Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lunden Is Reigning: Talking To Lunden Reign

One of the great surprises of 2015 was discovering Lunden Reign, and their album, "American Stranger". After blindly giving the record a try, I was met with a sound that resonated with the best attributes of classic rock, updated for the modern times. It stuck with my throughout the year, earning itself a spot on my list of the Top Ten Albums Of 2015.

To celebrate the record, I had the chance to interview Nikki and Laura from the band, to find out what makes Lunden Reign work, how "American Stranger" came together, and what's next for their promising band.

Start by talking a bit about how Lunden Reign came about.

Nikki: I had moved to LA in fall of 2012 to attend Musicians Institute, straight outta the woods from Iowa. The​following spring I met Laura at a jam session in the San Fernando Valley and connected shortly after over the phone. After telling my story about leaving home, starting over, knowing no one here and my need to connect with the LGBT community, she invited me to come hang around for a rehearsal at her studio in the valley. We were pretty much inseparable from the start – I guess you could say I never really left! Becoming part of her band quickly evolved into Lunden Reign within a matter of… hmm. 3-4 months maybe? Now here we are, already celebrating 3 years together as musical, business and life partners and grow stronger as a team every day.

When did you realize you wanted to make a concept record?

Nikki: About 1/3 or halfway into writing the album? I think we started to realize it was kind of turning into that on it’s own. We really tuned into that and started developing the rest of the songs to be cohesive that way. We had to remember to look through the eyes of our protagonist when writing lyrics.

Were you worried that a concept record might be a difficult statement for a debut?

Nikki: It certainly is risky! But the way the parts of the story are told individually, the songs can be broken up and still be relatable and stand on their own. We get a mixed bag of “my favorite song is                              ” depending on how it effects a person emotionally – we’ve heard that fill in the blank statement for every song on “American Stranger” and we can only hope the next record will have the same impact on our listeners.

Can you explain a bit the concept of "American Stranger", and how it fits your band's identity?

Nikki: A lot of the things expressed​lyrically throughout the album came from personal experience. Laura and I are both members of the LGBT community. We both have been victims of bullying, discrimination and so many of the ugly things that seem to accompany being a minority. We’ve had too many friends who have fallen victim to vicious and preventable hate crimes. This kind of stuff happens all too frequently in this world - this is one way of taking a stance and fighting back with a positive action.

Your sound recalls Led Zeppelin and Heart. What other influences do you have that might not be as apparent?

Laura: I’m definitely a big fan of Jimmy Page​, Kurt Cobain,​ George Harrison​, Richie Edwards, Paul Simon, David Bowie (who is so sadly missed), Steely Dan and Muse. However,​Lunden Reign's sound is equally the work of our producer and music co-writer, Luis Maldonado. So if there is a primary influence for me today, it would be Luis, he's a master of the craft and a true musical genius.

Nikki: I grew up listening and singing to what my Mom loved. The Carpenters, Mamas & Papas, early Bette Midler vinyl’s. I think that gritty, down and dirty style from Bette Midler’s early records is infused in my blood. Mix that in with what I was listening to as a teenager – Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Alanis Morissette, Radiohead, Alice In Chains, No Doubt, I think there are flavors of all those artists that have developed my palate.

However, having been in LA and working with this team, my biggest influences are Laura and our producer, Luis Maldonado. Luis has taught me things I never thought I could do with my voice. I call him “The Wizard” because of that. Both Laura and Luis push me, which forces me to stretch my boundaries and deliver the best performances possible. They are the most important of all my influences as they are who helped me define my voice to be my own in every way.

Did your sound come together right away, or did it take time to develop your identity?

Nikki: That’s a great question. Laura and Luis had been working together prior to my arrival and had been developing a writing style together that has really grown it’s own wings. There was a shift in the wind when I came along that put a whole different perspective on things, bringing forth a whole new set of goals.

I really had to work hard at muffling my Midwest roots to be believable as a gutsy alt-rock front woman - I had to own it. I’ve come a long way from the little folk singer hiding behind a gigantic acoustic guitar, that’s for sure! Luis worked with me a lot on imagery and developing a character for each song, which gradually came natural – I’ve become the character now. Laura has taught me to write (lyrically) with more purpose. We’ve created a truly original sound for Lunden Reign and a powerful writing team between the 3 of us in the process.

