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
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
"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
"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
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
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,"
She leaves me with some inspirational thoughts on
"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.'"