Gretchen Menn: after learning to fly

Gretchen Menn - Wings: Photo by Purebred Photo

Gretchen Menn: after learning to fly

 The real Gretchen Menn, after the show, loading the gear. Photo by Diana Cordero

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Gretchen Menn in San Francisco at the benefit gig for Jason Becker at Slims night club back in March 2011. I was in San Francisco for just a few days just for the show and I was really enjoying the American experience. We had just arrived at the venue in the early afternoon. The place was a hive of activity with people setting up the show. The venue is filled with top guitar players, all here to celebrate the genius that is Jason Becker. I’m super hyped, everywhere you turn there are number one guitar players, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen, Steve Lukather to name but a few... I can see Mike Varney out of the corner of my eye... my heart is racing... here I am 5291 miles from home and feeling like a very happy fish out of water! In the darkness of the hall, I can see a diminutive, stunning, redhead. She is standing quietly whilst all around the noise and mayhem of preparations for the Jason Becker gig continues apace...

I’m saying to myself... hey that’s Gretchen Menn, yes that’s Gretchen Menn!! I walk forward and ask as politely as I can... “Hi, Gretchen? it’s Laurie Monk from Truth In Shredding”. Fortunately for me it seems that Gretchen has heard of the Truth In Shredding blog and I'm not met with a negative response. Gretchen thanks me for the support I have given to her and we have a short talk and I get some pictures, but the meeting is all too brief, but I vow to myself that when I get back I will organise an interview with this talented player.

"Valentino's Victory Lap" by Gretchen Menn itunes

[Laurie Monk] I’m  always a little nervous of breaking into conversation with people who I know from my blog but who may not know me at all... so I apologise in advance if you were a little surprised by my interjection... I have to say It was a really nice surprise to know that you had heard of the blog. I was really hoping to see you play at the show. What did you make of the event?

[Gretchen Menn] It was a profoundly beautiful evening—absolutely amazing to have been in a room with so many talented musicians, and all there to support Jason Becker, one of the most inspiring human beings on the planet. And it was lovely to meet you! I was, indeed, familiar with Truth in Shredding, and glad you said hello.

[Laurie Monk] As I mentioned really wanted to line up an interview with you but getting the time for these things is always tough, so I appreciate you taking the time out to answer a few questions.

[Gretchen Menn] My pleasure. Finishing up my album has made the last couple of months especially hectic, but I always love to talk music.

[Laurie Monk] Your father, Don Menn, is a well-known stalwart of the guitar industry, he was an editor of the number one guitar magazine, Guitar Player. Were you aware of this fact when you were just a little girl, was you childhood an environment steeped in guitar?
Gretchen Menn catches up on a little Guitar Player article. Photo by Bryan Perido
[Gretchen Menn] Not at all, actually. Music was never forced on me. It was available once I expressed interest, but for most of my childhood, I just thought of my dad as a writer. I think I had a vague sense that the magazine where he worked had something to do with guitars or music, but I didn't take much notice in what he did until after my interest developed on its own.

[Laurie Monk] I have a daughter of my own and I often wonder what she makes of my passion for guitar, particularly that I’m playing guitar music all the time. So I’m really interested to know if Don’s musical influences impacted you at all or did you think “I wish dad would turn that music off?!”

[Gretchen Menn] I remember my dad listening to Bob Dylan and Beethoven. Maybe he was getting his fill of guitar albums at work! Both my parents loved music, and played everything from reggae to opera. My mom often took my sister and me to the ballet, opera, and musicals, so she contributed to the love for music and early experiences of it. Your daughter is a lucky girl to be introduced to music by someone so passionate about it!

[Laurie Monk] Thanks... I'll remind her of that fact, when she asks me to turn it off... Are there any favourite albums that you can thank your dad for playing?

[Gretchen Menn] A lot of Bob Dylan records. Not exactly “guitar albums” but great songwriting, and lyrics in a class by themselves.

[Laurie Monk] That is a good place to be, after all songs underpin the popularity of all guitar players. I know you’ve been playing for a long while and you have a lot of live experience, but how did you start playing guitar?

