Germaine Gemberling: I was a city kid, but I wanted out
Photo courtesy of the artist
Germaine Gemberling has been a part of the local music scene in one way or another since 1989, when she first formed the all-girl punk band Smut -- which might be the best name for a band ever. Since then, Gemberling has seen her musical style evolve along with her lifestyle, moving from her native St. Paul to the rural Northern Minnesota town of Ely, where she lived for 13 years. Gemberling currently resides in Sparta with her partner Rich Mattson -- who is also her co-writer and producer -- and heads up the pop-rock band Junkboat.
Now, Gemberling -- who sounds a little like a female version of Bob Dylan, back when he still sounded like Bob Dylan -- is releasing a solo album called Generator, the second album in her extensive catalog to be released on vinyl (the first was for Smut in 1994). It's a well-crafted 11-track collection that features Gemberling's reedy vocals against a smooth backdrop of open-sky guitar parts and twangy golden fields, complements of Ol' Yeller, which she employs as her backing band. But it's not all country: Gemberling also recruited members of Junkboat to give Generator a steely edge.
Gimme Noise caught up with Gemberling ahead of her CD Release show at the Turf Club on Friday to chat about her new album, how her music has changed over the years, and her first First Ave show.
Tell me about Generator. How long have you been working on this album?
Well, [Rich Mattson and I] started kind of just putting it together in 2011. I just kind of had this brainstorm idea of putting together some of our favorite players... There this pedal steel player from the area, and for two days straight we just recorded a bunch of songs in the winter of 2011, and we didn't really know what we were going to be doing with them. And then I started co-writing with Rich more than ever after we put out our last Junkboat album. We've been really co-writing a lot here and there, Rich and I.
Let's talk about Junkboat for a moment. You front that band, but why was it important for Generator to be a solo effort for you?
Generator as a solo album is kind of a different style. We would do an acoustic duo, Rich and I, and it started to be more of an Americana-country sound. Junkboat is kind of a more pop-rock band. Rich and I were kind of doing a lot of the songs in [the Americana-country] style. I've gone through a lot of transformations in my musical styles over the years... I started in this punk all-girl band called Smut, and I started to get into Uncle Tupelo, and the styles were kind of morphing.
Are you still working with Junkboat?
I am. Rich and I have different projects that we're kind of working with all at once. Junkboat only really gets a chance to play about six times a year, mostly due to the fact that our bass player is an EMT and we don't get the chance to play together that much. Our songwriting styles are kind of all over the place. For [Generator], mainly Ol' Yeller has been my backup band, and Junkboat added songs just to round out the sound to give it a little more of an edge.
You've made quite the transition, from growing up in St. Paul and then moving to Ely. Now you live in Sparta. Do you feel like your environment has also changed your sound?
Definitely. I was a total city kid... My first First Ave show was the Replacements when they put out Let It Be in '84... but by '98 I wanted out. The woods really inspired me a lot, and right now, we live out in the middle of the country. We live on a couple acres in the woods, and the North Woods have been so inspiring just for writing's sake. We've kept our connections to the city with our music, so we've been balancing both worlds, and we come down and do shows.
What do you want people to know about you as an artist on this album?
Oh man... [long pause] Isn't it funny the questions that make you think the hardest are the most simple ones? I don't know. I just love making music, and everything I've done has worked up to what it is now. I think one big thing is that Rich and I both feel that we've really grown a lot and brought out a lot in each other. I've never done a lot of co-writing, I've always written the songs. But Rich sees my vision so much and helps me arrange it, and the actual writing process and the harmonies that's probably the newest experience for me, writing it and bringing it to the table for everyone else. Plus, he's my significant other, so it's much more intense. We kind of have this rock 'n' roll bed and breakfast in the country... Sorry, I'm just walking out into the backyard right now looking out at all the trees and I feel like I'm rambling.
Germaine Gemberling will be playing at the Turf Club on Friday, May 17, with Ol' Yeller and Southwire. Doors at 9 p.m. $6 cover. 21+.
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