"Oh, how my heart can fly when your smile has good intentions/And 'hi' can mean the world to me."
Intoned with gossamer voicing and a profound vulnerability, the opening lyrics to "The Thunder Answered Back," off Gabby's World's 2015 record O.K., capture the simple yet devastating power of Gabrielle Smith's music. On the road somewhere between Salem and Arcata headed to her next gig, the frontwoman and producer of Gabby's World spoke with a wicked sense of self: "I understand the rules, so I can break them."
This is a level of self-assuredness that's evolved from over a decade of songwriting and lived experience. Evolving through various reincarnations, the band Gabby's World, formerly known as Ó and then Eskimeaux, began in 2007 when Smith started releasing experimental and noise albums. Throughout the last 12 years, the band has evolved in name and sound toward the boundless beat-driven bedroom-pop Gabby's World is known for today. Anchored by Smith's prose and ethereal voice, Gabby's World exudes a level of exuberance and emotional vulnerability that resonates deeply with listeners. It's music that soundtracks our widest grins and hardest cries.
Smith is a gifted songwriter, and her discography serves as a testament to that fact. Every word serves a purpose and paints with a rare vibrance. "I really love thinking about how reading a song is just as rewarding as listening to it, or rewarding in a totally different, but equal way," said Smith. "I tend to write my poems first, and then jam them into songs." Deeply personal songs are born out of this process, reflections of Smith's own triumphs and tribulations and the constant battles between the world around her and the inner workings of her mind.
Gabby's World's 2018 record, Beast on Beast, takes on the isolation brought on by a public life, and features raucous rock operas alongside gentle minimalism. The opening track, "Winter, Withdraw," falls in the former category. Through rolling arrangements culminating in a thundering finale, Smith pleads, "Through the growing divide/will you please provide a cloudy feeling I can ride?" Atop warm guitars and decisive percussion of distinctly indie flavor, Smith reveals insecurities in the confessional "Body": "I've got this body./ This body without basic benefit of the doubt./I watch you treat me so delicately/ but if I fall I deserve it."
Smith speaks about her journey as a musician forthrightly. A classically taught violinist who sang in her choir growing up, Smith taught herself all of the instruments she currently plays in the band. "At first, I didn't have any idea what I was doing. I was just trying to make soundscapes and loops and trying to figure out what is song structure," said Smith. "I think the thing that changed the most over time is my understanding of and commitment to building and destroying song structure." It's this process of creation and devastation that shapes those kaleidoscopic soundscapes.
This year marks a decade of touring for the band, a milestone Smith never thought attainable: "My understanding of how a musician works has just been unfolding. When I first started, it was a realization I genuinely had that musicians are people ... I thought of them in this very immortalized way."
Their upcoming show will be the fourth time Smith has played in Orlando, and according to her, "We always play at Will's Pub." And the City Beautiful has left an indelible imprint on the band's collective heart, in large part due to a show at Will's years ago with a scary hesher biker who refused to pay an $8 cover, and a soft-spoken bouncer who had a job to do. Weird and wonderful, it is these quintessentially Orlando moments that keep the band coming back. In that way and more, "hi" can mean the world to us as well.