An Interview with Gordi

We recently had the opportunity to have a lovely chat with Gordi, an Australian-based musician who is releasing her debut album, Reservoir, tomorrow. The 24-year-old songwriter spoke to us about her childhood, her experiences working with S. Carey, and the development of her first album. Be sure to give Reservoir a good listen this Friday and find Gordi on tour across the globe. 

Can you give us a brief introduction for our readers who might not be familiar with your work and your background?

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I’m Gordi, I am a 24-year-old musician from Australia. I grew up in a little town called Canowindra, which is just about four and a half hours out from Sydney. I put out an EP called Clever Disguises last year in May and my debut record, Reservoir, is coming out on August 25th, 2017.

Great. So you’ve said before that you’re the first artist in your family to pursue a career in the arts. Can you talk a bit about this journey?

We all grew up playing various instruments but I guess I’m the only one who has pursued it as career because I think I loved it more than just a hobby. My family has been very supportive and they come to as many shows as they can. My mom comes from a very musical family as well so it was all about and in our DNA. But it takes, unfortunately, more than DNA to make a career work.

Growing up singing, playing piano, guitar, and a bit cello, how did you transition towards being an indie-pop artist? Has this been your goal since you were young or has it been more of a gradual process? 

I didn’t grow up thinking I would be a musician when I was older. I just always loved playing music and I loved writing songs and it ended up being kind of a gradual progression. At school, I was writing music but I really missed being on stage so I started playing random little shows at pubs and band-rooms. And it just snowballed I guess. I started putting out songs which led to the EP. All those skills I learned as a kid and all the instruments I played definitely paid off because it allowed me to write more broadly for various instruments. I think the biggest change was then playing with other musicians and playing with a live band. It really helped me transition from being a solo musician making at home and playing occasionally to actually feeling like you’re an actual musician with a career.

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Your first album, Reservoir, is dropping in two weeks and we’re all very excited. Would you characterize the new album in a few words? Does it share many similarities to your EP, Clever Disguises?

The album’s called Reservoir and it is a reservoir, which to me means your innermost place, the place where you come to figure everything out. So, the album is a real representation of my reservoir. It’s still kind of trying to walk that line between some acoustic, folk, electronic, and a lot of instrumentation. As a whole, it gives it a bit of a rich, old sound and it really goes for those high moments when it needs to but it also presents some space and some lighter moments too.

Does it share many similarities to your EP, Clever Disguises?

There are definitely similarities to the EP with the kind of lyrical content and the way that we try to walk around the genre lines, but I think I’ve had a bit more freedom with this album in the way that I could get more musicians in to play live instruments. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pull in lots of different places around the world. I think it’s different than the EP because it’s not been made in one place. Moving around working with different people is always going to bring in a bit more natural variation and having eleven songs instead of four or five is going to do that too.

Tell us about the conception and development of the new album. How did these songs come about? Is there a key source of inspiration?

Since it is my first record, I didn’t write it all having in mind that it would be a single body of work, so it’s a collection of songs that I’ve written in the last five years or so. Once I had all the songs written and was recording some of them, I thought about how I wanted each song to sound and the things that were going to lead them, which were going to be the vocals, the accompanying textures, the acoustic instruments, and the rich, bold sounds of the string quartets, horns, and things like that. It really was a musical journey, but it was actually almost a bit of a retrospective conception. I had the songs, so I just had to look at them all and ask what ties all this together and makes it an album? And it was that they were an exploration of this intangible space that I call a reservoir.

What would you say the differences are between your EP and your new album, thematically, and stylistically?

The lyrical themes aren’t wildly different because I’m still writing about things that I know—looking inwards and looking outwards at relationships and things that most people in their early twenties are dealing with. Stylistically, I think the EP was much more aware of each song being a representation of the kind of style that I wanted to fit into because we were releasing them each as a single. But the record gives you a bit more freedom to explore different corners and turn-keys as well as different styles and genres, so there’s not that pressure to totally do electronic or acoustic in every single song. Some might be more electronic-leading, some might be more acoustic, so you get that sense of freedom by letting each song be what it needed to be.

“Heaven I Know” introduces a more electronic note to your music. Can we look for more of that in the release of Reservoir?

Yeah, there’s a real mixture on the record of electronic and acoustic stuff. “Heaven I Know” has the grand piano, upright piano, acoustic drums, and then it’s obviously got the whole host of electronic sounds as well. So that’s one that treads that line a bit more, but there’s much more folky stuff on the record as well. “Heaven I Know” was a special one to me and one that I wanted to put out first because it was the first track that I’ve ever produced. For most of the other songs, I worked with various producers but with this one, I had quite a clear idea of what I wanted it to sound like. It was really cool to imagine the song from start to finish and then hear it come to life. It meant a lot because it was a real sign to me that I’ve grown as an artist and a musician since my EP. So, for that reason, I wanted it to be the first song that I shared with the world.

On Reservoir, track six I’m Done features S. Carey. What was it like to work with someone so talented, let alone a member of Bon Iver, that you’ve named as one of your influences?

