A Moment with the Artist: Eskimeaux

Since 2007, Gabrielle Smith has been making music as Eskimeaux, often collaborating with fellow members of The Epoch, a Brooklyn-based collective of artists and songwriters. With a discography ranging in style from experimental ambient to colorful and upbeat pop, each listen of an Eskimeaux album is a new and refreshing experience on its own. After having spent most of 2014 touring with her various bands (including Frankie Cosmos and Told Slant), Smith is gearing up for the release of her newest album O.K. this May (the first single “Broken Necks” can be heard below). I caught up with Smith shortly before the start of her tour with Crying to discuss home recording, her roots in songwriting, and a look back on the past few years.

Joey Bautista: How long have you been going by Eskimeaux, and what is the inspiration behind the name?

Gabrielle Smith: I’ve been using the moniker Eskimeaux since 2007. I created the band name for three reasons. Firstly, it was important to me that it was “easily google-able.” Secondly, I wanted the name to represent me. I was adopted and the only part of my heritage that we know is that I am part Tlingit, indigenous peoples from the Pacific Northwest. Thirdly, I wanted the name to represent my sound. I think of the music I make as layers upon layers of sounds that all come together to make a simple thing: a song. That’s where -eaux comes from; it’s a jumble of letters that all come together to create the simple “o” sound.

JB: What were your first experiences with recording music?

GS: I had a handful of experiences recording music in a really entry-level way, but there were a couple of pivotal moments in the beginning of Eskimeaux that were important.

One was hearing and learning about the recording process of Brandon Can’t Dance. His songs were these really interesting, super-short, layered recordings that he made on the Windows Voice Recorder. I don’t know if you have ever seen that program, but it’s extremely primitive and is basically just for quick voice-memos. It actually has to be tricked into making multi-tracked recordings. And yet, he would make really complex songs with multiple instruments. I was really inspired not only by his music, but by how possible it was to make really personal, short songs. I felt really connected to the music he was making even though usually the songs were only one minute long and had maybe two sentences for the lyrics. I remember a while later when I showed him GarageBand for the first time — he was astounded by the ability to see, edit, and effect multiple tracks, it was really funny.

The other was watching Ben Schurr from Br’er record. I went to visit him in Philadelphia when he was working on an EP called Filled With Guilt and Diamonds. His songs were incredibly complicated, combining orchestral arrangements, noise elements, and passionate, dark songwriting. He would record in Cubase, a program that is still over my head, even after working with it on one of the later Eskimeaux albums with him. The whole time I was visiting him, which was about two weeks, he worked on the recordings, including having Nat Baldwin come over and record some upright bass for him. It was so crazy to me that someone could have such dense compositions all worked out in their head! And then to just make it happen! It was very inspiring and after that experience I set out to (try to) make work like that.

eskimeaux

JB: Your upcoming album O.K. is being released in May on Double Double Whammy. How did you get involved with the label?

GS: Dave Benton reached out to me over the summer (of 2014), just to see what I was working on. I was on tour with Told Slant at the time, but I told him that when I got home I would send him my latest recordings. I had met them through their work with Frankie Cosmos.

JB: O.K. features reworkings of several songs that were originally home demos on Igluenza. Could you describe what your home recording setup is like?

GS: My home recording set up, for Igluenza (and all of my demos), was mostly GarageBand and a Yeti microphone. For O.K. we set up Jack Greenleaf’s fancy desktop with Logic on it in this funny, tiny, window-less room in our house (which basically just became Jack’s bedroom at a certain point). He also has a really cool, eight-channel interface that we used a bunch, but most of the vocals were still recorded on the Yeti in GarageBand.

JB: Where do you draw inspiration for lyrics? They’re often among the most captivating elements of your music.

GS: I would say that my most important lyrical influences are Phil Elverum, Joanna Newsom, Frankie Cosmos, Bellows, and Adrian Orange. Whenever I’m writing poems (which later turn into songs, for the most part), I think to myself, “how would ____________ see this?” Obviously I could never know that, so their influence gets pushed through my filter and becomes a song.

Eskimeaux at Shea Stadium

JB: How has playing in several different bands influenced your songwriting process as a solo artist?

