Flames of mesmeric beauty: Interview with Annamaria Pinna of Vajra

Without doubt one of the most inspirational and simply glorious albums to light up 2012 has been Pleroma from New York band Vajra. It is an album of aural majesty, a beautifully crafted and emotively driven piece of wonder which wraps tender and mesmeric yet evocative arms around the thoughts and senses. It is a release with a background as full as the fiery sounds which ignite the passions within so we had to know more. With gratitude we had the pleasure of asking vocalist, song writer, and band founder Annamaria Pinna all about the release, the heart of the album, and her personal journey to this point.

 Hello Annamaria and welcome to the site.

Hello.  Thank you.  Welcome to the Vajra Temple.

With the recent release of your stunning debut album Pleroma, things seem like a whirlwind of energy, attention, and activity for the band, what is it like from the inside?

Thank you.  Since we played our first show in November, 10, 2011 (which sold out), it has been both exciting and hectic.   We played the Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge in NYC to sold-out audiences, two shows at SXSW in Austin, TX and recently returned from a West Coast tour, performing at Sylvia Massy’s 4&20 Blackbird Music Festival, as well as The Bottom of The Hill in San Francisco and The Roxy in Los Angeles.  Virgin America selected our single “Erode The Will” for their In-Flight Entertainment Series in December, 2011, and that single is also included on the Red Gorilla SXSW 2012 Compilation and the GoGirls 2012 Music Compilation.  Our music was added to regular rotation at 200 radio stations nationwide, syndicated radio shows, podcasts, and music websites.  We recently signed licensing deals with The Discovery Network, MTV, Showtime and Bravo.  We sponsored a team at the 9th Annual Goals for Hope Women’s Soccer Tournament, (a benefit to raise money for the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation) and we were added as Supercuts Music Ambassadors.   The debut album was released on the Summer Solstice (06.21.12) and we seem to be getting a lot of positive reviews from around the globe, which is pretty cool.  So, let’s just say, we’ve been very busy.  But, I can’t complain.  It’s all good.

Obviously you would have been confident in your music and album but has the response to Pleroma surprised you in any way all the same?

Yes, of course. I must say that I am surprised at the amount of really positive reviews coming from all around the world.   This project is my baby.  And I would love it regardless of what anyone said.  When I started writing the album, I just wrote what I felt in my heart and what I heard in my head.  I had no idea how people would respond to it.  I had a feeling that it was decent enough when Blake (Fleming) agreed to drum on the album.  He thought I had something unique and catchy.  And then, when Sylvia (Massy) said she loved the music and agreed to be part of the project, it was another indication that people would respond positively, I suppose.

Tell us about you the person and you the musician.

There is no separation.  All of my experiences in life inform my music.  And my music informs my life.  Music has always been a part of my life.  I studied music theory at Juilliard, played violin from age 6-8 and flute from age 8 through high school.  I taught myself some piano, guitar and bass and took some drum lessons.  Also, I started dancing at age 3, so I was reacting to music from a very early age.  I lived in India for 5 years, where I acted in a feature Bollywood film, and started writing this album.  I am an attorney and I practiced International Tax Law and Trusts and Estates at a prestigious law firm in NYC.   I’ve lived in Siena, Italy, New Orleans, Mumbai, NYC and San Francisco and aside from the music, I love to travel, cook, drink wine, mountain bike, run, hike, read, learn, write and spend time with friends and family.  That sounds like a personal ad, l0l!  Ahahahaha!

As a child you were encouraged and guided to learn about the world and question assumptions, yours and others. It is fair to say this has carried on into your music?

Absolutely.  Generally speaking, like I mentioned above, my life informs my music.  So, the time I spent in India gave me an appreciation for Classical Hindustani music, which I digested and then incorporated those elements into my own music.  I also think that many of my experiences are reflected in my music either in the lyrics or the music itself (or both).

Do you think your music would be as potent it is if you had not had that guidance?

Probably not.

The album carries some rich and expressive Eastern Indian themes and weaves within its progressive rock body as you just said. These have stemmed and being inspired by your self-imposed exile in India one assumes, can you tell us about this part of your life and how it impacted on your creativity and music specially?

I felt that I needed to challenge my assumptions and learn more about myself and the world around me.  So, I had to pull myself out of my familiar surroundings and go to a place where I was forced to question my thoughts, motivations and actions.  I had to step out of my comfort zone, challenge myself and explore other possibilities of being.  I wanted to sort through the things we usually take for granted and see things from a new perspective.  I learned a lot about myself and my world and I think I grew tremendously as a person.  If one has the opportunity, I think traveling and living abroad is very useful for growth and self actualization.

