March 26, 2015

Featuring: eskimeaux

Gabby Smith is ready to take eskimeaux to the next level.

Maybe it’s New York’s depressing winters, or Taylor Swift’s influence, but Gabby Smith is ready to evolve beyond “things being more off-kilter than they need to be” and embrace sunny summer jams. Smith, 26, writes and records music as eskimeaux, a live four-piece that wrapped up a tour with Adult Mom in January — a sort of “final hurrah” to the band’s house show days. Next up is the release of Smith's first LP on Double Double Whammy, O.K., a light, poppy outing for the typically experimental “glo-fi” project.

“This record is more like my pop departure from the gothic ice queen, the pigeonhole that I shoved myself into for a really long time,” Smith said. Smith attributes the “summer jam” vibe that characterizes O.K., which will come out on CD and in three vinyl colors in May, to producer Jack Greenleaf. The album’s promotion and release are also much more strategic than Smith’s only other proper release, a stressful whirlwind of an experience that produced 2012’s self-titled cassette in a matter of days. “It’s been this really cool kind of slow roll-out where everything that happens feels deliberate,” Smith said. “It’s really different from releasing demo albums where it’s just an instant gratification thing, but its such a cool other side of the coin.” 

Smith, who lives in Brooklyn and grew up in Manhattan, began working on the songs on O.K. in 2013 when she and Oliver Kalb of Bellows were (not satisfyingly) living in Chicago. She had met Frankie Cosmos’ Greta Kline just before the move, and didn't know she was a musician; Smith then came across Kline’s prolific work on Bandcamp, and thought, “What the fuck am I doing? I haven’t done anything at all. I haven’t written a song in, like, a year.” It launched Smith on a song-a-day project for a month. After returning to New York, Smith continued to work on her demos, and Greenleaf, who plays in eskimeaux, encouraged her to record them correctly, ultimately producing the album. They learned the songs with Kalb and Felix Walworth (Told Slant), who make up the current lineup.

“That became sort of a dialogue where we developed the songs together, and then Jack and I kind of put together the final versions of them to make them into the album,” Smith said. That dynamic has continued to inform Smith’s work; the songs were taken from demos to the band to the recording process, rather from the recordings to the band. The band intuits everything Smith wants, she said, even when she can’t verbalize it, and she ends up writing her songs knowing “anything that I do is going to be fine.” “They’re less these crazy things that are then approximated by our four-piece, but rather things that are put through the filter of a four-piece band and then sort of embellished from there, which is really exciting,” Smith said.

Beyond playing in eskimeaux, the band members (and others) make up arts collective The Epoch, which Smith co-founded. They back each other’s musical projects while offering artistic support and inspiration. “I see what all of my friends are doing and get just so impressed and emotional in response to what they do and want people to have the same reaction, I think, to what I do,” Smith said. “It’s crazy how your scene feels so big when you first step into it and then immediately gets so small and cozy in a good way.” The interconnected nature of The Epoch members’ lives spawned some of Smith’s songwriting on O.K.; she and Kalb live together, as well as play in three bands together, inspiring themes of home, expressing care in different ways, and feeling stuck and “unsticking” oneself. Kline’s presence also asserts itself on O.K.; Frankie Cosmos’ “havin a house” made an impact on Smith: “I’m still figuring out what it’s like having a house/Good to hear you feel it too because I look up to you.”

“All of the feelings are sort of me processing what it means to live together — what it means to have these mutual responsibilities from stupid things like cleaning up, which is something that I talk about [on the album], but also having this dog, this thing that we have to keep alive and that we both passionately care about, maybe in the same way, maybe in different ways,” she said. Smith in the past has been admittedly naive about musical possibilities, slow to realize being in a band or touring or being backed by a label like Double Double Whammy were things she could achieve. The “weird ether of the New York music scene” that once seemed so large has become cozy with heroes turned peers. “To me, everybody who I know has always felt like a famous person,” Smith said.

Listen to eskimeaux on bandcamp.

Quinn Kelley, a Baltimore-based writer, who has never not finished an open bag of Swedish Fish. She tries really hard on twitter.