Introducing GABI

Interview by Sander van Dalsum

The first time I listened to GABI’s music, I was miles high. There were no drugs involved; I was literally on an airplane passing by a brightly lit blue sky, surrounded by fluffy white clouds. Looking outside the small window, there couldn’t be a better view for listening to the spatial composition of the classically trained opera singer. Hailing from Daniel Lopatin’s Software label, Gabrielle Herbst uses her celestial voice as an instrument in a manner that’s very rare in today’s pop culture. We talked to Gabi about spontaneity, nights at the opera and bad coffee.

Hey Gabrielle! Have you done anything spontaneous this week?

Yeah, I have! I recorded music for someone. It’s the beginning of a collaboration that’s not really ready to be announced yet. I was being given someone else’s material and had this completely open slate to improvise on top of it, coming up with my own melodies. That feels like one of the most raw, spontaneous things that I can do. I’m also doing this thing tomorrow called ‘Against the Clock’, with Fact Magazine. I have to write a song in ten minutes, haha.

You sound like you’re the kind of person that doesn’t think stuff through before doing it…

If that very first cup of coffee is really bad for some reason I just get so sad

Definitely; I am somebody that really goes with my intuition and my gut feeling with ideas. Sometimes I conceptualise ideas in advance, but when I actually sit down and work on them, they always transform in the moment. I’m very much into working with improvisation and discovery.

How’s that when you’re not making music?

Gosh, I try to hold on to being spontaneous in my every day life, which can be difficult when you get really busy and you have lots of responsibilities and schedules. I would say that I’m working on sustaining spontaneity in my everyday life though, haha. I live near the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; I love just wandering over there on the off hours, when it’s really empty. It’s beautiful and I try to just think and not do anything and do unplanned things.

Are there things that can ruin a day like that?

Haha, gosh. Yeah, like a bad cup of coffee in the morning is really, really bad for me. I’m a severe coffee addict and I love it so much. It’s actually one of my favourites of the day. If that very first cup of coffee is really bad for some reason I just get so sad.

Speaking of things that can ruin a day, what do people say when you tell them you sing opera?

When I tell people that I do classical or operatic singing, I definitely get a funny reaction or they give me a weird look. They’re like: “oh, wow. I wasn’t expecting that!” I think people don’t really know how to engage with classical singing sometimes. It’s a different aesthetic and taste.

Do you think people have assumptions about opera?

Yeah… it’s interesting to me how opera used to be and how it is now. Once it was the heart of pop culture. People used to go to the opera much more than they do now. For a lot of people opera is thought of as specialized, or even a bit archaic; something you can’t listen to everyday. To go to the opera on the weekends on a date, that’s more rare than it used to be, which is too bad.

One of my own assumptions about opera singers is that they’re very disciplined and that all they do is practice. In a way, the antithesis to spontaneity.

I like unraveling layers and I think that the first impression is just that first layer

Well yeah, when you’re singing classically it’s really important that you know how to stay in tune and stay on key. Technique is a big part of it, having a clear tone and being able to reach different kinds of notes, singing them in a scale really quickly. And all of that definitely takes practice, but I don’t overdo it. It’s important to also take care of your voice and make sure you’re not over-singing. If I have a lot of performances, it’s really important not to talk to anybody and be very silent. I often have to become a mime because I have to save my voice, which is always difficult for people around me. I just act out different things with my hands and my face, haha.

How about first impressions? Do they influence you a lot?

I would say so. I try not to judge people on first impressions because often they’re much more complicated than that. But I like unraveling layers and I think that the first impression is just that first layer. At the same time I feel like I often get a gut feeling instantaneously.

So you can rely on your intuition, you would say?

Yeah, although my intuition leaves me at stray sometimes. But I’ve been following it anyway and have been happy with the results so far. Usually it only leaves me regretting the times I’d go against my intuition.

Gabi takes on The Rest is Noise at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam next Monday, 18 May. She’s joined by Megan Remy’s U.S. Girls. The show is free for Subbacultcha members.