Dieser Tage ist das Debütalbum der australischen Singer-Songwriterin SOPHIE PAYTEN alias GORDI erschienen. Das ausführliche Track-By-Track veröffentlichen wir hier deutschland-exklusiv…
Deeply planting yourself in one reality, or one state of feeling. Other people come and go within that. You survive outside of it. Time moves on regardless.
Firstly I’ll take you back to 2009. I was in my second last year of high-school and I’d been writing songs for about four years. I’d sheepishly started playing them at school functions, but I wasn’t confident to say I had actually written the words coming out of my mouth or the notes my fingers were playing. If anyone ever asked me the secret author of these tracks I would give credit to Catherine Feeny or Antje Duvekot; two artists whom I very much loved, and that no one else had ever heard of.
At our annual school music festival in 2009 I played a song I had written called “In the End” and this time I was credited. It was the first time my parents had heard one of my songs. Afterwards they gave me a green notebook to write songs in and on the inside cover I wrote: “I received this diary on the 20th March 2009. It is a collection of random thoughts, however insignificant they may be, that are recorded not always by conventional means. My parents gave me this book.”
The first song on the record “Long Way” is the last song I wrote in my first green songbook. I wrote it on the 4th of April in 2016 and it was recorded in Werewolf Heart Studio in Los Angeles with Tim Anderson in the July of 2016, with some parts added at April Base in January 2017. The sound you hear at the very start is Tim banging on a water cooler, which was a wonderful accident. As the demo went round and round my head it took me back to my childhood staying in the log house on holidays at Avoca beach with my family, where David Gray’s “White Ladder” and Damien Rice’s “O” were forever playing.
I’m never one for going into detail on the subject matter of my songs as I usually feel exposed enough as it is. “Long Way” was me trying to be optimistic. Someone very close to me had just moved overseas for an indefinite period and I was struggling with the big empty space they had left in my life. When I think about the people I love trying to comfort me or counsel me, I always come back to “just take a breath”. That’s what your friends say and your Mum and your Dad say, what your sister says when you’re trying to hold something together.
ALL THE LIGHT
Sweltering heat, no air conditioning and jet lagged – these were the conditions from which “All the Light” arose. It’s a frustrated and hopeless song, at the core of it is this anger and resentment. It’s about the things that stop you from living the way you want to, and how something can be completely disregarded simply because it is poorly understood.
I was in Los Angeles recording in July 2016 with Tim Anderson while staying in this Airbnb in Los Feliz. I struggled to greet sleep so I continued with what I had been writing on the flight over. Someone had leant me a book written by Anthony Doerr and it was sitting on the bedside table, and as I was racking my brain trying to get the chorus started I looked down at the book and the title really hit me, it was called “All the Light We Cannot See”.
It came time to record “All the Light” and for the two days I had to do it I had a rather intense bout of laryngitis. I had just spent four days in New York singing low ‘G’s for a vocal performance with five other female vocalists. That combined with post-show celebrations left me totally voiceless. No matter how hard I tried to croak some notes in the studio, at best I sounded like a poor imitation of Tracy Chapman.
What we were refer to as the “breakdown section” of this song was also a bit of an accident – I’m gathering all good ideas are. I had jumped on the Wurlitzer to jam on a riff I had stuck in my head. Tim sampled me singing it and that was the origin of the breakdown section. In January of 2017 I spent a couple of days in Linear Studios in Sydney with Dorny Mayes adding everything else you hear in that section. I met Dorny during 2016 when I was trying to find someone who could play both the trumpet and electric guitar, as I wanted those additional sounds for the live show for the price of one airline seat. I had a really wonderful experience at Linear with Dorny, it felt easy and it was a nice change to be recording in Sydney. I roped in my extended family – Amy Rose and Julian McGruther – to improvise some backing vocals. We stood together, a few metres away from the microphone, and we just sang and sang and sang and then ate pizza.