GS: It has influenced it a lot! First and foremost, being in all of the bands I’m in (and have been in in the past) and playing different instruments for each has made me a much better musician. I started out writing music with a basic knowledge of violin and proper choral singing. Now, I can confidently say that I am proficient at guitar, singing, bass, synthesizer, keyboard, and violin. I wouldn’t say I’m “good” at it, but I even got to learn how to play cello for one band I used to be in.

Being in a bunch of projects has also given me the opportunity to see music through a lot of different eyes. Told Slant, Frankie Cosmos, Bellows, Real Life Buildings, and Eskimeaux songs are all written from completely different perspectives and therefore have to be arranged in completely different ways. I get to be “behind the scenes” for all of it, so I can take my new knowledge home and apply it experimentally to my own work. It makes songwriting really exciting!

JB: What have you been listening to lately?

GS: Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Girlpool, Krill, Taylor Swift, Mitski, and Frankie Cosmos. Also in the car, since we only have a CD player, we listen to Hall & Oates, Celestial Shore, the Empire Records soundtrack, and also Girlpool. A lot of Girlpool.

JB: You’ve done an extensive amount of touring over the past several months, and you have another one coming up at the end of the month with Crying. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned after so many hours on the road?

GS: I’ve learned that sometimes you just need to have a hot meal.

JB: You released your first album as Eskimeaux way back in 2008. Having been at this for seven years now, what’s going through your head at this point in your life?

GS: Every time I release an album that is important to me I take a break from songwriting to enjoy what I’ve accomplished and let ideas accrue. Now, I feel like that break is over!


More info on Eskimeaux’s upcoming tour with Crying can be found here.
O.K. will be released on May 12 by Double Double Whammy (now available for pre-order).
Photos courtesy of Andrew Piccone.

A Moment with the Artist: Elvis Depressedly

Mathew Lee Cothran has been writing and releasing music for almost a decade as Coma Cinema, but he’s about to embark on a brief tour with his band Elvis Depressedly to preface the release of their upcoming album, New Alhambra. Shortly before the start of this tour, I caught up with Cothran to talk about moving across states, touring, and his mindset looking forward.

Joey Bautista: You’re about to spend a good part of December touring the Northeast and Midwest (including a few shows in Canada) with Told Slant. The last couple of months have been pretty hectic with your move from Columbia to Asheville. Now that you seem to have settled in, how would you compare your pre-tour sentiments to those of your cross-country tour with Alex G this past summer?

Mat Cothran: Hectic is a good way to put it for sure. Delaney and I hated Columbia and South Carolina in general. It’s where we grew up, but the state’s anti-art mentality challenged us forever and we just got sick of it. It was wearing us down and we had enough, so we moved to North Carolina which isn’t that far away, but it’s a different world out here. We love it so much and we’re excited to be a part of the art scene here because there are so many talented, hungry people.

Our tour with Alex G was fucking awesome because Delaney and I are big fans of Alex’s music and have been repping him for so long now, and just seeing people respond to his music was phenomenal. We’re also big into Told Slant, so we’re looking forward to this tour in a similar fashion. We live to turn people on to cool art and we’ve always wanted that to be our focus no matter what, be it our music or our friends’ music.

I can be kind of a dick and kind of negative about touring because there is so much work involved that I feel sometimes takes away from what I’m best at (recording albums), so I usually go into the shit with a negative attitude, but that fades away pretty quickly. I’m excited to see Told Slant play and to share them with an audience that might not be familiar. Everyone involved in that band is hard working and kind as fuck and deserves every shot they can get.

Delaney is the brains behind our operation and she always gets me motivated before touring, but sometimes I’m very hesitant and uncertain about going out on the road. So much can go wrong, but I try to keep in mind how wild and crazy it is that we show up in cities we’ve never been to, and people are out there and excited to see us play. That shit definitely keeps me going and means so much to me. It’s a weird life, but I don’t know what else I’d be doing.

