Peppermint is Maggie Gently’s first album as a solo artist. She said the songs she composed for the project reflect all the ways she has grown and changed over the years since she was a member of The Total Bettys, performing as Maggie Grabmeier.
“This album is more personal,” Gently said, speaking from her San Francisco home. “I speak to my own experiences. The songs are a bit diaristic, so I decided to go solo and write with a lot of emotional honesty. That can be really vulnerable, so naming it Gently, after myself, was a way of owning up to my truth. I’m going through different things today. I have different priorities about how I want music making to fit into my life. My songwriting has also evolved with age and experience. These songs are expressed from a different perspective that feels more in line with what I’m going through now, at 29. I use songwriting as a way to look at the events in my life and see them in new ways.
The songs Gently composed for Peppermint are quietly introspective and alternate, between discrete rockers and intimate ballads. Not many songwriters speak as honestly about their insecurities or mistakes they’ve made. “I use autobiographical elements–images and stories–to tap into my true feelings, but they’re not actual events. The focus of the album is emotional healing, not actual physical healing or therapeutic healing.”
The album takes you on a metaphorical journey, tracing the feelings that arise at the start of a relationship, to an unsettling break up and on to making new connections. Gently strums her acoustic guitar to open “Worried,” a song that blends images of infatuation and apprehension. The band lays down a terse groove while her vocal conveys the uncertain feelings that can arise when you’re wondering if you’re really happy. When she sings – “When I sleep, I’ll lie with you” – the pun provides a visceral jolt. “Hold My Hand” is a mid-tempo rocker describing the flush of attraction. Gently croons softly, opening her heart to the possibilities of a new relationship. “Steady” is a serene ballad with chiming guitars, a mellow bass line and a catchy chorus. Gently’s cheery vocal provides a contrast to lyrics that pray for the downfall of friends and lovers who have caused her distress.
“There are times in life when you think it will bring you joy to see people who have hurt you in pain. It’s not the kind of energy that I want to put in a song, but it’s something that comes up when you’re hurting. It’s something I wanted to explore through the songs. How would I feel if I let myself deal with my hurt this way? I just tried out different approaches, without being committed to any specific outcome.
“When I started these songs, it was a scary time in the world. I was writing just after the lockdown, alone with my guitar. I made demos of the songs, just voice and guitar, and gave them to the musicians. They helped to create the sound of the album. I sent the tracks to my brother, Joey, in LA. He’s a drummer and knows Brian (Ishiba), who is an engineer and plays synthesizer. My brother recorded his drum parts and played the results for Brian, who added keyboard parts in his studio. I went down to LA to do the lead vocals. This was pre-vaccine, so there were different levels of precautions we had to take. We were all masked and I sang alone, in a different room. I took those tracks back up to San Francisco, and my friend, Sinclair Riley, put down the bass parts. Eva Treadway, who I know from The She’s, played all the lead guitar parts. She put in all the ambient textures and guitar filigrees. She also produced the album with the help of the engineer, Grace Coleman, who also mixed and mastered it. Grace is the secret ingredient. She understands my creative vision, knows what I like and don’t like, and transformed my ideas into something completely new.”
Gently is currently getting ready to go back on the road. Peppermint was released last Friday, March 18, and she played an album release show with her band at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland, to warm up for her upcoming national tour. “It was tons of fun. I’m going to the Treeport Music Festival in the next few weeks, so it was a last hurrah to play for our local friends. It was cool performing with Sour Widows and The Ice Cream Band, two of my favorites from the San Francisco community. I was a bit anxious. Covid’s definitely not over yet, so we’re learning how to tour and keep everyone safe and honor all the boundaries. We’re also a little rusty, after not performing for a while. That can make you nervous too.”