Grace Gatsby

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Reno News & Review

Local singer-songwriter-guitarist Grace Gatsby just released a new album, Strange Attractors. Musically, the album is fantastic. Produced and recorded by Johann Wagner at a studio up in Portland, the sound of the album is warm and gorgeous. The instrumentation is eclectic: oscillating keyboards and shimmering guitars are at the core, but they’re joined at different times by jazzy brass, hony tonk pedal steel and solemn strings.

 

But the big attraction is Gatsby’s voice, which at different points of the album sounds like a smoky coffeehouse chanteuse, an introspective girl-with-a-guitar folkie, or the frontwoman of an urbane, electronic-tinged indie rock band.

Reno Tahoe Tonight

Grace Gatsby’s voice is a heavenly body that pulls you into her orbit. On Strange Attractors, Gatsby turns in one stellar vocal performance after another (and also plays piano and guitar on the record), on this DIY masterwork… Hers is a tone that is fresh, authentic, and timeless...

Reno Tahoe Tonight

 

In 2002, I stepped into a North Hollywood vintage clothing shop and heard a woman’s unearthly singing voice coming from the back of the room. The tone was smoky and rich, timbered with just the right texture and pitch to break open a person’s heart. A classic, timeless voice; I could picture it flooding the Grand Ole Opry or an old French night club. Dusty Springfield at the end of a bender.

 

At the time, I was working as an extra in a play written by Ed Begley Jr.—a musical about the life of César Chavez, set to modern pop songs. Newly broken hearted, I lay on stage each night, shedding a few silent tears behind the veil of my brown wig, as I pretended to sleep through Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” Often, in the day, when the leads were rehearsing, I’d stroll the block of the El Portal Theater and slip into the coffee shops and stores that lined Lankershim Blvd.

 

The owner of the chill-inducing voice was sitting on a bean bag, surrounded by racks of vintage clothes, playing an acoustic guitar. She was gorgeous as a silent film star; heart shaped face, doe eyes. She looked up. My heart fluttered. As soon as she saw she had a customer, she set aside the guitar and stood up. But I wanted more. I asked if the song she was playing—a cathartic, heart-stirring ballad—was hers, and she said it was. We introduced ourselves and I learned her name was Grace, which seemed appropriate. I figured the best way to get her to keep playing was to offer up a song of my own. As we traded acoustic offerings for the next hour in the quiet little shop, we found we shared musical sensibilities. Emotive melodies and confessional lyrics. We emerged from this rich, unexpected exchange bonded for life.

 

Eight years later, my husband and I were running a recording studio out of a converted barn on the woodsy outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Grace came to stay with us for a week to record selections from the wealth of songs she’d written over the past ten years.

 

Over the course of our friendship, I had watched Grace cast her spell over dozens of bar crowds—she had the kind of voice and presence, wrote the sort of songs, that made you feel lucky to be there, a witness to rare vocal gold. Recording that raw magic felt like capturing lightning in a bottle.

 

My husband, Johann Wagner, called on some of Portland’s best and brightest players to support the project, musicians who had played with The Heartless Bastards, Blind Pilot, M. Ward, and the Decemberists, to name a few. The result was a powerful, versatile tour de force. An album that moves deftly from velvety jazz-inspired vocals over lush orchestration to timelessly beautiful, stripped down acoustic songs, as Grace draws on her classic country roots—with a few rock-spirited power ballads folded in. From invoking vocals to soothing honeyed tones. The lightning had been captured.

 

But life happened. Death happened. A baby happened. Special needs happened. And that lightning has been sitting in a jar on the proverbial shelf, buzzing away, electric as ever, unreleased.

Until now.

 

On July 1st, Grace Gatsby will be performing a set on Artown’s Opening Night at The Jungle in a collaborative show of Reno musicians and artists. CDs of her epic full-length album, “Strange Attractors,” will be available for sale. Producer Johann Wagner has learned a few new tricks in the past eight years, to say the least, and these tracks have been lovingly re-mixed; sparkling-fresh, remastered and better than ever.

 

I can’t wait to look up from the crowd and see that well-loved face at the mic once more, emitting that voice for the ages, which I fell in love with 15 years ago. A voice of smoke and honey, whisky-textured and divine. A voice that breaks you open and sings you whole again.

 

Tai Woodville is a writer & singer/composer based in Portland, Oregon. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the author of “Pollen,” a book of poems praised as “shatteringly lovely” by Poet Laureate Barry Spacks. She is a regular contributor to the online literary journal Visitant Lit & she writes a popular philosophy blog, Parallax. Follow her on Instagram @ taiwoodville. You can find her on Twitter @taiwoodville.

 

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Grace Gatsby talks to RTT about Strange Attractors and her upcoming Artown concert July 1 at The Jungle in downtown Reno.

 

RTT: How did this record take shape and what took you so long to release it?

