Some hard core Led Zeppelin fans might think the all-female tribute band Zepparella is one of the latter cases. Drummer and co-founder Clementine has heard plenty of that.
“I have had so many people say they came to see the train wreck,” she told the Sparks Tribune. “I totally understand that. In this culture we’re spoon fed so much musical bologna that you just kind of expect somebody’s trying to pull wool over your eyes. All I can say is we try our very hardest because we love the music as much as anyone coming to prove us wrong.”
The four musicians who comprise the San Francisco-based band certainly have the credentials for this musical undertaking. Clementine and guitarist Gretchen Menn played together in another all-girl tribute group, AC/DShe, for three years before forming Zepparella in 2005. Clementine then enlisted bassist Nila Minnerock, a former bandmate from the New York City hard rock group Bottom. The band really gelled with the addition of singer Anna Kristina, Clementine said. Kristina’s jazz background gives her vocals a breathy, emotive quality reminiscent of Janis Joplin and it was her sound and stage presence that really rounded out the band.
“We all got along so well and it comes through on stage in a magical way,” Clementine said.
Re-creating that magic between performers is the key to re-creating the music of Led Zeppelin, she said.
“I think the difficulty really when it comes to Zeppelin is the feel,” Clementine said, “because when it comes down to it the parts aren’t that impossible. I’m speaking for the drums, but Gretchen says for guitar, too. It’s not like it’s super complicated stuff but it’s really about being able to convey the magical feel Zeppelin had. It hits you in a really emotional way.”
That original magic, created between 1968 and 1980, was the work of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham and bass guitarist/keyboardist John Paul Jones. Considered a kind of all-star line-up of musicians, Led Zeppelin is regarded as one of the first heavy metal bands and long after disbanding is still recognized for incorporating blues, country, reggae, Celtic and other styles into its music.
Menn, who received her musical education at Smith College in Massachusetts, said she has learned a lot by imitating Zeppelin’s music. She said Zeppelin’s music keeps her on her toes because the songs do some unusual things. For instance, she said, the song “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” has an unusual discrepancy between the number of harmonica and guitar measures. She attributes her ability to deal with those intricacies to the classical training she received in college, where her guitar teacher was a student of guitar master Andres Segovia.
“When you’ve been studying Bach preludes suddenly Led Zeppelin might seem nonstandard from rock perspective but it’s not out of realm of being manageable for somebody who studies Bach preludes,” she said. “I’ve been trained to know songs require more than sitting down and studying them for 20 minutes.”
Clementine and Menn both said that one of Zeppelin’s trademarks is improvisation. For them as tribute artists, another of the keys to a successful performance is knowing when to play songs exactly as the band did – and as fans expect to hear – and when they, too, can jam and have fun as unique musicians. Though none of the members of Zepparella saw their progenitors perform live, they watch footage and gather ideas for when to go off in their own direction with a song, though Menn is quick to point out that familiar riffs, like the opening to “Communication Breakdown,” are not the place to veer from the original so listeners don’t just assume she can’t play it.
“The line I try to walk is to do enough literal interpretation to show respect for music,” Menn said. “If the part is clearly playable and singable I try to do it note for note."
“If I’m going to be jamming I try to do it after that’s done,” she continued. “So, here’s the song as you know it, as it’s recorded, and now here’s the spirit. That’s the trouble of translating poetry: Do you go for literal translation or the spirit? Sometimes we’re trying to do both.”
Zepparella will hold a poetry slam at John Ascuaga’s Nugget on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Celebrity Showroom. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 800-648-1177 or online at www.janugget.com.
To learn more about the band and hear some samples of its music, go to www.zepparella.com.