I CALL GABRIELLE SMITH as I sit in the glistening Portland rain by a bus stop outside my therapist's office. Smith and her band, meanwhile, are driving to a show through the North Carolina countryside, which, based on the spotty cell reception, I can only assume is idyllically rural. Neither of us planned on these conditions—practically speaking, they're less than ideal—but it turns out there might not be a better environment to interview Smith, who writes and records under the name Eskimeaux.
"I spend a huge chunk of my life traveling," she says. "Even before being in a lot of bands I spent a lot of time on trains and buses because I lived in Philly and had a job in New York. The majority of my alone time occurs while I'm in movement, and that's where I do most of my songwriting." Smith is sitting shotgun in a car with members of Eskimeaux's current touring lineup, Oliver Kalb and Jack Greenleaf. All three belong to a rotating cast of artists in a Brooklyn-based collective that calls itself the Epoch. In addition to Eskimeaux, Smith records and tours whenever she can with Frankie Cosmos, Told Slant, Kalb's band Bellows, and several other acts in the collective.
Much like I'm imagining her current drive to be, Eskimeaux's most recent album, O.K., is filled with the clear imagery of beautiful passing scenery, but it's not without the subtle, unspoken uneasiness that comes with change. Smith's lyrics confront this discomfort and insecurity through painfully honest admissions, which gain their power in the singer's bravery in addressing those fears. This ability to adapt is a necessity within the Epoch, loosely defined by their secular proverb: "We were grown together, and are growing still." They are a collective seemingly always in a period of transition, with artists garnering more recognition and, in turn, more demanding touring schedules.
"We're holding on as long as we can before things start to change. Right now we're touring with another drummer because [album drummer and Told Slant member] Felix [Walworth] is on tour with Florist," Smith says. "But I'm excited—this is the first time that I'm actually on my own. This is my first solo tour ever, my first time purchasing myself a plane ticket... there are just so many firsts."
New experiences unfold in Eskimeaux's dramatic pop songs, like looking out a bus window as jagged mountains suddenly shift into a bright skyline. O.K. attempts to capture the vastness of these singular moments in three-minute spurts with pulsating live drums, delicate vocal harmonies, and synthetic electronics. At times they are so overwhelmingly layered that they force me to latch onto something simple within them—one single riff, one particularly affirming line, one oddly shaped mountain peak standing out from the rest. Then the song is done, and the mountain becomes a speck in the horizon behind me. And just as the road begins to feel empty and alone, another song starts and another spot on the landscape emerges, and Smith sings, "We're not the same, but that's okay."