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Name :        Gretchen Menn Hometown :  San Francisco, CA, USA Website:         http://www.gretchenmenn.com This month at THE METAL PIT we feature Gretchen Menn. She is the guitarist of her own band The Gretchen Menn Band and for Led Zeppelin Tribute Zepparella

Metal Pit : Hello Gretchen. Welcome to the Metal Pit, and thank you for taking time with us today. Gretchen Menn: My pleasure. Thanks for having me!

Metal Pit : You are an Amazing guitarist, Gretchen. I guess the first thing I would like to know is at what age did you get started playing guitar? I started during my first year of college—at age 19.

Metal Pit : Are you mostly self taught or do you have any professional training? I started on classical guitar while I was also working on a degree in music. So my formal training is in classical technique and music theory, harmony, composition.

Metal Pit : Do you play any other instruments? I am still trying to get where I want to be on just one! 🙂 I had the requisite piano lessons when I was 5 or so, and played various instruments while I was growing up, but nothing really grabbed me until I discovered the guitar. Since then I haven’t had any inclination to divide my attention.

Metal Pit : Your playing style reminds me of a mix between Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson and also a bit of Jimmy Page but you also have a sound that is very unique as well. Can you tell us about some of the bands or musicians that influenced you at an early age? Thank you very much! You named three of my favorites. It was actually at a Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson concert that I decided I needed to pick up the instrument. I got into guitar-oriented music in early high school. Led Zeppelin had become a staple of my music collection, and they opened my mind and ears to music outside whatever was popular or trendy at the time. I got really into Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs early on, and Steve is an enduring influence. Django Reinhardt has been a long-time favorite, though you might not detect any gypsy jazz in what I do. Frank Zappa is a huge inspiration, especially for his compositional and creative adventurousness. I absolutely worship Jeff Beck. Recently Jason Becker has been a huge inspiration as well. And Eddie Van Halen always makes me smile.

Metal Pit : I imagine you have a wide variety of guitars you like to use. Can you tell us about some of them and which one might be your fav? I actually don’t have that many, and I do have my favorites. My first guitar was a Music Man Silhouette. It is a gorgeous blue burst—you can see it in my video for Valentino’s Victory Lap. For years, that was my only one, but once I started playing gigs, I realized I needed a spare, and so I got a Silhouette Special. Both of them have fixed bridges and stock DiMarzio single coils, with a DiMarzio Fast Track 2 in the bridge position. I recently got another Silhouette Special, this one with a floating bridge, and it has all stock DiMarzio single coils. It is white with a black pickguard, and has become my primary guitar (it’s the one in the videos for "Oleo Strut" and "Scrap Metal"). My Music Man guitars are my absolute favorites for solid body electrics—they are so well-made, so solid, with pristine fit and finish, and a classic, clean look that appeals to me, and great, versatile sound. For Zepparella, I have two Les Paul Standards and a Danelectro. The Les Pauls have DiMarzio 36th Anniversary PAFs. My steel string is a Santa Cruz Guitar Company custom OM model, and the one classical guitar I have is a Kenny Hill Ruck model. Both are beautiful instruments, and they are the ones I used for the steel string and classical guitar parts on my album. I also have a Gibson SG, and a custom-built guitar that was a wonderful gift from a fan in Italy. I’m not much of a guitar collector, though. I would need a bigger house!

  Metal Pit : What kind of gear do you use on stage?
I have different rigs for my two current projects: For my solo band, I use my Music Man Guitars and my Engl SE 670 EL 34 amp with a Stewart Guitar Cabinet. My pedals are primarily Providence Pedals: Chrono Delay, Anadime Chorus, Velvet Comp. I also have a Maxon FL-9 Flanger. In Zepparella, the gig mandates the gear, as we are going for an authentic Zeppelin sound. I use my Les Pauls and my Danelectro, a 1977 Marshall JMP, and a Stewart Guitar Cabinet. For pedals, I have a vintage CryBaby wah, a vintage MXR Phase 90, an Xotic Effects AC Booster, and a Line 6 DL4 delay. I am also incorporating some great new Providence pedals: the Silky Drive and Stampede DT.

