There are many Led Zeppelin Tribute Bands today. How many of them can say the legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page endorses them? Lez Zeppelin is one that can say Page proudly endorses.
Guitarist Steph Paynes is one of the masterminds behind Lez Zeppelin. When you’re talking to Steph, you can hear the passion and also the seriousness she takes with her band. There are a dime a dozen Zeppelin tribute bands out there. Steph Paynes, Leesa Squyres, Joan Chew, and the powerhouse vocals of Marlain Angelides is what separates LezZep from the others.
I spoke to Steph while the band was enroute to a gig in Massachusetts.
Good job on the Immigrant Song you just released. Marlain Angelides did a fantastic job on vocals as did the entire band.
SP: She does a beautiful job. The music is challenging to play and sing just on a technical level. Robert Plant had a full octave range, and most people don’t have that. Just sort of entry point is, can you play the music? Can you perform it well? It’s not about just technique it’s just as much as emotion. Even though Jimmy Page was a fantastic technical player, that’s not what he was after. And that’s the same for us. That’s what Lez Zeppelin is about. We take that very seriously. Whether it’s in the studio or on stage, it’s all about that transcending some other place and it’s different every night. Everyone in the band is magnificent musicians.
That’s probably why we’re Jimmy Page approved. He once said, “I’m not in the business of technique; I’m in the business of emotion.
How did you get Jimmy Page’s seal of approval?
SP: I’ve waited ten years for this to happen cause you know, I played for ten years in my mind thinking if Jimmy were in the audience, this is how I have to play. And then suddenly he was.
Jimmy knows about everything in the universe that happens. If it involves Led Zeppelin at all, chances are Jimmy somehow knows about it because this is what he’s most interested in.
They had a release party for the concert turned movie Led Zeppelin Celebration Day that happened in 2007. Everyone thought they were going to tour after that one show. At the same time, we had made our second record which was a remake of Zeppelins’s first. The producer we used knew Jimmy very well. Along the way, we were sort of in communication with Jimmy about this record.
Jimmy knew all about the record. He loved our second record as he’s friends with our producer land very helpful along the way. We finally met at the premiere of Celebration Day, the movie in New York City. There was an after-party, and I finally got introduced to him. It was this fantastic moment because he came into the room and they said, oh, “Jimmy, meet Steph Paynes of Lez Zeppelin. We looked at each other, and he went, “It’s about time, you know?”
He gave me a great big hug and knew who I was. He said we’re doing a fantastic job. He worked his way around the room and came back, and we spoke for about half an hour. I told him we’d be playing London and told me to let him know when and where. I let his people know, and he called saying he’d try to make it as he was in the studio at the time doing the reissues.
He came to the show in London that night, and it was just incredible. That may have been the hardest show ever to play knowing that Jimmy would probably walk in and you’d have to play in front of him. It was terrifying. So he walked in during the bow solo. The girls knew he was there but didn’t tell me. After the show, he just shot straight to the room and came in and was ecstatic about it.
We spent the next hour talking, and he’s the one that said, let’s take a picture. If he does that, he knows what he’s doing.
The reason he loved our performance wasn’t that we played every note right. He said that part on ramble on that the third you play. I didn’t play that. Did I mean? It didn’t matter to him. He knew what we were playing, but that was irrelevant. What he loved was the passion. You’re leaving it all on the stage, and they have to mop it up. You’re improvising and throwing yourself into it.
That’s what he never sees with these other tribute bands. They’re too worried about imitation. They’re also concerned about getting every note right and wearing the right thing and making the right gesture. Who cares about that? You have to be authentic. Led Zeppelin was about feeling and the emotion of the music. That’s the business he’s in.
He just was stunned because I don’t think he was expecting that. He was just overwhelmed. That’s what it’s about. That’s how it should be done. That’s why he’s happy to endorse it.
What do you attribute to the success of Lez Zeppelin?
SP: I think fans are deeply moved and they feel transformed after seeing us perform. This is what people want. If they get that experience, they keep coming back for more. Where they see themselves in you. When that sort of thing starts to happen, it’s compelling. They don’t expect to get the Led Zeppelin experience from really anybody. Certainly not from women.
Do you experience the usual sexism that an all-female band might experience?
SP: Absolutely! We have our Harvey Weinsteins sure. In the music business, it’s weirdly acceptable to be sexist taking on this sort of gender-bending male role of playing Jimmy Page or John Bonam. They look at us thinking; you’re a bunch of chicks calling themselves Lez Zeppelin.
Almost every time we’ve walked into a situation, every big festival we’ve been sneered at, by sound people who think we’re never going to be able to play this stuff. Guys were telling us how to work the amps, turn it on here. Like we don’t know how to turn on our amps or set up our drums.
The second we play, I’ve seen their jaws dropping. Deer in headlights look thousand times with them wondering who the fuck are we. They weren’t expecting that.
We let our playing speak for itself.
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