 

Grace Gatsby: The album is 14 of the songs I’d written over the course of about 10 years. They essentially catalogue my twenties. In a roundabout way, it all started with my close friend Tai Woodville, who I met while running a little vintage shop in North Hollywood. At that time I was processing life through constant songwriting, all the while gorging primarily on Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Portishead, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When I met Tai, her vocal styling and songwriting just totally folded into me, becoming a huge influence and helping to shape me as an artist. I moved to Reno in 2003 and within a couple of years had established The Grace Gatsbies. At the time, Tai was playing with this moody, sultry band called Sugar In Wartime with Johann Wagner and I asked them to come to Reno to play some shows. These turned out to be thrilling sold-out shows, and Johann’s musicianship was apparent from the get-go.

 

 As it turned out, Tai and Johann married, moved outside of Portland, and opened up a recording studio to rival the best in the world. I’m talking a veritable musical playground of analog instruments from every era. Johann is a whirlwind on the piano. I’ve yet to see an instrument he can’t play. When he offered to record and produce my work, I jumped head in.

 

RTT: What were some of the high points of the recording experience for you?

 

Grace Gatsby: We recorded the album over the course of one intensive week. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. We slept, ate, and recorded in total immersion virtually around the clock at their rustic/modern recording studio, with these huge sloping ceilings and avant-garde artwork, all nestled in the lush woods. It was incredibly inspiring and artistically fertile. Johann was orchestrating on the spot, just totally on the pulse of each song. I’d written them all on piano or guitar, and was floored to hear them fill out into these extraordinary arrangements. I found myself in tears as they were played back in the control room. He kept bringing in these prolific musicians from the Portland music scene that blew my mind. I’d had the chance to see some of them perform; I’d been floored by the art-jazz group The Blue Cranes at a festival, so I was shocked when players from the group showed up to play on the record. One epic player after another, one song after another, this thing was coming together like something out of my dreams. Beyond my dreams.

 

High points were many. One of my best friends, Reno singer-songwriter Kate Cotter, came up and sang ethereal background vocals along with Tai on “Warm Breeze.” On that same track, Johann left a recording device outside overnight to capture the natural sounds of the woods and crickets chirping, which act as a backbone of the song. He took innovative and pristine care of the production. On Blushing Bride (a scathing take on marriage and childhood illusions), he actually took the time to program a mechanical music box, note by note, for the intro/outro. Stephen Larkins, my now-husband, flew up and played guitar on a couple of tracks, which is certainly one of my top highlights. In fact, he strums the very first chord - on track one - of the album on his Gibson SG. By the way, Blushing Bride was written pre-Stephen. He’s incredible.

 

So that brings me back to the original question. This album was recorded in 2010, but why am I just now releasing it in 2017? Life took many turns. My mother was very ill, then passed in 2013. Shortly after, Stephen and I decided to start a family and get married. Our precious daughter, Luciana (Lucy), was born in late 2014 with a severe genetic disorder and our lives were completely upended. But things have settled down now. We understand Lucy’s needs and she is the light of our lives. My true life purpose.

 

I could hardly listen to the record over much of these years; it was heartbreaking to have these extraordinary orchestrations, yet feel helpless in releasing them to the world. Johann remixed everything over the course of these last couple of months, and it’s been hugely emotional to listen with a new heart and ears. The original plan was to have an all-out full band album release show at one of the big showrooms in Reno, and then another in Portland. But this loomed as a distinct impossibility. My passion for it never waivered. My husband’s enthusiasm for it never waivered. Finally, Kate Cotter came to me in early 2017 with an awesomely selfless idea. I’d been watching her grow as a painter and visual artist for years. Her pieces are stunning; I’m commissioning one myself for our front entry. She’s also one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time. She’s part of my musical fabric. We’ve been sharing shows, harmonizing together, and weighing in on songwriting for years. Anyway, she was inspired by local artist Thaison Kawal to team up and put on an art show called ‘Wild Life’. She offered to let me jump in on the show as an album release. Essentially she said, it’s time. And it is. I needed a deadline, a final push, and she gave that to me.

 

RTT: Talk about your release party coming up at The Jungle July 1.

 

Grace Gatsby: ‘Wild Life’ is a collaborative art and music showcase. It will be a blast to head to Wingfield for the Opening Night Jubilee, then walk right over to The Jungle. We’ll be kicking off around 7pm and going late into the night. Featured artwork by Thaison Kawal and Kate Cotter. Then Kate will play a music set, followed by Tyler Stafford, who is an unbelievable local talent. I think most of Reno knows he’s the real deal, garnering awards and accolades right and left, deservedly so. We were thrilled he came on board. I plan to set up my acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and keyboard, to perform a few stripped-down songs from the album. Then the DJ hits the stage; we’ll party into the night with dear friend Kristophari. I feel like the luckiest person alive.