Metal Pit : You are the guitar player for Zepparella and also for your own solo band, I guess we will start with Zepparella. How did you get involved with that band?gretch5 I met Clementine, Zepparella’s drummer, because we played together in an AC/DC tribute band. We wanted to play more often and to go on tours that weren’t an option for the other band members, and we were getting frustrated, particularly after having to turn down a few really great opportunities. Clementine asked if I’d be into doing a Zeppelin project—it would afford us great new musical challenges, and also allow us to take the kinds of gigs we were so sad about not getting to do. I said I was absolutely on board, as I already loved Led Zeppelin, and liked the idea of learning some of Page’s catalogue. And I learned the hard way that if you tell Clem you are on board for a project, be ready to go! A few days later, she called, gave me 15 songs to learn, and said we had our first show booked for 8 weeks out. I was living in the San Diego area at the time, and the rest of the band was in San Francisco, so the plan was for everyone to do their homework, then I would come up to the Bay Area, we’d have three rehearsals, and play our first gig. It was a 2-month crash course, as I had never learned any Zeppelin tunes, and we were going for note-for-note renditions. It has been, and continues to be, an absolute joy to get to play some of my favorite music with three of my favorite people—Clementine (drums), Angeline Saris (bass), and Noelle Doughty (vocals).

Metal Pit : Was having an all female tribute band something that you wanted to do from the start? In all honesty, it was just something I fell into, and have had fun doing it. But I have played in all-girl bands, co-ed bands, bands in which I’m the only girl. All are fun, and any group of people can be challenging or work well together. It’s more of a question of personality and professionalism than gender when it comes to a working and musical relationship.

Metal Pit : I have seen some vids of Zepparella live and I must say the band just brings it. Your version of "Dazed and Confused" is simply mind blowing. What I love about the band is that yes, you are a tribute band but you all seem to put your own individual stamp on the sound so that it is not just a live copy of the original, but something unique. Your solo on that song just kills, Gretchen. Thank you so much! I really appreciate that! I love playing "Dazed and Confused." In what other song is a guitar player not only allowed, but expected, to abuse a Les Paul with a violin bow? It is unlikely I would have ever invested the time to mess around with a bow on a guitar, were I not playing Led Zeppelin, but am very glad I have had the impetus to do so. And it’s great to have songs were we can—and should, in my opinion—stretch out, and honor the improvisatory spirit of Zeppelin.

Metal Pit : It seems like you and the other ladies have a blast doing what you do on stage. Can you tell us a little about your band mates? We do, indeed, have a great time. I adore all of the girls personally, and admire them musically. Having such a great personal connection fuels and enhances what we do on stage. The smiles are genuine; the connection is real. Clem and I have the longest friendship and musical relationship in the band, as we’ve played together for about 8 years. Since then, she and I have played in various projects together, with Zepparella as the most long-term of all of them. Clem is amazing, brilliant, and intensely creative. She has a spirit and energy that are so beautiful, and people recognize it right away in how she performs. I revel in watching audiences react to this blonde banshee in musical ecstasy as she plays the drums. She is a visceral drummer, has great tone, and a total reverence for Bonham. Angeline Saris joined the band about a year and a half ago, and it felt like we had known each other for years. She is hilarious and smart and sweet. And I love how she plays—a great combination of heart and head. She is emotive yet precise. She can step up and annihilate with a bass solo, or simply hold it down. She is very disciplined and always jumping on new challenges, and just when you think she couldn’t be any more badass, she gets even better. And I feel so fortunately to have her on bass for my original band, too. Noelle Doughty was a gift from the Golden God, himself—I met her backstage at a Robert Plant show a little over a year ago. If that isn’t serendipity, I don’t know what is. Noelle is one of the kindest, most lovely people I’ve ever met. She channels Robert Plant… she gets the music. She has studied it. She has lived it. And onstage, she is a gracious, regal presence. It probably borders on nauseating just how much I love my band mates, but I am truly so grateful to know and to get to play with all of them.

gretchen9Metal Pit : How long will you continue with Zepparella, and do you think there will come a time when you have to chose between that band and your own band because of time restraints? I don’t have a time limit in my mind—I am just having fun with it. Of course, there are times when other projects become the priority. Zepparella has taken time off in the past, when one or more of us had other gigs, projects, or albums that were the primary focus. I love playing with Zepparella, but being creative has always been, and will always be, the priority. 

