The classically trained Software artist turns out a genre-blind exclusive, featuring Princess Nicotine, Kate Bush and Björk
GABI (aka Gabrielle Herbst) is a rising, genre-blind, classically trained experimentalist with a voice that sets souls alight. The boundlessness of her sonic palate is highlighted in this remarkable mix for Dazed which features icons, Kate Bush, Björk and Cat Power, intertwined with Burmese pop from Princess Nicotine, tantalising electronica from No Wave instigator, Ikue Mori, and a sublime, vocal piece from a 12th century abbess.
Herbst grew up listening to the local music of Indonesia whilst studying clarinet and piano, before training for voice and studying composition at Bard College, and then writing for chamber orchestras and opera. But the classical career path wasn’t for her. A firm fan of pop and electronica acts such as Lykke Li, Holly Herndon and Kate Bush, she felt her work could conjure its own momentum to reach a wide audience too.
Herbst had held a distant vision of her debut record, Sympathy, since childhood, but it was a residency at a performance laboratory, the Watermill Centre, that booted the project into reality by bringing her together with her band, and resulting in two of its tracks. The remainder were written on the floor of her tiny, New York apartment, with just a loop pedal and keyboard. The feel of this most private of spaces remaining audible beneath the dynamic string, percussion and electronic arrangements. These demos immediately lured in ever-progressive, Software label boss, Daniel Lopatin, who came on as a producer and will also be releasing Sympathy next month.
How did you find working with Daniel Lopatin?
GABI: I write a lot of music that I think is pop and other people are like, ‘What that’s not pop. It sounds really weird to me.” So I felt alone in this vision, but Daniel understood what I was going for, and was as excited about it as me.
Were you striving to create moments of catharsis on the LP as way to connect with the audience?
GABI: Definitely. It’s coming from a personal, artistic isolation, but I am reaching out and pleading to connect, to transcend my own emotions. The songs are are inherently vulnerable. Every time I perform them I feels I’m going through something intense, and am changed afterwards.
Pop artists often have different personas, but with you I feel no distance between Gabrielle and GABI.
GABI: It was completely unintentional, but I am my work. There isn’t a separation, which can be hard sometimes, but the songs I create are the best representation of who I am.
I read that you said, “art is a momentary pleasure of deception”, about your opera. Do you think finding truth is possible through music?
GABI: I was talking about the catharsis of being able to listen to music and lose yourself in this fantasy that’s not your own. But losing yourself in art is truthful, as you’re ultimately gaining from it by growing and digesting it.
There are so many movements in your songs. It’s rare for a pop album to have this breadth, but for me it can tip into a classical experience. Do you feel we should have a broader frame of reference, a bigger idea of pop, that encompasses the classical as well?
GABI: Yea, definitely. There are elements to Sympathy that feel challenging, especially compared to some pop idioms, but I’m hopeful that it will relate to people who listen to all kinds of music, and that something comes through that speaks to them even though it’s in its own language. I love the idea of living in a pop world, although by changing the logic – allowing my voice to be itself. I love pop.
I love how your music is alive with this feminine force, so gentle yet also so strong. Do you think soft, feminine power is undervalued in music?
GABI: Totally. My work is feminine, as it’s coming from me as a woman. I approach the world in a gentle way and my music expresses that. But I have strong visions for and ideas of what I want, so although there’s a delicate artifice, underneath there’s this seething intensity that is under-represented in the pop world.
You said that breathing being a vital way to connect to people, can you explain how?
GABI: There’s no veil between your voice and self. It’s direct contact. When people listen to someone using their breath, which is what singing is, they sync up with it and feel the performer in their body. This chaotic lifestyle, where we’re constantly bombarded with ads, music, and short visuals dulls the senses, but I think singing can open up airways that have been blocked off by that over-stimulation.
I found it interesting hearing the word Hallelujah outside of choral music. Was its sound or pulling religious terms into pop that appealed?
GABI: I’m inspired by religious music and it was supposed to be my own take on a hymn. I was interested in contrasting the other-worldly feel of that word with the other lyrics, blood and water; so human blood, this grounded thing, is merged with mysticism and transcendence.
Sympathy is out 7 April, 2015 from Software