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.


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.

The Sounds of State-Thomas Torres

Hello there readers. It’s been a long layaway for the KCR blog but we are back with a vengeance! I’m happy to announce that I’m returning to do The Sounds of State for another semester. There are so many more DJ’s out on KCR putting great stuff over the airwaves. I’ve got a great interview for you all today. For the first interview of the semester, I profiled Thomas Torres, who’s out there sifting through the music that makes alternative seem mainstream.

Thomas was quick to respond to my messages and we scheduled a time very quickly. I met him last Tuesday outside the KCR studio and we walked outside behind the communication building where we sat down. February in San Diego is perfect for being outdoors, and that day was no different. So here goes the interview:

Cameron Satterlee: We are now officially rolling! I am sitting here for my first interview of the semester with Thomas Torres. How are you doing, man?

Thomas Torres: I’m doing good, I’m doing good.

CS: Thanks for sitting down with me. So when is your radio slot, and do you have a DJ name we can go with?

TT: So my radio slot used to be Mondays from 1 to 3 p.m. and it used to be a two hour show. It still is a two hour show but I’m not Monday from 2 to 3 p.m. and Wednesday from 2 to 3 p.m. It still technically is a two hour show but now it’s split into two different things.

CS: Wow that’s cool. I haven’t heard of a two hour show split between two different days, so you’re making it work with your schedule.

TT: Yes, and for my DJ name, I go by DJ Box.

CS: DJ Box?

TT: Yeah Box, B-O-X.

CS: That’s pretty easy to remember.

TT: Yeah yeah, it’s nice.

CS: Alright so how long have you been with KCR?

TT: So, let’s see, that would be at least 4 semesters now. Yeah 4 semesters cause I signed up when I was a freshman. And that was right in 2014, so it should be at least 4 semesters.

CS: Hey right on, that’s probably just as long as I’ve been here. I think I’m on my fourth semester too. Cool.

TT: Nice, nice, very nice.

CS: So you’re a music show correct? So what do you play specifically?

TT: Ok so I am a music show but I used to do album reviews, and that was the two hour show. The first hour would be the album review with my cohost, but he’s not here anymore. And the second hour would be what I call the super robot playlist, which is kind of just a quirky name I came up with. What it is is basically all my musical tastes, which are very non-mainstream music, all compiled into one. I’ll have things from Bandcamp artists, I’ll have things from recent indie artists, I’ll have things from complete strangers that have sent me stuff, or I’ll have some other unknown type of artist type of thing. And that’s kinda what I go with, is the unknown artist type of deal. More of what I like to call the alternative to alternative type of music. That’s mostly what I play on the radio show now.

CS: Just kind of a random mix of everything?

TT: Yeah it’s a random mix. There’s no real one genre that I’m kind of concerned about. It’s a variety of things. If it’s mainstream I’m not gonna play it, that’s pretty much my only thing.

CS: Yeah well that’s a good way to use KCR. I mean cause if it’s mainstream chances are you’re gonna hear it on regular radio. So on KCR yeah why not promote these alternative artists.

TT: Right.

CS: Yeah so that’s pretty cool. Alright so this might be a bit redundant but I am a bit curious, just to understand how you got to these sort of alternate tastes. Like you said they’re everywhere alternative pretty much. So why do you like these—I guess not specific alternative groups, they’re diverse—but how did you get into them?

TT: So my original cohost Christian, who went by the name DJ Pocket Lint, he and I have been exploring these different musical tastes since middle school, I want to say. Which was 4 years ago. So it grew out of this dislike for mainstream music, and so because of that I branched out into “okay well I don’t like mainstream music, let’s look at classic rock, okay classic rock’s getting boring let’s move out to progressive rock, progressive rock it getting boring, let’s move out to something different: electronic music, let’s move out to video game music, let’s move out to rap music, hip hop”. And that kind of just exploded into a bunch of different artists that no one ever talks about, and hey, these are pretty good artists. And that kinda branched into Bandcamp artists who are just regular people trying to do a lot of art and music and they have some pretty interesting sounds too. So it’s kinda a mix of that and just branching out. All it is is just branching out musical tastes, that’s really all it is.

CS: Just a restless desire to seek out new music.

TT: Yeah.

CS: I like it. Alright I’ve got kind of a follow up question. I’m not precisely sure what you mean by Bandcamp artist, is that a specific genre?

TT: Well it’s not a specific genre. What it is is that there are a lot of artists who post their music online, and there are a lot of artists who use this online platform called Bandcamp. It’s basically just a music hosting website where you can upload your music.

CS: Kinda like Soundcloud?

TT: Kinda like Soundcloud except it’s a lot more formal. It’s a lot more suited towards people who wanna be recognized more as formal artists instead of some user who’s uploading all his music. So a lot of times you’ll have actual bands posting their full EP on Bandcamp. Or you’ll have a single artist posting his LP on Bandcamp. And there’s a lot of really notorious people on Bandcamp, just in general I know Frankie Cosmos, some other people too, who really use Bandcamp for that type of “get it out there” you need to expand more you need to get it out there and that’s one of the best ways. And honestly you have some of the best artists coming from Bandcamp. So it’s really a good source for music and that’s why I like to include it in my radio show.

