Rapidly gaining praise in the world of instrumental rock and beyond, Gretchen Menn isn’t your average guitar hero on the rise. She once flew regional jets to support her six-string habit. She has studied, in equal parts, the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Morse, Frank Zappa, and Jimmy Page. (Regarding the latter composer, she performs the music of Led Zeppelin professionally all over the U.S. with Zepparella.) Perhaps Michael Molenda, Guitar Player Magazine’s editor-in-chief, described Gretchen’s solo music best when he said that she “seeks the unknown by blending disparate jazz, prog, and world-music influences into a tasty, guitaristic thrill ride.” Her first solo album, Hale Souls, released in July of 2011, is an instrumental album of original compositions that range from aggressive to celestial.
Apart from demolishing her mother’s violin with Pete Townshend-like vehemence at age three, Gretchen’s passion for all things guitar didn’t fully surface until her early teenage years. It was under the tutelage of classical guitarist Phillip de Fremery, a student of Andrés Segovia, that Gretchen began her path on the instrument. Her father, noted writer and former editor-in-chief of Guitar Player Magazine, Don Menn, was quick to point her in the direction of the greats as soon as she expressed interest in guitar.
While earning a degree in music at Smith College, Gretchen’s adventurous approach to her education would foreshadow her approach to the guitar. She convinced a professor to allow her to launch a special studies project on the intricate and unclassifiable music of Frank Zappa. Her analyses of “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango” and “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress” showed a love for epic, melodic, genre-shattering rock and roll composition that would manifest later in her original instrumentals.
After college, Gretchen began heavily incorporating her love of rock guitar into her daily regime, the only hitch being that the music of her rock gods, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, and Frank Zappa, wasn’t exactly Guitar 101. She also began considering her career path, and how she might prevent a situation she sought to avoid: tainting her love of music with the necessity of paying rent.
The solution? She went directly from college to flight school, and two years later was flying regional jets for the airlines. Yet Gretchen was never without her guitar.
After a year in the jet, with the life of an airline pilot being more than a little incompatible with a career in music, Gretchen relinquished her position with the airlines, knowing that there was a pilot out there somewhere who would appreciate the opportunity. She decided to take a more direct approach to realizing her musical dreams.
Playing with tireless passion and constantly seeking out new challenges, Gretchen’s projects have spanned the genres of jazz, funk, rock, progressive, and metal. In 2003, she donned a schoolboy uniform and joined AC/DShe as “Agnes Young.” In 2005, she joined forces with drummer, Clementine, to form Zepparella, currently with singer Noelle Doughty and bassist Angeline Saris. In 2007, Gretchen formed Sticks and Stones, the high-energy, instrumental “bassless power trio” with guitarist Mickael Tremel and drummer Sam Adato. In 2010, she played in Lapdance Armageddon, an aggressive acoustic duo with Jude Gold. In 2011 she wrote, produced, and recorded her first solo album, Hale Souls, which features bassist Stu Hamm, drummer John Mader, violinist Emily Palen, and guest artists Angeline Saris (bass on “Scrap Metal”), Jude Gold (second acoustic guitar on “Fast Crowd”), and Gretchen’s sister, Kirsten Menn (soprano on “Fading”). Gretchen’s solo project, a trio with Angeline Saris on bass and Thomas Perry on drums, played their first shows in November of 2011.
Gretchen is currently working on her second solo album of original music.