[Gretchen Menn]
I had fallen in love with the guitar in high school, but didn’t really take it up until my first year of college, actually! Smith College had a very classically-focused music department, so electric guitar was not taught or academically acknowledged. I did have my first electric guitar with me in my dorm room, my blue "Music Man Silhouette" and started applying to it the theory I was learning in the classroom. A few months into my first year, I started hearing about Phillip de Fremery, the classical guitar teacher for all of the colleges in the area. He had been a student of Andres Segovia, and was reputed to be phenomenal, not just as a musician, but also as a teacher. I had heard that he was so methodical and detail-oriented that all of his students had perfect technique. I loved classical music and thought, "Yeah, sign me up for perfect technique!" I studied with Phil during the rest of my time in college, and even still make occasional pilgrimages back to the east coast to study with him. He is, indeed, absolutely phenomenal, and I owe a tremendous amount to him—he taught me the patience, focus, and attention to detail that I call upon every day.

[Laurie Monk] I feel It is important to have a someone who inspires you and it seems that Phillip de Fremery has played that role. As you say, you started out your professional journey by studying classical guitar at Smith College. My examination of the guitar world I perceive there to be significantly more female classical players than there are rock players, were you planning on becoming a classical concert guitarist?

Gretchen Menn, Featured Artist

[Gretchen Menn] No, I never intended to become a classical guitarist. I loved studying with Phil, and really appreciate the discipline, the technique, and compositions in the repertoire, but I could never commit to one genre. Becoming a classical concert guitarist would have meant complete commitment to the path.

[Laurie Monk] That's an interesting insight and might explain why you changed course. I notice that once you had graduated you went straight on to train as a commercial pilot, I guess like Steve Morse and Bruce Dickinson have also done. What made you decide become a pilot, it’s not an easy thing to do, lots of effort and difficult calculations?

[Gretchen Menn] As graduation approached, I started thinking about what was to be my next step. I graduated a year early with a degree in music, so I had been studying classical guitar for a little less than three years. I noticed so many musicians who seemed disenchanted, jaded, or bitter, and I never wanted to become that way. I was, and am, so grateful to have a passion--not everyone does--and the last thing I wanted was for my love of music to become tainted by the necessity of paying rent. I decided that I would do music on my own terms, follow my muses instead of the pay cheques, and find financial stability elsewhere.

I had taken a few flight lessons capriciously while I was in college, loved being in the air, but flying was much too expensive for a hobby. Yet, my reasoning was that if I had graduated early, thereby saving a year’s worth of tuition cost, pursuing flying as a career was more justifiable. Not only would it eventually pay me back for my initial investment in training, it would provide a great counterpart to music—something that was fun, challenging, allowed for a flexible schedule, and worked other parts of my brain, thereby leaving me eager to pick up my guitar at the end of my day, as opposed to draining me of my will to live, much less practice!

I found flight training fun and the material straight-forward, if dense at times. Memorizing an airplane’s electrical system or understanding how the shape of a wing contributes to the production of lift require memorization and an understanding of basic scientific concepts. And having just come out of college, I was used to processing new information. Keep in mind that in college, you are asked write papers on topics like, “Analyze how Nietzche’s concepts of the Apollonian and Dionysian are manifested in Death in Venice by Thomas Mann,” so flying a plane—and the associated study—felt like just another fun and interesting thing to do.

[Laurie Monk] [Laughs...] good point! Now that you are back into the band and guitar scene you’ll just need to make it big so you can fly yourself to gigs like Bruce Dickinson does for Iron Maiden. What made you think, I guess like Steve Morse did... you know flying is great but I want to play guitar again?

Gretchen Menn - Music Man Silhouette: Photo by Max Crace
[Gretchen Menn] Ha! Yes, indeed. I’d love to own a plane if I ever make the kind of money that will support having one.

I hadn’t intended to go to the airlines, but when I was offered a job flying a regional jet, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. The plane was gorgeous, but airline flying is, out of necessity, very routine. I felt unchallenged, and left after a year. I had what many would have considered a dream job, and I owed it to myself and to the person whose dream I was occupying to go where my heart was, and that was music.

[Laurie Monk] Great to see you have a real motivational drive... and make tough decision too, that can be so difficult for people.  I know you’re a guitar player first and foremost now, but do you sing as well? Could we be seeing you following the model of singer songwriter at some point, something rather like Orianthi has done successfully quite recently, or do you see yourself solely as a lead guitar player?

[Gretchen Menn] I see myself as a musician and composer and eternal student. Guitar is my beloved instrument, and that is where my focus is now. I wish I could sing, but I would rather work to really get this guitar thing down as best I can. And having a sister trained in opera may have contributed to my decision to shut up and play my guitar.

