“When I was a kid, if I ever came across someone who was like, ‘This is a song I wrote,’ I’d listen to it with a preconceived idea that it’d be crap,” Payten says.
“I didn’t want my friends to have that. Maybe it was because I was writing about personal things and I wasn’t prepared to feel that exposed, I’d tell people that someone else had written the song. It was a better way to get an objective analysis.”
It’s writing under a pseudonym – her family nickname Gordi – that helped give Payten the needed confidence to put her music into the world. “It helps me separate it and I think it’s been a fortunate byproduct that it has also kept everything a little more private. The lyrics and the type of music that I make is quite personal and there are always going to be people who know me thinking, ‘Okay who’s that about or what’s that about.’” Payten says.
“By using a pseudonym, the next tier of people are a bit further removed, then it becomes more about what that song means to them, rather than what it meant specifically to me.”
The road to Payten’s debut album Reservoir, hasn’t been an easy one. As well as mixing a heavy touring schedule with writing and recording, she’s also been juggling the final year of her medical degree. “It was stressful in the beginning. Throughout 2016 I’d do bits and pieces here and there. If I had a week off uni I’d go and record a song in New York or LA. When I had another available window I’d go and pump out five songs in five days. At the end of 2016 I had all these different pieces all over the world,” says Payten.
“In January I went on a trip to Iceland. I recorded some songs there from scratch then I went to Wisconsin. That week was about bringing everything together, stems were flying over from all parts of the globe, and we were getting live musicians in to tidy up the loose ends. By the end of that week we had a finished record that was ready for mixing.”
From growing up on a rural farm in Canowindra, New South Wales – a town with a population of less than 2,500 – to playing stages in some of the world’s biggest cities, the change has been immense. “There’s nothing to compare it to, it’s pretty crazy. playing a show in Barcelona and seeing people in the crowd singing some of the words is still so bizarre to me,” Payten says.
“Those moments where you look into the crowd and see someone who lives on the other side of the world to you, who you’ve never met and who doesn’t know you, singing some phrase that you wrote while you were sitting on your bed in Randwick, Sydney – the gravity of that is astonishing.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy, and along the way Payten has learned some vital lessons. “It’s important to have grit, to develop resilience. While I have a wonderful team around me and I feel so supported, I think like anybody, at the end of the day you have to have enough grit and resilience to keep going because there are setbacks.”
“You can feel quite isolated at times, in terms of getting all this stuff piled on top of you, and you’ve got to not only wade through it but you’re like, “I should be enjoying it as well.” You put a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of expectation,” Payten says.
“All these things have taught me that not only is resilience really important but there’s no point in doing it if you don’t stop and enjoy it. When we’re playing these amazing shows, I pick a moment in the set where it’s a trigger point for me and I’m like, ‘Okay you have to stop for a minute and look around you and realise how lucky you are.’ I think that’s pretty key to having any sort of longevity.”
Once Payten unveils Reservoir to the world, there’s a key message she wants listeners to take with them. “Have an open mind with the sound that I’ve been trying to bring together and challenge the idea of what a conventional genre might be. A lot of people are doing it these days and I think that’s a really great thing because it blows open this whole new side of music.”
“Above all, this record is a really honest representation of what I call my reservoir – my innermost place, the place where I contemplate the things that I’ve been through and the things that I see the people I love going through. It’s a super personal thing, so I want people to be respectful of that, but then also take it on and invite them to do the same, to not be afraid to dip right into their own reservoir and see what comes out.”