Gary James' Interview With Steph Paynes
Of The Led Zeppelin Tribute
Just when you thought you've heard of every tribute band there is, along comes a band like Lez Zeppelin.
Lez Zeppelin is an all female tribute band performing the music of Led Zeppelin. They've been featured on VH1, CNN, MTV, CBS Good Morning and had Eddie Kramer produce their first album. Lez Zeppelin member Steph Paynes spoke with us about the group.
Q - Steph, since you portray Jimmy Page's role in the band, you may find what I'm about to tell you of some interest. I did an interview with P.J. Proby, who had Jimmy Page play on his records in the '60s. At that time, Page played chords and struggled to learn how to play lead. Are you surprised at that? Did you know that?
A - I didn't know that. That's interesting to sort of put it that way. I never really heard that before. I think Page developed as he did so much session work. I know that he really used to woodshed with Jeff Beck and even with Clapton to a certain extent. They were all in the same circle, particularly Jeff Beck. They were buddies. I know that Beck was always considered more of an able technician. Page probably ceded to him in that sense, even in The Yardbirds. But I think Page's real strength; he's certainly a great lead player, one of the greats, but I think the thing about him is just what he brought in terms of his holistic view and ear to everything that he did. He was the producer of all the Led Zeppelin records. I think his greatest genius might really be in the producing of the records even more than the playing, as great as the playing is. I think Jimmy was not so much about what am I going to play in terms of this wild and crazy lead. He wasn't Hendrix like. He built guitar sonics and atmospheres and what he called The Guitar Army. Many times the work he did was beautiful chordally or harmonically or he was building layers. A lot of the stuff he plays is really not that hard. It's not pyro-technical. Some of it is, certainly. But a large part of what he did was really to find the easy way to play things. They seem difficult and they seem so "Wow!" because of the way he delivered it with such emotionality, but I really think he wasn't so much about that as players like Jeff Beck are or some of his session work. I have a lot of bootlegs of that stuff now and a lot of what he did was much more low-key. But I think the stuff in the early '60s called for it too. It wasn't 'til guys like Hendrix came around that anyone was doing crazy, wild guitar. I don't think it was so much in vogue, really.
Q - Musically speaking, Led Zeppelin was probably the best Rock group ever because every guy in the group was a master of their instrument.
A - That's right. That's what makes it so difficult to do! (laughs) Everyone had to be on their game in a certain way or something is just not right. Not only on their game musically, but in my opinion, in ever way that that suggests. I don't mean just playing the notes. I mean playing them with force and emotion and power and complete musicality and dynamics. That's the real thing. That is rare in any musician, really. That's what they had.
Q - I don't believe there's another group in the world like Lez Zeppelin, correct?
A - You mean all girls
Q - Right, an all girls group doing Zeppelin music.
A - We were the first to do it. Since we got on the scene there have been a few bands that have followed suit. I think we are the ones that really are doing it in a certain way and at a certain level. But there are other bands. There was a rash of sort of all-girl bands for awhile. There still is to a certain extent, but it seemed to be a trend that people picked up on for awhile. A lot of girls doing AC / DC for some odd reason. (laughs) It seems to lend itself to that. There are some that do KISS. There's definitely a bunch of all-girl bands that are in each genre these days. How good they are, I don't really know. Honestly, I haven't really seen many of them outside of some YouTube stuff.
Q - How does Led Zeppelin feel about your group? Have you had any contact with the members?
A - Yeah. We have actually. Jimmy knows all about us. He's been very, very supportive, which is really nice. He's just always asked how we are and what's happening with the girls. One of these days we're gonna get him onstage with us. But he was really helpful during our last record, in ways that I'm not even sure I can mention. He was just totally into it. I think he understands we're doing it with a certain reverence and authenticity and deep respect and love for the music. I did actually get a chance to meet John Paul Jones. I was lucky enough to attend the 02 Arena Reunion in 2007, of the Ahmet ErtegŁn Show in London. It was really the only time I'd ever seen Zeppelin, or what you might think is Zeppelin. After the show I was at an after party and I was introduced to John Paul Jones. Somebody introduced me and he was "Oh, Lez Zeppelin" and got all excited. (laughs) "I'd love to see you play. I've heard so much about you," and all of these nice things.
Q - Did you meet Page?
A - I did not. I thought I might have a shot at that because we have some friends in common. I think Jimmy attended some other party briefly and from what I understand he left, as did Plant. John was walking around. What an unassuming guy. A complete musician. Exactly what you would think he is, he is. But at that party there were some wild people. Dave Grohl was there.
Q - On drums that night was Jason Bonham?
A - Yeah. Jason was playing drums.
Q - And you met him as well?
A - I did meet Jason, but not there. I met him later.
