Guitar Girl'd: Greta Gaines Talks New Album, 'Lighthouse & The Impossible Love'
Is it enough to be an Extreme Snowboarding National Champion? An on air TV host? A professional fly fisherman?
Not for Greta Gaines. This multifaceted woman also has just released her fifth studio album, Lighthouse & The Impossible Love, and what a rollicking ride it is. Dripping with vintage tone and sultry but gritty vocals, Gaines’ latest effort is a study in tension and release. Sweetness and sorrow. A good old-fashioned stomp juxtaposed with a bluesy narrative.
And you know what? It’s all good.
For Gaines, overachieving started early. She became the first Women’s Extreme Snowboarding Champion in 1992. She’s hosted a plethora of sports-related shows, including the Big Air Snowboard Competition on the first MTV Sports and Music Festival, and FREERIDE with Greta Gaines, a half-hour show on the Oxygen Network.
She’s played Lilith Fair and toured as the opening act for Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, The Mavericks, Tori Amos and DJ Phillipe Solal in Europe. She performed at the 2003 Farm Aid. She was a correspondent on ESPN2’s BassCenter and The New American Sportsman, and she’s still a competitive, professional fly fisherman.
Her music has been licensed by ESPN, MTV, Oxygen Network and more as well in the soundtracks for The Hottest State and Virgil Bliss. And yeah, a few other things that we’ll get to later.
Despite all this energy, Gaines took her time in releasing Lighthouse & The Impossible Love, the followup to her 2008 release, Whisky Thoughts. Why? Because she wanted to do it right. And, oh yeah, she had a few other things going on, like a kid or two!
We caught up with Gaines in her Nashville home to get the scoop on the making of …
GUITAR GIRL’D: Tell me about the creation of this album. It’s been a little while, right, since you released something.
Yeah. You know, I started this album in 2008 when Whiskey Thoughts came out, and I think there was a level of frustration from when that album came out. From the record label to my friend, who invested in me and the album, and just kind of left me at the altar — freaked out, closed the label and disappeared.
So it was this feeling like I just put so much into that one. But I’m gonna start over, and this time I’m going to make this album for no one but me. I always let the men around me, whether they’re producers or my bandmates, or whatever, control things. I’m confident in a lot of areas in my life but musically, I’m completely self-taught, like, a late bloomer. I just would sort of hand over things a lot and as soon as someone puts their little paw prints on it, it changes it. And that’s just the game. This process of me saying I wanna make an album that’s really personal, with no one else besides my bandmate Eric, who’s been with me for 15 years, and he co-produced the album with me.
We got into this thing where we just started writing and recording the live tracks right away, keeping the live vocal and the live guitars and live drums. And then spending time going over them and adding all this nuance and layering. But we kept the kernel of this style of recording. And we would go out, and we would tour a little bit, and we’d come back.
So it was a process.
Yeah, we started performing with the tracks with just the two of us, like the White Stripes. But Eric would be triggering from the drums all of the background vocals and stuff. Then that process of going out and playing it, and hearing the tracks played back live. We would go back and cut it a little differently. So it was basically peeling away all of other layers of artifice and crap, and getting them down to the actual kernel. I feel satisfied that finally, after 20 years, I’ve made a piece of art that I’m really happy with.
I kind like how the album has this sort of vintage-y vibe to the guitar tone. What gear did you use?
My bandmate, Eric Fritsch, is a kind of insider here in Nashville. Genius. He has a hand-made studio with all these incredible amps, incredible gear. He has old analog stuff. He was in my band for years as a B3 player. And then I discovered he was a great guitar player, actually guitar-majored in college, and a great drummer. Every single track on the album was tracked with a 1950s Duotone Kay guitar with flat-wound strings, and we pumped it through different kinds of distortion pedals. And then I would sing. I would take old vintage-y mics and there are some haunting background vocals in “The Quickening” and “Pining Away” where you hear these swirly like la-la-las. All of those were sung through pedals and through vintage mics.
