By Michael Lello
As a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and arranger, Gretchen Lohse has been a prolific member of the Philadelphia music community for some time. Despite all of that activity, however, there had been at least one box left unchecked on her list of accomplishments: An album released under her own name.
That box can be checked — with authority – this week with the release of “Primal Rumble,” a stunning solo debut record from Lohse.
Below, you can listen to the premiere of “All Around The River,” an album track featuring Northeastern Pa. expatriates Mike Quinn and Brian Langan.
Lohse, who previously released music under the Yellow Humphrey band name, said this project is a bit different.
“Well, I think to begin with, when I was doing stuff for Yellow Humphrey, I was playing a lot more shows with a full band,” she said. “Starting out, it felt weird using just my name when I had all these really talented musicians putting in just as much time and effort into learning and performing songs that I wrote but they were writing their own parts. . . . I guess I had just gotten little bit busier, and I had recorded a series of demos, [including] a lot of the songs which are on ‘Primal Rumble,’ and I got a really good response just from their sparseness and how simple they were. I hadn’t thought much about them, but it got me thinking, and I decided I just wanted to do a little bit of a simpler album that maybe wouldn’t take as long to record. “
The 10-track record features Lohse on guitar, vocals, violin and viola, as well as contributions from The Spinto Band’s Thomas Hughes (various keyboards and vocals), Lohse’s brother Nathan (cello), Ben Cocchiaro (banjo, guitars), Alex Luquet (upright bass), Naeemah Maddox (flute) and Alec Meltzer (percussion).
“I can’t help myself,” Lohse said, laughing, when we asked why she worked with so many contributors on an album that finally would bear only her name. “There are so many people that I love playing with.”
Deciding who would add what to the tracks – whether she had a part in mind or just a musician she wanted on the album – varied from song to song.
“It was a little bit of both,” she said. “Specifically with Mike Quinn and Brian Langan on ‘All Aroud the River.’ I played it with Mike a few times just for some shows in Philadelphia, and he asked Brian and I to play it with him at his record release show.”
If there seems to be a theme, or at least a consistent feeling, throughout “Primal Rumble” — which blends folk and chamber music elements into an appealing and haunting sound of its own — that was the intention.
“I was trying to keep everything simple and have the songs be kind of true to the way that I wrote them: by myself on acoustic guitar,” she said. “Lyrically, I wanted to reach back and think of themes or emotions or struggles, just things that people have always gone through throughout history, and not just now, and kind of have that as a theme running throughout.”
Lohse, who has recorded string arrangements on the upcoming Lewis and Clarke album and for artists such as The Spinto Band, Nightlands, B.C. Camplight, From A Foundation, Toy Soldiers and Arc In Round, comes from a musical family. In fact her father, who picked up the fiddle, guitar and mandolin in college, and her mother, a classically trained violinist, met when performing at The Irish Center in Philadelphia. “They’re not Irish at all, but they decided they wanted to play Irish music, I guess,” Lohse said, laughing.
“I feel like I’ve had a pretty unique combination of musical styles in my life,” she said. “I’m classically trained on violin, but my dad always encouraged improvisation and learning folk songs and fiddle music. Both my parents are very supportive and really encouraged music and all kinds of art in our house growing up. My brothers both play as well.”
Lohse plans to release a few videos to promote “Primal Rumble” as well as play some shows in early 2014.
“I’m kind of waiting until maybe the new year, because things get so crazy in December that I didn’t want to put pressure on myself, and also it’s just hard to get people out the closer you get to Christmas and Hanukkah and all the holidays.”
“All Around The River”