Photo credit: Luis Ruiz
Gabbi Coenen, also known as RVBY MY DEAR, is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist born in Western Australia and now Brooklyn-based. Coenen just released the deeply emotive single, “Draw”, and we had a few words after obsessing over this melancholic work of wonder.
How did you learn to sing? Who introduced you first to performing?
Coenen: I took piano and singing lessons growing up, first in classical and then switched to jazz when I was around 16. I then majored in jazz voice in university, so that’s where most of my training comes from. I didn’t really try to imitate any famous singers until I went to university, so singers like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae and Gretchen Parlato were big touchstones. There wasn’t a specific person who introduced me to performing, but my younger brother (who’s now an actor) and I did community theatre growing up, and he acted in a lot of short films and TV series. My parents were very supportive of us pursuing careers in the arts, though we were always reminded that if we wanted to actually go for it, we had to work hard and be professional and take it just as seriously as any other career.
How much do you identify as a Brooklyn-based artist? Or do you feel closer to your home roots?
Coenen: It’s a mix of the two – I certainly wouldn’t be making the sort of music I’m making these days if I hadn’t moved to New York, but on the other hand a lot of my formative influences stem from the Australian music scene, especially as a vocalist. It feels a little weird to claim Brooklyn specifically, since there are so many transplants here who don’t have much connection to the community, but I’m definitely a huge fan and have taken inspiration from so much of the music that’s come out of this scene in the last decade. And I’m lucky in that since I’ve moved here I’ve become friends and played shows with a lot of incredibly talented musicians who are born-and-raised Brooklynites and been able to immerse myself more in the scene that way.
Which projects have been the most inspiring to you from Brooklyn in the last decade?
Coenen: I think it’s been ten years now since “Bitte Orca” by Dirty Projectors was released – that album was formative for me as a songwriter, and Amber Coffman is still one of my favorite singers. Other singer/producers such as Anna Wise and Casey Dienel, and a venue in Bed-Stuy called Cmon Everybody is hands-down the best in the city when it comes to booking super diverse and talented lineups. My friends’ bands, there’s way too many to list here but small handful would be Madam West, The NYChillharmonic, L’Rain, Tiny Hazard, Space Captain…
Aside from musical influences, what influences your sound?
Coenen: Lyrically I pull a lot from movies, tv shows and books; I would die of embarrassment if anyone ever went through the Notes app on my phone, there’s so many random quotes in there. I’m inspired a lot by film scores and other visual mediums, and I usually try to fit the music I write to an image in my mind, as if I’m scoring a film. With our previous single, “10:17”, that bell sound at the beginning was inspired by park lights flickering on and off. And with “Draw”, I’d recently visited Bristol just before writing it, so I tried to capture the mood of that city with the chords, before adding any lyrics. I don’t really experiment much with found sounds, I know that’s very “in” right now, but I’m curious to do more with that side of production in the future. And ultimately, I always write with the intention to frame my voice in the best way possible, so that informs everything from what key the song is in, to the instrumentation, to even just the syllables and sounds of the lyrics.
Can you share any specific moments from your recent trip to Bristol? I’d love to hear more about the mood you experienced.
Coenen: We were actually only there for a few hours, as we’d spent the last few days driving around Wales and the west countryside of England, so my experience of the city was very surface level. But obviously it’s one of the birthplaces of street art, so being able to see these huge building-size artworks in person was amazing. And I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a huge fan of the music that came out of that city in the 90s, so that colored my perspective a lot – dark, gritty, intense. I’d love to go back and spend more time there.
What are your favorite film noir and Western movies?
Coenen: My favorites would have to be “Mildred Pierce” and “The Night of the Hunter” – the latter is about this Southern preacher who goes from town to town seducing widows and stealing their money; it’s one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen from that era.