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Shuffle: Gretchen Pleuss Finds Her Voice in the 'Broader Skies'

Akron singer-songwriter Gretchen Pleuss releases her third album, "Daughter of the Broader Skies", on April 12

Akron songstress Gretchen Pleuss has made a name for herself in the local music scene, both hosting popular open mic nights at Uncorked Wine Bar every Tuesday night and steadily performing her original, acoustic songs on stage at venues across Northeast Ohio.

Pleuss will celebrate the release her third record, “Daughter of the Broader Skies,” at a string of release shows beginning Friday, April 12 at the Rialto Theatre in Kenmore.

While writing the material for the album, the singer-songwriter gained inspiration from her travels and self-reflection.

“I think it’s just been an eventful couple years,” Pleuss said. “I’ve had a lot of life changes, but I also feel like the timing is interesting because I feel like we’re going through a lot of changes in society right now, especially in America. There’s two threads going through the whole record, and it’s my own personal changes and America’s changes.”

Drawing inspiration from her travels
Pleuss released a track from the album titled “Everybody’s Pretty” last year.

It was inspired by a trip she took to New York City, where she played a few shows with fellow Northeast Ohio-based musicians and spent her days wandering alone in a big city.

“I just had a lot of thoughts after interactions with people and even just watching people,” Pleuss said. “I started thinking about how in big cities, especially, we tend to have these sort of short and shallow interactions. You can even sense it in some people’s eyes and in their body language that they’re searching for something a little deeper and they want more of a personal connection but they can’t find it.”

The song tells the story of wandering through the boroughs and historic neighborhoods, in cafes and listening to offhand comments from strangers.

Pleuss sings about leaving her heart in Ohio, her own daydreaming about the type of person she could be and life she could lead in the future, while observing the common loneliness of strangers.

“I thought about how even that relates to us as a society now, especially with social media and technology, and how we’re all sort of isolated and don’t have that deep connection,” Pleuss said. “And how you can feel really lonely, basically, in a sea of people.”

'There's two threads going through the whole record, and it's my own personal changes and America's changes'

Crafting the album’s title track
The album’s title track, “Daughter of the Broader Skies,” was inspired by another trip Pleuss took — this time a solo venture to a cabin in a remote West Virginia town.

“I’ve never really done that before,” Pleuss said. “I traveled with significant others and friends, but that was like the first time that I’d really gone somewhere to be completely alone--no running water, no electricity, no Wi-Fi or phone service, so you have no choice but to be alone.”

Being alone wasn’t entirely the peaceful experience or contrast to the “sea of people” Pleuss encountered in New York City.

“There were times that my anxiety was so high that I was like, ‘I need to talk to somebody because I’m thinking too much, or I’m just…’ You get kind of in your head,” she said. “And through all of that sort of anxiety and thought processes, you sort of find your calm and what actually drives you and what makes you happy.”

Pleuss said the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed also inspired her to write “Daughter of the Broader Skies,” a track that is reflective of, she said, “looking at the big picture.”

The book is a story of self discovery and purposely wandering alone to reflect on past life experiences.

Pleuss’s song conceptualizes finding her place in the world as a woman.

“I feel like most of the songs [on the new album], they deal with a lot of introspection in that way but also looking at the external world and saying, ‘This is what’s wrong, this is what’s right and this is where I fit,’” Pleuss said.

Releasing her anticipated full-length album
The 11-track album will be released on Sun Pedal Recordings April 12.

She released her first album with producer Jim Wirt in 2013 and spent a year working on the material for “Daughter of the Broader Skies,” which she again recorded with Wirt.

Pleuss’s previous releases include “From Birth, To Breath, To Bone,” which features local musicians Matt DeRubertis, Justin Sustar and Spencer Martin, as well as “Out of Dreams,” which she worked on with Wirt.

“Daughter of the Broader Skies” includes a mesh of old and new songs written by Pleuss.

Making a name for herself as a live performer
Pleuss started writing her own music when she was around 12 years old. The previous year, she learned how to play guitar.

She cites artists from the 1960s and ‘70s as influences on her sound, namely Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.

She began performing at open mic nights, coffee shops and bars when she was 13 years old.

Though the singer-songwriter performed in these venues as a young teen around Wayne County where she grew up, she still plays her original songs across similar spaces in Akron, where she relocated to just a few years ago.

Playing a back-to-back album release shows
The release shows for “Daughter of the Broader Skies” will feature a fleshed-out band and room for improvisation.

Each show, the musician said, will be a slightly different experience based on the venue.

The first performance at the Rialto Theatre begins at 8 p.m. and will include Dan Socha and Bethany Svoboda as musical support.

Pleuss will then perform in a more intimate setting at Lucky Records in Wooster for Record Store Day Saturday, April 13 at 2:30 p.m.

Her final album release show will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 14 at Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland, with Emily Keener.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.