GABI | Empty Me

by Kyle Huewe

The rarity of credentials in contemporary music has become increasingly stagnant, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we sometimes forget that such credentials even exist. But if we ever needed a reminder of the power held by classically trained musicians and composers, we mustn’t look any further than GABI’s sophomore album, Empty Me, produced with Eric Littmann.

Album Art; photo credit: Brian Vu

Album Art; photo credit: Brian Vu

A sleepy lull through time, this album rejects the norms of genre, slowing to a crawl and examining life through the lens of wide instrumentation and thoughtful composition efforts. In fact, Gabrielle Herbst – the mastermind behind the aforementioned moniker – wants to make music that slows everything down, something of an antidote for navigating this overstimulated, technology-embedded world. Yet, she still considers herself some facet of a pop artist, perhaps in some of the least conventional modes of the term.

Herbst is a classically-trained pianist, vocalist, and composer, attending Bard College and learning under such influencers as Joan Tower, Zeena Parkins, and Marina Rosenfeld. She is also soon to attend the Yale School of Music in pursuit of a Masters in music.

In short, GABI knows exactly what she is doing.

Empty Me acts as a reminder to Herbst and listeners to take care of oneself, despite life’s commonly faced drawbacks – a form of rightful meditation set atop a melodic dream-world of instrumentation that not only provokes the most visionary of the senses, but elucidates a sense of calming, almost as if everything is going to be alright in the end.

That is, everything will be alright if we can somehow suppress the sheer something-to-be-desired effect captured all too well by GABI’s reverberated, haunting, well-defined vocals. Unlike any other, she has the undeniable ability to induce this forth-looking effect in listeners, bringing up anxieties while simultaneously helping us alleviate them, much to the effect of the best clinically trained therapists money can buy.

“Sleep,” released as a defining single prior to the album’s launch, plays on GABI’s hardships of insomnia. She’d wake up in the middle of the night with the unavoidable urge to compose – which she did, half-awake atop her keyboard. This album, while sharing a similar atmosphere to GABI’s 2015 debut, Sympathy, takes on a life of its own, a project more deep and experimental than her first. Empty Me, the first of her releases to be put out by Double Double Whammy, more directly confronts bare musical necessity. Herbst’s intentions were to find that element of necessity in music, therefore finding it in herself and stripping everything else away.

Gabrielle Herbst; photo credit: Brian Vu

Gabrielle Herbst; photo credit: Brian Vu

Furthermore, Herbst believes Empty Me to be a celebration of musical and self-discovery, collaboration, and community. Contributors on the album are prolific to say the least: violinist Jacob Falby, flutist Laura Cox, and percussionist Matt Evans, to name merely a few. Beforehand, GABI was predominantly a singular production effort – however, she was thrilled when so many people wanted to put their unique stamp on the project.

In the spring of 2017, following a North American and European tour in honor of Sympathy, Herbst began experimenting with Dale Eisinger, herself focusing primarily on piano and vocals – these experiments became the rough draft sound that would eventually manifest Empty Me.

The distinctive soundscapes of the project didn’t truly come to fruition, however, until she began arranging tracks with harpist Marilu Donovan and bass clarinetist Mara Mayer. It was here that GABI had her biggest musical breakthrough, finding what was, to her, a “new sound” that she couldn’t tear herself away from. Herbst and Littmann then worked tirelessly for seven months – in between full-time jobs – to bring such sounds to life, constantly tinkering with the biology of the album’s roots. “Whole With You,” a single from Empty Me, went through so many major changes that GABI described it as an experience of loss, only to subsequently become whole.

While Herbst has a laundry list of accolades and experiences under her belt, and has even more to come in the near future – she is currently working on a new opera titled “Ashes,” commissioned by Roulette and the Jerome Foundation, and actively writes classical pieces for the Nouveau Classical Project – she believes Empty Me will begin a new chapter in what is already a multifaceted career.