When listening to Gretchen Lohse’s light and delicate vocals, it’s hard to imagine the singer-songwriter ever screaming on stage.
Blame it on her love for collaborating.
“I’ve been just trying to keep it pretty simple…I love playing with a ton of people,” Lohse said. “At one point, Yellow Humphrey had eight or nine people on stage, which was really fun. But, sound-wise, I felt like I couldn’t ever hear myself singing or my guitar, or my voice would get kind of lost. It was hard for me to sing well, I think. I always felt like I was kind of screaming.”
The folksy singer-songwriter made a name for herself as the lead vocalist for psychedelic folk rock group Yellow Humphrey. Lohse’s roommate, Rick Flom of National Eye as well as The Silver Ages – and also a member of Yellow Humphrey – said Lohse’s lyrics have become fantastic over the past few years, drawing more and more on folktales and fairytales.
Flom recorded Lohse’s first solo album, “Primal Rumble,” which was released this past December. Lohse is now working on an upcoming album.
As opposed to “Featherweights,” Yellow Humphrey’s album that includes a variety of elements from electric guitar to trumpets, released in April 2011, Lohse’s “Primal Rumble” is stripped down and softer.
However, Lohse said there are still many people who played on the album.
This includes Lohse’s longtime friend, Thomas Hughes of The Spinto Band, who performs keyboard and piano accompaniment for Lohse’s live shows. The duo recently performed at the Underground Arts’ “Communion” event on April 3.
Hughes is a facet of the ever-increasing network of friends and family who have worked with Lohse as a musician.
“I’m just really lucky to know so many people that are willing to play with me,” Lohse said. “I also tend to end up on a lot of other people’s albums.”
And Lohse is typically willing to give the reins to the people she collaborates with.
“I don’t want to direct too much,” Lohse said.
This is the case for several of her music videos, in which she let friend and video artist Mike Spano manifest her songs in unconventional ways.
For “Cherry Tree,” a track from “Featherweights” laced with nostalgia, the music video is a compilation of Lohse’s own family videos.
“My parents took tons and tons of home videos,” Lohse said. “[Spano] offered to do it, and then I showed up with, like, 10 VHS tapes, and he was just like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Spano ended up asking if he could create a music video out of some of the clips.
“That was all his idea,” Lohse said. “My mom saw it and she said that it was really incredible how he managed to basically paint this really accurate picture of my childhood.”
Considering Lohse was raised by two musicians who met one night while playing music at Philadelphia’s Irish Center, it seems inevitable that she’s grown to become a multi-instrumentalist.
Lohse knows how to play the violin, viola and guitar. While in high school, Lohse would travel from Lansdale, Pa., to Philadelphia for violin lessons.
She also dabbles in various other instruments like piano and mandolin, and she’s working on a song on banjo.
“I play not very well on a lot of other instruments that I just kind of record anyway,” Lohse said.
It’s Lohse’s makeshift mannerisms that make her stand out, and that make her fun – or sometimes challenging – to perform with.
“I’m really bad at song structure,” Lohse said. “I’ve gotten yelled at by people who play with me sometimes because they’re like, ‘You go to this chord twice the first time, then you go three times, or, I have one song that doesn’t have any repeating parts at all. To me it makes sense because that’s how I wrote it and it just appears that way to me.”
But Hughes said things like that are Lohse’s “quirks.”
“Roy Orbison wrote like that, too,” Hughes said to Lohse about her song structure.
“Then I’m in good company,” Lohse replied, smiling.
Kerri Ann Raimo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.