Eskimeaux. photo: Richard Gin
Eskimeaux is the primary songwriting vehicle for Gabrielle Smith, a member of New York’s community of friends and collaborators The Epoch. Her music is reminiscent of firecrackers, drawing nostalgia for the store-bought party explosives I used to set off with my friends and family in the backyard on birthdays and New Year’s Eve. Smith draws upon a wide palette of colors in her songs, calling upon them to decorate observational storytelling that puts the emphasis on space over setting; the gaps in dialogue over the words themselves. She avoids Fourth-of-July-sized displays on record (although comes close with the gargantuan latter half of “The Thunder Answered Back”), focusing instead on the small revelations in life that vividly pop like snappers on the sidewalk or one of those cylindrical spinning sparklers.
Smith is preparing to release a new EP from Eskimeaux later this month featuring songs written during the recording session for her previous album, 2015’s sensational O.K. Eskimeaux makes music for drifting to sleep during a long train ride as you pray the tunnel will transport you. Not to somewhere new, nor away from anywhere old — just providing a new view you can appreciate without having to step off the tracks and begin moving once again on your own. Before she takes San Francisco fans wherever they need to go when she opens for Frankie Cosmos at Swedish American Hall on April 16, Smith graciously offered some of her time to chat with me about her current place in music.
The Bay Bridged: Eskimeaux is opening for Frankie Cosmos on her current tour, but you are also playing in her band as well for these shows. How does performing as a member of Frankie Cosmos contrast from your own headlining performances?
Gabrielle Smith: Yes, I am!
Well, to start, it’s a different experience playing in someone’s band from playing your own songs with a band. For Eskimeaux, I know most eyes are on me (including my own and my band’s), so it’s up to me to let my energy, whatever I’m feeling that night, trickle out to the band and the crowd. The opposite is the experience of playing in another band, in this case, Frankie Cosmos. When I’m in someone else’s band I get to let their energy trickle onto me. It’s a great feeling, because I get to participate in music I love while helping an artist realize their musical ambitions, plus I don’t have to take on the pressure of the spotlight.
TBB: You’ve said that this will be your last time touring in her live band. What’s behind this decision? Does that heighten the emotions of these shows?
GS: Currently, including Frankie Cosmos, I’m in four bands. It’s a lot! Each one has been really taking off in their own ways in the past year and as a result each one is a lot more busy with touring schedules. Frankie Cosmos, Eskimeaux, Told Slant, and Bellows are all planning to do a lot of touring this year, so at a certain point it became clear that something would need to change. That being said, Greta and I are really close friends and love each others’ music, so hopefully this doesn’t mean the end of us working altogether. At least from my end, I will continue to be inspired by her music, as well as send her what I’m working on and ask for her advice. I think that, for now, my emotional state remains the same as it always has: I love being in the band and these shows are more fun than ever. As for the last show, however, I can’t promise I’ll be able to keep it together!
TBB: How did you first become involved with The Epoch? And how has your involvement evolved with the growth of Eskimeaux?
GS: There wasn’t really a moment when I became involved; The Epoch is something that my friends and I started together. We’ve always just been a group of friends who love each others’ work and who help each other enhance what each person has to offer the world. It’s pretty chill, so I’m not totally sure how to answer this question, except to say that we are more entangled in one anothers’ projects and lives than ever before, since we are pretty much on tour together for eight months of 2016.
TBB: A number of Epoch bands are becoming increasingly recognized for their work, such as Told Slant and Bellows. What has your involvement been with those bands most recently?
GS: In Bellows, I play synth and sing back-up vocals. I also help Oliver, when he asks, arrange vocals and strings, as well as do some light mixing on his records. I am the bassist of Told Slant’s live band, but I wasn’t really involved in the making of the records. That venture is almost entirely Felix’s. Both of the bands are going on tour this summer with The Hotelier and Loone, and I’m playing in both projects on the tour!
TBB: It’s really exciting to see that those two bands are opening for The Hotelier. It reminds me of the tour you embarked on with Pity Sex and Colleen Green last year, and how in general it seems like genre divisions in indie rock are becoming increasingly broad, or perhaps a better description is more welcoming. Are you sensing walls breaking down in regards to the bands you and your peers are performing with?
GS: Yeah, we feel like as long as we get along with the other bands personally or admire their work, then they’ve been in some way influential to us and would be fun to tour with, no matter the genre. I figure if I like the idea of a tour then it’s worth a shot! We’ve been friendly with Christian from The Hotelier for a while and have played shows together in the past (Told Slant and The Hotelier played together a few summers ago, also Bellows, Eskimeaux, and The Hotelier played together at SUNY Purchase in the same year). As far as touring with Pity Sex and Colleen Green, I just loved both of their bands from afar, so it was exciting to be asked to tour with them. Turns out we hit it off well too.
TBB: On a related note, you recently played a few shows with Julien Baker earlier this year. How did the crowds for those shows differ from shows you open for other bands, such as these upcoming Frankie Cosmos shows? Do you see overlap? Or are these discrete, specific crowds?
GS: The only true difference I can attribute to the crowds at the Julien Baker shows versus Frankie Cosmos shows is that they were completely silent!
TBB: This will be your third appearance in San Francisco in a year (and sadly the first I won’t be able to attend myself). How have your experiences with the Bay Area been during those previous legs? Is there anything you hope to do in the city this time around?
GS: The past two shows in SF have been awesome. I love playing at Bottom of the Hill; their staff is so smart and helpful and the room sounds great. Also there is a shower in their green room! So cool!
For this trip, my parents will be at the show, so I guess I hope to spend as much time as possible with them. Luckily, we get to hang out pretty frequently, but never in SF!
TBB: You’ve become one of my favorite lyricists, primarily due to your sniper-level perception when it comes to describing romance. Your songs have been reference points for me to better understand rises and falls in my own relationships. Do you ever write with the listener in mind? Or do you focus your lyrics on your own experiences and they wind up happening to be relatable to others?
GS: Wow, thank you! That is a huge compliment!
The answer is definitely the latter. All of my songs are very focused on a singular experience like riding the subway with someone specific, or being far away from someone I love, or having a dog together. Luckily, I feel like maybe I’m able to zoom in and out of the situation in question and make it relatable to others. It’s exciting to me to hear that my lyrics are relatable!
TBB: You have a new EP, Year of the Rabbit, coming out in a few weeks. Where did the inspiration for the project first originate? Is there a guiding theme to this release?
GS: All of the songs on Year of the Rabbit were written during the recording process of O.K. I was pretty daunted by the idea of writing more songs good enough to put on a proper album and then going through a full album cycle with them, since by the time the whole thing began the songs would feel pretty old! Instead, we decided to record them quickly and efficiently, as well as as-live-as-possible, given that they were recorded in a NYC apartment. The theme/vibe was just to be as straightforward, raw, and driving as possible.
TBB: You’re very vocal about your affection for your dog Frankie. Would you mind sharing one of your favorite photos of him?
Frankie Cosmos, Eskimeaux, Yowler, Anna McClellan
Swedish American Hall
April 16, 2016
7:30pm, SOLD OUT