[Laurie Monk] You have really got a name for yourself as a lead guitar player particularly from your work with the all girl Led Zeppelin tribute band Zepparella. I always think it must be a lot of fun being in an all girl band a lot of camaraderie. The market has a lot of female cover bands too with bands like the Iron Maidens and Misstallica just as examples. In your opinion are these all girl bands a result of the difficulty of women being accepted in the rock community or are they a positive response to the demand for female musicians by females and males alike?

[Gretchen Menn] I think the prevalence of girl tribute bands may be as simple as marketability. What would make an Iron Maiden tribute even more enticing to the Iron Maiden demographic? Try having hot girls playing it.

I've played in co-ed bands, bands with all girls, and bands where I’m the only girl. The camaraderie, in my experience, is more of a function of personality types, not gender.

I've never felt difficulty being accepted in the rock community because of gender. I think vestiges of discrimination and bigotry can be found all over the place, but, for the most part, the serious musicians I know care more about musical commitment, discipline, preparedness, attitude, and professionalism.

Led Zeppelin When The Levee Breaks by Zepparella

[Laurie Monk] A part of  Truth In Shredding's role is helping unknown talent to get noticed, and I have been noticing a steady trend in the appearance of female guitar players on the rock scene. I’ve certainly seen some girls with great guitar chops over the past two years. Players like Desiree Basset, Courtney Cox, Juliette Valduriez and Nili Brosh who is working with Tony MacAlpine and of course yourself. Is this a trend you have noticed, too?

[Gretchen Menn] I think it is pretty easy for creative types to get steeped in what they are doing, so I am often out of the loop about other musicians. It is so awesome that you find and give visibility new talent, Laurie! My feeling is the more the guitar is being played and celebrated, the better. Women rock guitarists have been the minority, but if you consider that rock music hasn’t even been around that long, and that gender roles and divisions have shifted and blurred significantly in the last generation or two, it all makes sense. What was once discouraged is now acceptable, and I think there are enough girls killing it on guitar to thwart any ridiculous, residual notion that girls lack the “guitar gene” or have any inherent disadvantage. But it takes awhile for people to become accustomed to new paradigms, and the more girls pick up the instrument, the more it becomes the norm, and the less it will be regarded as a novelty. It will soon seem as arcane as gasping over a female doctor. I’ll be excited when gender doesn't come up any more.

Gretchen captured in Jimmy Page famous bowing guitar moment
 Photo: Matthew McSheehy
[Laurie Monk] All too true... Who are your favourite female players and are there any undiscovered female players I should know about? Plus who are your favourite male guitar players.

[Gretchen Menn] A guitar player is a guitar player, and I don’t categorize them by gender any more so than I would by race, height, age, or hair colour. Some of my favourite guitar players are: Jeff Beck, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Frank Zappa, Eddie Van Halen, Django Reinhardt, Jennifer Batten, Jude Gold, John McLaughlin, Adrian Belew, Paul Gilbert, Andrès Segovia, Jason Becker, and too many others to mention. I was recently introduced to the music of Lyle Workman, which blew me away. Andy Alt at GuitarTV turned me onto a great new talent: Yasi Hofer. She rips it up! I think you’ll be hearing about her before too long.

[Laurie Monk] Yes, Yasi is great, I have featured Yasi Hofer on Truth In Shredding, I really like her playing a lot, it has got lots of fusion qualities. Guitar playing is a tough world to get in to. Do you have any advice for young girls who would like to become recognised in the rock guitar scene?

[Gretchen Menn] I think an important thing for any artist is to determine goals, and then align the daily path with the aim point. A musician can get recognized for any variety of reasons, some of which are more musical than others: technical ability, artistic innovation, great songwriting and composition, or even simply sex appeal. The key is for artists to determine what drives them to do art and what they hope to achieve with and communicate through their expression. For someone wanting blistering speed, it will mean hours every day with a metronome; for someone focused on composition, it will mean honing writing chops, and finding fluency as a composer; for someone wanting visibility for sex appeal, it will mean taking great care of your body and paying close attention to image.

[Laurie Monk] I think you are right, it is often a mix of things, but for the most part, you still need to be a great recognisable guitar talent, like yourself, for example. Talking of talent,  I see from your resume that you also worked with the talented Jude Gold the Director of GIT in California in your acoustic duo Lapdance Armageddon. I recall seeing Jude at the Jason Becker show, a really talented player and working with some big names too. So how did your partnership in Lapdance Armageddon come about?