It was amazing. He’s such a great guy. I met him last year through playing shows and singing with them. I was working out of a studio in Wisconsin with Zach Hanson, who I’d met touring with Tallest Man On Earth. I needed him to come sit with me and finish the album, from an engineering perspective. I said to him that I wanted another vocal on “I’m Done” and I wanted it to be a male vocal. And he asked me if I had anybody in mind. I said, oh, I’d absolutely love it to be Sean and I know he lives pretty close to you. Then Zach called him up and asked him if he wanted to sing on the song, and he said sure. So he sang the verse and he sang beautiful harmonies. Later that day, I went back over to the studio where he was working, and I sang on a few songs that are going to be on his new record. It was a really collaborative process.  

Many of your songs are intensely personal in terms of lyrics. Can you speak to your writing process and how your songs develop?

I don’t think I know how to write something that isn’t personal, just because I only write about things that affect me or that I know. The songwriting process is always a bit different, but usually, I start with a line, a melody, or a chord progression that’s stuck in my head and I go from there. I have to really tease out the process and sit with it for a while. Sometimes they come quickly and sometimes they don’t. I try and keep an instrument around, a guitar, a piano, and then I try it on a few different instruments to see how it sounds.

Once the song is formed, I start to think about how it might be produced and the sounds that we might be able to add to it. I think the two processes for me though are quite separate—the songwriting process always has to come first. If I’m struggling with lyrics or with inspiration, I’ll try and read a bunch of books or some poems or I’ll watch something or listen to different albums. I try to inform my subconscious that way so I can go on to finish the song.

How do you deal with the vulnerability it takes to open up that part of being?

It’s kind of funny because songs are so personal but I think you just have to detach yourself a little bit, especially when you’re singing them in front of a bunch of people. For me, it helps when I don’t know anyone in the crowd. When I’m playing shows in Sydney, I find myself feeling a little bit more vulnerable because they’re all people I know. I think one way is just being prepared for it—acknowledging that in order to be good and get the most of myself and get the most out of my music, it helps to be a little bit vulnerable. You have to decide that it’s actually worth it, which I think it is.

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At the same time though, there are so many things going on that sometimes you get distracted from the vulnerability as well. When I’m performing, sometimes I’m just more focused on actually delivering a good vocal performance or playing my instruments well, rather than always transporting myself back to the exact moment when I wrote that song and channeling exactly what it’s about. For me, the meaning of songs and the way that they’re meant to be evolves so I’m not always stuck in the vulnerable mindset I was when I wrote the songs. I’m definitely vulnerable when I’m playing the song for the first time, but then I get past that and I can cast myself in a different light.

You’ve said that you’re chiefly invested in the Australian music scene, so I was wondering if you might be able to talk a bit about that and how it differs from other music scenes?

I think there’s a lot of great artists coming out of Australia at the moment. I went on tour with an Australian band, Gang of Youths, who I really love. We’ve been driving around listening to another great band, The Middle Kids, coming out of Australia as well. There’s also a lot of great artists like Alex Lahey, Courtney Barnett, and Meg Mac. It’s a really good time for young Australian females musicians at the moment. Every time you turn on the radio, there’s a new album releases and they’re all doing really well. And that’s what so many people are saying that there is such great music coming out of Australia at the moment, and it’s exciting to kind of be involved with that.

As a young artist in a very challenging industry, can you speak to your experience navigating the industry? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

I think in order to navigate the industry you need a good team of people around you. I know I certainly couldn’t do it on my own. Really, the only way I’ve learned how is from the help of other people that I know and trust. It’s just like any industry—there are always ups and downs—so at the end of the day, you just have to have enough faith in what you’re doing that you think it’s all worth it. For me so far, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Whether it’s meeting other musicians or whether it’s meeting industry people, it only proves to me, with each encounter, that it’s definitely worth it.

Do you have any advice for other young artists or creatives who are attempting to break into an industry?

I think the most important thing is to have some faith in what you’re doing and believe that the art or whatever it is that you’re making is worthwhile. I think finding people early on that believe the same things and that are going to support you is incredibly important as well. Creative industries are very hard to do on your own. It’s easy to say in retrospect, but do things that you think you should do—not things just because someone tells you it’s a good idea. I’ve learned that everything you do represents who you are—every media piece, every show you play, every song you put out—it might be the one snapshot someone gets of you. So, remember that your work needs to represent you how you want it to. Being mindful of that in the early stages of creation is really important.

Looking into the future, where do you see yourself going? Do you have any immediate goals?

The next short-term goal is focusing on touring and trying to build audiences, both here in the United States, at home in Australia, and in Europe. Once the album comes out and after touring for a bit, I want to do more collaborations and things like that. In the back of my head, I want to be writing more music and expanding my own skill base. For the moment though, I’ve got such crack on this record, squeezing everything I can out of it, and giving it my best efforts—it’s occupying all my brain space.

Be sure to listen to Reservoir by Gordi this Friday, August 25th. 

Interview conducted by Betsy Neis.
Responses edited for length and clarity.
Photos from Gordi Music

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