Part three of our continuing coverage of Gretchen Lieberum, February’s featured artist of the month, is an interview. 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 industry in general.
You recently had a new baby. Are you finding that your daughter is affecting the tone of your songwriting? The time you have for songwriting?
At this point, I am finding it hard to find time to take a shower! As for how my daughter, Iris, will affect the tone of my writing, I honestly don’t know. I imagine that it will to some extent. Having a baby has been such a powerful, amazing experience, and a real lesson on how quickly time passes, and how important it is to live in the moment and appreciate what is in front of you. Those themes will probably worm their way into my next album.
You’ve worked twice now with your husband. Do you two find it difficult to separate yourselves from the work when you leave the studio?
Because we are both artists without day jobs, our work is constantly a part of the rest of our lives. It is really hard to separate the two. At one point in my life, I was working as a kindergarten teacher, and although I enjoyed my work, when the clock struck three, I was done for the day, physically and emotionally. When I’m working on music, I find it impossible to turn off my brain and focus on something else. I’ll often wake up in the middle of the night still trying to figure something out about a lyric or a melody I’m working on. And Jacob is the same way with his work. So, there are a lot of work discussions going on at our house in the middle of the night.
You credit the success of 3AM on MP3.com as a major factor in getting Lakeshore Records to get behind Brand New Morning. Has the Internet, and sites like MP3.com specifically, continued to be a good source of exposure?
Absolutely. Most radio stations play the same twenty or so songs, depending on the station’s format. How can anyone else be heard other than on the Internet? You don’t necessarily have to be with a label to get your music heard anymore. Almost every success I’ve had with my music has started from someone hearing me on the Internet. It’s incredible to post a song on a music site, and then get positive emails about your song from all over the world.
Avila is a city in Spain that I traveled to when I was 18, but the song isn’t really specifically about that city. It’s really more about that feeling you get when you are traveling, that you are outside of yourself and your everyday world. It is easy to hide in that space when there is something difficult to face at home. I remember the feeling I had when I was traveling at 18, and having the sense of how vast the world was that lay before me, and how much time I had, how careless I felt. When I’m traveling now, I have such a hard time leaving my worries and responsibilities at home. So the song is really about longing for that feeling of freedom again. Or it’s from the point of view of someone who is afraid to go home and face the music, and is finding comfort in the aimlessness of travel.
You speak in your bio about your writing for Siren Songs being cathartic. Do you always have to go somewhere deep when you create?
It’s hard for me to write about something that isn’t directly related to some experience I am going through. I think my lyrics are pretty narrow in that sense! Sometimes I’ll see a film or read a book that is inspiring creatively and I’ll incorporate some of the ideas into what I’m writing, but only if I can relate it to my own experience in some way. I’m not saying that every song is literally about my life, although some are. Every so often I’ll try to write a song about the about the outside world, like how much I hate George Bush or something, but it always comes out sounding forced and insincere. So I inevitably go back to writing about myself!
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you – the lyrics, the music, the recording process or something else?
The hardest part for me is usually the lyrics. It’s hard for me to write when I’m not feeling inspired. I’m pretty hard on myself, and I’m a perfectionist, and sometimes feel as if my lyrics fall short of what I’d hoped to express. I’m much more confident about my voice and the melodies I write. And I find the recording process to be really enjoyable. I love adding layers of sound to a track, then taking layers away, and listening to how what you have originally created grows and changes through the recording process. I imagine it to be almost like painting.
Your list of influences is long and varied. Do you find yourself influenced creatively by what is currently your favorite artist/CD?
I don’t have a current favorite, but the stuff I listen to definitely effects my work. While recording Siren Songs, I was listening to Zero 7 a lot, and Bebel Gilberto. I love the balance of organic sounds to electric sounds and loops on both of those albums, and tried to emulate that balance on mine.
What is currently your favorite artist/CD?
To be honest, since my daughter was born 5 months ago, I’ve been listening pretty exclusively to old stuff. Every morning I make a cup of tea, hang out with Iris in the living room, and put on either Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, Neil Young’s Harvest and/or After the Gold Rush, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, Nina Simone at Town Hall…….I call it “Music Appreciation Class”. Sometimes I play along on Iris’ toy xylophone!
I noticed awhile back that you requested fans suggest songs for you to cover on Myspace. Have you had a large response to that?
Yes, I’ve gotten some amazing responses and ideas, songs by everyone from Leonard Cohen to Depeche Mode. Although I love covering jazz songs like “Key Largo” and reworking the style in an unexpected way, I also like the idea of taking a song that is very different from my music and making it my own. When you do a cover, it’s important that you breathe new life into the song, rather than just copy the original and stick your own vocals in there.
Do you have any live shows coming up to support Siren Songs?
Not as of yet, but I will be playing a live set on an Internet radio show Thurdsay the 23rd from 10 to 12 pm. You can get more information about it at killradio. I do want to start playing live again. I am just emerging from the world of raising a newborn and am looking forward to playing music again.
Any plans for the future?
I am signing with a UK label to distribute Siren Songs in the UK and throughout Europe. I think they are planning to release the album there in April or May. I want to get a band together to start playing live shows again, and eventually start working in material for my next album. Other than that, I plan on hanging out with my family.
Previous articles on Gretchen Lieberum can be found at February’s Featured Artist – Gretchen Lieberum.