Gordi's New Live EP Was Never Really Meant To Happen

25 May 2021 | 11:42 am | Joe Dolan

While recording her new EP, 'Refracted: Live At Phoenix Central Park', Gordi says she 'felt like a ghost just being watched'. The NSW artist tells Joe Dolan how it all came together.

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NSW alt-folk artist Gordi’s new EP is a stripped-back live recording of some of the most beautiful and haunting songs from her 2020 release, Our Two Skins

The singer, also known as Sophie Payten, was meticulous in choosing which tunes to play and how to reinterpret them for solo performance. Recorded at one of Sydney’s newest venues, Refracted: Live At Phoenix Central Park was as much an exercise in simplicity for Payten as it was in perfection.

“The space itself, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen or been in. When you’re in there, you feel like it’s a place that just demands excellence out of you,” Payten explains. 

“The way the room is constructed, it has all these amazing curved wooden panels that were shipped in from Germany, and the sound in there resonates like an opera house. You really don’t have to do much in there so that was sort of my M.O: I didn’t want to crowd the room with noise, I just wanted the bare essentials to couch the songs that I had written.

"It definitely was intimidating the first time I walked into it, and the night we recorded we had all these people just sitting around the sidelines and up in the railings, all with masks on so it was just these pairs of eyes all staring down at me. I felt like a ghost in there just being watched.”

The Extraordinary Life singer wasn’t planning on releasing or even recording the set initially - saying that the original plan was to simply record one video showcasing the venue. However, she quickly realised that much more was going to come out of the session. 

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“Judith Neilson, the woman behind the space, she’s sort of creating her own arts precinct in that area. So she’s been getting super involved in the community. We discussed a few ideas with the creative director Beau Neilson and decided a live intimate performance for a small audience along with a creative video piece would be a great pairing."

Payten continues, “I had this beautiful piano in front of me - this Fazioli piano that they’d bought from Italy - and a few other instruments with me. Then, we just decided to record the set because it was such a special-feeling night in this incredible place. And then when we heard the recordings I thought, 'These are really special. I want to share these.'"

The Fazioli - a piano which can retail at upwards of $250,000 - took a part of Payten she may never get back, though she is comfortably in awe of its majesty. 

“That piano, I was just obsessed with it,” she laughs. “I remember reading a piece online from Nick Cave about these Fazioli pianos because, funnily enough, he used one for his own solo live recording and he tried to get a free one from the company. It’s very funny considering how expensive they are, but I’m amazed I got to play it. 

"Every note is so measured, and balanced, and considered in its velocity. It was such a pleasure to play, and it really re-contextualised the songs I was playing on it. When you’re in a situation like that, you have nowhere to hide or slink back into like you can with a full band.”

Payten says that the communal effort in crafting the Refracted EP is paramount to her creations. Working with Neilson to blend the aural and structural components of their respective crafts, Payten sees the benefits of working with other creative minds in everything she does. 

“I think any form of collaboration should inspire you in some way,” she asserts. “There’s a remix version of Our Two Skins (Remixed)and on that album is a remix by a composer called Lawrence English. Hearing what he did with this song Radiator, it totally inspired me to open up my mind and think about how might I see what I’m doing, going forward, and what else I’m actually capable of. It delved even further into the conceptual side of that album, staying close to the kind of bare-boned approach - and I always think about my favourite artists and how they can play different versions of their songs every time I see them - so emanating that is something that is really important to me.”

Refracted: Live At Phoenix Central Park is out now.