dinsdag 8 juli 2014

Interview with singer-songwriter Gretchen Lohse

 by Wout de Natris

© WoNo Magazine 2014

In February we published a review of Gretchen Lohse's debut album 'Primal rumble'. The post is one of the better read articles this year, so we reached out to Gretchen and asked several questions that have to do with the music and lyrics on her album. Sit back and enjoy. As a service below there's a link to Primal rumble, so you can listen to Gretchen's music while reading (and preferably buy the album after doing so).

As most readers may not be familiar with you, how would you like to introduce yourself?
I am a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia.  I have been playing music for as long as I can remember, but I only just put out my first solo album at the tail end of last year.

Primal rumble is your first solo album. Before you played in a band. What made you switch to being a solo artist?

When I play with other musicians, it’s because I like and trust what they do on their instruments.  Even though all the songs that Yellow Humphrey (my band) played were ones that I had written, I very rarely give any direction.  Letting other people put their own musical views in and having a song grow into something totally different than what I would have come up with on my own is a really exciting thing.  For Primal Rumble, I had a fairly specific vision.  All the songs that I write are usually a reflection of something in my life, but this batch of songs was much more personal and I wanted to let them breathe. 

Primal rumble sounds somewhat prehistorically ominous, in sharp contrast to the music. What made you chose this title for the album?

I felt like the song Primal Rumble was sort of an umbrella song for all the other songs on the album.  In my mind, they all seemed to relate back to it, so I wanted to lay out that connection.

I also had been playing a videogame with a similar title around the time I came up with the name, so maybe that influenced me too.

The title song ‘Primal rumble’ plays out on the beach. Is the primal rumble within us the rumbling of the sea from which all life has sprung or am I interpreting in a totally wrong direction here?

Ha, no, not at all!  I wrote Primal Rumble after running around on the beach all night with friends during a super moon.  We had just been to the record release show of some of those friends and it was just one of those wonderful nights where you feel filled with electricity.  I had each person who was there write to me about it and then I took ideas from there  to write the lyrics.  I like the idea of using songs to record events. 

The music on Primal rumble is very intimate. Was this a conscious choice or did the songs grow organically into this sound?

Very conscious.  I write songs tucked away in my room, alone.  I felt like I wanted to pass these songs along fairly close to the way that they first existed.  Sort of as a way to let the listener in. 

The cover of Primal rumble is full of symbols. From a balloon around the head, that from a distance can well be mistaken for an aureole. As well as a key to unlock a heart. What is your message to us?

When I was writing the songs and designing the cover art, I was thinking about those things that are timeless even far into the future - the innate parts of human nature.  The primal parts of us!  I made up a story of a girl who lives a thousand years from now and those objects are artifacts of the world we are in now.  Each symbol corresponds to a song on the album.

Primal rumble was produced by Rick Flom who created a very mystical surrounding for your songs. How did you divide the duties while recording the album?

Oh, I don’t even know!  We’ve been recording and making music together for so many years now that it’s just sort of second nature.  As soon as I write a new song, maybe only minutes after I feel like it’s done, I get Rick to do a room recording of what I’ve come up with.  It’s just me singing and playing guitar, which is very similar to what I wanted for the album.  There are also cats who seem to like creating extra noise whenever I’m recording, so that helps too.   

Who influenced you most as a songwriter?

There have been a number of people who influenced me over the years. 

Sibylle Baier recording in the night while her family slept.  Nick Drake’s poetic lyrics.  Joni Mitchell’s free flowing vocal melodies.  Ronnie Lane’s unjaded pursuit of a musical life.  

In ‘All around the river’ you wish to be a tree, which is alive, but immobile and moves with the wind; a pharaoh, who was alive but now extinct as a ruling form and; a sailboat, a thing but mobile through wind. What is the connection between the three that made you choose them as subjects in the song “you wish to be”?

They were all things that seem to be peaceful and untouchable.  It comes from a real place of feeling like a very imperfect and messy person, like I’m still figuring out everything while everyone else seems to have it all together.  They are also three things that show up my thoughts and life regularly; trees and ancient cultures and boats.     

Nature, elements and animals all play a role in several songs. Does nature inspire you?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve been drawn to the outdoors since I was little and busy building houses out of branches with my cousins. 

I love living in a city for the community and exposure to new ideas and projects others are working on, but sometimes it can make me feel a bit scattered.  It’s when I’m hiking or being still in a quiet place that I can become centred and really listen to my own thoughts. 

In ‘Ornament of the enamoured heart’ the “I” is clearly in love, but there is also a declaration of independence: “I’ll never belong to anyone. Does the one exclude the other in your opinion?

No, I don’t think so.  The song is about loving someone from afar.  Maybe it’s a one-sided romance and the other doesn’t have a clue...and that’s ok.  Sometimes it’s ok to love like this.  A person can make your days brighter and make you feel more alive without even knowing that they’re doing it.  There’s a power in this independence, but maybe a little loneliness too. 

Violin or guitar?

This may be too close to call!  Violin was my introduction to music and writing and improvising melodies, but guitar gave me the power to put my words to those melodies. 

What can we expect from you in the near future?

I’m currently working on a second album with the same folks and have about half of the songs recorded.  There are drums on some of the songs!  It’s probably too early to give a release date, but I’m hoping I can get it out before the end of the year.

Should you be wondering about the music that goes with this interview, 'Primal rumble' can be listened to and bought for only $6 on Gretchen's Bandcamp site:


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