A few months back, we came across the Brooklyn band Eskimeaux and we were immediately hooked, wasting no time in heading to their bandcamp page and purchasing their new full-length, O.K. Their earnestly introspective + positive song-writing is a welcome, refreshing change and singer-songwriter Gabrielle Smith’s words + voice pull you in with welcome warmth. We reached out to Smith to find out more about the young band, inquire about the Brooklyn creative collective Smith helped to start, and talk about a common subject on these pages—the changing creative landscape of New York City, a subject she’s got a pretty encouraging take on. Read on and stream the excellent new album O.K. below.
raven + crow: You started Eskimeaux as a solo project, right? Kinda like an experimental bedroom recording project?
Gabrielle Smith: Yes, exactly.
What inspired that? Were you in any bands before or do you have a background in music?
I was the singer of two bands before starting Eskimeaux, but I was never satisfied with them. I was also a member of many of my friends’ bands before having a live Eskimeaux band. I had to gain my on-stage confidence before I could present my own work.
But O.K. was recorded with a full band, right?
Yes! Each of us played the parts we had worked out for the live set on the recordings, except in the case of “Everything You Love.” We never worked that one out live, so Jack Greenleaf and I went wild on the arrangement of that one. We thought about all of the other songs’ arrangements as “embellishments upon the live version.”
Makes sense. Speaking of the live version, was that a big adjustment, blowing up the whole singularity of what Eskimeaux used to be with a full band?
No, it was a big relief! I performed solo always feeling frustrated because I was the only one who could hear the full arrangements in my head. Now that I have a band there are obviously still some parts of the recorded arrangements missing, but each person’s part fills out a necessary sonic range.
That’s good to hear—I feel like that transition can be tough for some. Ya’ll just finished a big tour, right? Howe was it?
Yeah, I heard your all’s show at the Echo was jaw-dropping—congrats. Were there any tour highlights or places that surprised you on the road?
I was really surprised to play in places I had never been to with Eskimeaux, like anywhere past Chicago and Texas (headed west), and hear people singing our songs back to us. It was cool.
That’s awesome. So, what is The Epoch?
What is The Epoch…we aren’t even really sure. It was a name that my friends and I came up with to give ourselves a sense of collective purpose as artists during a time when we were the only ones who listened to each others’ music. Now, it serves the same purpose; it’s something that keeps us united as our styles and levels of recognition fluctuate. The name has since gotten away from us, in a way, but the traction it seems to have gained is pretty cool.
Very much so. Are there other bands or publicly performing artists that are part of The Epoch?
Yes. I’m not going to list them because I’m not even sure who considers themselves to be part of it or not, but we have a website with a list of members!
Right—I just realized we featured an Epoch-er on our most recent mixtape—Florist. So, I don’t know how long you’ve been in New York, but I hear a lot of people griping that it’s quickly turning into a kind of playground for the rich and that creativity is dying in the city, David Byrne amongst them. Would you give that a big ‘hell no’?
New York City is definitely very expensive and I feel very privileged to be able to live here. I grew up here and have definitely had to move pretty far away from Manhattan to be able to afford it, but part of the fun of living in any city is getting to explore the “nether-regions” of the place. I don’t think that creativity is dying here, especially since I’m constantly surrounded by inspiring, creative geniuses, haha. I can’t even begin to run off the long list of musicians, visual artists, and community organizers I’ve been lucky enough to get to know in the past couple of years.
Good to hear. What are some ways that you think the city’s changed for the better recently? Like, what are some developments or businesses or public works that you hold up as truly awesome?
The Silent Barn is a really cool DIY venue in Bushwick that’s trying to be self-aware about the gentrification element of opening venues that host predominantly indie rock bands and don’t interact with the community around them at all. Silent Barn regularly hosts hip-hop and other art from people effected by rent-hikes in Bushwick and tries to be a positive force in the neighborhood, not just a gentro-center. They actually just had a fire in the apartments above their venue and can use donation money, which you can give via their site.
Man, that place sounds like it’s doing it right. Speaking of the city changing, I saw that you all had played Glasslands a good bit—SO bummed that placed closed down; it was one of my favorite venues in New York.
Yeah, it was really cool!
Dogs—or, your dog, I’m assuming—seem pretty front + center in your album art, promo shots, et cetera, which I wholeheartedly applaud. Are you a big fan of animals?
I love dogs. My dog Frankie is my best friend.
Who did the album artwork? Is that…embroidery?
Yes, it is! Susannah Cutler made the album artwork. She’s an incredible visual artist and a very talented embroiderer.
The album cover’s awesome—more embroidery in rock. Finally, can you talk to where the name Eskimeaux came from? What’s with the spelling?
I’m adopted and the only information I have about my ancestry is that my birth father is Tlingit Eskimo. The name came from a period of anxiety about my identity. Discovering my racial ancestry helped give me a more concrete image of myself as a person, which is something I try to do with music also. The spelling is just a silly jumble of words, it doesn’t really have a meaning.
Well I like it, even more so now. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with Gabrielle.
You can listen to and purchase Eskimeaux’s new album O.K. directly from the band via their bandcamp page; they’ve just settled in after a long, cross-country tour, but they’re back at it again this + next month, so check their Facebook page for tour dates and do try to catch them if you can. New York, they’ll be playing the aforementioned Silent Barn Friday, December 11; Los Angeles, they’ll be at one of our favorite venues, The Echo, with the also awesome band Pity Sex Friday, December 18th.
Photo of Gabrielle by Manuela Insixiengmay.