Leiana may not yet be a household name, but with her dedication to her craft, incredible rock n’ roll spirit and a powerful new album, she soon will be. The Philadelphia-based artist has spent the past few years developing a rapidly growing fan base in the rock, hardcore and punk worlds. With two self-produced and self-released studio albums already under her belt, Leiana now stands ready to unleash her most impressive work to date, ‘Lucky Number Three.’ The album features the talents of such industry heavyweights as Rob Caggiano (Anthrax) and Sean Danielson (Smile Empty Soul), Brett Scallions (Fuel, the Doors), John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie) and Ken Schalk (Candiria). With a little help from her friends, Leiana is poised to make her mark in the rock world with her major label debut. Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up Leiana to discuss her past, her new album and everything else that lies in store for this woman on the move!
First off, I want to give our readers a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
I grew partly on the East coast and partly on the West coast. When I was little I lived in the suburbs of Philly, and then in San Clemente, Ca. and then back to Philly again where I finished high school. Off to NYC for NYU and then back to Philly to finish at U of Penn. After college I went back to California for MI (Musicians Institute). I still enjoy traveling between coasts..its like the best of both worlds. That period of time that I spent in Orange country growing up was pretty important to me musically though. I was exposed to a totally different surf lifestyle and LA/Orange county punk rock/hardcore bands.
How did music first come into your life?
My parents always listened to music. Granted it was the typical “parental” type of music -whatever was on the radio – but still it was always on. My brothers always listened to music and got me into more classic rock stuff. My one brother would always manipulate me into giving him my allowance so we could get music together. We went through a heavy Beatles and Elvis Costello phase that way, and he was a big Rush -head which now I am too. He died when I was 12, and I really miss that part of our relationship.
Were there any other influences that have helped shape you, the musician, that we know today?
Perhaps the most significant is Chuck Treece. He is a legendary Philly musician that I got involved with through a friend who was Chubby Checker’s tour manager at the time. I was auditioning for bands and couldn’t really find anything that fit and this guy said” you write -don’t you” and I said yeah, kind of and he said” I know the perfect guy for you”. That guy was Chuck and it was the first time I really connected with someone totally musically. We started just writing an Ep for me and then Chuck stayed on to make it a full length and play in my band. We ended up putting out 2 records that way. He would have me piggy back on shows that his band McRad played, and that is how I got my music out there. Chuck didn’t just mentor me and my career; he really broke me down and built me back up into what I am now. It was old school making of an artist that record companies used to do.
What drove you to make music your career, as opposed to taking a different path?
Honestly I have always known that this is what I wanted to do. I remember seeing singers on TV and knowing, and looking at Blondie albums covers and wanting to be that. It took me a long time to actually make a go of it. I grew up pretty depressed and with little self confidence. I would do other things to try to replace the urge to sing because I never thought I was good enough. I played other instruments, learned recording and engineering…other ways to put me in the business without having to put myself out there too much. It never felt right though. I didn’t actually play with a band until I was in college and I shook the whole time. It was always so important to me and yet it was the very thing I was the most afraid of. I really struggled when I went to MI for voice. I think I only played on their big stage twice, as I was overwhelmed by all the other talent there. Little by little I chipped away at it. It really wasn’t until I started working with Chuck and I saw that he believed in me that I began to see that what I wanted was possible. I figured he has worked with so many talented people (Bad Brains, Billy Joel, Roots, G Love) and is so talented himself, that maybe me as a singer was possible.
The music industry is rarely an easy road to travel. What has kept you inspired throughout the years?
That is a tough question. There is that inner belief that is what I am supposed to be doing, and the drive comes from that. It is my passion so to speak. It was been difficult though, and I find that at those times when I feel weak I find strength in music. I listen to my own music and get inspired and pumped from that as well as my influences. I once got to meet on of my influences Hazel O Connor several years back..she is an obscure Irish singer and she played a one off in LA when I was at MI. She played a kick ass set and I was introduced to her at the end of it. I got her autograph and told her just how influential and inspirational her music was to me. She seemed surprised as she said ” that is good because sometimes I wonder why I keep on trying to do this…is it worth it?” It made me realize that everyone at some point feels that way, and you just have to believe, go on and push through it.
What is the typical songwriting process like for you?
I don’t really have a typical process..it changes depending upon whom I am writing with. For the most part though I go into a session with just a few conceptual ideas and I rely on my partners to help me flesh it out. The same with lyrics. I do have books of lyrics, but they are more like poems and they are then formed into songs. For my last record most of the lyrics were written on the spot with Eddie…sometimes right before we cut them.
Your major label debut, ‘Lucky Number Three’ is due out on May 18th, 2010. How would you best describe it?
I like rock with an edge to describe it. It really crosses over a bunch of lines musically so I cant just say it’s a punk rock record, or a rock record, or a skate punk record. Its funny how musically you can come up stuff that doesn’t necessarily reflect your core influences. I love late 70s punk, but I cant really say you hear too much of the Ruts in there…it came as out more Joan Jett, which is cool too.
