We’ve played together for almost fifteen years. We met in a band playing AC/DC’s music, and now have played Zeppelin’s for the past twelve. Along the way, we’ve collaborated on a handful of other projects, including my first solo album.
We are more alike than different. I would say time has proven that we are pretty perfectly complimentary. We are both nerds, autodidactic, readers and writers. I would say she is more verbal than I, but that isn’t a far stretch. It would be difficult to find anyone as well-spoken as Gretchen. Her ability to think quickly and speak eloquently makes conversations with her a delight. She is always present and engaged. She has a magical ability to see through to solutions. This is the second thing people fall in love with. The first is her open, light and friendly manner, and the fact that she doesn’t seem self-conscious at all about how physically beautiful she is. The way she looks is just an entry into her true loveliness.
That’s a big difference there. She is friendlier than I am, thoughtful, kind, compassionate. I am more internal, moodier, empathetic to the point of feeling buffeted about by energy and this can cause me to clam up, get cold and grouchy. In groups of people I get quieter, wanting more time in my own head without the bombardment of other people’s energies interfering with mine. This is where we’re different. She always gives people more than they expect. At the same time, we both love to be alone. I think we make each other laugh. I know I think she’s a riot, with a dark and juvenile humor that leaves me in stitches.
Some of my favorite conversations with her are about books and we can go for hours discussing them. She is so insightful, so in love with language and information. We recommend and gift books to each other often. We’re both big fans of any writing about the creative life and habits. Fiction, we both tend toward classics over modern. But sometimes we discover new gems.
Musically, she is just as present as she is in every other part of her life. A great practicer, a constant learner. When we started playing together it was her first rock band, and I remember standing behind her in the club at our first show, seeing her little shoulders silhouetting against the light of the stage and feeling protective immediately. That feeling has never left. Little did I know how much she would be teaching me over the years, about focus and fastidiousness and about never settling for less than what I can imagine. That last one is a hard lesson for me. I tend towards rapidity over quality. She taught me to slow down and get it right.
When we play music together, her guitar is what I listen to the most. I marvel at how intimate this musical conversation has become over time. I can hear the smallest idiosyncrasies in her playing so clearly, and sometimes by very slight changes in her guitar line I can hear that we are getting out of sync, or that she needs more support, or that she’s trying to pull me back to a more settled pace. The push and pull of the tempo is always in there. That is a constant conversation, sometimes funny, one of us rushing headlong or pulling too far back. She is consistency. I get carried away. This is how we compliment each other. She keeps me in check. I keep her guessing.
Most of the time though, we are in sync. In the beginning guitar solo of Dazed and Confused, there is a tiny exclamation she makes at the end of a phrase that signals me to start the loud crescendo, like a little buzzing bee she lets fly to alert me. It happens in a split second, and yet I just follow the clue to the heart of the song, to the beauty of speaking in unison. I can read the sound of her fingers on the strings clearer than I can read her expressions, as she turns back to me to communicate a message mid-song. Sometimes our eyes lock and we are of the same mind. Sometimes, we comically gesture and then give up the idea of trying to convey a thought in some non-musical way. Sometimes, I just try to let her know how much I love playing a song we’ve played hundreds of times and how much I love to open my eyes and see her there again.
When we were working together on my first solo record, she was infinitely patient with me. I would say things like, “can you make it more boing-y?” and she would sort of instantly understand what I was trying to say. I would tell her, “pretend you don’t know how to play guitar in this part,” and she would come up with some of the strangest and most exciting guitar lines. That’s the wonderful quality of a true master of their instrument, that they have enough technique and knowledge to set it all aside and make anything happen. She is constantly amazing me with her ability and I’m so proud that I’ve had the privilege of watching it deepen over time.
We’ve been friends and bandmates and business partners and I know we must have really argued at some point but honestly I don’t remember one time. Our disagreements tend to last about a minute, tops, and then, over. We have always subscribed to the idea that we want the best for the other, whether together or individually. When you both actively try to make the other person feel loved and supported, it’s pretty amazing how easy the relationship, and how little strife. We support each other’s path, and even when our paths take us away from working together it seems that support always brings us closer.
I’ve had many conversations with musicians over the years about bands and bandmates, finding them, keeping them, losing them. I would say that the first gift is finding someone to play with whom you like to talk to, someone you just like to be with. Someone you can stand to hang out with, be it in a hotel room or a crowded car or a stinky backstage room. Someone you can laugh with so hard that you have to leave the room to breathe again. Someone who listens to what you are saying musically and who converses with you on stage as well as off. Someone who listens. Musicians get so wrapped up in their technique, in their instrument, in their mind, that playing with someone who listens to what the rest of the band is doing in the moment is important.
The next gift in a bandmate is in finding someone who has similar musical goals, who wants to put into their career the same amount that you want to put into yours. Finding someone who is as driven as you are is the real magic. Finding someone who comes to music with the same degree of love for it, that’s all there is. Then you’re always on the same page about what’s important. You will work together through the years to keep finding harmony in the details, but you can be confident that you’re always together in the big picture.
I guess many folks thrive on friction, and I’ve heard it said that to be a great band there has to be some. I know the stories of the musicians who have in been in bands for 40 years who can’t stand their bandmate, and their interactions are constant passive-aggressive dances thwarting each other. I’ve experienced these relationships in bands, and there is an energy to it. Maybe it makes for a better show, who knows. These days, I like to play with joy, and the way things work now suits that best.
When I started playing music it was because I wanted to participate in an art form that involved collaboration. I have been so lucky to have had magical connections with many of the folks I’ve played with. The people I play with now are all spectacularly wonderful humans whom I can’t wait to see when it’s time to meet up again for a show. I could write all day about my depth of adoration for each of the Zepparella girls, Angeline Saris and Noelle Doughty; for Justin Caucutt and the Stars Turn Me On dudes Judah Collins and Eric Peterson; for Adrian Conner in my newest project Beaux Cheveux.
Today, I feel a sense of celebration for going into the fifteenth year of playing with this wonderful little red-haired person who is like a sister now.
I set out to write about the musical relationship between the drums and guitar, but I guess I’m writing about Gretchen, and seeing how thankful I am for this long and amazingly fun journey we’ve been on. I wish for everyone such a friend.