Sophie Payten, aka Gordi, can barely remember a time when music wasn't in her life. With a piano teacher mum, growing up as part of a close-knit family on a farm in the central NSW town of Canowindra provided plenty of time to put on Von Trapp-like concerts for relatives. "That was part and parcel of growing up for me," she explains. "I really was performing since I could stand on my own two feet."
But it wasn't until Payten heard Missy Higgins' The Sound of White at age 12 that she picked up a guitar.
"I had never heard an album that was so diary entry, and honest... it really stayed with me."
Honing her confessional approach to lyricism during a sometimes isolating stay at boarding school, she graduated from Higgins' songbook to crafting her own intricate electro-folk arrangements. In 2014 she uploaded one of them to triple j Unearthed and has been on a dream trajectory ever since.
Over the past three years Payten has signed to US indie Jagjaguwar, recorded an EP, and performed with label-mate Bon Iver on The Tonight Show, all while studying medicine. It's no surprise, then, that the 24-year-old sounds as exhausted as she is excited about her debut album, Reservoir. "I have this whiteboard in my bedroom," she laughs, "and I've written on it in permanent marker: 'You're nearly there!'"
Payten knew her music would be best served working with multiple producers, which led to recording sessions in Wisconsin, Reykjavik, Los Angeles, New York and Sydney. There is something undeniably visceral about the result, a space and texture the singer attributes to her time spent on the family farm, and the sessions with Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) in Iceland: "The landscape there is so intangible, but it influenced the way the music was made so much."
The album's sprawling folk-pop achieves cohesion through Payten's evocative, layered vocals and sprinkles of "digital fairy dust" applied post-production by engineer Zach Hanson. With touring commitments and final year exams to sit, Payten's life isn't slowing down anytime soon, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is the big climax of life," she says emphatically, "and it definitely takes a toll on me physically and emotionally, but I'm so close!"
From issue #792 (November, 2017), available now.