[Gretchen Menn] Jude and I met when we played a show together. We knew a lot of the same people, but had never met. We instantly started geeking out backstage, as guitarists often do, finding we had a lot of the same favorite guitar players. We became instant friends, and started jamming together. We had talked about forming a project, and it officially launched when I was offered a show to open for Adrian Belew. The catch was that they needed either a solo or duo acoustic act. My trio at the time, Sticks and Stones, was by no means an acoustic band, so I approached Jude and said, "Hey, do you think we can be ready in 2 ½ weeks to open for Adrian Belew on acoustic guitars?" He said, "Let's do it!" It was incredibly intimidating, but it went over so well, and we had such a good time that we decided to continue with the project. Jude is one of my favorite guitarists, and getting to work with him is such a fantastic challenge.

[Laurie Monk] I really liked the work on Lapdance Armageddon  and this is a great example of you two guys working together on the Spanish tinged "Tri-Tip"

"Tri-Tip" by Lapdance Armageddon

[Laurie Monk] I know this might seem sad, but I've been looking at your picking technique in your videos. It is not the classic closed fist grip of many rock guitar players, rather you hold the pick out a little and you hold your pinky straight.  How did that picking technique come about?

[Gretchen Menn] I have tried different picking techniques, and settled on the one I use for various reasons. The simplest answer is that it has always felt natural. The expended pinky helps with muting higher strings, especially in some of the string skips and types of lines I tend to play. It also allows for easy and quick volume and tone adjustments and pickup changes. Any Steve Morse fan can usually take one glance at my right hand and recognize one of my biggest influences. I had the opportunity to talk to Steve extensively about it, as I had a picking identity crisis a number of years ago. He was kind enough to discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of that style of picking. I thought a lot about his thoughts and advice, went back and forth for a number of months, and eventually settled on picking the way I do now.

Zepparella, Communication Breakdown, May 2010

[Laurie Monk] Yes Steve Morse has great technique and a noted classical approach to guitar, as you say.

Having seen many of your performances with Zepperalla and listened to your new album, you strike me as a player that likes to continually grow, rather than just being happy as a straight-forward rock player. In my observation of the scene I've noted that the better players who seem to grow from album to album are the one's who progress, adding the things they've learned  and jettisoning the things that don't work. Would that be a correct assumption?

[Gretchen Menn] Good point. I'd tend to agree. It seems the players I most enjoy are always learning and evolving. And, thank you—I sure hope to continually grow! I am a student and disciple of the instrument, and will work for the rest of my life to evolve and refine and develop. I love so many different styles of music, and could never be a straight-forward player in any genre without feeling artistically amputated. My goal is musical fluency, a lifelong endeavor, I realize. But that is the beauty of music—it’s endless!

[Laurie Monk] I 120% agree with that statement.  All around the world, I meet or hear players and there is one thing in common, this global language of music, musical communication without boarders.

 Gretchen Menn with classic Les Paul: Photo by Max Crace
Moving on to your gear can you tell us a bit about your Guitars, what you like about them, what you use for live and studio:

Music Man Silhouette and Silhouette Specials
Santa Cruz Guitar Company OM model
Gibson Les Paul Standard and Special Edition Standard
Kenny Hill Ruck model classical guitar

[Gretchen Menn] My first guitar was my "Music Man Silhouette", and Music Man continues to make my favorite electric guitars. They are so solid. They stay in tune amazingly well. Their fit-and-finish is immaculate. They have the best-feeling necks of any electric guitar I’ve ever played. I like that they are clean and classic-looking, as I’m not partial to ornate inlays and really flashy tops. Plus, their truss rod system is simply brilliant. My Silhouette and Silhouette Specials are pretty much the only electric guitars on my new album.

My custom OM model from SCGC is a work of art—from the beautiful, warm yet articulate sound, to the gorgeous red finish, to the neck they meticulously carved for my hands and playing style. I just had them install the new DiMarzio Angel pickup in it, and am loving it. My SCGC is the guitar I used on the tracks, “Fast Crowd,” and for one of the guitar parts of the guitar quartet, “Is It Not Strange,” on my album.

Les Pauls are classics, both in their look and sound. And there is no other guitar you could really use for a Zeppelin tribute. Yes, yes, I know Jimmy used a Telecaster at the beginning, but we all know what instrument is most associated with him.