Then I would play through one of his vintage Fender amps and, that Kay guitar has stayed the signature guitar. That’s what we play live. He just made me buy the exact same one on eBay. I think he was sick of me playing his. And now we have two! Oh, you should’ve just seen the wacky stuff he played. I mean, accordions, or he got a lot of weird Moog sounds and weird synthesizer sounds. We would process and re-process, so it was combined with the rawest beginnings.
So it’s just the two of you playing everything?
I feel like even when you seem to be singing about something that might be considered happy, your songs still have this dark feel.
Yeah, it’s just a pure longing. I don’t mean it to be dark. I’m not really in control of that tone, but it’s supposed to be that place where it’s kind of in the gray but the sun is just about to come out. And that’s the longing. It’s me feeling stuck in these middle years in marriage, in motherhood, when part of my being wants to just be purely in the light doing what I want to do. Nothing like motherhood to give you wanderlust. My wanderlust is just purely coming out in this record.
Well, my favorite song is “Good Side” and it keeps running through my head.
Oh, good! That song’s just about sex. It’s sulky and it’s … Holly Gleason, who’s a writer here in town, she’s doing a little something on me for a local magazine, and she used this word, which I think is great. She goes, “There’s just so much humidity.”
Ha! Right. You’ve been involved with a lot of diverse things — sports and TV. Are you still involved?
Well, I am. My husband is working for ESPN, and I was just writing a jingle for him. And he’s working on something called ESPN-W and ESPN films for women. I’m at the point now where I’d like to really make a documentary about an extreme sports athlete. I’m also still really involved actively as a fisherman. I still have goals for myself as a professional angler. I still wanna break world records on that!
I kind of did everything I wanted to do in snowboarding, you know? But now I’m teaching my kids! Now I’m teaching them the love of snowboarding.
The thing that keeps me the busiest lately, though, is I’ve moved into the last frontier for me in terms of my extremism, if you wanna call it that. I started the NORML Women’s Alliance Foundation, and I’m working on getting marijuana legalized. I ran the Wild Women Snowboarding camps for years, and I’ve always been a feminist. I feel like this is my new frontier for helping patients and really scared women who don’t want to feel like freaks anymore because they prefer smoking a J to Adderall and two Chardonnays or whatever every other chick in the world does.
You typically have wrestled your way into areas that have been a boys’ club. Do you do that intentionally? Is there just something that makes you say, “Get out of my way?”
I think I do it intentionally. I’m the middle girl with two brothers. So I’ve been a scrapper since day one. But most importantly, I think, was my father’s influence on me in this regard, because I was more like him than my brothers were. So he was like, “I think women who can fish and hunt are the most appealing women, and you will learn how to fish, and you will learn how to hunt. And if you wanna spend time with me, you better be good, ‘cause this is where we’re going.”
But I also really love women’s company. That’s why I love being in the NORML Women’s Alliance, because we have so much fun. We have a different way of doing things. And right now, for this particular moment in the cultural history, women are just going to start taking and not asking. I think it’s really required to save the planet. I just think America and the world, if they don’t wake up and kind of embrace the female energy; we’re just completely doomed.
Are you going to be touring to support the album?
I am all about being with my boys. So my priority is this summer, I’m going to do the July 11 NORML benefit in Nashville, and then everything that’s cool that’s happened to me in music, I’ve been asked to do. So, a band will say, you know, “Greta, come out and open for us.” I’m kind of waiting for some opportunities, and we’ve put out to a bunch of festivals. So hopefully I’ll do the Americana Festival. But I’m going to really take it slow and keep working this album. And then my goal would be maybe next summer to go out for a month with Ziggy Marley. Let’s just put that out there.
Yeah! Put it out there ‘cause that’s how stuff happens.
Put that out there: I’m available! I’m available.
Take a listen and find out what’s next for Greta Gaines at gretagaines.com.
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents Dean Markley, Agile Partners, Peavey, Jammit, Notion Music, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the founder of the Women’s International Music Network at thewimn.com, producer of the Women’s Music Summit and the lead singer for the rock band Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.