Writing about music, I’ve received countless pitches over the years for songs that mix genres, or sound like if X artist met Y artist. Some of these songs are impressive, but I’ve come to realize that cool songs only go so far. They might land in playlists, or get sent in group chats as neat things to listen to, but music that finds an engaged, lasting audience, is music rooted in lore and belief. Because it’s about more than some neat songs. The ethos behind music that lasts is an extension of the artist who created it, and it’s the source code that characterizes a fanbase as more than a group of people who listen to the same thing, but rather, a group of people who choose to believe in something greater than cool songs. This is where gabby start comes in.
gabby start is the artist project of a 20-year old NYU student formerly known as Knapsack. And while gabby’s songs are neat as they come, pairing the energy and anthemic qualities of rock music with EDM drum kits and pop song structures, they’re also rooted in a value system that defines what the artist project is all about. Ambition, giving a shit, being confident in your taste, and making stuff with your friends; all the ideals of an artist born in the internet generation, where superstars come from nothing and turn into something right in front of our eyes.
Now that the ethos behind gabby start has been established, the journey is ready to begin with gabby’s first release. Stadiums are the goal, online EDM communities from the early 2010s are the source, and “sydney” is the thesis statement that kicks it all off.
As gabby notes in one of our conversations, this is the EDM kid to popstar pipeline, and it begins today.
Music video DP/Edit – ayodeji
Creative Direction – gabby start
Watch the “sydney” music video above, stream the song here, and read an excerpt of my conversation with gabby start below.
LL: Your music clearly mixes genres and influences, but I think there’s a better word for it than just “genre-fluid,” which has almost become cliche at this point. It seems much more intentional than that. Sonically, where does gabby start come from?
The number one thing I want to cite as an origin for my artistry is Monstercat music from 2012 to 2014 (Author’s Note: Monstercat was one of the first online hubs for electronic music). They were the source of all the YouTube gamer intros and outros, like “Top 10 Ways to Get Free Gems in Clash of Clans.” What was really interesting about Monstercat was that they separated their music into subgenres of EDM, and each subgenre was represented by its own color on the channel. House music was orange, dubstep was purple. You knew what type of EDM genre you were going to get with each new release, and they would release two or three new tracks every week.
There was a really strong community based around that music, and while it’s not necessarily a value of electronic or dance music to be super ‘catchy’ as much as it is to have crazy drops and sound design, Monstercat really had a knack for picking artists that put crack in these songs. The melodies were so crazy and catchy, and even though the music was EDM, the production base of the Monstercat music shared a lot of similarities with pop music around that time, like Katy Perry, or Benny Blanco and Max Martin’s work.
LL: Were you interested in pop music at the time?
Growing up, I was always a little anti-pop music, thirteen years old in eighth grade being like nah, I’m not big on this top 40 shit — I listen to EDM, the real shit. I wanted to make EDM, I wanted to be an EDM star. Once I got to high school, though, I was introduced to more pop music and the world of “anti-pop music,” per se. Brockhampton and Kevin Abstract were really important for me, and that music helped form the ethos of what I was trying to do.
I’ve gone back and forth denying influences from my past, but a big thrust of energy for the [gabby start] project was when I realized that everything I had been listening to from EDM to boyband music like Big Time Rush that I loved when I was little — those things can be assets. You don’t have to repress the influence of the music you liked when you were younger.
Because of that, when I started writing this project, a sonic palette really started to come together with “sydney” where I was like okay, I’m really into using this EDM sample pack that I downloaded when I was 13 for these drums, and I’m going to play my electric guitar in my interface with all these amps on it to build on that. It’s rock music and I’m a rock artist, but using EDM to accomplish my goal because that’s what I grew up on and that’s what I’m best at. It’s the sound I want to hear, but in a way best suited to my abilities.
I was doing the same kind of thing with the Knapsack stuff, but I think I really embraced the campy quality of the music a little more when I was making this, which gives it more energy. It’s silly and overdramatic and fun and in-your face, it’s not supposed to be subdued. It’s campy but it’s still earnest.
LL: It’s interesting getting older and revisiting the music you grew up with, almost admitting to yourself that so much of what you pushed away for years was actually really good — there’s a reason you identified with it in the first place.
