Gabrielle Wortman (Smoke Season) Talks Personal and Creative Growth
Los Angeles-based pop duo Smoke Season, made up of Gabrielle Wortman and Jason Rosen, has released music at a steady clip over the previous five years and met every release with a fresh take on their musical approach and collaborative relationship. Gabrielle Wortman spoke to TIDAL right before the release of their latest single, “Sweetest Thing,” to talk about the formation of the group and how their personal developments have impacted their latest music.
Check out Smoke Season and “Sweetest Thing” on our TIDAL Rising: Pop playlist below.
Do you have ritualistic approaches to your creative process?
It’s deeply rooted in our sense of spirituality. We definitely meditate on creative decisions. A lot of the themes we pursue are concentrated on being more in touch with yourself, whether it is sexually or spiritually. I think a lot of that is pretty prevalent in our music, one of which is the most recent single, ‘Sweetest Thing.’
Do you think those feelings of connectivity were not fully achieved in your previous work and projects?
I think we emotionally evolved at a rapid pace. I think artists tend to naturally do that. We are just not the same people we were when we last made music together. The last EP we came out was in 2015 [Ouroboros], leading up to the election, and things were really intense. It still is, but we were very socially and politically conscious, including what we explored in our music videos. We’ve noticed ourselves not feeling the same way we did years ago and a different natural state of creation naturally coming out from working together.
How did yourself and Jason Rosen meet?
Through our individual projects, we were sharing the same rehearsal space. One day, we were just jamming, and it was so natural. It fell into place accidentally and we decided to simply start a side project. We are a perfect example of each other’s skills benefitting the other and filling whatever the other may lack. Jason is trained in jazz and has a mindset geared that way, and I’m a classically trained pianist and producer. It ended up becoming this innate thing and that ended up taking over our other projects.
How does the music now consider all of these personal changes and present themselves in this new album?
We try to preserve our autonomy as musicians. We’ve had different journeys in these past few years. I hate to speak for him, Jason has been on his own to reclaim his own ethnic background. Jason is half-Jamaican, and he felt like he never had permission or the ‘right’ to create something true to his ethnic background. He always extracted that guilt into his music. You can hear in the new material, that this is the first dive and toeing the water to all of these reggae tones. I’ve never heard him closer to his artistic identity.
I, in my own journey, had gone through a sexual assault, and I thought my lyrics would be angry and full of pain. As the music was coming to fruition, the music ended feeling a little more empowered and made me feel like I had a little more ownership of my sensuality. Making music that caused me to move and dance and adding the reggae tinge caused these two journeys to meet up in a really beautiful way.
Something I really appreciate is your activity on stage. I feel as though that comes either naturally or is an intentional movement. Where does this desire to move come from?
As a kid, I definitely sang a lot in front of people. I loved performing, but I’ve never had this sort of physicality nature onstage. I used to be really shy onstage when we were first started out. I realized, ‘How is the crowd going to lose their inhibitions or feel free if I’m doing neither of those things?’ A little switch turned on in my mind, and I felt compelled to get as emotionally saturated as possible and fit all these modes of expression onstage. I had vocal cord surgery, and it’s really hard to learn to sing again after something like that. I started really taking care of my voice, I really started having to train for shows. I don’t plan anything, but it’s so cathartic.
When is a song finished for Smoke Season?
Definitely not until the both of us have touched it in some way. We can each put a sonic touch on words the others have written. We love to test each other and challenge each other when creating. I won’t tell Jason what key I am in, and we will jam and find a middle ground. We are always contributing different shades to the music. ‘Sweetest Thing’ came from one lyric that I kept repeating in my head (‘you are the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen up close’), and Jason helped me create from that one place and idea and really expand it to this full song.
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