Gretchen Pleuss. With her upper-register vocals and beautifully poetic lyrics, Pleuss regularly draws comparisons to the great songsmith.
“I’ll take that comparison,” Pleuss says one afternoon from Nature’s Oasis, the Lakewood grocery store and coffee shop where she often performs. “I love how she writes. She has songs that are similar to mine because they have that stream of conscious element and tend to be observational.”
Pleuss's latest album, Daughter of the Broader Skies, serves as another good example of her talent, and Pleuss plays three special shows next week to celebrate its release. She'll perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 12, at the Rialto Theatre in Akron, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 13, at Lucky Records in Wooster and at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 14, at the Music Box Supper Club.
Originally from Cincinnati, Pleuss moved to the Akron area when she was in grade school. She picked up guitar when she was only 11 and immediately took to the thing.
“It was actually a gift from aunt,” she says when asked about that first guitar. “Up until then, I hadn’t thought about, but once I had it, it was a matter of getting lessons and falling in love with it. At that time, I listened to Lilith Fair-era music — Indigo Girls and Sheryl Crow. Naturally, I listened to Avril Lavigne and the popular music at the time too.”
A mere six months after learning to play the guitar, Pleuss began writing her own material and playing the coffeehouse circuit.
“I played a lot in the Orville and Wooster area,” she says. “I eventually moved up to Akron and started playing bars before I was able to drink.”
In addition to writing songs, she writes short stories and novellas.
“It wasn’t very good initially,” she says of her creative writing endeavors. “It was unpolished. The more I got older, the more I honed in on those skills.”
Pleuss started recording when she was still a teenager. Her first record, Innocence, features a mix of covers and originals. With 2013’s Out of Dreams, she worked with a legitimate producer for the first time. Locally based Jim Wirt (Incubus) worked with her on the album and helped shape her sound. Wirt even played bass on the album too.
“That was a good experience,” she says of making Out of Dreams. “I had never worked with a producer. I had only worked with engineers. I hadn’t worked with someone who was willing to look at a song and say what it needed. Everything was really professionally done too. If you don’t have a producer on hand, you get stuck in your artistic vision. We all have are own bubbles we live in as artists. That's not the best for a song. [Wirt] helped me view things as a big picture. Before that, it was just me playing my songs the way I wrote them, and that was the way it was going to be.”
She worked with Wirt again on Daughter of the Broader Skies. The album features some songs that are a few years old and some that were just written last year.
“I had about 20 songs, and we narrowed it down to 12 that fit together and make the most sense as a whole,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily try to do anything differently with this album. There’s always that sense when you’re done that you think about what you would have also done. I’m really happy with how it turned out. It’s ironic that when you’re working on an album, you polish the songs and it takes a year or so to finish the album, and by the time you’re done with it, you have to play them for another year or two years. By that time, you’re tired of the songs, but I’m really happy with these songs.”
Album opener "If You Saw Me Now" features a catchy melody buttressed by echoing vocals and a tempered guitar riff. During the song's bridge, Pleuss capably hits the high notes as she croons the track's refrain. With its soft, cooing vocals and gentle guitars, "Songbird" comes off as a particularly tender meditation on love.
The inspiration for the album's first single, “Everybody’s Pretty,” a song that recalls singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco's folkier side, came from a trip she took to New York with local singer-songwriter Michelle Gaw.
"There was a day or two during that trip where we parted ways to do our own thing," says Pleuss. "I met up with some old friends and made new acquaintances. I explored on my own. It was another opportunity to people watch. I observed the way people present themselves versus the way they might be. I think that’s something we do in general but in a big city, it’s more obvious that everyone is wearing a façade. I started thinking about how it can make us feel misunderstood or lonely. It’s escalated by social media. On the internet, we can be one person, but we’re totally different in real life. I was trying to present it like it could be anywhere even though there is a lot of New York imagery there.”
Pleuss says the upcoming release shows will each be a little different from one another.
“I’m playing with my band, and every show is a little bit different,” she says. “We leave room for improvisation. At the Rialto, I’ll have a projector and videos and that will be a different sort of all-sensory performance. The Music Box show will be more intimate and a little more raw. I’ll have a sax player with me, so that will add a new element as well. The Wooster show will just be solo, and that will be an intimate and acoustic show for Record Store Day and hopefully will encourage people to come to the store and buy actually records.”
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