Gwendolyn is all grown up
By Naughty Mickie   notymickie@earthlink.ent
Gwendolyn is the name of a Southern California Americana group fronted by vocalist and guitarist Gwendolyn, with Brandon Jay on drums, percussion and harmonica, Douglas Lee on musical glasses, jaw harp, saw and upright bass player Robert Petersen. Over the years, singer/songwriter Gwendolyn has led her band mates on a journey through eclectic and sometimes psychedelic-edged music, blissfully indulging her whims with various playful genres spanning out from her folky core. But with her most recent effort, "Bright Light" (Whispersquish, Sept. 2011), she has come back around to sing firmly from her roots, which may be just the ticket to getting major notice.
Gwendolyn is also in Gwendolyn and the Good Time Band, a children's music group, which has been together eight years and has produced four albums. In between, she and  husband Brandon Jay are composers for Showtime's "Weeds" and have written a musical based on the film, "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion." musical should hit the stage this year.
"Bright Light" also features Evo Bluestein, Tony Gilkyson (X, Lone Justice), Josh Grange (Dwight Yoakum, K.D. Lange), Paul Lacques ( See Hawks in L.A.), Danny McGough, Cliff Wagner and Tim Weed, with additional vocals by members of I See Hawks in L.A. and The Living Sisters. It has a country groove, as opposed to her previous efforts,  "Ultrasounds" (2000), "Dew" (2003) and "Lower Mill Road" (2007), which boasted eclectic folk.
"This album is the first grownup record that I've done in about eight years and so all these songs have been in my pocket for a while and I've been wanting to do a country style record for a few years," Gwendolyn explains. "I got married, had a baby girl, it just felt like the right time.
"I was working with Ethan Allen (Patty Griffin), who I've known for years and wanted to work with for years, we just knew that this would be the right project for us and we did it real fast, like in three weeks. We did it live, in three days we recorded everything with the band and then we just invited our friends over the next week and they played all over it and then we mixed it and it was all done." Gwendolyn continues, "It was good because I had a baby. Now she's two and a half, so even though the record was done in three weeks, it still took me another year to finish."
We discuss her writing process.
"I work a couple of different ways depending on the project I'm working on," says Gwendolyn. "If I'm scoring television or film or if I'm creating a pop song, the melody might start in my head, but for my own material, it's a happy marriage between me and my guitar-- the guitar is sort of the lightning rod for whatever comes through. I feel in my own material, I'm more channeling it and then you figure out what the song is and what the song wants to be and you get out of the way.
"I am mostly inspired by nature and the human condition. I feel like I'm simple, but I also like far-out concepts. I really love Scientific American magazine, I really get into what's going on in space and I love astrology and I love the mountains, just the relationships that humans have with each other, everything is inspiring," Gwendolyn goes on. "In some cases, not in all cases because I feel like I'm a versatile writer, it's like a painter doing a Cubist painting. In something like 'The Olden Days' on 'Bright Lights,' that's very straight-forward, it couldn't be plainer. I think this record is, for the most part, very straight-ahead in relation to my other material."
"The album has a down-home flavor," I comment.
"Yes and I feel like that now that I have the baby, I'm going through being down-home," responds Gwendolyn.
I ask her about music in her childhood.
"I've always sang. I went to the Gooden School in Sierra Madre (California) and they had a really strong choir. We had music classes twice a week there and we would always put on productions as part of the school's curriculum. In my family as well, my parents would just sit around and my dad would play guitar and my mom would sing along and we'd all learn harmony, so I come from a pretty artistic family naturally. It wasn't until I picked up the guitar though, that I actually considered myself a singer or that I had to sing. I was about 19," says Gwendolyn. "I tinkle on the piano and I play a little bass, but guitar's my main instrument. I'm really lucky to have my husband, he's a multi-instrumentalist so I really lean on him.
"I never really had a music lesson. For better or for worse I just do my own thing. I went to LACHSA (Los Angeles County high School for the Arts), the high school for the arts, and I majored in theater. After high school I joined a reparatory company, so the theater was my college. I did plays at a reparatory theater in Beverly Hills, that was an every day thing, so I put my time in," Gwendolyn laughs.
Gwendolyn has been a full-time musician for more than 10 years.
"It's like any job I guess, you work at it long enough, someone's bound to notice a little bit of something, but you've got to work at it all the time. And I couldn't be happier, it's all I ever wanted to be- to be somebody making their living creatively no matter what it was."
So what does she do in her free time?
"Right now I'm totally emerged in mommyland, we do mommy and me classes, we go to Descanso Gardens, we love their jazz on Thursdays and kids' music on Tuesday. Every spare moment I have, I'm with her. I love the mountains, hiking, but I take her with me. Pretty much everything I do, I do with her now," Gwendolyn bubbles.
She leaves me with some inspirational thoughts on creativity.
"If you are into the San Gabriel Mountains, where I grew up in Sierra Madre, a lot of these songs are inspired by those mountains and the feeling of this area. I feel like there's definitely a common ground there. It's very special. I feel that people that are from the San Gabriel Valley love it," says Gwendolyn. "If you've grown up here, it's a special feeling, it's our heritage.
There's nothing like standing at the top of a mountain trail and looking out and seeing Catalina Island. It's like 'Hello! I love my life.'"
Brighten your day with a little Gwendolyn at
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