Gary James' Interview With Jean Violet
Of The Led Zeppelin Tribute
Kashmir is hailed as the most authentic and accurate representation of Led Zeppelin on the road today. Since their formation they've performed over 500 shows, some to as large of a crowd as 30,000 people. It's no wonder they're the Ultimate Led Zeppelin Tribute act!
Jean Violet talked to us about Kashmir and what it's like to be Robert Plant onstage.
Q - I'd like to ask you about your name. Usually a guy with that name spells it G-e-n-e
A - I was named after my Dad's brother-in-law. He was a French guy, obviously. He got killed in a car accident.
Q - You've performed in club bands that have done both covers and originals, haven't you?
A - Yes. I did everything from playing in an original band in Japan, I got a Japanese record label. I got signed back in the '90s. I used to be in a band back in the '90s in New York City, when that whole Guns 'n' Roses era was out. What ended up happening was, me and a friend of mine that was also in an original band, just for fun decided to do a Led Zeppelin tribute in the city. So, we put together this band and this band did so well we actually got some gigs. We were the house band for an indoor arena football team in Madison Square Garden. Some of the guys were in other projects. The drummer right now plays for Moby. They were session guys. They couldn't go out to the rest of the country and play. I saw the potential of what this Zeppelin thing could do. So, 8 or 9 years ago, I decided to put together Kashmir and see where it would take me. The goal was to play out as far as we could. Play large venues and festivals and theatres. And 9 years later, that's exactly what we're doing.
Q - How did you know a Zeppelin tribute would succeed?
A - I remember back in the '80s there was a band called Physical Graffiti. I used to be in a band in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and I heard about them then. And I just kept hearing about this huge band, Physical Graffiti that played Zeppelin. Just by the response we got in New York, people come from all over the country to see bands in New York, and we did a couple of shows outside of New York. I said there's no doubt in my mind there's a huge following of Led Zeppelin. The music is never gonna die. We might as well tap into it. We were getting a really good response to it.
Q - Did anyone say to you along the way, "You look like Robert Plant"?
A - Well, the funny part was, when I first started, my original hair color was dark brown, but as I played and the years went on, I started to lighten the front of my hair. I slowly progressed to becoming blonde. I always tell people kidding around, the blonder my hair, the more money I make. (laughs)
Q - I guess if you had looked like Phil Collins, you might have had a problem.
A - Well, there are some bands where the guys don't look like the guys, but they sound really good. There's a band called Get The Led Out from this region. They have I think 7 or 8 guys. If you want to hear a band that sounds just like the record, they're the band to go check out. The difference between them and us is each band has their own interpretation of what they think is the music. We used to get competition with them. But now, if I was a hard-core Zeppelin fan, I'd want to see all of them. You can't see Led Zeppelin anymore. So you can see an all girl Led Zeppelin band. You can see a band that sounds just like the record. With us, we try to make it like a person feels like they went back in time 25 years to see Led Zeppelin. That's the response we get by our 'live' performance. We do the 'live' show. We sound pretty accurate to the records, but we try to do it the way Led Zeppelin would do it. We go off into little jams. We have lasers. We have all the different dynamics that you would've seen at a Led Zeppelin show. That's what we do. We get that from people that saw Led Zeppelin. People come up to us and say "I thought I just went back in time," or we get people that say "I'll never get to see Led Zeppelin. This is probably the closest I'll ever get to see Led Zeppelin live."
Q - You must've put a lot of money into this band.
A - Oh, yeah. We've put a lot of time and money. It's just like in the evolution process that continues to go on. It's the more we play, the more we keep going up the ladder. You always have something new that happens. You learn and adjust to it. You wiggle your way into new areas and new opportunities. Once you find that niche, you go on to find that next niche.
Q - Did you think there was money to be made in a Zeppelin tribute group?
A - The first reason why we did it was for fun. I was in an original band in Japan and it was like off time. But we figured to keep our chops up and to be on top while we weren't touring, why not play Led Zeppelin? But then, we started to make a couple hundred bucks here, a couple hundred bucks there. Next thing you know, it came to a couple more hundred bucks. Then we tried and it was very hard, we were making salaries doing it. The only problem with that is, it's like a wave. You go through different periods of the year where the band will do good and then winter time or even if the economy goes bad, you better have a back-up or you're gonna lose your house or whatever. To me, it's a great supplemental income. You get to play. You have a great time with the audience. It's the best of both worlds. If you're an older musician and you're burned out from being in an original band trying to hit all the demographics, a record company wants a hit. I'm not 26 anymore. No record label wants to sign you anymore.
Q - Your band has done over 500 shows?
A - We were averaging almost a hundred shows a year. Since the beginning of the band, yeah.
Q - That's like twice a week, Friday and Saturday night?
A - For the most part, yeah. We did that consistently for like 4 years.
Q - You have a day job, so that schedule has to be tough.
