Gretchen took some time out of her day last week to talk to us about her new album which features the Songs of Mickey Newbury! She talked us through the recording process and how it was different from the records featuring her own songwriting. She also talked us through her routine during Lockdown.
This record is very different from your previous records in the way that all the songs are written by Mickey Newbury, we hear none of your originals. What made you decide to make this album and to feature Mickey’s music in particular?
I have been a Mickey Newbury fan since I was in my late teens, I loved his music, not just his songs but his own records as well since then. I got the idea in my head a number of years ago partly because I felt as a songwriter he’s criminally overlooked. He was a huge inspiration for the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark and Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell, he was an influence on all of those people and yet he’s not as well known so that was part of my motivation. But really it goes back to loving Mickey and his songs and I wanted to go back and sing my favourites and see what we could make out of them. The World doesn’t need other versions of Mickey’s songs because he did them beautifully himself but I love to sing and I love to sing cover songs and he was a worthy subject I felt.
So recording that album, was the process different, did you approach the sessions in the studio any differently to recording your own music?
Actually when it comes to the actual recording of the song it’s not any different, it’s always, how can I tell the story in the best way. I record my songs in the same way, it’s the same with producing the album, what instrumentation is going to let these lyrics shine through and for this album I felt there needed to be very little in the way of production and instrumentation as that was the way his lyrics were going to be front and centre and that’s what I wanted. As a singer, I feel my strength is in the storytelling, I feel like people really listen to the words when I sing. So I felt that was something I could bring to the table. In terms of the actual process of recording it was very different in the sense that we didn’t go in and record the whole album at once. We found the studio that Mickey recorded in during the 60’s and 70’s. We realised it was still an operating studio so we booked time there and we would record two or three songs at a time and then not go back for 6-8 months, once a whole year went by, mostly because we were on the road or we were busy, but we didn’t want to hurry it which made it a really relaxed, lovely experience. When we got back together we’d had time to absorb it and think about it. It was a wonderful way to make a record, of course when you do it that way it takes three years but it was so low pressure. It was far away from Music Row, not even in Nashville, it’s in a barn in Madison Tennessee so no one knew where we were, no one knew anything about it. It was like a warm bubble we were in.
You talked there about Cinderella Studio which I wanted to ask you about, people often say when they record at Sun Studio, they can feel the magic of the music recorded before them. Did you feel any of that energy recording those songs where Mickey Newbury recorded them?
Well we went in there hoping that we would, lets see if that magic is still in those walls. I really believe in the power of place, I believe that places, buildings hold the energy that’s in there that comes from the people in them. I think there’s something about a place where so much music has been made for such a long time, in the case of Cinderella, so much music that affected me as a young musician. It gave me a sense of perspective, you realise what a small speck you are in the Ocean, in the Ocean of music, it takes the pressure off. It’s just another record that’s being made in a place where so many records have been made and you just do your best and that’s fine. The other thing I’ll say about recording there was getting to know Wayne Moss who worked on some of Mickey’s stuff. Charlie McCoy played Harmonica and he played with Mickey and Bob Dylan and just about everybody. Getting to know those people who worked on those albums was a huge treat for me, it really meant a lot.
It’s hard to plan our lives at the moment but do you plan to tour with this record?
Yeah to say the least haha, yeah we’ve rearranged our UK dates for February so assuming we can all gather together by then we’ll be over playing some of these songs and some of my own too. It will happen, those of us who love music and find it cathartic to share music with each other all need it! I didn’t realise how much I would miss it until all this happened, I knew I’d miss it but I was looking forward to resting for a while because we’ve been touring heavily for a while. But I really miss it, I miss the fans, I miss seeing their faces, I miss hanging out with them at the mercy table after a gig, I miss the energy I get from them. Social media has been great to stay connected but it’s not the same.
Finally, how have you been spending lockdown? Have you taken up a new Hobby or been writing more or taking some time to relax?
I haven’t been able to write, I’ve spoken about it with a lot of my writing friends, I haven’t been able to concentrate. This is like a slow motion emergency that we’re in that’s not conducive to writing but I’m not worried about it, I’ll write again when I feel like it. I’ve been writing other things, a couple of essays and things but not songs. I’m locked down here with my Husband and we have a new puppy. We’re down in Florida, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in nature which has been good for me, I’ve been walking on the beach and in our neighbourhood getting some sun. We’ve been cooking, we’ve been reading, we’ve been going to bed early like grandma and grandpa, which is how it goes with a new puppy. Just basic living stuff which for someone who has lived out of suitcases and hotels for a long long time, that part has been lovely, to be in one place for a while. So it’s been lovely that part of it and our puppy loves it because we never leave!