Mathew Lee Cothran and Delaney Mills (photo by Sam Ray)

Mat Cothran and Delaney Mills (photo by Sam Ray)

JBIt’s really uplifting whenever you speak so fondly about your peers and listeners. One show on your upcoming tour that’s been getting a lot of attention is the one at The Cave in Toronto which is listed as 19+. You’re a very vocal advocate of all-ages shows, and you’ve said that you’re willing to play an early show outside the venue if that’s what it takes. It’s reassuring to hear you say that, because 21+ shows have kept me from seeing several of my favorite artists here in San Diego. What’s your opinion on age-restricted shows/venues?

MC: I get why venues do age-restricted shows to an extent. I understand that the venues we typically play are between 150-500 capacity and you want to get as many money spending (drinking) motherfuckers in there as you can, but our audience is the youth and we want to be a positive and cool thing for kids to come out and see. So there is sometimes a dispute between venues and us about what kind of audience we’re bringing in.

What needs to happen is there to be more youth oriented spots. Why the fuck do bands always have to play in bars? I mean, I’m a drinker and I’m a grown man, but I have no shame in playing a straight edge spot if people are going to be there and be excited about our art. The world needs more accepting spaces in general. Every space should be a safe space. I think venues miss the fucking cue when they deny the youth a show. I mean fuck, if you have to charge a buck for a Coke or something, do it. I’ll tell anyone to their face I have a drinking problem, but I’m willing to put all that shit aside if we’re playing a space that is anti-drinking and open to the youth.

What I care about most is the art, and what I care about almost as much is our listeners, and a lot of them are young and I’m grateful for that. So whatever I have to do to give these kids a show, I’m going to fucking do. If the venue says they can’t have these kids who have supported me and paid my bills by buying t-shirts and records, then fuck that, I’m going to do a show outside because I care more about our listeners than I do some building with a sound system.

Elvis Depressedly @ The Dial in Murrieta, CA (8/1/2014)

Elvis Depressedly @ The Dial in Murrieta, CA (photo by Anthony Vincent)

Toronto might be a little weird and we’re still working with our booker (who is fucking great by the way, a true blue motherfucker) to try and get around this 19+ bullshit. We’re going to do what’s best for our listeners because at the end of the day, these people are supporting the hell out of us and we give a shit about that. We’re not going to ignore them because of a venue or a law or some other shit. We’re making art and art is for everybody, not just people who are old enough to drink.

JB: This is going to be your last tour before the release of the new Elvis Depressedly album, New Alhambra. It was originally slated to be out this month, but you’ve pushed it back to early next year for a wider, more opportune release. I can speak for the rest of your listeners when I say I couldn’t be more excited for what you have in store. You’ve said multiple times that this is the best work you’ve done to date–do you feel anxious sitting on this for so long?

MC: I do, because I know it’s our best work ever, and as lame as it sounds, I’m a little worried as to what our listeners will think. While Delaney was responsible for a lot of the music, I was responsible for a lot of the lyrical shit. I’m not sure if people who got into us via Holo Pleasures will fuck with it, but I can’t really let that get to us because I know in my heart this is the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of. The songs are the best I’ve written, the best Delaney has arranged, and then we had the best bass player in the world Mike Roberts and the best cello player in the world Amy Cuthbertson on this album. I’m so happy with it, and it makes me sick that I have to wait to let people hear it, but there’s still some fear in there that I might let people down and that’s just something I gotta deal with.

We have such an intense relationship with our listeners that sometimes it can be too much and I don’t know who I’m writing for, but on this album I put everything aside and wrote nine songs that I feel truly define who I am. Delaney came in and orchestrated them perfectly because she’s a fucking music genius, and Mike Roberts, our good friend and touring bassist, came in and made the songs real and purposeful.

It’s scary to go from a record like Holo Pleasures that I kind of orchestrated purposefully to be hip and funny to something that is deeply personal to me and bares all without hesitation. At this point, I’ve been at this shit for nearly ten years and I felt like the time was right to make what I thought was the best album I could make. I didn’t hold back, so it’s scary to be that out there and know people are gonna hear it and judge it based on what I’ve done before.

But I think people will vibe with it and understand where we’re coming from. I’m so proud of this record and of the stuff we’re doing right now.


Elvis Depressedly will be on tour with Told Slant this December, more info on it here.
New Alhambra will be released in Spring 2015 by Run For Cover Records.