Gabrielle Smith wants you to consider ginger. Smith, the producer; writer; singer and all-round artistic force of Eskimeaux takes a moment to pause on 21 South Street. Smith is known for the quiet intimacy of songs that grow to a growl; her projects “O.K” and the 2016 “Year of the Rabbit” cross from tender revelations “i admit i'm scared” into accusation: “I say, "i love you" just to get you to say anything.”
On April 14th, Smith brings her lyrical, gritty sound to the Sinclair. By the time she comes to Boston, Eskimeaux will have completed a cross-country odyssey in the company of alt-rock band WHY? Today she talks with the blog about spices, guitar strings, and sonic inspiration.
You’re touring with “Why?”; you’ve worked with “Japanese Breakfast;” “Slutever” and others; what’s it like to work with different artists?
It’s great! Working with different artists always gives me new perspective on how something can be played, how a song can be structured, what kinds of sounds I like but have never used for some reason, etc. For example, when Japanese Breakfast and I toured together, Michelle taught me a few of her songs. Having a new, intimate understanding of how she thinks about harmony was super inspiring for me when I got home and started writing new material.
What do you look forward to the most, on this tour?
WHY? has been one of my favorite bands for a long time now. I have a distinct memory of sitting in my friend Sophie’s childhood bedroom in 2005 learning to put on eyeliner, playing with her cat, and listening to “Gemini Birthday Song” on repeat. It was playing from someone’s MySpace account. They’ve informed ways I’ve approached arrangement, production, and lyrics in my own writing. So, I guess the thing I’m looking forward to most is getting to see them play every night and just reveling in the experience!
In past interviews, you’ve talked about the name “Eskimeaux” arising from your T’lingit heritage. Animals and natural imagery float throughout your music - there’s “Two Mountains;” “Sparrow; “Sleeping Bear,” and of course, “Year of the Rabbit.” Does the imagery hold particular significance to you?
As a kid growing up in downtown Manhattan, the closest thing I had to nature during the school year was Washington Square Park, which isn’t much. In the Summer my parents sent me to all kinds of summer camps - when I was little I went to day camp, when I got a little older I went to a sleep away camp. I found out there that I had a deep love for the woods and animals, especially for horses. I think natural imagery is a universal way to express every possible emotion. For example, the simple image of a mountain can evoke such a wide spectrum of emotions from peace and strength, to wildness and mistrust, to looming omnipotence so quickly and vividly depending on the context.
“Year of the Rabbit” has a softer, hazier sound; the name definitely invokes some nostalgia. Do you view your albums as capturing moments in time?
Definitely. The songs on “Year of the Rabbit” feel like they’re attempting to part the murky curtains of time to examine the roots of a long-term relationship to try to find the cracks.
You’ve got one hand to count on. Who are your primary influences, and how do they affect your work?
I’m going to focus this to an artist + album because this can get out of hand really quickly!
Peanut butter - It kept me alive in 2008.
Blundstone Boots - My pair are one of my horcruxes.
Ginger - I was a very picky eater when I was a kid. Then I discovered ginger and it expanded my palate in a wild way.
Insoles - I have a million dollar idea involving in-soles...that’s all I can say.
Nylon guitar strings - can’t live without them! They make every song 100% more beautiful.
“O.K.” and “Rabbit” have markedly different sounds. How do you transition between projects?
It’s kind of just...whatever I’m feeling at the time. “O.K.” was written and recorded over a long period of time so I worked hard to make each moment precious and detailed. “Year of the Rabbit” was written and recorded relatively quickly, so it was more important to me to create a less detailed, more impressionistic record.
Do you have any advice - or thoughts - for students and young artists starting to put out their own music?
Ira Glass said something that has been really important to me over the years. He said, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” In short, don’t be afraid to experiment and fall short of your own expectations. Just keep trying and let yourself be as weird or not weird as you’re feeling!
Lastly… I saw on your Twitter that you’re a Taurus. A fellow bull has to ask - do you put much stock in astrology?
I only put as much stock in astrology as I am allowed to without using it to justify bad behavior. I think it’s a cool avenue to use to explore yourself, your friends, and the world around you as long as it’s being used for good!