Photos By Brian Matus

Before we move on to the music may we ask about the condition you have, synesthesia? Would you explain about its effects and how it has challenged or alternatively enhanced your songwriting and the way you compose?

I see shapes and colors when I hear sounds.  When I describe music, I sometimes describe it in terms of color and wave my hand or body in a certain manner to reflect something of a shape.  Initially, I thought it was a product of my dance background.  And, I thought I was a bit crazy. For me, music is layered and multi-faceted and takes on many shapes and colors. I think this has enhanced my songwriting because it provides another understanding of this language of music.  I mean that it provides another way to describe or sit in that musical space.

 As with the India question do you think it brings a spark to your music which would be missing without having synesthesia?

Yes indeed.

Pleroma is a majestic weave of haunting shadows, flaming melodies, and emotion driven passion, I am sure you will not disagreed haha, but how much is inspired by personal reflection and experiences and how much ignited from observation?

That’s pretty cool.  Thank you.  It is a combination of both.  I am inspired by a leaf on a tree, an experience in the subway, the color of the sky, and my daily interactions with those close to me, and some not so close.

Please tell us about the theme behind Pleroma and where its inspiration came from.

Pleroma is ‘fullness’ in Greek.  It is the totality of all divine powers.  We are exploring paradox and duality in this album (light versus dark, soft versus hard, female versus male, east versus west, knowing versus unknowing, etc.).  To have one, you must also have the other.  This is ultimate fullness.

Pleroma- fullness – duality and nonduality are concepts I am very interested in at this time of my life.  We set out to explore this in the lyrics, the music, the arrangement and the performance.

Your lyrics are closely aligned to your music compared to the majority of bands where it’s a union of a separate two. How do you write your songs and is it a simultaneous thing for both aspects as songs evolve?

It’s different for every song.  For most of the songs, I wrote the music first.  Most times, I started with a bassline, but, sometimes, I started with a guitar riff or a drum beat or a keyboard melody.  And then, I would build from there.  When I returned from India, I enlisted the help of my band mates to help flesh out bits and pieces that weren’t quite right.  We were very patient with this album.  I wanted to take time to let each note and each sound emerge in its proper place.  The album was written in such an unconventional way.  We dissected each piece of the composition and recorded each instrument separately.  We didn’t play all together until right before the first show in November, 2011.  And when we did, we knew we had something really special

You recorded the album with Sylvia Massy (Tool, System of A Down, Prince, Johnny Cash) and Tom Baker (NIN, Foo Fighters, Ministry, Prince) bringing their experience and skills to the party, they undoubtedly found it easy to understand and interpret your vision for the Pleroma and how did you pull them on board with the project?

I reached out to Sylvia.  She is incredibly talented and I have so much respect for her.  She understood the music right away.  She listened to skeleton versions of the songs, and said she loved it and that it was very dark.  Then, she expressed her interest in working with me.  I just knew she was the right person to work with.  And, it was truly thrilling to work with her.  She introduced me to Tom, who is also extremely talented, and I was very excited to work with him as well.

The songs upon the album for us were a warm and evocative wrap which ignited thoughts and feelings whether in blazing light or shadowed realisation, but what is the least you hope people will get out of the release other than enjoyment?

We hope that the listener will feel something from the music or that the listener will come away with something, whatever that may be.  We want the listener to determine that for herself.

You have recently signed licensing deals with The Discovery Network, MTV, Showtime and Bravo, how will that hopefully impact on your reach and presence within rock music nationally and overseas?

It helps by introducing our music to new audiences.   So basically, more people will have access to our music.

They are not necessarily companies certainly looking from the UK which one would imagine are an easy fit with metal and heavy rock music. What persuaded you it would be to your benefit musically by linking up?

We are trying to spread the musical word in many different avenues so we can increase our fanbase and affect a wider audience.

 Can you tell us more about the recent collaboration with filmmaker Jordan Stone involving your music and his video

Photos By Brian Matus

work?

Jordan is so talented.  Jordan’s work has been presented at the Independent Film Festival in Lima, Mono No Aware, Light Industry, Harvest Works, Brik Gallery, and has been included in several touring Micro Cinema’s including Deep Leap and The Speculative Frontier.  He also composed music for Messhof Games projects that were exhibited internationally and in the U.S. Jordan’s work addresses alienation, drugs, death and transcendence.  He works primarily with hand processed and hand painted 16mm film.  When we first saw Jordan’s films, we knew his work was a perfect fit for our music. We started by creating videos for the live show.   We just started working on music videos specifically tailored to each song on the album.

What is next for and from Vajra?