My Kenny Hill Ruck model is my classical guitar, and it is all over the new album—on “Déjà Vu,” “Struck Sleepless,” “Fading,” and it is featured largely on “Is It Not Strange.” The engineer for my record, Robert Preston, and I often shook our heads when we recorded with it. It has such great tone.
Gretchen Menn with another DiMarzio powered Les Paul Credit: Larry DiMarzio 
[Laurie Monk] In terms of your pick ups, I know you are a DiMarzio endorser.

Pickups, cables, straps: DiMarzio
Blue Silhouette and Silhouette Special: Stock single coils in neck and middle position, Fast Track 2 in bridge position
White Silhouette Special: Stock single coils
Les Pauls: 36th anniversary PAF
SCGC with Angel Acoustic pickup

I know they make amazing pickups and they have a great team behind them, particularly when it comes to artist support. DiMarzio have such a great range of pickups, how did you go about picking the ones that best suit your sound, have you worked with Steve Blucher for example?

[Gretchen Menn]
I was using DiMarzio pickups for years before I started working with the company directly. They are fantastic, indeed—both for quality of products as well artist support. I love their pickups for flexibility and tonal quality. The combination of single coils and Fast Track 2 in two of my Silhouettes, for example, allows for a huge spectrum of tonal possibilities—from celestially clean and warm to huge and screaming. I have also been really enjoying the new Angel acoustic pickup, which I recently had installed in my Santa Cruz Guitar Company OM model. I have worked with both Steve Blucher and Larry DiMarzio, and both are brilliant, exceptionally cool guys.

Gretchen Menn Santa Cruz OM: Photo by Bryan Perido

[Laurie Monk] I can vouch for that, DiMarzio have been very supportive to the guitar players I work with and they have also backed Truth In Shredding's own "Shred This" competition.

In terms of Amps you use Engl Special Edition E 670 EL 34 and 1977 Marshall JMP. Do you have a different set up for studio and live, plus what pedals do you gravitate towards to shape your sound?

[Gretchen Menn] The Engl is the main sound for all but the clean tones on my album. The clean tones, such as on tracks like “Is It Not Strange” and “Fading” were my vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb. For pedals, I have been loving a few pedals I recently got from Godlyke: the Maxon FL9 Flanger and Pure Analogue Chorus as well as the Providence Chrono Delay. I’ve also really been enjoying the Source Audio Envelope Filter. Xotic Effects makes a fantastic AC Booster which I use all the time. In Zepparella, my 1977 Marshall JMP is my main amp, and my pedal board includes a vintage Crybaby Wah Wah, a vintage MXR Phase 90 (script logo, for the MXR pedal geeks), my Xotic Effects AC Booster, a Line 6 DL-4 Delay, and a Boss TU-2 tuner.

Gretchen Menn white Silhouette: Photo by Bryan Perido
[Laurie Monk] That's a lot of detail on the gear, and I know how it consumes people. Do you suffer from the common guitarists disease... GAS... Gear Acquisition Syndrome?

[Gretchen Menn] Thankfully, I seem to have immunity to that expensive disease! Associated cost and clutter aside, I’ve never been a collector. I try to acquire carefully, only exactly the instruments or gear I really want, and then try to use them to the best of my ability.

[Laurie Monk] It’s a prerequisite these days for musicians to have their YouTube, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter channels. I know that some players neglect this aspect of building a fan base, which overall can affect their ability to build a business, hoping that their guitar talent alone will carry them through. You have a good web footprint in terms of media exposure, you recently had an interview with the amazing Jas Obrecht (my idol) and a photo shoot by Larry DiMarzio for example. Do see social media, an area that interests you, do you see this as an area that you are keen to exploit?

[Gretchen Menn] Anything that takes me away from playing, creating, writing, recording, or practicing music can feel overwhelming at times. The one thing I love about social media, though, is its ability to connect people. It’s really wonderful to get to have contact with supporters and other musicians from all over the world.

[Laurie Monk] I can see that it is a two edged sword, but as you say, used in the right way can bring new fans without disrupting your musical creativity.  Apart from regular guitar practice, is there anything you can recommend struggling guitar players who get stuck in a rut? Have you ever felt stuck in a place with your playing that you thought... "Man I've had enough... I quit!!"?