When you're putting songs together, how does the creative process work?

Nikki: Our writing team is made up of Laura, Luis and myself. Usually Laura will come up with a solid riff and start recording right from the beginning. She adds to it until she’s happy with the progressions, transitions and basic structure. At that point, we’ve been talking about a topic and I’ll have been listening to her build the scratch enough to come up with a rough melody. I’ll just kind of “la la” through, maybe throw in some lyrics here and there on a vocal track, add some harmonies, then we bounce it off to Luis. We’ll be working on lyrics while Luis dissects it, and does that wizard thing he does – “Luis-isms” that we love so much. After that, we tweak it until the song tells us it’s finished.

What strikes me about the record is the strong balance between guitar riffs and vocal melodies. How do you find the right mix?

Nikki: Laura is a firm believer in the singer being out front, not being squashed by solos or too much instrumentation. These songs are about a story and delivering a message - not face-melting guitar leads or frilly over-kill vocal runs. In my opinion, too much of that stuff distracts from the message. You’ve got have just enough of “this” not too much of “that” – the perfect blend of ingredients to make a song memorable. I think we find the “right mix” because we all feel that way.

There's quite a bit of diversity to the music, both in the writing and the guitar tones. How important was it to make a well-rounded record, and not produce the same song ten times?

Nikki: Being that “American Stranger” is a concept album, each song defines different emotions at different stages of “Mary’s” life. The record span’s across the spectrum of emotions - none of which feel the same nor should they sound the same. I think it’s only natural the songs came out the way they did – the important thing acknowledge is not that these songs are different from each other, but that they belong with each other.

The vocals on the record are wonderfully rock and roll, when there are very few female singers doing that these days. Was that a conscious decision, or did it come naturally?

Nikki: I’ve always been a power singer so I’d say that’s just how I sing anyhow! But when I started working with Luis on defining my “character” we really shaped some things to make them unique to my style, giving me more of an edge than ever before. These songs call for a powerful rock voice that can be gritty and vulnerable at the same time – I’m damn lucky that I have one of those and grateful that we’ve all found each other so I get to sing these incredible songs!

Everyone will have their favorites, me included. What songs are your favorites on the record? Which mean the most to you?

Nikki: My obvious answer is “It’s About Time” as it’s my story of leaving my home in Iowa to move to L.A. and hoping to hell not to be swallowed whole! But I absolutely LOVE performing “American Stranger” and “Savage Line” – I dig into those 3 the most emotionally.

Laura: The title track "American Stranger" is important to me because it's a lot about how I felt and sometimes still feel in our society. "Hear Me" is more personal for me, trying to explain to my family and others who I am.

How has the response to the record been? Are you surprised people have been embracing it?

Laura: The response to the record is what I had hoped for. Once people took the time to listen to it as an album, they were hooked.  So many people said they not only played it end-to-end which they rarely did, but it remains in their car or home cd player. Regarding being surprised? Of course because you never know how anyone will react to something you create, so you always just hope for the best.​

"American Stranger" is a great start, so where does your career go from here? What are your plans for the future?

Laura: ​We are currently in production of our second album, "Confessions" and teaming once again with Luis Maldonado. We have recorded six songs so far and our biased opinion is they are as big or bigger than the songs on "American Stranger." Our plan is to finish the album, but before it is released we are scheduling meetings with A&R reps at the major labels to see who would be interested in partnering with us and helping to market and distribute "Confessions."  We also hope to be invited to bigger festivals this summer and maybe open for a major act here on the west coast.

Is there anything else we should know about Lunden Reign?

Laura: I would only add that those who appreciate lyrics with social importance and a deeper meaning (other than "I love/want/hate or will leave you)​" along with a unique original big beat melodic and rockin' sound will take the time to listen to us. We are incredibly grateful for music writers like you who are willing to go beyond the radio airwaves, review and share the music of bands like Lunden Reign.  It gives us great hope that we are not alone in the search for songs that touch the soul as well as the heart and the mind.

For more on Lunden Reign, including how to purchase your copy of "American Stranger", visit their website,
or their Facebook page. 

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