Eskimeaux’s “O.K.” is a journey of solace and self-acceptance
Eskimeaux is the recording project of Gabrielle Smith, a 27-year-old from New York. She is a co-founder of The Epoch, a Brooklyn songwriting collective featuring Bellows, Told Slant, and Sharpless, among others, and has toured with Frankie Cosmos. “O.K.,” released in May, is a distillation of catharsis that swirls with quiet strength like a breeze through a forest, with wisdom soothing to the inner ear. In wry, devastating couplets (“If I had a dime for every time I’m freaking out / We could fly around the world or just get out of your parent’s house” from “I Admit I’m Scared”) that reflect inward and outward, Smith reminds the listener that today’s fears need not last forever. Tomorrow can be O.K.
The Wake: Tell me how The Epoch started.
Gabrielle Smith: Our friend Henry was releasing a record right after the release of “Two Mountains.” He was like, “It just seems really stupid that it’s not mandatory for us to post each other’s records on Facebook. We should make, like, a ‘collective.’” He said that since we were all very supportive of each other, we’d have to post everything that we make. We all felt it was kind of weird to have a mandatory rule among your friends, like we wouldn’t be friends anymore if we were in a collective with each other. That’s sort of the silly reason of how it started. The real reason was just that every one of our friends that we grew up with was making really cool art, and we thought that it would be cool to put it all under one umbrella.
The Wake: What unites The Epoch? What do you guys have in common with each other?
Smith: We’re all just friends. [laughs]. I mean, what we have in common is the fact that we all influence each other. We all are confessional, and almost conversational amongst ourselves with our songwriting.
The Wake: How did you come up with the name Eskimeaux? It had a connection to you being adopted, and you only knowing certain information about your parents, right?
Smith: Yeah. That was the origin of the “thought” of it. I also wanted a name that could somehow represent the fact that my music has a ton of layers to it. So the idea was to put the “-eaux” together to create a really simple sound with a complicated looking word.
The Wake: You mentioned a lot of layers. I think the sound on “O.K.” definitely blends a lot of organic sounding elements with a lot of digital production. For example, on “Folly” there’s a drum machine repeated in the back with furious live drumming interspersed. What do you think the tone of the album is like?
Smith: I’d say it’s like a bedroom pop album meets a full pop album.
The Wake: I feel like “bedroom pop” is slowly becoming more of a dated term.
Smith: Totally. It’s so interesting, the record is really “bedroom pop” because it’s literally what that is. It wasn’t made in a studio, it was made completely in my bedroom, or in the room that we call the “studio,” but was just another bedroom in our apartment. It is an early, mid-‘00s term that I feel, as it gets slowly pushed into the “mainstream,” becomes more ridiculous.
The Wake: So many people are “bedroom pop” artists by that definition. I feel like ever since the early-‘00s, sites like YouTube, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud have gotten so much bigger. It’s easier to become a DIY artist and push your own material.
Smith: And ever since everybody jumped on the Mac train and started using GarageBand. It’s just kind of silly as a term, almost every artist is one except for people who go into the studio to make their “studio” record.
The Wake: On “O.K.” it feels like your voice is more front and center than in previous albums. We mentioned that layering effect before, but a lot of reverb is taken back compared to previous releases, and you can hear the most precise details in your voice, which makes it seem almost fragile. Was the change in direction a conscious decision?
Smith: Yeah! I started getting frustrated, because whenever I would be asked “What’s your songwriting process, what’s the first thing you do?” or “To you, what’s the most important part of a song?” the answer is always the lyrics. Burying them is counter-intuitive. I think it was Henry who told me about how this one Laurie Anderson record was mixed. The vocals were the first thing that were mixed, and everything else was mixed around them, because the vocals are the most important, and should be front and center and have everything support them. That was the original idea going into it. I also had Jack Greenleaf working on the record with me, who is incredible at mixing.
The Wake: Laurie Anderson had that song “O Superman” which is just layers of her voice, and they unravel and evolve and build upon one another, not unlike an Eskimeaux song. What were some other influences you had on the album?
Smith: Frankie Cosmos and Bellows were major influences. I’m also obsessed with Björk and Joanna Newsom.
The Wake: Would you say your songwriting is confessional, or based from personal experience?
Smith: My lyrics are straightforward, but the cryptic-ness of them has to do with whether or not it’s important for you, the listener, to have been there in that time. I try at the same time to edit my lyrics so they can be relatable. But yeah, they’re really confessional because they’re based on impressions of emotions that I experienced, from my perspective. And maybe I tie in a lesson that I should follow in it. [laughs]. Most of the time, I feel like I use my lyrics to talk to myself, and remind myself to do or not do something ever again.
The Wake: Do you plan on releasing more scrappy, demo-style recordings through Bandcamp in the future?
Smith: I feel like I have all these deadlines of “real releases” coming up. It’s scary to imagine not having the time to record other, scrappier songs. But I definitely want to, because that’s the way I process them, and it’s weird to change my routine now.
The Wake: A lot of songs on “O.K.” are remade from previous demos. Why did you choose the songs you did? What themes run through “O.K.”?
Smith: The whole record is about not feeling like we have a place, or I have a place, or feeling excited by things that don’t matter, or not excited about things that should matter. In “That’s O.K.” it ties it together, because we’re still [Oliver (Bellows)] a unit, and part of what ties our unit together is Frankie, our dog. [laughs]. He’s this reminder that there’s a lot of levity in our situation even when it feels shitty.
The Wake: Frankie seems to play a huge role in the album.
Smith: The jingling of his collar is all over the record.
The Wake: Really? That’s awesome!
Smith: Yeah, it’s really subtle, but you can hear it.