ON MY SIDE
I wrote this song on the 22nd of March 2015 after doing my first major support tour with Winterbourne. I had just played at The Lair for a Sunday night all-age show – I hadn’t heard that much screaming since my best friend took me to Justin Bieber because she got tickets for her 14th birthday. Regardless, something had inspired me as when I got home I wrote “On My Side” in about an hour. It was one of those songs that sort of wrote itself. I recorded a really rough demo on my iPhone and sent it to Adrian (my manager/band mate/good mate/brother-in-law) and I think he sent me a *thumbs up emoji* in return.
“On My Side” was recorded with Tim in L.A. at the same time that “All the Light” was recorded – therefore, when I had laryngitis. We had two days to do two songs and managed to get it done, minus the vocals. I did still do a vocal take but I had to sing half of the song an octave lower. You can hear what we call “the laryngitis vox” in parts of the song if you listen closely. I got to the studio the morning we were due to record and Tim was blaring Mbongwana Star – a project out of Kinshasa in the Congo. This led me down an Afro-Pop rabbit hole with the likes of Jlin and Fela Kuti. I could say the tribal-feel of this song is inspired by the time I spent living in Tanzania when I finished school, but I’d be lying.
So all the parts for this song were in place but it needed a bit of rearranging, which I did with Zach Hanson at April Base in Wisconsin in January 2017. I also refer to Zach as the record’s “MVP” as without him, Reservoir would be a bunch of stems spread across continents. I met Zach when I toured with The Tallest Man on Earth – we got talking about the record I was making and I said I needed someone who would help me bring it all together, and I quickly decided that person should be Zach. On that tour I also met Ben Lester and Mikey Noyce, who played snare and electric on this track while I was in Wisconsin. You will see by the end of this record that bits and pieces were recorded right across the globe at different times by various people, so the week at April Base was perhaps the most important. I left there feeling like I had a record.
Now we go to Iceland.
I arrived in Reyjavik in the middle of a snowstorm. As I rode the bus into town I couldn’t tell what was up or down or sideways because everything was just white. I had “Riceboy Sleeps” blaring in my ears and my serenity was only briefly interrupted by another tourist who accidently Airdropped a web page after Googling “Can you drink the water in Iceland?” Yes, yes you can.
I stayed in Reykjavik for two weeks in the January of 2017 while I recorded three songs with Alex Somers, and it was two of the best weeks of my life. Though Alex had produced and mixed one of the tracks from my EP, we’d never actually met in person. The night I got there we went out for dinner to a local place called ‘Snaps’ and we drank some gin to warm ourselves from the cold.
When I listen to this song it brings me right back to standing in Alex’s studio, looking out over Lake Tjornin drinking pot after pot of tea. Alex’s studio is beautiful. The harmonium he has there quickly became my favourite instrument. It was a really free-flowing style of working as it was all recorded and controlled in the one room, so either of us would jump on any instrument and lay a part down with ease. Alex taught me how to explore different ways of recording vocals and that theme became really prominent throughout the entire record. From the beginning I knew working with lots of different people posed risks of having a record that wasn’t coherent and consistent, but I always found I could keep coming back to the vocals as the anchor point.
Though this song was one of the last to be recorded, it was one of the first to be written on the 2nd of January 2014. I was feeling disenchanted with the usual things that disenchant someone in their early twenties – relationships and wondering who you are and all the things that occupy everyone’s minds to the point where I felt I would burst if I heard another thing about it. But equally I knew that the very things I was criticising as overdone and cliché and dramatic were the things I was experiencing too.
HEAVEN I KNOW
This is the last song written for the record. At the time, I was completing a General Practice placement for my fifth year of university out in Orange, and staying at my family home in Canowindra, about an hour’s drive from the practice. I grew up on a farm called “Alfalfa”, which my family have lived on for over a hundred years. The house is made from mud, so it stays pretty cool in the hot summer. There is a piano in the living room that looks out over my parents’ garden and on down to the paddocks of lucerne met by the river. The entire piano is a semi-tone out and cannot be fixed, so every demo I record on there I always have to label “semi-tone down”. As a child I would sing and my mum would play, and she would show me how to listen to a piece of music and work out the chords.
