Sargent, the new project from singer Gretchen Lieberum and her collaborator Jake Blanton (The Killers, Beck), have announced the release of her self-titled debut. In anticipation of the release, “Echo Hill” has been made available for streaming. Having just premiered on NOISEY, the track serves as a preview of what is to come on the album.Sargent is slated for release on September 16 and is abundant in levitating lullabies and heart-ached ballads backed by cabaret-pop born of vintage instruments.
Lieberum has earned a name for herself by venturing wherever creativity may take her. There is Gretchen, the Disco-Funk Goof — via her college band Supersauce, duly noted for their song about Knight Rider. There’s the Eclectic Singer-Songwriter, which earned her a sizeable grassroots following after releasing four albums (and one mainstream hit in the trip-hoppy, velvety-voiced “You Closer,” off 2005’s Siren Songs). And of course, there’s the Ribald Funk-Rock Goddess by way of Princess, the most famous Prince cover band on the planet.
Gretchen has an uncanny knack for developing melodies, but can’t really play any instruments. Though not classically trained, she was raised on the strains of Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday. Typically, she’d scrape together demos using her vocal skills and a keyboard. But Sargent was different. Given the shorthand she shared with Jake, she simply would hum a melody to him. “He looked around the room at all the instruments and picked up this funky, old synthesizer, a little Casio. Then he plucked out a counter-melody on the guitar,” she says. Finally, he turned to what would become their secret weapon. Our friend's studio where we recorded the album has a rickety, old upright piano that produces a beautiful sound,” she says. “That was it. It came together so beautifully and easily.” They subsequently wrote every song on that piano.
Despite creating many near-completed songs, Sargent took a hiatus. Jake had to go on tour with, among other bands, The Killers, and Gretchen became pregnant with her son. In that time, she ended up living more life than she expected: After she started Princess, her mom passed away.
Thematically, Lieberum’s mom’s presence pervades Sargent. But cosmically speaking, Gretchen actually has Prince to thank for Sargent. Long obsessed with The Artist, Gretchen and actress-singer Maya Rudolph (with whom she began Supersauce in college) debuted Princess in 2011. The objective: to use their formidable pipes to cover Prince’s catalog, sincere fandom in full show, no matter how two moms might look gleefully singing about the intricacies of the male libido. Fans loved it. Princess played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to The Tonight Show.
Years of performing Prince tracks reminded Gretchen that she missed working on her own material. Gretchen dug up the Sargent songs and played them for friends who encouraged her to release them. Gretchen has always gamely approached her music projects with great curiosity. But Sargent was an array of firsts: baring her most uncomfortable feelings, songwriting more deliberately in the moment, stretching her voice as if it were a new instrument. “I did go a little too far. I got very raw and imperfect,” she says. “Not sounding perfect is something I’ve grappled with in the past,” she admits. But now? “It’s me singing from a deeply emotional place.”