CS: Alright see yeah now that you mention it, it does remind me in my first interview last semester when I interviewed Joey Bautista and Bridgette Rickman, Joey sent me links from Bandcamp and I’d  never heard of it so thanks for explaining it cause yeah I guess I forgot about it till now. I mean I think that is a good platform like you said for real serious artists not like Soundcloud, who has these sort of serious artists but it’s also got the “check out my mixtape” kinda guys.

TT: Yeah, and I mean there’s nothing wrong with those type of people.

CS: You gotta start somewhere.

TT: Yeah you do, you honestly have to start somewhere. If you play the music, and it’s good, that’s all you need to know.

CS: So this question, I love to ask it to music DJ’s because I always get a very interesting and very different answer cause it’s a personal question, so why is this music important to you? What’s your personal journey with it?

TT: I think it’s important cause there’s a guy named Jello Biafra who is the lead singer of the Dead Kennedy’s, it’s a punk band, and he said a quote saying “if you outlaw evolution, only outlaws will evolve” and that speaks to me in the same way that there’s music out there that’s not being talked about. There’s music out there that nobody understands or nobody really cares about. And if you think about it that’s the type of thing that people aren’t paying attention to but because of that they’re free from all the social dogmas or they’re free from the tropes that are out there in music. They don’t have to do autotune, they don’t have to do 4-1-4 chorus, they don’t have to do the regular chord progressions anymore. They can do whatever they want to do, and at the same time it makes for more interesting music I think. You get the sense that once you listen to something, you realize that something is the same, and the same is posted over and over and over again, and you start to realize that a lot of people understand that too. And because they understand that, they’re saying “well let’s try to do something different” and I think that’s what is important in music is trying something different and seeing if it works and if it doesn’t work try again. And I think that’s important for music in general because it makes for more interesting music. I mean if you think about it we’re not like classical music anymore. Music has evolved past classical, past Beethoven, past Mozart. And it’s because of artists in their day, like Mozart and Beethoven who in their day did all that radical stuff that you see in the classical music. And you don’t think about it now, but you think about it back then, their music was radically radically different back then than the music that was at their time. And so I think it’s important that the music today is like that. The music that stands out is the music that is radically different than the stuff we hear today.

CS: And you’re helping to expose people to it.

TT: Yeah, that’s what I like to do. They’re out there, that’s what I like to think.

CS: Alright, well, man that’s a great answer. This is why I do these interviews, you guys always have something interesting to say. Enlightening in this case because I think I agree with you. I do agree with you. I think you’re right, and so I think what you’re doing is important.

TT: Thank you.

CS: It’s great that we have you at KCR. So this is a much more of a lightweight question, is there any song, band, or album that you’re listening to now.

TT: Not in particular. I got most of my music from my cohost recently so I’m still trying to check it out. One thing I do recommend, one artist that I’ve really been listening to is Machine Girl. Machine Girl is the only one I’ve been wanting to say out loud because that’s what I’ve been listening to lately. Anything else? I’ve been listening to the new Father John Misty album, and that was alright, I liked that one. And I’m still waiting for Death Grips’ new album, Jenny Death, part of their two-sided album. So I’m still waiting for that. Other than that not really, I’ve just been checking out a lot of the new music that my cohost has left me.

CS: Alright, right on. So I always finish with this question because I think it’s kinda fun; describe your perfect show, And since you have two one hour shows I’m really interested in what you have to say.

TT: Alright so my perfect show would actually not be a music show. It would be a music show but not like a typical host show. My perfect show would be a scripted almost radio play that combined scripted talking with a story with music, just really Avant Garde, really crazy music. And you’d play it in between and the music helps move the story along just because you have that perfect music. So that would be my perfect show. It’d be a weird combination of those two things and I think that would be like “woah radio has changed forever”. You can’t go back to just plain music and talking. You go to, hey this is story driven radio play with music in it. That would be the perfect radio show I would like to do. Unfortunately that’s just way too much work for me. But hey, who knows? Maybe one day. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage and energy to do it. Right now I gotta focus on other things such as school and not failing any of my classes.

CS: Alright. I sympathize, I know what you mean. Well so Thomas, this has been a great interview, thanks for sitting down with me.

TT: Yeah and thank you thank you Cameron. Thank you, I don’t know what else to say, but thank you.

CS: We can close it there.

TT: And doot-dootle-oot-doo.

We concluded the interview and unfortunately I had to run back to work. Thomas has so far been one of my favorite DJ’s that I’ve interviewed and I wish I had the time to talk to him more. His unique show and ideas are what I think help set KCR apart from the other radio stations. College Radio is an opportunity for us to innovate and run our own shows to essentially our own standards. Thomas appears to be taking this to heart as he spreads he eclectic and very unique content out into the world.