We are currently getting the word out and increasing our fan base.  We just released our debut album on the Summer Solstice (6.21.12), so we are focusing on this. We are working on a couple of videos this Fall.  We would love to open for some of our favorite bands and start writing the next album early next year.  And we hope to tour and play Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bamboozle and Voodoo Fest next year.

Thank you so much for sparing some of your busy time to talk with us.

Would you like to end with a final thought for the readers?

Thank you so much for listening.  We hope the music can serve as a catalyst to create, pursue or explore something new-in whatever capacity.  Certainly, our influences have done that for us.

Read the Pleroma review @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/vajra-pleroma/

The RingMaster Review 18/10/2012

Copyright RingMaster: MyFreeCopyright

Vajra: Pleroma

Having already been captured by Vajra through their track Inside The Flame which was featured on The Bone Orchard Radio Show, there was a lot of biting at the bit hoping to have the chance to hear and review their debut album Pleroma. From that song alone our anticipation and expectations were probably unjustly high not that it was a problem as the album simply blew everything imagined away. It is aural majesty, a beautifully crafted and emotively driven piece of wonder. Admittedly the list for album of the year candidates is longer than the waiting list at an NHS hospital but Vajra are there at the fore with their stunning introduction to the world.

The seeds of Vajra began with its founder composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Annamaria Pinna during her self-imposed exile in India. The daughter of a former monk and school teacher, Annamaria was encouraged to look at, learn about, and question assumptions about the world including her own, her creativity and music borne from and continuing that premise. She also has a neurological condition called synesthesia, which results in one sensory stimulation opening a secondary involuntary experience, in the case of Annamaria she attaches colour and shapes to sound.  How it impacts on her songwriting one cannot imagine but certainly her music is nothing less than enlightened imagination and melodic mastery.

With sell out gigs including shows at The Bowery Ballroom, The Mercury Lounge and The Bowery Electric in NYC, licensing deals with The Discovery Network, MTV, Showtime and Bravo, and their music being played across 200 radio stations nationwide in the US and of course across the internet, Vajra is on an unrelenting rise. Alongside Annamaria bringing her vision and music to realisation upon Pleroma, there are the skills and talent of drummer Blake Fleming (ex-The Mars Volta), bassist Doug Wright (The Dirty Pearls), and guitarist Will Dahl (ex-Harley’s War), together the quartet exploring and expanding the passions of progressive rock and welcoming hearts.

The theme of Pleroma is an exploration in paradoxes (east vs. west, soft vs. pummelling, female vs. male), with songs which are enveloping and inciteful suns of melodic rock woven with Eastern Indian themes and sounds. Grammy-award winner, Sylvia Massy (Tool, System of A Down, Prince, Johnny Cash) co-produced and mixed the tracks whilst mastering was handled by Tom Baker (NIN, Foo Fighters, Ministry, Prince), the resulting understanding and clarity as important as the invention within.

The album opens with the wonderful Inside The Flame, a song which wraps its tender arms around the senses with melodic beauty whilst squeezing throughout with anthemic intensity to increase the wanton pleasure. It opens on a brewing atmosphere, slightly haunting but soon with shadows lit by bobbing bass tones, fiery guitar play, and the stunning voice of Annamaria. Her voice is that of an angel and devil combined, her tones warm caresses or heated squalls forged with feisty and forceful power. The song itself rises and ebbs throughout, always with a sirenesque call no matter if consuming the heart with subtle whispers or blood surging sonic anthem. The bass of Wright is glorious, a moody and prowling presence whilst the rhythms of Fleming ignite all primal and instinctive urges and passions.

As mentioned the song was a deeply rooted fever before the album so a fall was a possibility from then on in but no chance. The following Almost One slowly treads its way through the ear with shimmering keys behind the provoking bass and precise guitar touches. Once more the vocals lead to drifting thoughts and imagination as the lyrical content is unveiled with heart and expertise. Though not as dramatic as the first track the song is an absorbing melodic summer which heats and thrills evenly across the senses.

The darkly ambient instrumental India makes way for the immense Blind, a song which prowls with layers of rippling muscle and explosive sonic heat. It is a towering piece of vision and creativity, its heart a pulsating living passion driven with brooding rhythms, evolving flaming guitar juice from Dahl, and showers of golden vocal harmonies and feeling. It is irresistible, a sunspot of aural wonder veined with spires of intensity.

Pleroma just moves from one slice of majesty to another, every track a perfect combination of ingenuity, sounds, thought, and heart. The likes of the evocative Intuition with its hypnotic heartbeat, the smouldering 3.14, and See Through, a song which sways and glistens with crystalline delight within its firm breath, lead one down further diverse roads of sound and thought to the same result, total joy.

