'Our Two Skins': Gordi's return sees her get vulnerable and honest about being in a same-sex relationship
From coming out to her family to dealing with isolation and alienation against the backdrop of the Australian marriage equality vote, Gordi gets personal on this record
Australian folktronica singer-songwriter Gordi makes her return with 'Our Two Skins', out on June 26 via Jagjaguwar.
Based out of Sydney and hailing from a small town, Gordi, whose real name is Sophie Payten, shot to international fame after independently releasing tracks through the government-funded national Australian radio station Triple J's Unearthed radio. She was soon winning awards in Australia and signing a record deal with Jagjaguwar in the United States, eventually releasing her debut EP 'Clever Disguise' in 2016. And following that, she embarked on the next chapter in her career, touring with the likes of Bon Iver, Of Monsters and Men, The Tallest Man on Earth, Highasakite, and Ásgeir. Payten also sang backing vocals for Bon Iver during their appearance on 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' in 2016.
Payten's debut LP 'Reservoir' dropped in 2017 and 2018 saw the singer feature on Troye Sivan's album 'Bloom'. But music was one of many projects for Payten, who spent 2019 working at the Prince of Wales Hospital as a doctor following the completion of her medical studies at The University of New South Wales in 2018. She returned to music in 2020 with her first single in nearly three years, 'The Cost', with profits being donated to benefit the 2020 Australian Bushfire Relief. And now she's ready to make a full return with her second studio9 album, 'Our Two Skins', which features previously released singles 'Sandwiches', 'Aeroplane Bathroom', 'Volcanic', 'Unready' and 'Extraordinary Life'.
The overall sound of this album is something in the middle of wistful longing and total peace. It's a soft record that provides the perfect backdrop for Payten's stunningly evocative vocals and plaintive lyrics. Recorded in an old cottage on the singer's family farm in Canowindra in rural New South Wales and produced in collaboration with Chris Messina, the wizard behind the Kanye vocoder sound, the album chronicles Payten's anxious journey through dealing with a new same-sex relationship and the isolation and alienation she felt in doing that. She grappled with her internal rediscovery of sexuality and identity against the backdrop of both the Australian marriage equality vote, as well as her own Catholic family and upbringing, all while she was completing her medical degree and undergoing a year of various hospital rotations around Australia.
Since her last album, she has explored a lot more of her collaborative side, working with artists like Troye Sivan, Julien Baker, Big Red Machine, The National, Bon Iver and more via various artist residencies, and also supported artists like Sam Smith, Of Monsters And Men, Fleet Foxes and more. And that becomes evident in the sound Payten puts forth in this record. It's still here, but there is a level of musical maturity to it that shows how much Payten has grown as an artist from her previous work. To that end, her experiences shine through on this record.
Speaking about how the album came about, Payten shares that amidst the chaos that made her feel like her life was falling apart, she found herself "renegotiating" who she is and how she fits in the world. And during this time, she found herself sat across from a woman she'd known for years and, between the voices flying across the table, suddenly felt "there was some language that I didn't know I knew, and she was speaking it." The rose-colored hopefulness of the early months of that relationship played out, for Payten and her partner, against the period when their home country of Australia was deciding whether LGBTQI people should have the right to marry. "It was the most devastating way to fall in love with somebody," Peyten recalls.
Written in 20 anxious minutes on that lonely plane to an isolated six weeks in Europe, Payten penned album opener 'Aeroplane Bathroom'. "It's like all the adrenaline of the last two months just dropped away and I had a little nervous breakdown," she states, adding, "Thinking about all these big changes. I was seeing my life that I thought was evolving in one direction is now evolving in this other direction." The song and record open with a question: "Do you see yourself unraveling?"
Payten was eager to bottle the isolation and emptiness she felt during this period of rediscovery of sexuality and gender, and the remoteness of Canowindra, the tiny town where Payten's family has lived for over a century, proved the right location. Here, her internal state – one she describes as being alone and fearful, and with "a galaxy of space" around her – could be seen, felt, and recorded. She called upon her friends Messina and Zach Hanson to help her achieve this sonic goal and three of them approached the instruments in a nearby shearing shed as a treasure chest full of potential, a workshop itself.
A distorted tearing noise at the end of the track 'Radiator' originated with an old stereo they unearthed in the shearing shed. "There was a wasps' nest in it, so we had to bang that out," Payten laughs. Like explorers seeking out clues that could lead them to a sound that was as hopeful as it was dark, they trawled through the equipment they found, picking some things apart and putting others together. For 'Aeroplane Bathroom' Payten recalls, "We just went round one afternoon with a field recorder banging and whipping chains. Even my Subaru Impreza is in that track." She revved the car, they pitched it down, a pursuit of taking the familiar and manipulating it until something new appears.
After the intensity of 'Aeroplane Bathroom', 'Unready' appears like a blast of pop optimism, a song about being caught off-guard by your life while you stand in the middle of it. To bring it to life, they turned out the lights and plugged in an old strobe light she uncovered in her brother's bedroom in an attempt to put her in the right headspace. And at the heart of the record sit a pair of songs, 'Volcanic' and 'Radiator'. The twin ballads fizzle with the urge to be close to a person – a bittersweet truth knowing Payten was far from her partner and reckoning with the love of her family as she made them.
Raised in a Catholic family, Payten was close with her grandmother but decided not to share the news of her sexuality and relationship with her. "I just made a decision: she's 95, she doesn't need to know, I love her and I don't want to complicate our relationship." When she was in Stockholm in the middle of 2018, Payten's parents called, urging her to share her truth with her grandmother. "I wrote ‘Volcanic’ that night. It was a kind of exorcism." 'Radiator' is similarly loaded with stakes, a resignation and a great letting go: of course I have to love you. A few months after she wrote 'Volcanic', Payten's father shared his daughter's story with his mother. "She called me – we often spoke on the phone – and she was like, 'Your dad told me. I love you,' and she said all these wonderful things. And it was the last phone conversation we ever had."
In an effort to immortalize her grandmother, Payten wrote the song 'Sandwiches'. Motivated by their matriarch who was "a great feeder of people,” Payten and her mother went to sustain the visitors at her grandmother’s hospital bed. As they passed around sandwiches, "someone called out that she was gone." Payten shares that over time, the whole process making 'Our Two Skins' became a quiet tribute to her grandmother. "Her whole life was in Canowindra and that's why I wanted to make the record there. We made it in a house that's a hundred meters from her house." Despite the loss and learning it took to get there, Payten describes the month they spent in the cottage as a happy period, and it served a purpose as a symbolic closing of the door on that time in her life.
The record, at its core, is a culmination of all the experiences that shaped Peyten's life over the last few years. The rawness of her emotions is evident all through the album, and it pairs perfectly with her growth and versatility as a musician. "A big theme of the record," she states, "is there's nothing to hide behind. We didn't have all the bells and whistles. You’re just standing there, with your hands in your pockets going: this is me. This is it. This is all I have." And that rare, unbridled honesty is what makes this record worth listening to.