Gwendolyn, little hootenannies
1.0 – How would you compare your new disc Bright Light (September 20th release) to your debut Ultrasounds back in 2000?
Ultrasounds is collection of recordings I made here, there and everywhere I could over five years. I was experimenting – trying all kinds of sounds and recording techniques with friends of mine. At the time I didn’t imagine they would come together as an album one day – happily, they did! I love that album – It’s like looking at old photographs of myself.
Bright Light on the other hand was born out of a clear intention. With a pocket full of country-folk songs and very little time, we recorded the album live in 3 days and then invited our favorite musicians to come and play on it. The whole thing was mixed and in the can within three weeks. We knew the album we wanted to make. And producer Ethan Allen navigated those waters masterfully.
2.0 – “Discover Me” is a great introduction to both the record and new fans, is it your favorite track?
Sometimes when you hold on to songs too long they can become heavy in your heart. You may outgrow them or just plain ol’ forget how they go. Many of the songs on Bright Light had been kicking around my guitar case for a while. What I like about “Discover Me” is that it came to me a week or two before we went into the studio. It was fresh and made me smile to play it and share it while it was still so relevant in my life. I especially love how Tony Gilkyson played guitar… with Danny McGough on the B4 organ just barkin’ back at him… and Josh Grange on the pedal steel sort of floating over it all. Beautiful talent!
3.0 – You have a flair for the whimsical, does that come naturally?
I actually looked up “whimsical” (1. spontaneously fanciful or playful 2. given to whims; capricious 3. quaint, unusual, or fantastic) and I thought, hey – that’s not too bad… at least it’s not boring!
4.0 – When did you first start singing and who did you enjoy emulating most?
My parents used to sing together. My dad would play guitar and my mom would sing harmony and we’d have little hootenannies in our living room. So I suppose I emulated a lot of my dad’s record collection growing up… Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Incredible String Band, The Beatles… I also attended a school with an active choir and arts program – so singing was a big part of my childhood. Although I never considered myself a “singer”… I knew I had a love for performing but it wasn’t until late in my teens when I picked up the guitar that I actually started singing more seriously. I suppose it was more about the writing for me.
5.0 – How did you write your first song ever?
I came home one afternoon and found my sister (four years my junior) playing my dad’s guitar. So of course I wanted to do it, too! My first song was a two string bluesy folk fusion about a woman destitute in love – talking about how some man came and ate her heart but it go stuck in his gossiping throat. The lyrics were like something out of a Salvador Dali painting. The chorus was complete Celtic gibberish but super catchy. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and I loved that about it. I forget what it was called.
6.0 – Do you write the same way today or is it more collaborative with the band?
Leave me alone with my guitar and inevitably a song will come. These days with work for TV, family and other projects, I have less time to write for myself – but back in the day I was quite prolific. My band understands the natural ebb and flow of the creative process. And they generally like my songs. I just start singing and they play along and somehow it all comes together… like stone soup.
7.0 – How did the current band come together and what is your favorite thing about them as a team?
I played solo for quite a few years. The first person I played with was Roger Park (on upright bass). He got busy with life and shortly thereafter I started to play with high school pal Douglas Lee who had just moved home from living in New Orleans. He was going on about some kind of glass instrument he was planning to build and I encouraged him to build it cause I wanted to start a band with him. Then Robert Petersen (another high school friend) moved home from the Bay Area where he was playing in Thumb Of The Maid (now known as The Moore Brothers). So together we started playing as quite a weird little folk trio (well, weird for 1996). Eventually we met Brandon who wanted to join us on the pots and pans and found objects he could bang on. That suited us nicely. By now, we’ve been having so much fun we’ve been playing for about ten years together. More recently, Scott Doherty rounds out the band with his keys and various guitars. And guess who’s on pedal steel? Roger Park! So it comes full circle. My favorite thing about them is who they are as people. At this point we’re friends first and band mates second. It’s really quite a nice group of friends.
8.0 – How did the WEEDS show placement come about for you? do you like the show?
LOVE the show! I can’t think of another show that has reinvented itself so fantastically over and over again. The writers and actors are so good at what they do. The folks we work with allow us to constantly try new things – it all makes for a creative Camelot. It’s been a hugely positive experience in my life. And it was all luck of the draw, really. Well, sort of. My dad always told me there are two rules in life: 1 – be ready. 2 – keep showing up. So there I was playing in a band I have for preschoolers called Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang. Turns out the creator of Weeds and her three kids are big fans (true Hollywood story). Being “whimsical” as Jenji can sometimes be, she asked if Brandon and I would audition to become the second season replacement composers for her show. Now granted, there were hundreds of composers and we were just throwing our hat into the ring. Faithful to my Father’s advice, I never turn down an opportunity… Turns out, they really loved what we did and gave us the job… That was like six years ago and we’re still working on the show – very lucky! And very grateful – it’s taught me so much about music and storytelling and what it means to make my living as an artist.
9.0 – When you explain your music to new friends who inquire, what words come up most?
Uhh… folk. Country folk. True stories. Stuff I’ve written. Mostly, I’m stumped for a description.
10.0 – Your standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and you see a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac that’s slowing down to take a look at you….can you trust them?
Oh, sure. But number one rule still applies. You know the old saying… nobody rides for free.
Photography by Kent Geib