Tribute Band Spotlight with Gretchen Menn, solo artist and guitarist of Zepparella
Zepparella is an all-female tribute to the mighty Led Zeppelin, featuring Gretchen Menn on lead guitar. In addition to her work within the ranks of Zepparella, Gretchen has released two solo albums, Hale Souls (2011), and her latest, Abandon All Hope, an instrumental concept album based on Dante’s Inferno. Highwire Daze magazine caught up with Gretchen while she was in town at NAMM for an interview and Jack Lue poster photo shoot. Many thanks to Music Man Guitars for the use of their Cutlass for this photo shoot. Be sure to check out Zepparella at The Roxy in West Hollywood on July 5th! And now on to our chat with Ms. Gretchen Menn. Read on…
First of all, I was reading your bio. Tell me about the destruction of violins you did when you were a kid.
My mom played violin when she was young – just enough to annoy her older sister. When I was maybe 2 or 3 years old, my dad let me check out my mom’s violin. I remember attempting to play it like a guitar, and dragged it around the house with me. And apparently the violin was never quite the same after that. My mom wasn’t overly pleased.
How long have you been playing guitar?
I started in high school and got more serious about it when I went to college and studied classical guitar with Phillip de Fremery. I was a music major and applied what I was learning in my theory and harmony classes to the electric guitar. I graduated early, and started playing professionally almost right out of school. Zepparella was my second band – and I’ve been doing that for close to 15 years now!
How familiar were you with Led Zeppelin prior to joining Zepparella?
Very familiar. I discovered Led Zeppelin at the requisite age that I think many discover them – around 14. One of my friends had parents who were really into classic rock, and she got Zeppelin’s fourth album, as she had fallen in love with “Stairway To Heaven.” She played it for me, and I was like, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool!” And I heard “When The Levee Breaks,” and I was like, “Oh, THAT’S the one!” I was a fan every since.
What could one expect from a live Zepparella show?
We give it our all. We aim to honor the music of Led Zeppelin in a way that’s respectful. We’re all such huge fans, and we realize that we’re on holy ground, so we try to do so in the spirit of disciples.
Zepparella recently did a show at the legendary Roxy on the Sunset Strip? What was it like playing that club?
We’ve been lucky to play some pretty legendary places, and The Roxy was a fantastic show. And I have to say every single person with whom we interfaced that night was so cool, so professional. Zero attitudes. Jack (Lue) got some of my favorite live shots from that night. We played with Hells Belles, who are fantastic! We will be back July 5 of this year!
Your recent solo album is called Abandon All Hope. Is there any overall story or concept behind the title?
There is, indeed. I had been interested in fusing my love of literature with my love of composed music. Part of what I love about instrumental music is also part of what makes it difficult. It is the most abstract of all art forms. So on one hand, it allows listeners to room for their own imaginations. On the other hand, not everybody likes to reach out that far to art. My first album is called Hale Souls, the title derived from a line in Shakespeare. When I started working on ideas for my second album, I was pretty sure I wanted to do a full—blown concept album. Right around that time, Michael Molenda, the former Editor In Chief of Guitar Player Magazine approached me because he had heard my first album and said he had an idea he wanted to pitch to me. I immediately assumed that he would say what I’ve been told MANY times, “You need to sing, and you should write pop music.” I prepared myself to keep an open mind, but to be ready to clarify that my musical and creative decisions are directed by what I am striving for artistically, not a desire to be famous as possible.
Mike and I sat down over tea, and he took out a sheet of paper. I still have it. It read “Gretchen Menn, Dante’s Inferno: A Journey In 11 Different Musical Moods.” It was one of those moments where time seemed to stand still, and I thought, “I know exactly what I’m going to do be doing for the next few years.” I started by reading The Inferno twice. I listened to lectures on it. I even tried to learn some Italian to get some of the sense of the poetry and flow of the original text. And then started to write the music in furtherance of the story, a totally new way of composing for me. It opened so many creative doors and required me to grow a lot as a composer and guitar player to create what I felt the concept demanded. I remember really struggling at first with how to express “Limbo” musically. If Western tonal music can be reduced in its essence to tension and resolve, how do you eschew resolve and still write something that sound like a piece of music? And that kind of creative problem solving pushed me into learning more, growing more, and imagining more than I ever would have without the concept.
Gretchen Menn gear:
Music Man guitars – Silhouette Special and Cutlass
Ernie Ball strings – 0.10-0.52
Two Rock amps – Bi-Onyx and Bloomfield Drive
Engl amps – SE 670 EL 43
Stephen Strahm Eros acoustic guitar
Sadowsky nylon string electric guitar
Kenny Hill Ruck classical guitar
DiMarzio pickups, straps, cables
Dunlop Jazz III picks
Providence, Eventide, and Xotic Effects pedals