This is the debut of a brand new feature here at Blogcritics.org. Every month we will be choosing an artist to feature, giving you the reader an inside look into their music and career. Sometimes you will recognize the name, sometimes it may be someone you’ve never heard of, but it will always be a great talent, and we hope to shine a unique light on our featured artists.
Gretchen Lieberum is breaking ground all over the jazz and soul communities with her innovative mix of old jazz and all things popular. The recent release of her third album, Siren Songs is being hailed as a sultry, sexy collection of warm songs for a rainy day. For this and many other reasons you will read about in the coming weeks, Blogcritics is proud to make Gretchen Lieberum our very first “Featured Artist of the Month”.
The Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter was born and raised in Berkeley and credits that environment for having a big impact on her sound today. Gretchen says,
There is a very specific sound that reminds me of the Bay Area. When I was growing up in Berkeley there were a lot of local bands that were mixing jazz, soul, and hip-hop, and it is a sound that has effected what I write today.
And what is it exactly that she writes today? It’s an eclectic mix of old and new jazz, with drum loops and samples that will remind you of what’s being played on the hip-hop charts. It has the feel of classic jazz, with a bright new shine and it’s delivered with a warm and solid voice.[ADBLOCKHERE]Gretchen also credits her father with turning her on to jazz, saying he is a “huge fanatic.” While growing up she listened to Billie Holliday, Nina Simmone, and Sarah Vaughan as well as the greats of 70’s soul such as Stevie Wonder and Shuggie Otis. Zero 7 and Koop, a Swedish band that incorporates samples of old jazz records with live instrumentation are just two of the newer artists who have influenced her on Siren Songs.
Claiming that she started to sing about the same time she began to talk, Gretchen began taking formal voice and piano lessons around the age of nine. When asked about how her early passion for jazz evolved into becoming a singer/songwriter, she replied,
I’ve always loved singing and would apparently accost people on the street as a child and force them to listen to me sing various show tunes! I really got into singing jazz in high school. I went to Berkeley High, which at the time had a really first-rate jazz department, Joshua Redman, a famous sax player, came out of that program a few years before my time. . .But I didn’t actually begin writing songs until college, when I started a funk/disco band called Supersauce with friends. . .As that band became more popular, I started writing material on the side that eventually became my songs for my first solo album.
The late 90s is when that album, Three AM, was released. It was produced by Greg Poree, who has worked with such artists as Stevie Wonder and Cassandra Wilson. MP3.com was instrumental in helping bringing the debut album out of the shadows and into the light. Millions downloaded the singles “3 AM” and “Angel Eyes” from the site and it was regularly at the top of the sites jazz, acid jazz, and soul categories.
Riding on the success of Three AM, Leiberum caught the eye of Lakeshore Records (a division of Warner Bros.) and released her second album, Brand New Morning on that label. Singles from this album sailed to the top of the charts on Rhapsody.com right alongside of Coldplay and Eminem demonstrating just how widespread her appeal had become. Many of the songs from Brand New Morning made their way on to television, including the WB show Felicity. It was the song “Angel on My Shoulder” that she co-wrote and performed for the movie Mean Creek. The movie, which won awards at the Sundance Movie Festival, was the creation of Gretchen’s husband, Jacob Estes.
Even though Jacob is a filmmaker and not a musician, she brought him in as an Executive Producer on Siren Songs. Gretchen says that he is passionate about music and she greatly values his opinions, often taking his suggestions about the music as well as the lyrics. Finding a balance, however, she says he knows when to give her space and just let her do her thing. Building on the experience of working together on Mean Creak they pushed forward and worked side by side on the entire album.
Siren Songs is her most personal work to date. Written in the aftermath of her dearest and oldest friend’s (Serena Karlan) murder, it explores the deepest and darkest moments of grieving.
It ended up being an incredibly cathartic process for me, although at one point early on I thought that the pain was too much to continue and I considered just dropping the project for a while. However, my dad reminded me that Serena had such a deep love of music, and was such an enthusiastic supporter of my music, and asked me if I thought Serena would want me to wallow in my pain or continue to make music – the answer was obvious.
She cites going deep inside herself as the most evident marker for her growth as a songwriter between Brand New Morning and Siren Songs. Following the advice of her producer, John Gold, who told her lyrics should be “so personal that they are almost embarrassing, that you almost feel like you’ve revealed too much,” she dug real deep and exposed it all this time around.
The title itself has its roots in Greek mythology. Sirens, mythological creatures, would enchant sailors; their distractions would cause them to drown. Gretchen felt her own songs, lush and beautiful, but conceived from such a dark place, were an appropriate analogy to the myth. For a time she had considered naming the album Serena Songs and notes the similarity, “I liked that ‘siren’ sounds similar to ‘Serena’.”
Using the creation of the new album as a grieving process, Gretchen has found new perspective and is looking to the future. Aside from her music, Gretchen has some exciting events in her personal life. She was recently blessed with the birth of her daughter. Speaking on the impact of the baby on her life and Siren Songs, she said,
I was pregnant when I was mixing the album, but didn’t actually know it for a few weeks. I remember there was this one song that I kept remixing over and over again. . . .They all thought I was going crazy, but now I can blame it on pregnancy hormones!
It remains to be seen how her little girl will affect future music, but Gretchen confides that she’s busier and more tired then ever.
In the coming month: Our complete and in-depth look at Gretchen Lieberum and her music will continue with a review of Siren Songs as well as an in-depth and personal interview with pictures. . . and a few surprises:
CD Review: Gretchen Lieberum – Siren Songs
The engaging combination is as alluring to the listener as the songs of the sirens were to the passing sailors.
Posted to Music by Connie Phillips on February 6, 2006 01:40 PM
Interview: Gretchen Lieberum
Gretchen gives us a candid look at her personal life as well as her professional one and shares some of her thoughts on the music.
Posted to Music by Connie Phillips on February 13, 2006 12:41 PM
Interview: Gretchen Lieberum Looks At Songwriting
Gretchen talks more about songwriting and tells us more about the song “You Closer.”
Posted to Music by Connie Phillips on February 20, at 4:06 PM