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'ACTING OUT OF PASSION' - INTERVIEW WITH GRETCHEN SEICHRIST BY MEL

Gretchen Seichrist is a Minneapolis based musician, artist, performer, poet, painter, webcam video maker extraordinaire and any damn thing else she chooses, a self-styled sexy songstress and her band is Patches & Gretchen. Gretchen wears her heart, guts, anxiety and pain on her sleeve but still manages to come across as funny, likeable, no, lovable with a mesmerising personality which is due entirely to the honesty and intense sincerity with which she imbues everything she does.

Rockers, cabaret, folk, skiffle, tripped out soul and pop and more are all catered for and played with fondness, warmth and attention to detail by a band with style and panache enough to satisfy any hunger. But it is the lyrics that capture the heart, brain and soul of the moment. As with all the best songs, there is that wonderful feeling that these words speak directly to you alone. They remain tantalisingly out of reach and yet feel reassuringly, heart-warmingly recognisable, containing some of the most memorable, individual and original lines and phrases ever in a genre that is all too overloaded and oversubscribed. Flights of fantastical fancy trade lyrical licks with acute and delicately hewn observations until the listener is drawn hypnotically into the world pictured for us by this complex and yet wonderfully accessible writer. Stardom beckons…

My initial introduction to Patches & Gretchen was receiving the superb ‘Sugar Head Pie’ album in February and upon hearing it I felt they were a very special band, encapsulating all genres of music. The voice of Gretchen struck me as very strong, powerfully charged with a creative, imaginative eye. The band are receiving fabulous reviews both for their live shows and album. It was time to find out more about Gretchen & her Patches. I grabbed the opportunity to interview Gretchen via the great internet over a couple of days in March. Read Den's review here:

MEL: Where did the bands name come from 'Patches & Gretchen’? You use 'Gretchen & Rags' for the Facebook and YouTube vids. Why different names?

GRETCHEN: I like names in pairs - it's funny to me - and I couldn't figure out at the time who was going to help me do what I was doing so I put a patch on it, because I didn't feel like waiting for somebody. And you know everything is a fucking patch.

MEL: Patches & Gretchen, how did they all come together and what are their backgrounds? Can you talk us through the band and the way you created your unique images?

GRETCHEN: I don't know how it all came about other than I was pushy and the people I approached said yes for some reason. Well, the band has had different players sometimes and that's always a p & g thing, but the band now is stable. We sometimes have people join us. They are all well known here in Minneapolis, playing music as a way of life.

Rich Mattson is on the album and a co- producer - he lives and breathes music- has played in many Minneapolis bands- has a band called the Tisdales and musicians from his band played on the album too - they are sort of ghost patches and Gretchen members. As well as Devin Hill who co - wrote some of the music with me. They are all just very enthusiastic people that were open and excited to try things with me, as well as the other members of my current band. I think of the ghost member guys as like Bob Dylan’s ‘the band’ but [laughs] that's pretty uppity of me! They live in upstate Minnesota on the Iron Range and they have their own music.

The regular playing band is Terry Eason, Todd Newman, Tommy Tousey and Paul Mcfarland and sometimes Jaime Paul Lamb. They have all been playing music for a long time, and all have their own other projects and music. We are swingers that way. Anybody can do anything with anyone. They are all exceptional in every way. The way we came together is they just took a chance on a complete unknown, and I think we are all turned on by what we are doing. There is a lot of thought into creating something that pleases us. That we get excited about.

MEL: You've just released your new album 'Sugar Pie Head' with some outstanding reviews. The songs are all written with an artist eye, using intelligence, wit and an aspect of fantasy. I'm just wondering where you draw your inspiration from to write these songs.

GRETCHEN: The words are always in my head, and you know that it's all forming and you aren't sure what it's saying enough to tell someone but you know it's coming. In fact it's harder to not write than write most of the time. The anxiety comes when I feel pulled somewhere else and can't get everything down. Sometimes I wake up and the song is there and I want everything out of my way. That's tricky. And really, it's the only way I really think or see things, so it's the details of other stuff that people tend to talk about that make me anxious.