Unfortunately my placement in Orange coincided with my EP tour, so I asked the GP supervising me if I could have each Wednesday and Thursday morning for “study time”. Instead I would drive the four hours to Sydney every Tuesday night, fly on the Wednesday morning to wherever I was playing, play the show on the Wednesday night, get the first flight back Thursday morning, jump back in the car and drive straight to Orange in time to make the Thursday lunch meeting in the practice. I sincerely hope my supervisor isn’t reading this – if you are, I’ll send you a free copy of the record on vinyl. Please don’t fail me.
Basically this meant I spent roughly seventy hours in the car last August, which was a lot of time to think and plan this song. “Heaven I Know” is the first song I have ever produced on my own, with a great amount of support from Dave Jenkins. Dave plays drums in my band and in the past couple of years has been the backbone of the live show.
“Heaven I Know” is about growing apart. At the time I was starting to lose contact with someone close to me. We were finding it really hard to make time to call and when we did it just made us both sad. Amongst all this I had a really vivid dream, not that we fought dramatically nor was there a cataclysmic event that wedged between us. In the dream I simply got older, and we stopped calling each other, stopped writing to each other and we slowly grew apart. I was struck by the tragedy and simplicity of it and how it happens to everybody at various stages of life. I often find that writing about platonic relationships can be a great deal more powerful than writing about romantic ones because they can be much more deep-seated and complex.
I sat down at my parents’ piano and started writing chords to the lyrics I had typed on my phone while driving those many hours, and I started counting the beat out loud. That became the cornerstone of the song and from there it was built layer by layer.
When I heard Sean Carey sing the vocals on this song for the first time I felt the feeling I get when a piece of music really connects with me. It’s this nexus of familiarity and new, it feels like you know it but you know you’ve never heard it. It reminds you of somewhere you are coming from and moving towards.
The song was actually written on the 2nd of June 2014 and I didn’t finish it at the time, which is quite unusual, as I usually like to finish a song before I move on to another. So two years later in the June of 2016, my manager, Adrian, said “I’m Done” should go on the record. I was a bit reticent to include it because I’d written it so long ago, it wasn’t finished, I’d never really played it live (these are just some of the excuses I gave). But I trust Adrian’s instincts perhaps even more than my own so I revisited the song, finished it and then recorded it at Turning in Surry Hills.
I’d sat my uni exams in the November of 2016 and I had a week between that finishing and The Tallest Man on Earth tour starting, so it was another opportunity to complete another piece of the puzzle that became Reservoir. Liam McGorry flew up from Melbourne to play some horns – trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn – you name it, he can play it. I’d met Liam when I supported his band Saskwatch a few years back. Unfortunately for Liam we booked him an Airbnb in Sydney that turned out to be the home of a junkie who had cancelled his travel plans to Thailand at the eleventh hour, so Liam was left to fend for himself.
The verses of “I’m Done” contrast a very direct lyrical approach with a more figurative one. Whenever I listen to a whole record I find that sometimes I’m seeking this reprieve from the metaphors and the ambiguity and hearing something simple that makes unashamed sense is quite a relief. Because “I’m Done” was recorded at the same time as “Heaven I Know” it was always like this little breath of fresh air to listen to after listening to “Heaven”, which can become quite overwhelming when you hear it two-hundred times in a row. So I thought it was fitting “I’m Done” come after “Heaven” on the record so you can take a breath as well.
I accidentally uploaded a demo of this track to Twitter earlier this year – I actually don’t even know how it happened. It got two favourites.
This song has had quite a journey from where it started. I wrote most of it on the 1st of February 2016, and then later in the year we were touring in the U.S. and wanted to add it to our live set. We had arrived in San Francisco and were playing a show that night, so Dave and I started to put it together. I realised I still hadn’t written a bridge and we had about half an hour before we had to be at sound-check. But we managed to get it done and the song was debuted that night in San Francisco at the Swedish American Music Hall.