A - Last weekend I had maybe 4 hours sleep each night on the weekend and the next thing you know, I'm trying to get home from Virginia and I didn't get home 'til 2:30 at night and I had to be up by 5 A.M. Monday morning. (laughs) We've had it before where the band has actually drove home all night just to get to work, but such is the life of a musician.
Q - I don't know how you do it.
A - You know what? I think it's the love for the music. You know it's not always going to last forever. When you got that opportunity... I always tell myself when I'm old I can look back and say I did all this stuff and have a big smile on my face.
Q - Where did you perform in front of 30,000 people?
A - I believe that was a big festival that we did up in Ohio for a bike rally. 25 to 30,000 people
Q - Does Robert Plant know about this group?
A - I'm not sure. I know that I heard Jimmy Page has heard of us. I know that while Jason Bonham was doing that 30 year anniversary, probably every other singer in every Zeppelin band let him know, trying to hit the right channels that if he needs a singer, do that little tour with him. I'm sure that people have seen it. I don't think he cares too much about it, as much as the other guys 'cause he's doing so well on his own. I don't think he really even focuses on it.
Q - Is it fair to say you were a Zeppelin fan from day one?
A - When I started as a kid, I was a huge Beatles fan. Then to be honest, I went through that whole New Wave genre. When I got a little older, I started listening to Zeppelin. Now I probably appreciate it more because of that, the layers of different kinds of music. They're like The Beatles. To me, it's a similarity but it's different. The one thing Zeppelin could do is any genre of music that they did, they did it good. They'd do a Country 'n' Western song. Bam! It's almost like you got a different flavor, yet it tastes good every time. They have so many songs just like The Beatles.
Q - I don't believe the personalities of Led Zeppelin were as well-defined as The Beatles. The public really never got to know who Led Zeppelin was.
A - And I think also with Zeppelin, those guys were pretty wasted a lot of their career. The Beatles might have been doing that stuff, but they were politically correct and pretty smart about keeping it quiet.
Q - Jean, Zeppelin was like a corporation. If they did everything that was reported, they could not have functioned. They had quite an entourage that had to be paid.
A - Right. It's a whole different market now than it was back then. Even in our band, between all of us guys, maybe 6 or 8 beers will be drunk. We have 2 guys that don't even drink. And nobody does any drugs. We'd be dead. We wouldn't be able to go to work every day. That's what people don't understand. I hear it all the time: "oh, you're a musician! You guys must be drunk. You party. You sleep with a different chick every night." It's like "No. You know what we do? We set up. We drive 5 or 6 hours to get to the gig. We spend 2 hours to unload the truck. Load it on to the stage. Set everything up. We play 3 hours and then we have to tear it all down, pack it all up and then go to bed." Nobody's around an hour and a half after you're done. But we're just finishing up packing. So there's no party there. The big party is at the 7-11, getting the burritos that's going to give you a stomach ache all night. (laughs) For our band, it's all about getting on that stage and getting into that zone. The only way I can describe it is, if you hit a home run and it's that feeling when you're running around the home plate and the whole crowd is up in the air, screaming at you and you know you hit the home run. That's the feeling I can describe as being onstage.
Q - Where can you expect to take Kashmir? Can you go beyond a tribute act with it?
A - Well, I don't think we've gotten to where we can go. To me, I wouldn't mind being able to travel on weekends. We're starting to do that now. We're getting gigs further away where we're actually flying to the gigs. We have a couple of guys who are independent workers. They've got their own businesses. They can actually take the vehicle to drive to the venue. Say we get a festival out in Texas. Three of the guys flew while they one guy drove all the gear. That's where I'm looking at it as working smarter, not harder, instead of killing ourselves playing someplace. I want to play more theatres and more festivals. Just bigger venues. I love playing for large crowds. That's where we really shine.
Q - Do you ever get tired of playing the same songs?
A - Sometimes we'll have to play a two-hour-show or we'll have to do two, one-and-a-half hour sets. But we just played a show in Ohio and we played three and a half hours and we could've still kept going. It's all about the zone. Once you get in that pocket, it's so much fun to play. I could play the same stuff over and over again really, especially Zeppelin. One of my favorite songs is "Whole Lotta Love". When I sing that, the crowd goes completely ballistic on that.
Q - Do you take on the personality of Robert Plant when you talk between songs?
A - No, not really. I don't do the British accent. I do try, when I perform, to put on the persona of Robert Plant 'cause that's what they're paying for. That's what they want to see. When I walk off the stage or when I talk, it's me. I know there are some Zeppelin tributes where the attitude keeps going. To me, that's a turn-off when they start to pretend they're the character. I look like the guy, but when I'm offstage, I'll talk to people. I'll shake their hands. We'll sign their autographs. We'll hang out with the people. I don't like to think that I am Robert Plant. I don't want to be him. I'd like to have his bank account. (laughs)