MEL: Take for example the lyrics in 'Sugar Head Pie' where you spit and snarl your way through the lyrics - 'Woncha, come and play Sugar Head Pie', I'm curious to know the meaning of Sugar Head Pie?

GRETCHEN: I guess it has a “don’t tell me what I'm supposed to pay attention to or value" statement. It was on one level written for a friend that is intensely creative and bright, but like most of us found it hard to think of that as something you can pledge your life to. It was written as a sort of a friend love song to that. You don't need anyone's permission to build a monument to something. Angry, anxious, sad, old, ugly, sick, poor, lonely, fat, and silly or fucked up. Just make something out of that. There's no colour off limits. Anyway, short answer is I wrote it for a friend who I spent hours making up things with and she got all like "okay, I have to stop this now" and I was trying to get her to create with me, well, for one because she was a rare person that intrinsically got the jokes and pain inside everything and that made me feel better, but also truthfully because I could see that light in her and I wanted her to always feel that way.
So, saying all that I can't stand when somebody feels hopeless and I want to put on a clown suit and well, take it on the road. So it's a love song to the traumatized from the forest.

MEL: On your YouTube channel you have created little videos which have more intensely personal and revealing songs. They don't appear on the albums, is their any reason and any plans to release them?

GRETCHEN: Yes, maybe or they will form into something else. I started doing them as a way to have no restrictions on what is a song and what is finished. Nothing is finished and as far as revealing, I'm not trying to clean things up I guess.

MEL: It seems that you’ve had a tough life and suffered great hurts but you are strong for your children and music. Would you say your songs are cathartic in any way?

GRETCHEN: Well, don't know about being strong. I don't know if I'd call it cathartic - it's not just venting. I am creating a thing that I want to see or hear. I'm taking all the things floating around and saying they're important - because to me they are.

And even if they are revealing, they are intended as a conversation or monument to someone else. As far as my children go, I think the best I could do is stay out of the way of who they are. I would like to strengthen that ability for sure.

MEL: I know you’re a big Dylan fan, but how do you feel about being described as a Dylanette, and what traits would you consider you have in common with the man himself?

GRETCHEN: Shit, I don't care. Dylanette, Schmalynette or however it would be. Yeah, it's great. They picked the right one for me there. In common, well I have no idea - maybe we would have to talk about that - me and him. We both like his songs. And I'm not that hard to find. I guess that would be it.

MEL: What's the idea behind the styling both on the cover of the album and in your live shows, when you paint your face white. Does this have any bearing on Bob Dylan's 'Rolling Thunder' days when he painted his face white?

GRETCHEN: Oh sure, of course, it's a beautiful thing. I do it for other reasons I don't even know. It's a chance to paint my face. I like to paint. When he did it, it sure was cool. I never forgot it. And now it is something else. I just read, "It's all one long song" and besides it's a fuck you to all things that cram this word sexy down your throat and it's fucking really a colour in the lines boredom - it has no real erotic base. Which is intelligence, connection, kindness, that bright passion, that opening of the brain with all those things coming together - that's desire. So me doing it now maybe has some other thing involved. I mean it's not new. I'm just doing it for me. It seemed the natural thing to do.

MEL: This is a question from David Wynn upon witnessing your live show recently. David flew all the way from London to Minneapolis just for one of your shows I believe. Now that’s saying something!
Your obviously an incredibly charismatic and hypnotic, sexually charged performer. Somehow, though, there is also a very clear fragility and endearing quality to the songs and performances. There is power and vulnerability all at the same time. What is your view of that? 

GRETCHEN: [laughs] yeah, I don't know. When I'm performing I'm making a thing from everything that is my experience - not trying to emulate someone else - the thing I'm making is free and so I try to use the chance to get as close as I can to saying the thing in every way I need to say......so I can't help it.

I think I have a sense that nobody else is gonna write my songs. It's funny if it's sexually charged. You know it's just me thinking. I guess I'm still breathing.

MEL: Your shows certainly appear like your all having a lot of fun, what can people expect to see at one of your shows?