[Gretchen Menn] I have never once had that thought, and have fortunately never felt stuck in a rut. There is so much to learn! Waning motivation or frustration probably means you are ready for a new challenge, so seek one out. Take a lesson. Buy an album of a guitar player you’ve heard is awesome, and get new inspiration. Go to a show and study someone else’s playing. Change your perspective. Open your ears to something new.

[Laurie Monk] That's a really good tip, I know a friend of mine just tunes to different music channels and jams over the tunes played, for example. As you might have guessed, I've got a pretty extensive collection of CD’s, but I could always do with a few more... I know you must have listened to many albums, I guess not all guitar, but what do you think are the key albums, albums you would recommend people to listen to, albums that made a difference to you and could probably make a difference to them... and maybe I’ll just add them to my shopping list.

[Gretchen Menn] I will limit myself, lest I bankrupt you! I’ll give you ten that have been formative for me. Many of these are no-brainers for any guitar player. In no order whatsoever, allowing myself only one album per artist, and with huge apologies to the gods of guitar, that they may not strike me with carpal tunnel for leaving off some of the greatest guitarists and albums off all time….

1. Ah Via Musicom, Eric Johnson
2. High Tension Wires, Steve Morse
3. Quintet of the Hot Club of France, Django Reinhardt (with Stephane Grappelli)
4. Symphony no. 3, Ludwig Van Beethoven
5. Joe’s Garage, Frank Zappa
6. Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, Jeff Beck
7. Le Nozze di Figaro, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
8. Le Sacre du Printemps, Igor Stravinsky
9. Van Halen I, Van Halen
10. Friday Night in San Francisco, John McLaughlin, Al Di Melola, Paco De Lucia.

[Laurie Monk] LOL... thank god I have some of those!... so thanks for not bankrupting me too much with your selections! Some really great choices too, top notch players and great music in different musical genres!

Moving on to your current projects you have released a number of excellent videos from your new Hale Souls CD. The band you had for the CD was pretty immense, featuring Stu Hamm on bass and John Mader on drums.

"Oleo Strut" by Gretchen Menn itunes

[Laurie Monk] Great to see players like Stu Hamm playing your music and these videos are really top notch, you must have had a great video crew and I recognised some shots from around San Francisco too from my all too brief visit. It really made me want to hear the rest of the new material. So I'm glad I got your new CD and gave it an in depth spin. In terms of recording can we talk a little more about your writing and studio work. First up do you have a fixed process for writing new material?

[Gretchen Menn] Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed the videos. I must credit the amazing director, Eric Shamlin. He was the main creative force behind both. Kirsten Laursen, the producer, put all the moving parts together, and made it all happen. Jason Mitchell and Stacey Ransom at Purebred Productions were the DP and set designer, respectively, for "Valentino’s Victory Lap." Bryan Perido was the DP for "Oleo Strut," which, as you noticed, was filmed in San Francisco. The shots with John and Stu were in the actual studio in which the record was recorded, Get Reel Productions.

In terms of writing, I don’t have a set process. I have given myself composition "assignments", had songs develop out of improvisations, and even melodies that seem to appear out of thin air, or in dreams. Whatever the origin of the inspiration, though, I just work with musical ideas until the piece feels completed. Some pieces come together very quickly, while others develop more slowly.

[Laurie Monk] That's interesting getting inspiration  from dreams, I've heard that before. How do you decide what you come up with the solos for your compositions, are they planned or improvised?

[Gretchen Menn] This album is more compositional, though there are moments of spontaneity as well.


[Laurie Monk] Can you talk a bit about the guest players on the new CD?

[Gretchen Menn] I am so excited to have such talented musicians featured on my album! John Mader played drums; Stu Hamm played bass on all but "Scrap Metal"; Angeline Saris  is the guest bassist on "Scrap Metal"; Emily Palen is the violinist on the piece in three parts—"Walking Shadow", "Struck Sleepless", and "Fading"; Jude Gold is the other acoustic guitar on "Fast Crowd"; my sister, Kirsten Menn, is the soprano on "Fading".

[Laurie Monk] I seem to recall Angeline Saris playing bass at the Jason Becker benefit too. I know Stu Hamm will be playing in Amsterdam for the Jason Becker fest as well. Jude Gold also is set to appear with Stu Hamm, Jeff Berlin, Billy Sheehan and John Mader for the BX3 show in Holland later this year... but I digress.

