think, this sounds weird, but you’ve got to make an effort to enjoy touring. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the logistics and you can spend a lot of time waiting around, it can be quite a stressful experience. My first two tours, I was so caught up in that. I love playing the shows but you’ve got to really just stop and be like, “Okay, the details aren’t that important, especially if touring is going to take up a big portion of your life”. You need to find a way to enjoy it. I would say don’t take it too seriously is the advice I would give to someone starting out.
Although it’s relatively early days in your career, what are some of your defining moments so far?
Today feels like a big moment as I’m doing Like A Version on Triple J. And I think the release of my first record was pretty defining. When I was touring last year with Tallest Man on Earth, I’d had a big year and not a lot of downtime and it culminated at this show in Brisbane. He played my all time favourite song, “The Gardener”. He played it solo and gave this nice spiel about having us on tour and how it had inspired him again. That was a turning point for me where I felt all the hard work was really worth it. It was hard to top the day Reservoir came out, though.
…how much preparation went into your Like A Version?
I spent a lot of time thinking about what song I would do, and more time working out a melody and arrangement. It took me a couple of days to make a demo, with putting in midi parts for horns and harps. Then my manager and I picked the 6 musicians who were going to play with us and I sent them all the parts and the demo. After that, we had a meeting and a bit of a rehearsal run through and another six-hour rehearsal, then we got in on the day and played. There is a lot of preparation in general for me, especially with touring. I’m flying to London tomorrow to meet a few people who will be playing on the tour, then we have 3 days of rehearsals before the tour starts on Thursday in Paris. Preparation is key.
Has your approach to the industry changed over time?
Yeah, definitely. That’s kind of solely through people I work with, everyone I meet I learn something from. I think I’ve had such a steep learning curve the last couple of years in terms of the way I make demos, to the way I run what is effectively a small business. It’s through learning from people and working with different people, it really shapes the trajectory you find yourself on. I feel like I’ve matured through it all I guess.
Do you have a business tip you’d give to an artist?
Don’t expect to make any money in the first few [years], any kind of small business runs at a loss and you’ve got to know that’s ok. I think it’s equally important that you have a good team in place. There’s no way I could do this on my own. Have a good manager, have a label and people you can rely on – [it] is vital to succeeding. Going it alone is a tough road especially when you’ve never done anything like it before. Deciding early on what you want to look like from the outside, all the decisions you’re making on behalf of your business have to speak to that main idea. I think that’s more likely to ensure your success.
Have you made any big mistakes?
I once allowed myself to be photographed in a lab coat, that’s probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. There is no bigger mistake than that. When performing you make mistakes all the time but that’s how you learn. It’s part of being in the business.
Are there any major issues facing the industry right now?
To be honest, I think something that has been facing the industry for a while is gender. You look at festival lineups and radio playlists and it’s male-heavy. It’s starting to change, compare older female artists and older male artists and you’ll find that when male artists release their 5th album or whatever they get heralded as returning heroes and get played on all platforms. Generally speaking, when a female does that they’re kind of shafted to this adult contemporary world that for some reason has become some sort of dirty phrase in Australia in terms of radio play. I think that’s the biggest issue at the moment, but if you look at the Australian music industry and all the young successful artists at the moment, you’ll find that many are female. There are so many solo female artists that are dominating the playing field and it’s only a matter of time until that causes a greater change.
…what would you say to young women regarding their musical career choices?
Just be really sure of yourself, because there are always going to be people who will try to change you. You just need to stick to your vision and surround yourself with people who see it as well. You’ll be in a studio with a 40 to 50-year-old guy telling you what he thinks is better, but you’re going to have to stand on your feet and say no, this is the way it’s going to go. Be confident in the face of scepticism.
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