The album features an all star line-up of musicians, which include Sean Danielson from Smile Empty Soul, Rob Caggiano of Anthrax, Brett Scallions of Fuel, John Tempesta of White Zombie and The Cult, and Ken Schalk of Candiria. How did you assemble such a kick ass lineup?
Ha! That wasn’t so much my doing as it was my manager Denny Sanders. Denny manages Rob Caggiano and so I met Rob first at SXSW. We hung out and got along great so we started the process of writing the record. Rob had a few other projects going on at the same time as well as Anthrax tour dates so it was pretty sporadic. Rob is partners with Eddie Wohl in a production company, and Denny also manages Eddie so I met him at a barbecue at my managers’ house. Eddie and I got along famously as well so we started writing and Rob would chip in when he could. Eddie had just finished the Smile Empty Soul (also managed by Denny) record, Consciousness, so Sean was around while they were mixing, and had been writing with Eddie on the side so he just joined in. Eddie plays golf with Ken, who has always been one of my favorite drummers so it was easy getting him on board. Sean and Eddie were working with Brett on some stuff so one day when Sean was talking about cutting bass for me Brett asked if he could do it, and so he was in. John Tempesta is friends with all of those guys and wasn’t touring with the Cult at the time so he cut the tracks that Rob played on. It really wasn’t a set up situation of who was going to play on the record, it just so happened that all of these guys were around at the same time!
Eddie Wohl is the executive producer on “Lucky Number Three”. What has is been like working alongside him and what have you learned from him?
Working with Eddie was a great experience for me especially in terms of growth. Up till then I had only worked with Chuck so it was a bit intimidating for me at first. Eddie and I get along great though so it was easy to get comfortable and not censor my ideas so much. He is also an experienced songwriter and producer so it was easy for me to let him do his job. He pushed me, especially vocally which is a very good thing!
Were there any challenges to making the album?
I was on the East coast and everyone one else was out West so that was difficult. At one point I was flying to LA every week to cut vocals, and we were under a crunch to get certain things done because I would have to leave town. That was a challenge. Also, vocally for me it was a challenge because Eddie had me doing things that I necessarily wouldn’t have done on my own, but it was to my benefit for sure.
You have two very cool covers on the album, Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” and Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly”. What drew you to these songs?
Those tunes don’t actually appear on the record-they are bonus tracks. Both of them were suggestions by members of my team. Denny suggested the Lita Ford tune after he heard it on the radio one day, and we knew that we definitely wanted Rob and John to play on it. “Kool Thing” was suggested by Paul from my label. He just kinda threw it out there, and Reggie and I were talking about collaborating on something. That was another case of various people being around at the same time to record it. I actually did my vocal to a piano track the day before the guys cut their parts. Mike Starr had just moved back to LA and was friends with Denny, so he came out. I had known Dustin for a while and he wasn’t on tour so he was around, and Sean had just came off the road so we pulled him. It kinda just all came together.
What do you hope that people come away with after listening to your music or seeing your live performance?
I really am into feeling empowered and strong. Its not necessarily that I want to make happy music, but I want it to be as influential and positive as what has influenced me. Carry the torch so to speak.
Can we look forward to a tour in support of the album?
Yes, for sure! the details are being worked out right now. I am hoping to be on the road summer through fall.
What has been the biggest surprise for you so far in your musical career?
I guess I am still amazed at the power of networking. It is a business where everyone asks for everything from everyone, and you really have to have a personal connection with someone in order to get things done. Just being good, or whatever doesn’t cut it unless you know the right people.
Outside the realm of music, you do some charity work with the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society. How did you get involved with that cause?
I have been a champion of pit bulls since I recued my first when I lived in Hollywood. I didn’t know much about the breed at the time, and I learned a lot of the history of the breed and how public opinion of them has swayed. They are greatly abused and misunderstood. PAWS is one of the few no-kill shelters in Philly that rescues pits as the SPCA wont touch them. I have since rescued 2 more and several cats. I really don’t see the point of going to a store and buying an animal at this point, when there are so many that are in need of fostering and adopting.
Do you have an advice for anyone who would like to get involved in the entertainment industry?
Well to paraphrase my earlier answer: network, network, network. Be as open and non threatening as possible. Also touring is important too. I have done tours that were great and tours that sucked and where I played to nobody, but I still learned and got better. I learned from Chuck to always give your all to a show…if there are 5 people it’s the same as 5000.
Have you had a ‘Spinal Tap Moment’ on stage where something totally unexpected has happened to you?
I had a record release party at a fancy shmancy club in LA where my pants fell down! I had been touring and wearing one particular pair of pants a lot and the zipper had been giving me trouble. I had safety pinned them before I went on, but my mid set they were on their way down. I completed the set holding my pants up. Lesson learned-make sure your you have it together completely-not half assed- before you step on stage!
The album is due on May 18th. Are you doing anything special to celebrate the release?
I know there are talks of in store appearances, but I am unclear as to what the definite plan is. I have many interviews and the typical press stuff leading up to it.
Is there anything else you want to let your fans know before you go?
Don’t ever listen to someone that tells you that you cant do it. That’s not an option!
Thanks so much for your time! Looking forward to spreading the word!