When Lez Zeppelin formed some ten years ago in New York, there weren't too many female hard rock cover bands on the touring circuit. The musical landscape has changed -- now female acts pay tribute to acts such as AC/DC and Metallica. But back then it was a completely novel idea. In a recent phone interview, guitarist and bandleader Steph Paynes talks about the group's approach and discusses what it was like to work with longtime Zeppelin engineer Eddie Kramer on the band's 2007 self-titled debut.
It's been almost ten years since the band came together. Did you ever think it would last this long?
Ha ha. You know, it's an on-going revelation. I suppose, yeah, when you look back on it, it's incredible that it's been that long. It's been such an adventure. I knew when I started the band that it was an idea whose time has come, to have girls playing Led Zeppelin the way they had played it. I had no idea that it would really catch on like it has. It's still fun.
What do you mean by on-going revelation?
Let's just say that there's so much magic involved in this music and in doing it. There are so many different aspects to playing the music beyond the fact that the music is incredibly rich and ever revealing in its dynamics and possibilities for musicians. It's been amazing in so many other ways that continue to invigorate what we're doing and also amaze me. Just the aspect of women playing this music and being a powerful rock band like we are is still an anomaly. We are still getting in all sorts of interesting discussions. The whole male and female aspects of things goes ever deeper. I get journalists and I get fans who come up to me and continue to be more insightful. It's a fascinating and interesting thing.
I guess that's what writer and critic Chuck Klosterman was getting at when he called your band a "multilayered cultural phenomenon."
That's right. I think he was writing about this trend of all-female bands playing hard rock and taking over a male-dominated bastion. I remember having fantastic discussions with him about it. The interesting thing about Led Zeppelin, which is different than some of these other hard rock groups like AC/DC and Metallica and Judas Priest, is that Led Zeppelin, although thought of as very macho, is not macho rock at all. Sure, they were sexual and sure, they were powerful in this way that's interesting when women take on that posture because women are usually teasing you and they're not in your face saying "Hey baby, I'm going to come get ya" like Led Zeppelin were. However, Led Zeppelin's music is very varied. They were blown away by Joni Mitchell. They wrote delicate songs as well as powerful ones. The idea that they were going to come and eat you for lunch is really wrong. They also look feminine and they were really playing the androgynous card. I can go on and on with this stuff.
Does the band have a large lesbian following?
We used to joke that we could sing the words without changing a single word. "I want to be your backdoor man." Sure, why not. Of course, that goes without saying. We don't admit to or ascribe to being lesbian anything. We don't deny it either. It's all in good fun to have that out there. It's women singing to women and you can do it if you're Lez Zeppelin.
Led Zeppelin was famous for its groupie stories. Do you have any good groupie stories of your own?
Um, I might. Let's just say that sometimes we have had the feeling that we were pushing the metaphor a little too far. The girls are really fun and everyone enjoys being on the road. It's all part of the fun. There are equal parts men and women who get excited about the group. It's fun to have that kind of energy out there, but the rest you'll have to imagine. Maybe I'll make that public in a posthumous memoir.
Eddie Kramer, who worked with Zeppelin, produced your first album. What was it like working with him?
He was an engineer on several of their records, most notably Led Zeppelin 2. He helped Jimmy with the middle section of "Whole Lotta Love" when he crawled over the mixing board to push sliders at the right moment. He was also famous for his panning of things from left to right. That was the Eddie Kramer move. He did that a lot with Jimi Hendrix, too. It was crazy and wild to be with him in the studio. You had to pinch yourself every once in awhile. It's a while ago but I used to joke that one day we would have Eddie Kramer make our record and the girls would laugh at me.
In your opinion, what Zeppelin album is the best?
It's hard for me to identify one. I have a couple that stand out for me, but if I had to pick one, I would pick Physical Graffiti because it's longer and you get twice as much. I love some of the songs on Physical Graffiti. Some of those songs are my favorites: "In the Light" and "Ten Years Gone" and "In My Time of Dying." Some stuff on that record is very deep. I really love Presence. We're playing more and more of that. It's a very funky record. I have a soft spot for Zeppelin 1, too because it was the first out of the gate. It has a feverish energy to it.
Are you well-versed in the legends and myths that surround the group?
To a certain extent but not overly. There are tons of fans who know way more than I do. I have a small library of things. People give me stuff, too. I have bootlegs up the wazoo and I have everything on vinyl. I have a nice collection. I'm not that interested, to be honest with you, in what [drummer] John Bonham's cars were and what color they were. I'm not that type of person. I am interested in what guitars Jimmy played and what amps he had. But for me, it's really just about the music.