Patches & Gretchen serves up Sugar Head Pieby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn. — At 45, Minneapolis singer songwriter Gretchen Seichrist is kind of a latecomer to the local music scene. But for many critics and admirers, Patches and Gretchen's second full length cd, "Sugar Head Pie," couldn't have come soon enough.
Writer Jim Walsh calls "Sugar Head Pie" the most hypnotic record of the new decade. Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy has labeled it a "freak-out folk-punk masterpiece."
Seichrist hits you like a trailer park poet. She's Hee Haw, I Love Lucy and Bertolt Brecht all rolled into one.
Every woozy word Seichrist sings carries the weight of her troubled, hard knocks background. The former teenage runaway is now a single mother of two with an anxiety disorder.
But Seichrist's songs are often vehicles to share what she's learned.
"They're usually about thinking about somebody else," she said. "They're usually for somebody in some way, and then identifying that with me."
"I think I'm pretty good about not worrying about what are people going to think," she said. "Is this song the right way a song should be, and I like actually doing songs that aren't the way they should be because I get bored with those songs."
Things you should know about Gretchen Seichrist. She has a famous half-sister, singer songwriter Aimee Mann. While not extremely close, they get along well and support each other's work.
Seichrist is a painter. Her expressionistic color collages serve as wallpaper in her South Minneapolis duplex. And she has a Bob Dylan fixation that she prefers not to analyze.
"How can you talk about that without talking about that without sounding like a nutcase?" she asked. "Or like a whole bunch of other people. You know everybody likes to think that there Dylan thing is special."
Seichrist says she listens to all kinds of artists, but Dylan reminds her of what's possible and what's missing in music today.
"There's not that much that really stands out," she said. "And there's stuff that you listen to that's pleasant, and there's stuff that's like, 'oh, kinda rockin!' But there's nothing that really I actually would think about, like I do with Dylan songs."
Seichrist has surrounded herself with some very capable, experienced musicians. Minneapolis guitar teacher and songwriter Devin Hill was sucked into Seichrist's world when she knocked on his studio door one day, wanting guitar lessons.
Even though she was a novice songwriter, Hill learned pretty quickly that Seichrist isn't afraid to follow her impulses.
"She knows where she's going," he said. "You just have to hold on."
Hill says he understands it may be hard for some people to warm up to Seichrist as an artist.
"It requires a little bit of an investment," he said. "You might not like what you hear. You might not like to hear a woman be really honest. She will also make you question your own life. Anything I like to listen to or look at makes me do that, and it's kind of rare that that happens."
Patches & Gretchen's music has even touched fans across an ocean.
David Wynn is a signalman for the London Underground. He's the father of two grown children and his wife is in a nursing facility with severe Multiple Sclerosis.
A while back he happened to hear an Aimee Mann song that Seichrist co-wrote. Wynn was so taken with the lyrics he began to dig up everything he could on Seichrist's music, including her web cam videos of live living room performances. He's become one of her most enthusiastic supporters.
"I'm 53 and I guess I've been watching bands the best part of 40-years and I'm not necessarily easily impressed anymore," he said. "But I just found this something that's got me feeling like a teenager again I suppose."
Wynn says "Sugar Head Pie" is the best thing he's heard in 15-years, perhaps ever. He's actually flying to Minneapolis for Patches & Gretchen's cd release show at the Varsity Theater tomorrow night. He also helped pay for the recording of the album, because Seichrist is stuck in a tricky financial situation right now.
"This is a touchy thing," she said. "I just got fired a while ago so I don't know. I don't know, We'll see."
Seichrist says she was fired from her web designing job after being overtaken by her music and songwriting. And she's come to a decision.
"I really am going to try to be a rock star," she said. "I'm just gonna keep doing stuff. Here's what I think: there's a lie that people believe that the creative thing, you get it in your head that that couldn't be as valuable as something you hate. They always say you can get a job and then you would do your other thing part time. And I can't do this part time. I want to do it all of the time. At the same time, I would never let my kids starve, and of course I'm worried about it."
Seichrist says she wants to make the biggest artistic splash she possibly can. If it leads to fame and fortune she won't turn it down. But if it just gets her some badly needed dental work, that would be good too.
- All Things Considered, 03/10/2010, 4:50 p.m.