We caught up with Gretchen Menn who will be featured in the winter edition of our print magazine—be sure and keep an eye out for that! But here’s a sneak peek, as well as an update about the guitarist from the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band and her solo work.
A Zepparella show runs the gamut of the iconic band’s catalog, but at first, Menn wasn’t keen on duplicating Jimmy Page’s bowed guitar parts. The lore of the bow technique goes back to Page’s time as a ’60s session musician. A string player suggested it to Page who later played bowed guitar here and there in the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. But Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” famously got an ample dose, as well as “How Many More Times,” and “In The Light.”
Menn was skeptical about including the bowed guitar solos to avoid any gimmickry. “I was resistant to it initially because I was concerned it would step over the line of respectful tribute,” says Menn. “Part of the reason Zepparella doesn’t do the Zeppelin costumes or replicate gestures and mannerisms is the concern that the mimicry could upstage the music. The bow solo seemed too close to what might come across as overly “Spinal Tap,” ‘sure, let me get my bow, and let’s lower a mini Stonehenge while we’re at it’—but I was completely wrong.”
Clementine (Zepparella’s drummer, founder and bandleader) had a good vibe about this part of their repertoire. “She made it clear that the bow solo needed to happen,” said Menn. “She doesn’t mandate a lot, but when she does, I listen. So, with great trepidation, I acquired a bow, rosin, and started trying to figure out how to make it sound like something worthwhile. Much to my surprise, I found myself honestly engaged with creating different sounds. When I took that to the stage, audiences seemed to appreciate it, which fed into my enthusiasm.”
Watch Zepparella perform “Dazed and Confused”
As far as learning the classic Led Zeppelin songs, her approach is about honoring the originals. “I always try to learn everything as note-for-note as I can hear it, and that often changes as my ability to discern evolves. I often uncover details I was certain I had learned exactly right, but now I hear them differently. So I’m always making tweaks as my ears grow. Consulting multiple sources is a way of doing your homework and really knowing why you’ve chosen to play a song the way you do.”
That being said, you have your own instructional book. What inspired “The Way Music Works: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using the Fundamentals of Music to Unlock the Fretboard & Your Creativity”?
Adam Perlmutter, my editor, and the people at Acoustic Guitar Magazine deserve the credit for allowing me to write a series on a topic that can be a hard sell to guitarists—understanding the fundamentals of music. They first enlisted me for a limited series of a few articles, and those got positive enough feedback with their readers that we continued the series, ultimately extending it and adapting it into a book.
I am very, very grateful for the opportunity to work with such wonderful people who aren’t afraid to let me write on a topic that doesn’t pander for quick views or clicks, but actually might be of true benefit to other musicians as they forge their own paths.
Check out Gretchen Menn’s instructional book, which is an excellent way to advance your playing or also a great gift idea.
“The Way Music Works: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using the Fundamentals of Music to Unlock the Fretboard & Your Creativity”
What live projects/music are you working on now?
My original trio featuring Thomas Perry on drums and Johaan Hill on bass has been doing some live shows and booking more. Both Tom and Johaan are fantastically skilled musicians and delightful humans, and I love playing music with them.
I still love playing in Zepparella with Clementine (drummer), Anna Kristina (vocals), and Holly West (bass). We’re very fortunate to have grown a loyal, lovely audience, and it’s an absolute joy to share music we revere with others.
Your second album Abandon All Hope was released in 2016. Any other recording work on the horizon?
I’m working on a couple of album projects—one geared more toward solo guitar pieces as well as a sequel to Abandon All Hope, based on Dante’s Purgatorio. Like with Abandon All Hope, I’m working at the absolute leading edge of my compositional abilities, so the process is a bit laborious, but really exciting, too.
What other projects are you pursuing?
Because I can’t seem to avoid overbooking myself, I’m also in a graduate program at ThinkSpace Education for Professional Media Composition, learning to compose music for films, TV, etc.
I just got word that one of the greatest honors of my career so far is confirmed—Steven Mackey, a pioneer of incorporating electric guitar into “serious” composed music and one of my biggest heroes—was commissioned to write a guitar concerto to be performed in 2024. He is writing it specifically to be performed by Jiji Kim and me! Jiji is a mind-blowing classical and electric guitarist and will be performing the premiere in January of 2024. I am set to be the soloist for the second performance of it with the Utah Symphony in April 2024.