Gretchen Menn Is Primed for Zepparella’s Malibu Guitar Festival Performance
Zepparella, the all-female rock band that dares to channel the almighty Led Zeppelin through their own improvised magic, will perform at the Third Annual Malibu Guitar Festival, which runs May 18 through 21.
The festival pays homage to the Rolling Stones, a band fronted by two of rock’s biggest icons—Mick Jagger and Keith Richards—both of whom have defined the look, attitude and sound of rock and roll for about five decades.
Other acts scheduled to perform include Steve Vai, the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band and Hunter Hayes. Robby Krieger of the Doors will receive a special honor in celebration of the iconic band’s 50th anniversary.
Zepparella, a Led Zeppelin tribute band that features Gretchen Menn (guitar), Clementine (drums), Angeline Saris (bass) and Noelle Doughty (vocals), blend a diverse array of influences ranging from speed metal to classical to jazz, R&B and rock—all of which is channelded into a top-notch Zep tribute. The group also is featured in the forthcoming documentary, She Rocks.
Menn is still riding the wave from her acclaimed solo conceptual project, Abandon All Hope, an album based on Dante Alighieri’s epic 14th-century poem, Inferno. I recently spoke with Menn about the Malibu Guitar Festival, Zepparella, her music and more.
How has reaction been to your solo release, Abandon All Hope?
It’s been great. I assumed that by its nature it might be specific in its audience. But I recently had a supporter in Germany who bought it for his 78-year-old mom who wasn’t into rock at all, and he told me she absolutely loved it. On the flip side, I have a 6-year-old nephew who’s at an age where’s he’s not shy to tell you exactly what he thinks, and he loved it as well. I’m so glad it’s reaching and affecting so many people.
What can you tell me about Zepparella’s upcoming show at Malibu Guitar Festival?
It’s going to be a little different from a normal Zepparella show. Once in a while, we’ll have someone sit in with us for songs like “When the Levee Breaks” and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” This show will be different because we’re going to be playing with a bunch of different people. Initially, we thought we were going to be the house band and play other people’s stuff. But Steve Vai said, “Let’s play some Zeppelin!” Can he be any more awesome? [laughs].
What’s it like for you to be able to share the stage with Vai?
I’m trying not to be completely freaked out about it [laughs]. Steve’s a guitar god, and it’s an incredible honor. When you’re 15, it’s something you never dream of. It all comes from a positive space.
How did Zepparella come together?
It was actually through one conversation I had with Clementine. She and I had been playing in another tribute band, and the other girls in the band had different priorities. They had other things going on and didn’t want to tour and as a result, we got offered a lot of opportunities that we had to turn down. I remember Clementine and me were driving to a gig and were crestfallen about having to turn down some of these things. That’s when she said, you know what? I’ve always wanted to start a Led Zeppelin tribute band. She mentioned the idea as a way of not only filling in our schedules for when the other girls didn’t want to play gigs, but also to evolve as musicians.
If you ask anyone how they learn to play music, they’ll tell you that it’s through the imitation of our heroes and icons. That’s when I thought, well, nothing bad is going to happen to my guitar playing by learning Jimmy Page [laughs]. The next thing I knew, Clementine had booked the first gig for eight weeks in the future and gave me a set list of 15 songs. I had only been in bands a short while up to that point, so it was a huge amount of work. I think I did nothing but play Led Zeppelin for five hours a day every day for eight weeks to get the material together.
What are the band’s current tour plans like?
We’re busy. We have a Pacific Northwest tour coming up, then we’ll be in LA, and then we’ll be heading south in a few weeks. We also have some East Coast dates lined up in the fall.
You‘ve mentioned a lot about how important your guitar teacher, Phillip de Fremery, was to your playing. What was the best bit of advice he gave you?
One of the most important things wasn’t actually a quote. It was something he instilled in me from the very beginning. I always thought that if you didn’t start playing really young, then you’d never get anywhere. But he taught me that was nonsense and said that not only might I be professional, but chances are I would be professional. I can’t even begin to tell you how important that was.
When the teacher you respect so deeply has that kind of confidence in you, it translates into the way you view your own possibilities. It’s the moment when you realize the surest way to render something possible is to believe it to be true. And when you think that something might be possible, you start finding ways to make it so.
On the practical side, what he gave me that was helpful was patience. Frustration is something I deal with frequently and with guitar, you learn that you have to confront that beast. Playing a musical instrument is, by its nature, not about instant gratification. Phillip taught me how to practice and how to be a more patient person.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
I have some fun collaborations in the works and some ideas for other things. I’m also working on music for a follow-up for Abandon All Hope and continue to study composition and orchestration. I’m always trying to learn.
For more about Menn, visit gretchenmenn.com. For more about the Malibu Guitar Festival, visit malibuguitarfestival.com.