By Jim Shilander
It’s been a whirlwind year for local recording artist Gal Musette. Having never picked up an instrument, let alone written any songs, the 14-year-old singer and piano player has written an album’s worth of music and received an offer to open for the band that inspired her, The Magnetic Fields. All this before actually starting at San Clemente High School.
Musette was inspired by the band’s 1999 concept album 69 Love Songs to better them by one, and started writing love songs as a way of getting through middle school and high school, said her father, Roy Freeman. But Musette’s big break came through a man with whom she was not that familiar, novelist and comic book author Neil Gaiman, who used his tumblr website to praise her work, exposing it to thousands, and bringing it to the attention of members of The Magnetic Fields. After communications with members and her father, the band offered her and bandmate Brent Samson the opportunity to open for them at two performances in the Midwest this November, one in St. Louis, the other in Minneapolis. Musette met Samson last year at a party, and was originally working with Musette as a teacher, helping her learn chords and to play her own arrangements. The coaching sessions then turned into recording sessions.
Musette answered questions from The San Clemente Times over the weekend as she prepared to start school and for her first show, which takes place at the Coach House September 19.
SCT: What was it about the 69 Love Songs album that you fell so in love with that
inspired you to write songs?
GM: Love songs are my favorite. I grew up watching musicals. The songs on 69 Love Songs are similar to these songs that were deep in me. They made me feel so lovely and lonely, and it made me want to make other people feel this way too. Stephin Merritt (the band’s singer and songwriter) is so amazing and his songs have always been around me it seems.
SCT: Had you done anything close to songwriting before that, such as writing poetry or playing an instrument?
GM: I loved to dance as a little girl, so that was musical. (It was) My way of being part of the music. But I did not write music until I learned to play piano. I don’t know why I started playing, but my grandfather and father’s style of playing piano influenced how I play today. It is really a combination of them—and my mother has a beautiful singing voice. I can’t read any music.
SCT: Were you familiar with Neil Gaiman before he let people know about you? Do
you know how he found out?
GM: I knew his name because I had seen it on some books, and of course Coraline, but I did not know much about him. One day, I got tons of Facebook requests and song downloads, and some of them said, “Neil Gaiman told us about you.” I had written silly fan letters to The Magnetic Fields, and I think their manager passed this on. Even though I consider her (Claudia Gonson, the band’s pianist, percussionist and vocalist) a real mentor, I have never asked her if she did this. All I remember is that the first time I wrote her expressing my love for the band and Stephin Merritt, she said, “He will never respond—he never does, but thank you.” And now I am opening for them! He will have to respond!
SCT: How important was it to have music as a part of your family?
GM: There are many stories and biographies of musicians who had parents that disapproved of them becoming musicians for a career. My parents are not like this at all. They are most supportive and wonderful of my choice to be a songwriter. I have learned everything from my parents and my grandpa about what music is. I found my obsession with The Magnetic Fields through my father’s.
SCT: How quickly did you pick up the guitar once you started playing? You said you don’t read music. Is that something you’re going to try and learn how to do?
GM: I’m not very good at the guitar, my main instruments are the ukelele and the piano. Brent is my guitarist, and he does it wonderfully. It took me a month or so to pick the main chords for the guitar, but I can’t do bar chords. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to learn to read music. I think it may be a bit difficult for me to.
SCT: With all this happening over the summer, what’s it going to be like just starting high school, or have you even thought about it?
GM:I recorded my music after school all last year, so I know I’ll be okay with recording. High school will be fun, I think I’ll try to learn some good vocabulary this year. I’m feeling my songs are craving new words.