Closing on the magnetic lure of The Apple, a shifting storm of building emotion and energy, Pleroma is quite glorious. Its soundscape is a perpetual emotion generating journey of expression, reflection, and investigation. At times it is a shadowed meditation and in others a towering fire of spiritual might which flames with burning passion. It is extraordinary and wholly delicious. The last line of their bio states ‘Vajra’s music will leave you spellbound’. Hell Yeah!

http://www.thevajratemple.com/

RingMaster 17/09/2012

Copyright RingMaster: MyFreeCopyright

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Onoma: All Things Change

When recently reviewing the excellent From Israhell With Love compilation, a release which highlighted the strength and diversity of metal bands coming out of Israel, one band stood out over what was an impressive line-up of bands and songs. The band was Onoma, a Tel Aviv based alternative metal quartet whose track Bug was an instant addiction with its vibrant and fresh sound, ideas, and energy. Their contribution ensured the need to hear more and the opportunity came when guitarist Asaf Keidan from the band approached The RR for a review of their album. Obviously being professional we deliberated and thought about the offer…for all the time it took to type yes please… and what emerged was an album which excited and thrilled like so few other releases have in recent months. All Things Change is outstanding, an album which took no time in entrenching itself in the imagination and heart.

Onoma, the Greek word for ‘Name’, were formed in 2007 by Keidan, vocalist Elad Koren, and drummer Saggi Chen. Early demo recordings during the first couple of years led to songs like My Drug, Twisted, and the aforementioned Bug, gaining strong attention and praise across the internet and web radio whilst the next two years saw not only an ever increasing interest and following as the band gigged across Israel, but also the addition of bassist Andrei Aframov (ex-Phantom Pain) to the permanent ranks. Last year the band ventured into the studio to begin the album alongside famed producer Sylvia Massy (Tool, System Of A Down, Skunk Anansie, Deftones) who mixed it and James Murphy (Death, Obituary) who handled the mastering, with the band itself doing the production work. What emerged is a release is quite stunning.

All Things Change is an album which incorporates a multitude of sub metal genres to conjure up distinct brews of alternative and nu-metal driven goodness. The band state their influences as bands like Alice In Chains, Korn, Deftones, and Meshuggah, all clear to hear at times, but their spicery does not stop there as at times the likes of American Head Charge, (Hed) P.E.,  Watcha, Marilyn Manson, and Scars On Broadway to name a few, shoot through thoughts as the tracks unleash their inventive craft.

The album starts with Lauds, a short track come intro, which heightens the anticipation of what is too come with its chilling ambient and slightly distressed breath. The release is soon into its stride with Dear God and its military welcoming beats and abrasive riffs. Within moments it settles into a tight heated groove and djent toned rhythmic badgering. The vocals of Koren pick and chew at the lyrics delivering them in a Jonathan Davis like style which is as punchy as the jabbing and combative sounds. Once the melodic whispers turn to shouts there is a Drowning Pool like aggression added to further ignite the senses, the track climaxing on a belligerent and compulsive swagger.

The outstanding start is easily matched by the following Cannot Go and Loser Friendly. The first stalks the ear with tempting riffs and intimidating rhythms, its prowl a disruptive pattern of challenging and deeply rewarding invention. The song stomps and musically curses the ear with an angry intensity and deliberate antagonistic air whilst soothing its wounds with melodic enterprise. The second of the two is a heavy and shadowed Deftones like gaited piece of emotive expression. It has its moments charging with incendiary bursts of energy but at its core is an enveloping provocative slab of passionate might which bruises as much as it exhilarates.

The brilliant Bug ensures there is no dip in excellence or power, though all songs ensure the same. It is one of the most additive songs heard in a long time and a track which only takes one listen to become a best friend. The track is a tempest of melodic and discord driven wonder which captivates and riles up the emotions with equal effect. It has the melodic grace of Absolace, the creative imagination of iBURN, and the mischievous invention of System Of A Down, all driven by the spinal corruption of Periphery. Immense is the only word for it, and as you may have guessed we quite like it.

With the magnificent Animal coming at the ear with the same venomous conjuration as Bug, and the great closing pair of Fight Myself and Nothing Right offering a final ferocity and towering mix of melodic intrusion and muscular violation, All Things Change is easily one of the best things heard this year. Earlier this year we declared nu and alternative metal had been revitalised with the ingenuity of the release from Irish band iBURN now Onoma have shown it is truly thriving and more imaginative than ever.

http://www.onomaband.com

Ringmaster 30/08/2012

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