Singer-songwriter Gretchen Lieberum has performed at Carnegie Hall, at the Hollywood Bowl and on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” as one-half of Princess, her Prince cover duo with her college friend (and actress, of course) Maya Rudolph.
But if Prince inspired Princess, the latter then inspired Lieberum to dive back into her own songwriting. Her newest project, a cabaret-pop-style duo with multi-instrumentalist Jake Blanton called Sargent, has been six years in the making, but only saw the light of day after she rediscovered her love for performing and music-making by touring the country, singing the classic catalog of the Purple One.
Over the next week, the Lieberum brings both sides of her performance personality to New York stages, performing with Rudolph at the Brooklyn Bowl and with Blanton at Rockwood Music Hall.
amNewYork caught up with her to talk about both, and what the late superstar means to her.
Where were you when you heard Prince had passed away?
I was on my way to Princess band practice. We had booked a show months in advance at a comedy festival in Austin, which was the Saturday after he died. So I was driving to rehearsal and I got about 40 texts at once: “Is it true?“ “This can’t be happening.” And then my husband called me. Maya was in an airport somewhere, and we were crying on the phone. ... I didn’t know if we should do the show or cancel, but Maya and I decided to go ahead. It was an amazing show. People were laughing, crying and dancing in the aisles.
Of all of the Prince tributes on television, the version of “Sometimes It Snows in April” with D’Angelo and Princess on “The Tonight Show” might have been the most heart-rending.
It was tough. Something in my brain just clicked — “just woman up,” or whatever. I got more emotional after. I lost a friend about 10 years ago, and that song always reminds me of my friend, who was another big Prince fan. And I saw Prince perform it at the [Inglewood, California,] Forum a few years ago, and I was crying seeing him sing it. I never thought in a million years I’d be there, on television, singing it for him because he passed away. I feel really honored that we were a part of it — and D’Angelo is just amazing. I’ve sung with him a few times and he’s just a tremendously talented singer.
As someone who’s lived with his songs for so long, what is the legacy Prince has left behind?
For me, it’s just so wrapped up in my childhood, and being at that age where you start to have your own musical taste. I loved Michael Jackson too, but then I heard “Purple Rain” and it was all about Prince. ... I think that passion you have for music as a kid, there’s nothing like it — it’s like your first musical love. That’s what Maya and I are doing. It’s a show where we’re showing our incredible nerdy fandom and joy. It’s kind of like when your 11 and you’re singing into your mirror, holding a hairbrush. But we’re 40.
How did now become the right time for your new project, Sargent?
I had put out a few albums under my name, starting in the late-‘90s, and I was starting to feel a little disheartened by it all. It was one of the reasons I wanted to do Princess; I wanted to do something fun and different and get away from myself for a bit. I had gotten together with my friend Jake Blanton and we were fooling around in a mutual friend’s studio in Echo Park, [Los Angeles]. We were writing for the joy of it, the fun of it, and we were just recording it because we were in a studio, one with all these great instruments. ... Being in Princess and performing again, I got that bug again: I wanted to put my own stuff into the world again. Princess really inspired me.