Talk With Leah Pinnavaia
How is it working in both the Dreaming and Cosmic Stepping Stones (CSS)?
Both bands are pretty choosy about where they play. As a result the schedule is more manageable. So far it has worked out well. But I do have to be careful not to get myself into a conflict. Basically, once one band has something booked I let the other know right away so a conflict does not occur. My role in either band has been very different and so as a result, both projects have helped me to feel more fulfilled with music in general. In CSS I am the lead vocalist and so my role is quite demanding. In the Dreaming I sing primarily backups with Ann Janish-Schieder singing most of the leads. But it is incredibly fulfilling doing that because I can weave vocals in an out of the mix and use the upper end of my vocal range more than I normally would. I really like the challenge of both projects and I think it has helped me develop my voice even more.
As far as frequency of performing goes, I think it is important not to wear out your Welcome in WNY which unfortunately happens to a lot of bands in this area. Unless you are a party band where drinking people are ready and willing to hear the same thing from you week after week, most people won’t come out to see you every week in the same area. As a result, the Cosmic Stepping Stones play out of town periodically and The Dreaming is also starting to branch out in that direction as well. I believe that playing in the same area week after week is a method for burnout and usually does not result in your band being successful. You need to play in a variety of areas and decrease the frequency of performances in the same area in order to have a better chance at drawing a decent sized audience. Yes, we’ve learned that the hard way!
You Seem to Have a Very Eclectic Background.
What are Your Musical Influences?
When I was young, starting at age 9, I played clarinet and was exposed to a lot of Classical and Big Band music. My first exposure to Rock’n’Roll bands were listening to my Father’s Beatles, Buddy Holly and Elvis 45 records. Can you believe he sold them in a garage sale! Then, my brother, who plays guitar in CSS, introduced me to FM radio (pretty pathetic that I needed my brother to point that out to me!!) When I started singing in bands that played out in WNY I began in Hard Rock bands and would sing covers from bands like Van Halen, Scorpions, Heart, Pat Benetar, Led Zeppelin, STP, Metallica, Kim Mitchell, etc. I was determined to not be restricted to singing songs only sung by women and I knew that I could be just as powerful as a male Rock singer. Then I started branching into a more Alternative Rock or Progressive Rock vein because my original music was in that category. I also enjoyed taking classic rock songs and re-vamping them. So I started doing covers by U2, The Police, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, The Cranberries, The Beatles, Peter Gabrielle, Genesis, Poe, Prince, The Rolling Stones, Audioslave, Radiohead, etc. And the list goes on. Now, I have more of an interest in acoustic, contemporary blue grass, and folk music. I’d like to combine these new influences with the progressive and alternative music I have been doing. I also want to continue writing songs, recording and performing original music. I have performed as an opening artist for a few National Acts which include Vinnie Moore, Universal Honey, Sally Taylor and The Acoustic Strawbs. I would like to do more of that also, then again, who wouldn’t?
Pardon Me but . . . What is Your Voice Range?
Well, when I was in MUSE with Jim Wynne, he helped me figure out how many octaves I could cover with my voice. We came up with 7 ½. This seems pretty unbelievable to me. So recently I tested this again and it didn’t cover the 7 ½ octaves well. It was more like a strong 6 ½ octaves and the other notes were so low that my voice sounded “yucky” in my opinion. Also, over the years, the music that I’ve been doing has changed. I don’t do Hard Rock music anymore so the lower end of my voice range has shifted upward. So my usable voice range is 6 ½ octaves which means that anything on the lower end between 6 ½ and 7 ½ octaves would not be pleasing to anyone even though I can technically hit the notes!! I really have to update that CSS bio. I hate writing about myself, never been good at it and usually left it up to other members in the band. Sorry guys.
Many Independent Artists Find it Hard to balance the ‘Art” and Business.
Do you find it difficult marketing your original music?
Selling CDs seems to be more viable in acoustic settings such as coffee houses or media stores where people have a genuine interest in listening to new music. CSS has had their music played all over the US and been included on College Music Journal (CMJ) compilations. Radio stations we have been played on vary in terms of their status and outreach. We tended to do best in some of the Midwestern and Southern States and also Southern California. We have done pretty well in Pennsylvania and Ohio. We were reviewed very positively in CMJ in the summer of 2003. So there has been some definite interest outside of WNY. I am perfectly happy selling my music in the Indie music market and on line, which is where CSS has had most of its success. If you want to view our radio play list or see reviews, listen to sound bites and see what CDs we have put out, you can visit www.cosmicsteppingstones.com . We are going to release some new CSS music this year. Visiting our website periodically will be the best way of keeping track of when.
Despite all of the ups and downs of being an independent artist, I have been very blessed with the projects I have been in because I know they have been of a high musical quality and standard. I also have enjoyed playing with many other musicians who are great people as well as being talented musicians. Of course, I met some amazing music aficionado’s in the audience who have also broadened my view of music as well. I really appreciate when a fan talks to me about their favorite bands and music. It helps me not get stuck in my own little world.
What are your future goals with music?
Basically I want to revisit what music is all about which is sharing it with other people and musicians. I want to get to know our audience and people who come to see our music. Unfortunately, because of the nature of competitiveness in the music business, too many musicians try to hold on to their tiny slice of the pie and guard it with their life!! I don’t want to be like that. I have many ideas and thoughts and I convey them in my songs. Some are about religion, social issues, imagery, relationships or revolve around a past experience or future hopes. I have been working with different projects including CSS and The Dreaming. I want to do shows with other musicians who want to share the experience. I really enjoy the Blue Cactus showcases done by Emery Nash who plays once a month at St. Matthias church in East Aurora, NY ( www.emerynash.com ). They showcase a different band every month and instead of just promoting themselves, they promote other artists as well. In my opinion, this is how music should be. It should be a shared experience, artistic and a celebration of the moment. Life is too short for it to be anything else.
I also have been working on using the clarinet in a non-traditional way in alternative music and using my keyboard more often with live shows and recordings. Basically, music is important for me as a means of expression and sharing experiences with others. I want to continue to grow as a musician all the time. I also want to explore playing in different types of venues, not just clubs but other places as well where there are people looking for something different and who really appreciate music. I want to get to know other musicians and share performances.