Gabrielle Herbst is a Brooklyn based composer who has released her debut album, Sympathy, this week with her band GABI on Daniel Lopatin’s (better known as Oneohtrix Point Never) label, Software. It’s been receiving acclaim from all the right places and inevitable comparisons to contemporary artists such as Julia Holter and Julianna Barwick are there. She attended Bard where she studied composition and premiered her first opera, Bodiless, Roulette in 2014. Herbst music explores classical compositional soundscapes with serenity and vocal centric work. Recently she talked with us at Punchland through email to answer some questions for us.
Punchland: Did you have the GABI project in mind when you attended Bard?
GABI: I actually began thinking about this project when I was a child and wrote little songs on the guitar and piano. I’ve been dreaming of this project for years and it’s only now that it feels like it has finally taken flight. I’ve always been in love with crafting sound and singing but it was a big turning point for me my freshman year of Bard College when I composed my first notated piece for solo cello and I heard it performed. It was just the most exciting thing and I knew this was what I wanted to devote my life to–creating music that is ultimately larger than myself.
Punchland: What kind of process do you take to recording? Do you like big open spaces or more confined areas?
GABI: It really depends. I love large boomy spaces that are very alive but I also love small intimate spaces. I recorded Sympathy in a small vocal booth in the Mexican Summer Studio in Greenpoint. For the few weeks that I was there I really made that booth my home, I had a candle in there and it felt so secure and homey. It was quite lovely… I miss that booth!
Punchland: How was recording Sympathy with other musicians? Was it like a Brian Wilson process where you told them exactly what to play or was it more collaborative?
GABI: The song structures have both set and flexible elements. Really it depends on the song. Some of the material was completely notated and I told my band exactly what I wanted. Other times I found what I was looking for through directing my musicians in structured improvisation and exploration off the page. I always have a very clear vision of what I want, but how I get there varies.
Punchland: You are into operas and have even written your own. How do those elements incorporate into GABI?
GABI: I think that both my opera writing and the process of writing songs for GABI have a lot in common. They are both coming from the way I see the world, and the way I feel the world. When I’m composing any piece I think very visually- I see the music I’m writing in pictures and fantasies. I think that both have a very strong narrative pull even though the narrative is more suggestive and not linear. Regardless of what kind of music I’m writing and for what project–it’s coming from the same person and is connected.
Punchland: When I first heard about your music and your background it reminded me a lot of Julia Holter, although her early stuff was mostly recorded in her bedroom and takes inspiration from Greek plays than operas. Are you a fan of her work or take any influence from her?
GABI: Julia Holter is supremely talented and I love her work. She has a really unique voice and sound that is her own, which I find very inspiring.
I took influence from female vocalists that I grew up listening too, like Bjork, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Maja Ratkje and Laurie Anderson, to name a few. I then translated those feelings of love towards them into my own vision.
Punchland: What was it like to work with Daniel Lopatin? Since most of his stuff comes from a more electronic background.
GABI: It was great! Daniel completely understood my vision with this project. His ideas and feedback were always fascinating to me and very relevant. It’s one of the most exciting things to collaborate with someone that has a different musical background than you- in this case it felt like a really special connection.