GRETCHEN: Yes, we are and that's what someone would see. We are all acting out of passion as far as I can tell. We know what we are doing at the same time. We are pleasing ourselves and probably bring along everything that inspired us musically. When I'm doing it, I think of it as the most important thing there is. And we are always experimenting with what feels important to convey. And then there is the other unexpected part that everybody brings from their life that day and we work it out in some strange way. Really, for me I'm just making a sign for somebody to find in the garage, and run to show their disinterested relatives.

MEL: Whilst not wanting to dwell on the fact that Aimee Mann is your sister, and I know you have your own original style and sound. I would like to pose the question of how much she has influenced you musically and have you ever collaborated on songs?

GRETCHEN: Hmmmmmm, I don't know. We have totally separate experiences so I'm not sure. I think a lot of her words - music are familiar to me when I first hear them, like I knew them before or like you would assume - a relative's letter from another city. You know she's interested in people and what they do - I'm the same that way. We co- wrote a song on her last album, ‘Smilers’, but you know I can't be her and vice- versa.  

MEL: I beleive that song was 'Medicine Wheel' which you wrote the lyrics to. Seichrist is a very unusual name (well it is for the North of England) do you have a good story behind this and its origins?

GRETCHEN: It's a German name, but no - I don't, like a lot of American people now, the original thread is lost to me. It's like John Trudell talks about; the tribal memory is too far gone. Nobody remembers why we chose this restaurant.

MEL: Who are your musical inspirations and idols besides Dylan & Patti Smith?

GRETCHEN: I don't know about anybody being my idol - well maybe Bob if that's the only word around. Sure, Patti Smith is great. James Baldwin, John Trudell,
Kirchner, Little Wolf, Bessie Smith, Frank Zappa, Bukowski, Phyllis Diller, Wub- E- Ke - Niew, Alex White Plume and co, Washington Phillips, Lenny Bruce, Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska.

MEL: You seem very keen to promote the strength and empowerment of Women who would you say influenced you in all forms, art, music and poetry?


GRETCHEN: I'm not any more keen to promote anybody over anyone else. It's already a given to me all are worthy to exist. I don't think about that too much, I'm influenced by ideas, words, stories, love...art.... yeah maybe woody Allen.
 


MEL: We know you’re very much into American retro music but who are you currently listening to musically, and what albums might we find in your recent collection?

GRETCHEN: I can't even say it's always different besides the usual people I go to that make me think or feel. I spend long periods of time doing my own stuff - and then come up for air - It's rare that things really grab you and move you from one place to another as Dylan says. I might go in search of that in other places if I can't find it in current music offerings. I'm sure it's there everywhere but it’s not what's offered openly, you know how things work....... things are toned down and people want to keep up the illusion.
Even the subjects are regulated; things that are presented as raw angry punk rock are still really the same point of view. It's all very white male and even if it's not from a white male, it still is. Everybody takes their seats. I read writer Sherman Alexie saying something about how a lot of Indian people he knows are just brown white people. I guess a lot of women are just female white men etc.... meaning to me that the diversity only comes out as slight food preferences and skin tones but the ideas the viewpoints are all aspiring to the same bullshit, even when it's presented as culturally unique, most of the time the product is the same old thing.

I like to hear something that gets outside all that or goes way down into the real experience of being a human and witnessing it all. Or at least be funny. I'm not saying I'm there; the filter is not big enough to keep out all the crap. But it's what I think about, but at the same time, I really like the Allman brothers.
 
MEL: A little bird tells me you are obsessed with teeth, you mention them in a few songs. So what's that all about?

GRETCHEN
: Simple. No money- teeth hurt.

MEL: And finally are you planning to branch out and visit us in UK, we'd love to see you over here.

GRETCHEN: I'm planning on everything - just need someone or way to get there.

Thanks for giving up your time for a super interview Gretchen - Mel

www.sugarheadpie.com
www.patchesandgretchen.com
www.facebook.com/patchesandgretchen

www.youtube.com/user/patchesandgretchen

Intro piece by David Wynn
Interview by Mel 23/03/10
Photos provided by Gretchen - credits to Tony Nelson, Debbie Donovan, Pamela Diedrich, Rebecca Graham (purple dress) Set by Michael Etoll