The song was recorded initially in L.A. in July 2016 but Tim and I both found we were kind of hitting a wall with it, so it came to be known as the song that was “on the chopping block” – unless it changed drastically it wouldn’t make the cut on the album. After I had spent the two weeks in Iceland with Alex Somers I travelled to Wisconsin and Zach Hanson and I started the week of bringing the record together. I had mentally prepared for Iceland to be the coldest part of my trip, and then I arrived to a -20˚C Minneapolis. I caught a bus from Minneapolis to Eau Claire, and when I say bus, I mean van. I was the lucky last one on so I got to sit next to the driver and he spoke to me for two hours about how “Wicked” is his favourite musical. Lucky for him, it’s mine too.
Zach and I had “revisiting Returning” on the list of things we hoped we would get to, and at about 9pm one night we decided to look at it. I wanted to strip everything from the song, and rebuild it with vocals. So that is what we did – I improvised some vocals on a loop of the chorus, we added some electric and nylon guitar, and suddenly, at 2am on a Monday morning as the studio cat, Melman, slept soundly on my laptop, the song had a new direction. There are a few songs on the record that explore the idea of reaching a climax without percussion. Often I’m more moved by a song that extends to great heights without the use of a crash or a rumbling snare, and for me this song does that.
As the album was coming into its final stages of mixing, if anyone would ask to hear something from the record I would play them this song. I have always felt like if there’s one song on the record that best represents it in its entirety it is “For Now”. I wanted the opening to be honest and fragile, with just the vocals and harmonium. We thought about continuing the song in this manner, but ended up having this two-part song. Part A lets you hear the song stripped of everything, just as a song. And then Part B is just Part B.
This song was recorded in three places – Alex’s studio in Reykjavik, the string trio in Sundlaugin Studio in Mosfellsbær, and the percussion by Samuli Kosminen in Helsinki. Everything about this song was a treat for me – listening to the strings being recorded, playing a vibraphone and harmonium for the first time, and the inclusion of me not knowing how to use the vocal sampler. For every track we record, we always do a guide vocal and instrument first – as is the norm. This was one of the few tracks on the record that, in the end, did not include the original instrument accompaniment. Though there is an abundance of electric guitar it took us until we had finished the track to realize the original strumming pattern took away from the space created by its absence.
When I originally wrote this song on the 2nd of May 2015, I heard the instrumental section as this epic, crazy climax that would send your head spinning. But then I heard the strings and it felt like everything was in place simply to make way for this beautiful moment. The way the violin and the cello swim around each other makes this my favourite moment on Reservoir. They are played so exquisitely by three local women from Reykjavik and when they were recording it, I leant over to Alex and said, “My Mum will love this”, to which he replied “No one has ever said that in my studio”.
CAN WE WORK IT OUT
“Can We Work It Out” featured on my EP “Clever Disguise” that came out mid-way through 2016. I originally wrote it in October 2013 on the mandolin. I was in my college dorm room lying in bed trying to sleep but I had this phrase going around in my head. So I grabbed the nearest instrument, which was my mandolin. The guitar looked too heavy to pick up from the comfort of my bed. It started out as a slow song and I couldn’t quite put my finger on how it should ultimately sound. When we played it live we played it really down tempo and there were a bunch of extra verses that I would sing, so the song went for roughly six minutes.
Fast-forward a year from writing it and I found myself listening to artists like Highasakite, Sin Fang and Efterklang, and most consistently to Asgeir. Suddenly “Can We Work It Out” made much more sense. I became fixated on these tom-driven big pop songs that had these incredibly unique percussive elements and almost made synths sound new again.
I have great affection for this song. Audiences seem to really connect with it and enjoy it when we play it live. It’s become a catch phrase people say to me virtually weekly when they’re trying to work out a dilemma, and my university even wanted to use it in a promotional video to raise funds for their research department. I think naturally there has been an evolution of the style of music I make from Clever Disguise to Reservoir; but it’s nice to be reminded of where it all began. “Can We Work It Out” was produced by Ben McCarthy in Sing Sing studios in Melbourne and mixed by Franc Tetaz, who mixed almost every song on Reservoir.
“Doubts” is my eldest brother’s favourite song on the record. I was going through a real soft rock phase at the time, listening to bands like The War on Drugs and The Paper Kites. I had written “Doubts” with a strumming pattern that wasn’t really working so I turned to the soft rockers for some inspiration. With every song on the album I wanted to steer away from planting my feet in any particular genre, instead trying to straddle a few. There were a lot of files flying around for this one – Dave Jenkins recorded drums and I sang vocal loop upon vocal loop in Sydney, Mikey Noyce some guitar in Wisconsin, and it was all brought together in the fateful week at April Base.