So let’s discuss your new album in more detail. I was really struck by the breadth of musical composition you have on this album, moving from straight ahead rock "Oleo Strut", to more progressive guitar work, to refined classical music, like the moving violin piece "Walking Shadow" featuring Emily Palen and the choral vocals of the track "Fading". Overall, I’m really very impressed indeed. You are to be congratulated!

How long did it take to write these pieces, are they tracks that you wrote specifically for the release or you have been working on for a number of years?

[Gretchen Menn]
Wow! Well, thank you so much! I really appreciate the kind words, and am so happy to hear you enjoyed the music. The amount of time I spent composing tunes varies greatly. "Struck Sleepless" is in its second incarnation, for example. It was a tune I wrote while in Sticks and Stones, an instrumental trio, a few years ago. I had always envisioned it more orchestrated, more layered, and longed for violin. When I met Emily Palen and started conceptualizing this solo record, I realized I really wanted to see this piece come to fruition in the way it was in my head. Other tunes, like "Fading" and "Walking Shadow", were composed more recently and quite quickly—in a matter of days. While I came up with some of the melodic ideas of  "Is It Not Strange" a couple of years ago, the piece was largely composed and arranged much more recently. I think I am just getting more accustomed to composing, and the writing process feels more fluid the more I write.

Gretchen Menn in composition Photo by Bryan Perido
[Laurie Monk] That is much more quickly than  I had imagined, particularly with the depth of  the more classical pieces. I know this will be a tough one to answer, but which track or tracks are you particularly proud of?

[Gretchen Menn]
That is, indeed, a tough question. They all mean different things to me, so I can’t really single any of them out. "Fading" was cool because it was almost effortless to write. I remember working through it in my head—visualizing it—and suddenly hearing a soprano, even though I never considered having vocal on my album. Then I recognized the voice as that of my sister, Kirsten Menn. She is a doctor at Yale, but is also trained in opera—yes, one of those annoyingly brilliant and multi-talented people. I asked her if she would be willing to do the track, and I was ecstatic that she was. "Is It Not Strange" was also fun—it is a quartet for two classical guitars, one electric, and one steel string. I played all four guitar parts, and it was a challenge to try to create the feel of a live quartet while clearly not being that. I was also really hoping the arrangement and orchestration was going to work out—I wrote it as if it were a string quartet, which it is, just not in the traditional sense. I thought of the electric guitar as first violin, one of the classical guitars as second violin, the other classical guitar as viola, and the steel string (in drop-D tuning) as cello. It was definitely the biggest experiment on the album, and the road-test was just recording it and hearing how it sounded. The end result is like nothing I’ve written before, and it’s great to surprise yourself when exploring new creative territory.

[Laurie Monk] Wow, that is interesting to hear about Kirsten, obviously you are a very  talented family! This is a really great album and I really liked the video supported rock tracks "Oleo Strut" and “Valentino’s Victory Lap” a lot, but for me the stand out cuts are the very sophisticated “Is It Not Strange” and the Excellent “Fading”, they really are a cut above the average... Album one just finished and I’m already thinking about the second album! What is next for Gretchen Menn, I guess there are tour plans, do you have any plans to tour Europe as well?

[Gretchen Menn] Ha! Well, you mention the two tracks I just talked about. I think those two tracks, along with the solo violin piece “Walking Shadow” will be the biggest surprises to anyone only familiar with “Valentino’s Victory Lap” or “Oleo Strut”—they are at opposite extremes of the spectrum of the album. I’m already thinking about the next album, too. In fact, the day I finished mixing, I came home and immediately started writing something new. Go figure. I’m the daughter of a writer, and three of my four grandparents were writers, so writing is in my blood—I just happen to write in a more abstract language. Shows with my solo project are scheduled to start in November, and I’m hoping to get anywhere that wants me. I’d love to tour in Europe and beyond!

[Laurie Monk] Hey... there you go... what did I say?... a talented family. Well I hope to catch you playing live some time soon. Thanks so much again for taking the time to be part of this interview.

[Gretchen Menn] My pleasure! Thank you, Laurie. It is just wonderful how much you do to promote the guitar community. Hope to cross paths with you again soon!

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  1. oh i came up a great music site and knew about many great artists. Thanks to the website owner.
    Gretchen Menn seems to be wonderful female guitarist. i will listen her sometime now.

    Rock On

  2. Hi Robin, thanks for the positive comments, they make my work all worth while. Gretchen Menn has a great intellect and I really appreciated the comments that she made.


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