MUSIC

Gordi heads back to music after following professional calling to fight against coronavirus

BLOWN AWAY: Gordi's second album Our Two Skins has been met with critical acclaim since its release in June. Picture: Jess Gleeson
BLOWN AWAY: Gordi's second album Our Two Skins has been met with critical acclaim since its release in June. Picture: Jess Gleeson

LIKE most people living in NSW Sophie Payten could have simply watched from afar, through her TV screen or social media feed, as the deadly second wave of coronavirus ripped through Victoria.

And also like most NSW residents, she could have remained north of the Murray and avoided the depressing lockdown restrictions - that at their height - kept Victorians bound to within a 5km radius of their homes.

However, Dr Payten - better known as Gordi - felt compelled to help.

From August she spent seven weeks working as a junior resident doctor in several Melbourne hospitals and clinics, helping to plug gaps created in Victoria's healthcare workforce due to the pandemic.

"I put my name down at the start of the year on a few data bases when they were gathering personnel," Payten says.

"When Victoria was taking off I had some free time and I felt weird standing on the sidelines given I have the training to help boost numbers because the main problem they have is finding medical professionals who haven't been exposed to the virus.

"Whether they were infected or not, some have had to furlough and isolate for two weeks and there's these huge staff shortages.

"I figured that it was my responsibility to contribute to the effort given the background I have."

Payten, 27, completed her medical studies at the University of NSW in 2018 and spent last year at the Prince Of Wales Hospital before deciding to place medicine on hold to follow music.

Gordi - Extraordinary Life

After releasing her J Award-nominated debut Reservoir in 2017, there was a wealth of opportunities coming in 2020 for Payten to get excited about.

In April and May Gordi was supposed to be touring the US with Icelandic indie-folk heavyweights Of Monsters and Men before returning home to support Bon Iver on their Australian stadium tour.

In between, Gordi had her second album Our Two Skins to release.

"My overwhelming sense is I feel very proud of all the healthcare workers who are literally putting themselves on the frontline and directly in harm's way and carrying on."

Gordi

COVID-19 postponed the touring plans, but Our Two Skins was released in June and was met with acclaim. The emotional folktronica was inspired by the isolation Payten felt in 2017 as she struggled with her sexuality during the Same Sex Marriage Plebiscite.

Not surprisingly, songs like Sandwiches, Aeroplane Bathroom and Extraordinary Life have struck a chord during COVID. On Tuesday the record received an ARIA Award nomination for Best Adult Contemporary Album, alongside Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Archie Roach and Josh Pyke.

"It's a record about feeling very isolated, not through the result of a pandemic, but because of a host of other factors, and I think because of that it's really resonated with people this year," Payten says.

"I know when I'm going through a time like that I'm looking for new music, or movies or TV, or some art form I can find some solace in. I'm so glad it's been this for so many people."

For all the comfort Gordi's music has provided, it compares little to her service in Melbourne hospitals. Payten has written at length on social media about her experiences working with COVID patients where she spent long hours dressed in claustrophobic and uncomfortable personal protection equipment (PPE) in physically and mentally taxing conditions.

Payten says she'd previously experienced life and death situations working in hospitals, but nothing compared to COVID-19.

UNDECIDED FUTURE: Gordi remains unsure if she'll follow music or medicine long term.

UNDECIDED FUTURE: Gordi remains unsure if she'll follow music or medicine long term.

"You have such high pressure going about your every day job wearing all of that plastic PPE, profusely sweating and becoming dehydrated and exhausted," she says.

"The whole atmosphere at work is a pretty negative one and people are just so fatigued and then you hear this backlash in the community from people not wanting to wear masks or not wanting to do pretty basic stuff to help curve the spread of the virus.

"There's been a few moments that will certainly stay with me for a long time, but my overwhelming sense is I feel very proud of all the healthcare workers who are literally putting themselves on the frontline and directly in harm's way and carrying on."

Payten returned to NSW last week and is undergoing her 14-day isolation period at her parents farm in Canowindra, where she recorded Our Two Skins. Rather than use the time to recharge, Payten has thrown herself back into music.

On Tuesday night she performed on Music People, livestreamed through the Newcastle Herald's Facebook and on October 21 she begins her album tour at Sydney's Factory Theatre.

In July Gordi performed a stunning livestream album launch at an empty Sydney Opera House, but her upcoming tour will be her first to an live audience since February.

"I couldn't be more excited to see actual humans in a room," she says. "There's nothing quite like the energy of a live show and feeling people collectively there all together. It's something that livestream just can't bring."

Two days after the tour ends Payten will return to Melbourne to begin another two-month hospital contract. Given what 2020 has already dished up, Payten is uncertain if she'll be wearing a guitar or PPE beyond this summer.

"Hopefully [it'll be] back to music for a little bit," she says. "But we'll see what the world has in store."

Gordi performs at Newcastle City Hall (October 23); La La La's, Wollongong (October 24) and Canberra Theatre (October 30).

This story Gordi returns to music after helping battle COVID-19 first appeared on Newcastle Herald.