If I can be completely honest, I don’t really remember what this song is about, which is really strange because I remember what all my songs are about. Obviously I felt something deeply at the time to actually write it, and I can sort of piece it together based on when I wrote it, but it’s just not a vivid memory for me. Something along the lines of people looking at you differently to how you see yourself.
This song was recorded with Ali Chant at Rare Book Room in New York in the July of 2016. I was a big admirer of Ali’s work with Youth Lagoon and Perfume Genius, so we reached out and he was keen to work on some tracks. I was staying on the Lower East Side so each morning I would jump on the steamy subway across to Brooklyn, walk past the Australian-owned café that is rumoured to have the best coffee for miles, and into the studio. We had long days there but they were good days. I was in the city for 4th of July and I watched the Manhattan fireworks from a rooftop in Brooklyn. This was officially week one of Reservoir, but it would be nine months before the record was finished.
I wrote “The Cost” in the November of 2014, it was a classic getting over some remnant of a relationship song but interestingly I started writing the song as this ode to independence, which is certainly what the choruses are. But each time I would try and write a verse it would just descend into this sad, reflective, craving for dependence. By the time I finished the song I thought – ok, so that’s how I really feel. I often reflect that writing songs, to me, feels like pulling puzzle pieces out of my head and then trying to assemble them without a picture for reference. It is rare that I know exactly what I want to say when I start writing; rather it is with the benefit of retrospect that I understand what has been on my mind.
This was the first song to be recorded for the album. It was done in Rare Book Room Studios in New York with Ali Chant. I had a week’s mid-semester break from university so it was an opportunistic coming together and I flew to New York for the week to start the process of making an album. Ali asked which song I’d like to start with and I said I felt like “The Cost” would be pretty easy to knock over, so I sat down at the piano and we did a live take playing and singing and we had it.
Looking back to when I started this whole process I think I found the thought of recording a whole album start to finish quite overwhelming. We had explored the possibility of working with a sole producer on the whole record but I felt that different producers would celebrate the diversity of the different tracks in a way that perhaps one producer wouldn’t. Of course, I’ll never know that for sure.
SOMETHING LIKE THIS
I have a t-shirt that says “Something like this but not this”. The ambiguity and familiarity I have always found very pleasing. Recently I was going through airport customs and a security guard who saw my t-shirt found it equally pleasing – he just started repeating the phrase, chuckling to himself.
Writing music has always been and will remain my therapy, my process and my way of communicating. I’m sure such an indirect method of communication is most frustrating for the people in my life. I wrote this song in the first half of 2016 when someone new had come into my life so easily and simply, without complication or commotion. I had spent the last few years trying to make my music career work and was trying to finish university and the weight of it all was suffocating. I had this feeling all the time like I was standing on a start line of a hundred-metre sprint, and the gun was about to go off. Not that I have sprinted for anything in about ten years, but I distinctly remember that rush of adrenalin and that pounding you get in your chest just before the gun fires. That’s how I felt most days. But then I felt things begin to change, and suddenly I found myself in this place where it seemed as though everything might actually work out, and I could stop imagining what I wanted my life to look like.
“Something Like This” was the third song I recorded with Alex Somers in Reyjkavik. We always thought this would be the last song on Reservoir. It’s a song for me that doesn’t raise any questions, doesn’t evoke any torment or tragedy. The language in it is simple and it feels like a resolution to a long-fought unnamed suffering. The songs on this record were written over a period of four years, with no unifying theme, just a vague aim to have them all on a single body of work. But when I look at them all together I feel that nexus – something so familiar but something so new. Somewhere I have come from and somewhere I am going.
Beneath The Reservoir
(Jagjaguwar / Cargo)
20.10.2017 Hamburg, Docks
20.11.2017 Berlin, Huxleys
21.11.2017 Leipzig, Werk2
22.11.2017 München, Theaterfabrik