Q - Now, Eddie Kramer, who engineered the Zeppelin albums, produced one of your albums.
A - He did.
Q - That must've set you back quite a few bucks.
A - Yeah, it did. It was a big record project. It was released on Emanation Records, which was basically our own label, then it got distributed through Red Eye and they picked it up in Japan through Avex. I used to joke with the band back in the day, "One day we'll get Eddie Kramer to produce our record." Ha ha ha. Lo and behold, be careful what you manifest. (laughs) We were starting this record project. We took it very seriously. We had investors, so we were gonna put money into it. We actually had two famous producers interested, but I said "Why not ask Eddie Kramer?" It was almost a joke. Our manager called him up and the next thing I knew the phone rang and it was "Hello, it's Eddie Kramer." I had to kind of take a reality check. He was definitely interested. He came on in and said "Let's do it!" It was really kind of a wild experience. I think people want to do something like Zeppelin. Who wouldn't in away, and see what they could do with it. It was great to dig into. It was the real thing. (laughs)
Q - How did you all meet? (Lez Zeppelin members) New York City is a big city.
A - Yeah. (laughs) Well, it's a little bit of magic, a little bit of luck, mostly word of mouth. I started the band in 2004, something like that. There have been a couple of different line-ups, with the exception of myself. The guitarist remains the same, so to speak. This last line-up has been together for about three years. It really has evolved into something I think that is just spectacular. It got easier because once the band established itself, we sort of have a name, so people know who we are. When I was looking for a member, it got around. "Lez Zeppelin is looking for something." People would tell people and people would be very anxious. So, it's a different kind of thing. But it's very hard to have what you need to do this, it's not just a matter of being able to sing it a certain way. Yeah, you have to have that charisma. You have to look a certain way. You have to have rapport with that audience. You have to have a certain type of voice. It all has to gel. And a drummer? Yikes! Wow! You really have to have something special in your drummer because in order for everything to fly, you rest on that. When I play with Megan and Leesa, Megan's a bass player. She doesn't just play bass. She plays keys, mandolin, bass pedal, guitar. Megan plays everything. And she's very much like John Paul Jones. She would never admit it, but she wants to get a degree in music. She learns her parts by writing them down. I can't even read that stuff. I just have to play it by ear. So, we're all very much like our respective people. When Megan and Leesa play together, it's just, wow! We call it "the pocket", Megan's' pocket. I can just fly right over it. I can just do whatever I want because it's just so settled in there. I play with them and Leesa will play the same thing at me. She'll throw it right back at me and I'll throw it back at her. We're laughing half the time. This is when it's at its height. This is the thing as a musician of this ilk that you just dream about happening. That's what Cream had. I love the interaction. I'm such an old school groupie in that sense. But that's what's really exciting to me musically.
Q - Speaking of groupies, do you get groupies after your shows?
A - (laughs)
Q - Male groupies?
A - All sorts. There's probably just as many boys as girls. (laughs)
Q - You're laughing. You probably just shake their hand and say "Good night."
A - You'll just have to wonder about that. It depends on what they're like, doesn't it? (laughs) It's all good fun. People get really excited about it. It's interesting doing this sort of thing because I think in Rock 'n' Roll generally and especially Classic Rock, there's a lot to imitate in Rock stars. I just don't think those days exist anymore. They're gone. There's a lot of show biz and circus acts, but the true old school Rock star thing is really hard to find, those groups and those people. Back in the day, people took from the Rock star. It was a great deal of what my psycho analytical friend would call transference. Those people had what she would call a high transference balance, which is kind of a Pop psycho term for the ability that you have, or the ease with which people project onto you. I think what that means really is that people in the audience, when they see you onstage, they do that projection thing. "Oh, they're singing to me", or he or she "is exactly like me. This is what I want to be." They project their fantasies and wishes and self-images onto people like that, which is why the Rock star kind of becomes this sort of larger than life thing. Guys like Jimmy Page or Robert Plant or David Bowie or The Rolling Stones, all these people were able to sort of manifest this condition. You get people that come up and they're just completely, you know, they feel they know you and they want to be with you in all sorts of ways. They want to give themselves to you. It's this kind of thing. It's very, very interesting.
Q - You could lose yourself in the character of Jimmy Page.
A - You could. (laughs) And sometimes have. The line gets dangerously thin.
Q - Were you in another band before Lez Zeppelin.
A - It's interesting. It was like Jimmy. I wasn't doing so much session work, but I was a Ronnette so to speak. I was kind of jammin' on the same kind of thing Jimmy was sessioning on. Again, not a lot of wild lead guitar, but I was playing lead guitar. But it was mostly chord stuff and old school Rock 'n' Roll. I was doing a lot of singing and playing and traveling around the world with her. It was really great. Fantastic fun.