Metal Pit : Speaking of your own band................you have a solo band called "Gretchen Menn." Can you tell us how that band came to be? There isn’t much backstory, actually. I just had a lot of music written—I am always writing—and so had plenty of material. I had had a few original bands come and go, and I wanted a band that I could view as more permanent, and a band in which I could be the main creative force. Since the music was already written, it was just simplest to approach it as a solo project. I recorded the album, Hale Souls, with John Mader on drums, Stu Hamm on bass, and Emily Palen on violin. And I had guest appearances by Angeline Saris (bass on "Scrap Metal"), Jude Gold (second acoustic guitar on "Fast Crowd"), and my sister, Kirsten Menn (soprano on "Fading"). I started getting gig offers after the album came out, and so put together a trio for live performances—Angeline on bass and Thomas Perry on drums. Angeline had recommended Thomas, as they had played together in a band called Flametal. Thomas is fantastic—a great drummer, and also a multi-instrumentalist. I can email him at 3 AM with some oddball question, "Hey, Thomas, can you learn glockenspiel if I write one into a new piece?" "Sure, dude. No problem." Sweet.

b>Metal Pit : You have an instrumental cd out called Hale Souls. Can you tell us what the title means? The title is straight out of one of my favorite quotes about guitar, and comes from one of my favorite writers, in one of my favorite plays: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing: "Now, divine air! Now his soul is ravished! Is it not strange that sheeps’ guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?" The idea is that something so humble (or perhaps gross…) is capable of creating something transcendentally divine.

Metal Pit : Your musical range on this cd is very widespread. From Metal tunes such as "Scrap Metal" and "Oleo Strut" to the beautiful "Struck Sleepless" and "Fading." How did you decide what musical direction you wanted to pursue on this cd? I guess I didn’t decide, which is why it runs the gamut! 🙂 I wanted my album to be authentic to who and what I am as a musician—I wanted to honor my love of classical guitar as well as hard rock/metal. I have eclectic tastes, and I guess the album reflects that to some extent, though I did try to keep it enough in check so that it wouldn’t come off as downright dizzying. The hope was to invoke variety, not schizophrenia.

Metal Pit : Have you thought about doing a cd with vocals sometime in the future, and why did you decide to do an instrumental cd? I don’t write lyrics, and I don’t sing… so no plans of that. I won’t rule anything out, but I am really enjoying writing instrumental music for now.
Metal Pit : Along with the live vids you have with Zepparella you also have several of your solo vids out as well including the aforementioned "Oleo Strut" and "Scrap Metal." Are videos something you enjoy doing, and do you have any new ones in the works?gretch3

I do love having videos of my songs! It is really fun to work with great directors—Eric Shamlin did "Valentino’s Victory Lap" and "Oleo Strut," and Diana Cordero did "Scrap Metal." It is cool to take something as abstract as instrumental music, and incorporate something as accessible as visuals, and it’s wonderful to see how someone else visualizes your music. And, yes, a new video is being edited as I write this. It should be released in the next few weeks!

Metal Pit : Are you involved with any other musical projects at this time, and if given the chance what one musician would you love to work with? No other projects at the moment, though I am busy writing for my next album, which is exciting. I am working a lot on expanding and refining my guitar playing, as well as composing. One musician I’d love to work with? Jeff Beck. Please, Jeff Beck. Please?

Metal Pit : What kind of music are you listening to at the moment? Jeff Beck. Heh heh. Okay, in addition to Jeff Beck, most recently, Debussy, Mozart, Beethoven.