Exactly, and I hope the way it comes off for people who have been on a similar journey is that it’s just a weight off of your shoulders. The idea that we should be worried or insecure about our taste really doesn’t matter. You should feel the joy of being into all of this stupid, cringy stuff.
I guess in a way, the goal here is really self-love and positivity and all of these cliche things. That’s really what we’re working on — trying to make people feel a little better, not worse.
LL: Another quality of the gabby start artist project is that it rubs off the too school for school attitude, and is very proud and open about being ambitious and caring a lot. It reminds me of how Brockhampton labeled themselves as a boyband even when they were a bunch of random kids making music without any audience. I think that spoke to how much they cared, and how big they intended for their music to get.
Absolutely, that’s the alchemical quality of everything I’m doing right now: that we can turn our coal into gold, so to speak. There’s an idea that I can make this song on a laptop in my bedroom and then play it to a stadium one day. Everybody can know it, and it can sound great in that context despite where it came from.
LL: How do you channel that type of aspiration when you’re making music in your bedroom?
I just sit and I fantasize. Between the sounds I’m putting together and the aspiration I have for what I’m making, I really want to go there and I really want to see the music go far because I believe in it that much. That type of fantasy is like a drug. I guess I just sort of ride the high until the song is over. Then I have to wait a few months for it to come out [laughs].
LL: That level of aspiration seems more common in the “internet age,” so to speak, because the journey from nothing to something is so much more visible with social media. We’ve seen things blow up first-hand, which makes superstardom feel a little more possible.
I think so, too. A big motivator for this project was that I became obsessed with the idea of finding a mechanical way to pop off. I listen to all of these things that have been super successful in the past or stuff that accomplishes a goal I want to accomplish, and I can break down the math that made it work and then just copy that math. Equations are for everybody to use. I might really like how someone put their project out and revealed it to the world, or how the project caught people’s attention, and copy specific things about that rollout that I especially enjoyed. It also works in songwriting, where I can see that historically, this type of song structure works really well for pop songs, so I use that structure in a way that works for me. I can take those mathematical qualities and apply them to my own project to find some sense of direction.
I don’t have all of the skills in the world, but if I can copy other people’s homework, I bet I can yield some of the same results.
LL: That type of research brings us back to this idea of caring, of giving a shit. You give a shit!
It’s an obsession with giving a shit. Too many shits are given, honestly.
LL: What does a popstar look like to you?
I think the point of popstars is to convince people that they like something they didn’t know they liked. It’s someone who is just a little bit different, who figured out how to hit a strange pocket that nobody knew they needed. PinkPantheress is a great example of that — she’s figured out this strange little pocket that a popstar in 2021 needed to occupy. And it exploded, because people connected with it so much. She convinced a whole generation of gen-Z TikTok kids that they like UK garage and MIDI guitars and silly vocals, and this sort of Y2K aesthetic — she convinced them that this was something they needed for their identity.
Personally, I’m just a regular ass white kid. So, I don’t really have anything externally special that I offer. I’m not different or better than anyone else in how I look or how I act, but I believe that in the pocket I’m trying to occupy, people can really be convinced that it’s something they needed.
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LL: What’s different between your older work as Knapsack and what you’re now doing as gabby start?
I think a big, noticeable difference between what I’m doing now and what I was doing with my old stuff is the visuals of it. We spent a lot of time making sure we got the visuals right for gabby start. I want there to be a visual language for the project. I don’t just want people to hear the music and identify with it — I also want people to see the colors, the locations, the imagery, the drawings, and how I present myself on camera. I want people to really feel and understand the persona and the lore of it.
There have been so many times where I’ve really identified with an artist, or felt like they captured something that resonates with me and my own life and the way I see the world. That feeling is what I want someone to feel with this project.
LL: Especially in an age where so much music seems to chase immediacy and virality, that perspective is important. It’s a really strong foundational value to start an artist project with.
Definitely, but that isn’t to put it on a pedestal of any kind. I want to chase making something that makes 16-year old me really happy, but it doesn’t make the art better or worse than something that somebody else is doing.
Obviously I have no idea whether or not my music is going to last. I don’t know if it’s the shit that’s going to matter 10 years from now — that’s out of my control. So I have to do everything in my control today to make sure it’s something I want, something that’s really fun and exciting and explosive.
gabby start begins today.
Watch the “sydney” music video here and stream the song below.