On her debut album Sympathy, the smooth vocals of GABI (aka Gabrielle Herbst) along with contributors Matthew O'Koren (percussion), Rick Quantz (viola), Josh Henderson (violin), and Aaron Roche (electric guitar / trombone) create a serene scene, as if accompanying a strange contemporary film. Herbst's classical-leaning sound is very ethereal, similar to Bjork or Julia Holter; her strong, commanding voice works well alongside eerie strings and percussion. The album travels through every range of emotion—from melancholy and brooding to soothing, from light to dark to light again. Sympathy will be released on April 7 through Software; FADER asked Herbst a few questions about the LP.
These songs' structures are both complex and elegantly minimal—what do you start with when it comes to making music, as far as elements are concerned? Every song starts with a feeling, an intuitive state that I try to translate into sound. Some songs ask to be simple. Others need to have more complexity within the structure and architecture of the piece. Each song is kind of like a child and each have their own needs.
Are there any specific themes explored on the album? Sympathy is both an exploration in cultivating my own musical language and an attempt to touch on universal feelings. I chose Sympathy as the album title because I think it's a really beautiful concept: stepping outside of oneself to feel another's pain. My songs are trying to escape the confines of my own head and connect with others. Experimentation with text and the voice is something that runs deep throughout the album. I think returning to the raw simplicity of voice and breath is important right now in our culture.
There are some very long songs on this record, do you find that your music lends itself to length? Some songs on the record have longer narratives and others are more short form. Often I do write longer pieces but I find writing short form songs very exciting. It can be even more challenging because you need to say everything in just a couple minutes. When someone can create a gem like that it's amazing- but I'm also a fan of giving songs the time they need–some are big animals that need space.
How much of this material draws from your excursions with a loop pedal circa 2013? A lot of the material on the album actually derived from me sitting on my living room floor playing with the loop pedal. I loved entering that solitary place of exploring the layers of my own voice. After creating kernels of songs through improvisation I would flesh out the pieces with my band and develop them over time.
How long have you known your collaborators for? My percussionist, Matthew O'Koren and I have been playing music together for the last seven years. We went to Bard College together. The other band mates on the record, Aaron Roche on guitar and trombone, Rick Quantz on viola and Josh Henderson on violin I met over the past couple of years. Jacob Becker recently joined the band on electronics. My band has been a very solid crew, it's been great writing songs for my players in mind and making it that much more personal.
Any specific challenges you've faced while making this album? It was challenging editing down the music on the album into what makes Sympathy. I actually had a whole bunch more music—which is funny because it's already a double LP! But I've been waiting to make this album for a while and had a lot of music to share. It was challenging and exciting re-working the material in the studio with my producers and making those hard decisions about what to edit. It was healthy and I think really improved the record, but of course it's always a challenge.
What do you think about the state of popular music in 2015, and what do you think it needs more or less of? I think it needs more balls. I'm really excited by artists that aren't freaked out of doing their own thing and carving out their vision even if it isn't something that people understand right away. I think it's a truly exciting time to make pop music in 2015 and I'm inspired by the wave of many unique voices that I hear coming out of the woodwork.
4/06/15 - Rough Trade - New York, NY
4/22/15 - Le Poisson Rouge (Record Release Show) - New York, NY
Lead image: Tim Saccenti