By Pat Prince
As a founding member and bassist of an all-girl Zeppelin tribute band, wittingly named Lez Zeppelin, Lisa Brigantino got to headline festivals, tour the world, and gain recognition as a multi-instrumentalist.
Now, with a solo album called "Wonder Wheel," Brigantino is distancing herself a little from the Led Zeppelin experience, embracing a more contemporary sound of slickly-produced rock and acoustic charm.
Brigantino still loves Led Zeppelin but that music phenomenon is not part of her everyday existence anymore. Going solo, Brigantino proves that she is more than just an entertainer. She is a woman of substance, too.
First off, why the departure from Lez Zeppelin?
Lisa Brigantino: Although it was the guitarist's idea to start Lez Zeppelin, I was a founding member and I was there from the beginning - from the very first rehearsal back in January 2003. I played bass, bass pedals, keyboards and mandolin and did backing vocals. We did some amazing things together - toured the world, headlined Bonnaroo and recorded our debut album with the legendary Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady Studios. It was a great ride and awesome to be a part of the project, but it was simply time to go. There were a number of reasons I left, but primarily I wanted to get back to focusing on my original material and music career. I've been a songwriter, composer and musician for years, long before being involved with Lez Zeppelin, and it was time to get back to doing my own thing. Not only did I leave the band in January of 2009, but so did the singer (Sarah McLellan) and drummer (Helen Destroy). It was just time for the three of us to move on.
Do you still work with them at all? Are they continuing with other people?
Brigantino: No, I do not work with Lez Zeppelin any longer. The guitarist [Steph Paynes] continued on with other people and I understand that since Sarah, Helen and I left in 2009, several of the positions have been replaced a number of times.
Tribute bands can make a good living these days. They can be more popular than acts with original material. Were you a little nervous going on your own with original material?
Brigantino: I'm not nervous about doing my own original material, because I've been doing it all along. In fact, my first solo CD "A Brooklyn Night" was released in 2000. Also, being a songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist allows me to be involved in many different musical projects. I compose music for all different types of productions, sit in with other artists for live performances and recording, consult on music supervision and licensing projects, etc. I have many musical things that I do that combine to form a living.
How long have you been writing your own material?
Brigantino: Actually, since I'm a kid! I come from a very musical family and there was always singing and instrument playing at family gatherings. I started making music and playing instruments at a very young age and writing my own material seemed a natural progression. I continued writing all through junior high and high school and then studied music in college, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in music theory and a Master of Music in music composition and music theory from the School of Music at the State University of New York College at Fredonia. Not only am I a performing songwriter, but I'm also a trained composer that writes for TV, film, and advertising.
Is a lot of material on the new disc, "Wonder Wheel" from years of songwriting?
Brigantino: Yes, the songs do span quite a bit of time. The disc contains some material that is very recent but most of the tunes on the album had been kicking around for years - they just hadn't been recorded yet.
You think it will be hard to get away from the Led Zeppelin comparisons?
Brigantino:I don't think so. So far, the reviews of "Wonder Wheel" haven't made those sorts of comparisons.
There's a lot of acoustic music on "Wonder Wheel." Was Led Zeppelin III your main influential album?
Brigantino: Although I liked the music of Led Zeppelin, I really didn't listen to them a great deal until I got involved with Lez Zeppelin. Of course, once I was able to study the music and crawl inside of it, I really dug it - Especially getting to play the parts that John Paul Jones created. But frankly, Led Zeppelin was not an influence on "Wonder Wheel". Most of the material on the album was written before I ever got involved with Lez Zeppelin and was listening regularly to Led Zeppelin. People who only know me from being in Lez Zeppelin will probably want to make those comparisons to the music of Led Zeppelin, but really, as much as I've grown to love their music, it has never been a major influence on my own material. I'm influenced more by the artists, writers and music that the band members of Led Zeppelin found influential, like John Lee Hooker and Joni Mitchell, traditional Folk, Blues, Celtic music. I'm also heavily influenced by the blues-rock and hard rock of the late 60's/early 70's. My cousin Felix Pappalardi produced Cream and was the bassist and producer of Mountain and I've been listening to and loving that music since I'm a kid.
The acoustic material is possibly your biggest strength. There's a nice mix of rock tunes and acoustic on the album, though. Was that deliberate?
Brigantino: I'm an eclectic songwriter who writes in a variety of genres. Since "Wonder Wheel" is a self-release, I was not at the mercy of a record label telling me what to do. I chose to make the album I wanted and to put a mix of genres on it, everything from Rock to Folk, Blues, Old-Time, and more. I believe the listening public is way more savvy than the labels give them credit for and most of the people who have responded favorably to the album have commented on how they like and appreciate hearing a mix of genres and arrangements on one album. I'm getting airplay on a variety of radio stations and formats because of the diversity of the album. Among others, the blues-rocker "This Town" is getting airplay on the Midnight Special Blues show out of France (and was selected as one of the "Top Five Songs You Gotta Here Today" on ExploreMusic.com in June and it just hit #62 on the September Rock Charts at Indie-Music.com), the solo acoustic guitar and voice tune "Used To Be A House" is airing on Celtic Roots Radio out of Ireland and the piano-pop title track "Wonder Wheel" is airing on the Lyrical Venus Show on KRUU-FM here in the US.
Did you get a band together for shows/touring?
Brigantino: I put a band together for my recent CD release show in NYC and do hope to do more shows with these great musicians. I had my husband and co-producer Tom Millioto on electric guitar, Helen Destroy (former drummer of Lez Zeppelin) on drums and Jeremy Chatzky (Ronnie Spector, Bruce Springsteen) on bass. I chose to play acoustic and electric guitars and piano for that show. My sister Lori and friends Susan Haefner and Jerry Snee also lended their vocal talents. I also perform my original songs as a duo with Lori or Tom and I perform a lot as a soloist, so I'm very flexible in terms of the types of shows and venues I can play.
Will you do a long tour?
Brigantino: At this point, I'm doing more one-off shows. However, I'm looking to do some longer runs in late fall and early spring. Folks can check out my website at www.lisabrig.com to find out about tour dates.
One last question: As a Led Zeppelin fan — obviously — are you disappointed that Zeppelin might not ever get back together to tour?
Brigantino: I think it would have been amazing to have the three remaining members back together for a tour, but I can certainly understand people wanting to move on and do other things...
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