Q - That's a great gig right there. Did you play in local bands that eventually led you to getting that job?
A - Sure. I played in a lot of bands in New York City. There was one in particular that really got quite well known. It was in the early to mid '90s. We were an all-girl band interestingly. It was the only other all-girl band I've been in, ever. I was always playing with guys. Anyways, until this. This band was the most powerful band I've ever been in. The four of us were just blowing people's heads off. We were just so intense. People were calling us "very much like Led Zeppelin." So that's partially where I hatched this idea of being in this band. The band was called 1-900-Boxx, after those 900 numbers. They were phone sex numbers. We used that as a play on that. It was very cheeky. One of our biggest fans was Joey Ramone, who just loved the band. Joey, I can't say enough about him. I miss him deeply. He became a friend of mine. He was just so real. He always came out to see new music. He was very supportive of local bands and very supportive of women playing music. One of the few Rock star people that I knew who just thought it was so great that women would play music. He had women in his own projects and he just loved our band. And he really love my guitar playing. And so he was working with Ronnie. He was a huge Ronnettes fan and a Phil Spector fan. As you know, Phil Spector produced a lot of their records. He really always had a dream to work with Ronnie, so he got that together and he wanted to put a real band together and he thought of me. And that's how that happened.
Q - Where have you toured with Lez Zeppelin?
A - Really all over the world. We've been to Japan. I've been to every state in The United States, except maybe three or four. We've been to Europe about five or six times. India. So, we've kind of been out there.
Q - Lez Zeppelin has been pretty successful. What is it that you'd like to do that you haven't done? How long do you see yourself continuing?
A - That's a really good question. I don't know. Whenever I think I've done it, we've reached this goal or that, some other crazy thing happens. I never thought at the beginning that I would play this club and lo and behold we were there. Then we suddenly had an article in Spin that blew us up even more. Then suddenly we were selling out the Fillmore in New York and doing two nights in a row at The Bowery and then the next thing we know we're touring Europe, and we're making a record with Eddie Kramer. Then the next thing I know we're playing festivals and the next thing I know there's this whole big media snafu and we're playing Bonaroo on opening night. And there are 20,000 people screaming. I gotta tell you, that was really close to living the dream! (laughs) I mean, it was living the dream. We walked out onstage at night on opening night in front of 20,000 people. And as the lights went down there was a roar. I felt like it's like being in Led Zeppelin. It was a huge triumph. It was absolutely unbelievable. We played an encore too, which never happens at festivals. They usually don't let you play encores. So I really don't know where this could go. Yes, there is no Led Zeppelin, so that certainly is a factor. People really do want this. But there's also something about the band, what this kind of music does for people. Also, being all women, it's very transformative. So, we've had some opportunities that some of the other groups have not. It really does change some people's orientation completely because they don't expect this of women, ever. When they see women playing like this, it's like they almost can't compute it. I don't want to say it's because they're sexist, but it sort of is because frankly there haven't been a lot of all girl bands that have played at this level that have made it to the limelight. So, unfortunately there just haven't been in this genre, a lot, if any, all girl groups like this. So it just kind of blows people's minds. That effect is not to be underestimated. People see everything in a whole new way. They see the power of the group. They understand what Zeppelin is and Zeppelin of course is very sexy too. Then they see women doing it and the whole effect of that is very, very powerful and very interesting. Zeppelin always looked like a bunch of girls.
Q - Wait a minute here. John Bonham never looked like a girl!
A - You're right. John Bonham never did. You know what? My drummer doesn't look really look like a girl either. (laughs) No, but you can tell we're all really girls. Let's just put it that way. (laughs)
Q - So, how many gigs a year do you play?
A - It depends. We've had years where we tour endlessly, like more than 150 dates a year. Lately we've been a little more grounded. We were stalled for a little while because my drummer broke her leg. She broke her ankle. We slowed down for a minute there. We're actually looking to step it up. We're going to release another record early next year (2012) and probably do some more touring around it. If I wanted to go out and just get the gigs, I could probably work almost every night if we just wanted to work this band. No question. But at this point we have a crew and a bus and all sorts of things. I've got expenses. So I really have to make it. It has to be at a certain level before I drag everybody out. But I don't want to play without my vintage gear if I can help it, 'cause that's what we do. I just don't want to play on someone's Fender Twin 'cause it's not the right sound. So, we need to get all that stuff with us.
Q - If you're not working, how do you make enough money to pay all the bills?
A - Well, we try to work enough to do that. It's hard. Sometimes it's harder than others. It all adds up one way or another. But we also sell merch (merchandise). We're working on our third record now. And you know, we had record distribution all over the U.S. and in Europe and Japan. We had a record deal in Japan too. And the record sold well.