Metal Pit : Women in the Hard Rock and Metal scene are more prominent now than ever. Are there any new female performers that you have been listening to as of late? Nili Brosh is awesome! She plays with Tony MacAlpine and is also a solo artist. She has fantastic chops, insane knowledge, and is a total sweetheart. We met through a mutual love of Jason Becker. Jennifer Batten is godmother of girl shred… and she also played with Jeff Beck. Okay, I’ll stop now.

gretchen10Metal Pit : What is your opinion of women musicians in the scene today? I don’t know that I have an opinion based solely on gender… but all the girls I know are awesome, sweet, and big into camaraderie. Zepparella just played a show with Hell’s Belles and The Iron Maidens, and it was a total blast. Adrian Conner is the best Angus I’ve seen this side of, well… Angus. She is a crazy woman on stage, whipping her long, blonde dreads around as she head bangs, rolls on her back, rides on shoulders, all while nailing the solos, note-for-note. In person, she is super cool, kind of self-deprecating and soft-spoken, and a hard-working, devoted musician. I checked out her original stuff with Adrian and the Sickness, and it is great—a cool combination of classic rock with punk attitude and pop-approved melody. She is a really good singer, too. Nita Strauss and Courtney Cox from The Iron Maidens killed it. They are both these raging babes who get onstage, hilariously goof around with one another, and absolutely shred on guitar. I had met Courtney before—she is great—and just met Nita for the first time. Both of them are totally cool.

Metal Pit : Gretchen, do you think we will ever get to the point where we start judging musicians on pure talent alone instead of gender? Well, that ability is totally available to anyone at any time, should they chose. Right now, it seems to go both ways. Some venerate any woman holding a guitar, irrespective of talent. They are just thrilled to see a girl with a guitar. On the other hand, some will argue that women musicians get recognition solely for being women, and so they scrutinize them in ways that are more indications of their own insecurity, and an immature notion that music is a sport, rather than an art. Anyone looking for a flaw in another human can certainly find more than one. Humans, male and female, are by definition imperfect. But art isn’t about perfection. While we admire things for the ways in which they exhibit elements of perfection, we connect through humanity.     It is true that anything that sets someone apart from the greater whole will tend to make them more visible or more memorable. That’s just how it is. A girl in a ballet or yoga class won’t have near the visibility she’ll have in flight training or at a Dixie Dregs show. But nothing in gender gives anyone an inherent advantage or disadvantage when it comes to musical ability. And no one rises to the top for no reason.      I have a theory, and I could be wrong, but I bet I’m not too far off: that the percentage of people who play guitar well and people who don’t is about the same between the genders. The difference is that guitar has been male-dominated for generations, and there are therefore many more great male guitarists in terms of actual numbers. So while most of the guitar heroes are male, there are also many, many men who really suck on guitar. But ridiculous, backwards thinking unfortunately still abounds, and in places much more dangerous than music. As long as there are people who still think that character can be discerned through skin color, there will certainly be people who think that music ability resides on the Y chromosome. So, rather than worrying about generally terribly punctuated tirades from dudes who seem to think a girl’s vibrato or sweep picking risks crashing the economy, I just keep working, keep practicing, keep trying to evolve and grow.

Metal Pit : So, what does the near future hold for Gretchen Menn and Zepparella? Any new tours or new music in the works? We have shows coming up, and hoping to get both bands to new areas. I’d love to get overseas! And I am always working on new music. I’m excited about my next album.

Metal Pit : Where can fans find out more about you and your bands or check out your music?   My website has it all: www.gretchenmenn.com

Metal Pit : Is there anything at all you would like to add to this interview, Gretchen?gretch6 I just really appreciate you taking the time to interview me! Thanks for the thoughtful questions, for what you do to promote music and musicians, and for all the kind words. 🙂

Metal Pit : What does it mean to you to be chosen as the Metal Pit's Maiden of the month? It is an honor! Thank you so much!

Metal Pit : Gretchen, on behalf of myself and the Metal Pit we want to thank you for chatting with us today. I absolutely love your guitar playing and look forward to perhaps seeing you play live someday soon. We wish you and your bands the best of luck in all that you do. It was absolutely my pleasure!

  Horns up brothers and sisters................Nick Rohm.