If you are immediately dismissive of the term “tribute band,” it’s because you haven’t heard Zepparella. There’s a reason this all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band has the kind of following that would make any indie artist jealous. Comprised of world-class players, they combine a passion for the songs with the ability to reinvigorate them.
What makes them special is the perfect storm of incredible musical talent combined with a zeal for the music they are performing. Each member is a proven virtuoso in their own right, with a reputation for an expert command of their instrument.
In the music of Led Zeppelin, they have found the perfect platform for the expression of these talents. It takes an impressive level of commitment to perform these songs in a way that even the most devoutly purist fans can appreciate. Perhaps the real secret is that they cover Led Zeppelin the way Led Zeppelin would cover Led Zeppelin.
Zepparella is: Noelle Doughty – vocals / Gretchen Menn – guitar / Angeline Saris – bass / Clementine – drums.
We caught up with Zepparella guitarist Gretchen Menn in the midst of their current tour.
NYMM: How did you come up with this project and get involved in it?
GM: Clementine and I met in an AC/DC tribute band. We were wanting to play music more seriously and with more intensity. At one point, she mentioned that she always wanted to play the music of Led Zeppelin. I mentioned that if she wanted to do that, I wanted to audition for the Jimmy Page role. Next thing I knew, she had band members lined up and our first gig booked.
NYMM: Was there a worry that hardcore Led Zeppelin fans may not respond well?
GM: We were conscious of that from the beginning. That’s why we’ve taken the approach that we have. It’s one thing to put on an Angus Young outfit and run around the stage because AC/DC is a little tongue-in-cheek. They’re incredibly rocking, but with a sense of humor. So it didn’t feel disrespectful to do that. On the other hand, it didn’t feel right for us to “dress up” like Led Zeppelin. We wanted to go into it playing the music the best we can, approaching it like disciples, and paying attention to both the letter and the spirit of the music.
To me, paying tribute to a band is like translating poetry from a different language. You’re always stuck with the dilemma of choosing between the literal, word for word translation, or trying to keep the feel of the language. If you decide to keep the rhythm and the rhyme, then other things have to give.
If you want to go for accuracy, then you’re not going to necessarily have the feel of the language. We try to approach it carefully with that in mind. If there’s a solo that I feel is very specific, I may play it note-for-note. If there are two tracks of guitar in one of the songs, I’ll try to learn both parts so that I can play them live at the same time.
NYMM: How do you bring your own sense of creativity to the songs instead of letting it be just a recitation?
GM: I think that Led Zeppelin is one of the primary musical influence for each of us. We each have our own relationship with their music that goes back to even before we started playing our instruments. A huge part of why I got into guitar-oriented music in the first place was because I got into bands like Led Zeppelin. Their music has influenced and informed part of my creative soul. Playing their music and being creative within that context, isn’t really that hard because their influence is already there.
NYMM: For people who don’t know much about guitar, what makes Jimmy Page such an influential musician?
GM: Jimmy Page did so many interesting things with the guitar. From the perspective of a guitarist, Led Zeppelin is one of the most fun bands to learn to play. It’s because of the huge breadth of emotional expression they had. There are very soft acoustic songs, and then very hard songs like “Communication Breakdown”. Then there are these sonically strange songs like “Dazed and Confused”. In no other band would I have been encouraged to abuse a Les Paul with a violin bow. It’s a fun thing to do.
NYMM: Are there any songs that have been particularly hard to master?
GM: I don’t know that I’ve mastered any of them [laughs], but I’m trying. In its own way, “Heartbreaker” is tough. Part of the reason is that the solo is very off-the-cuff. In typical Jimmy Page fashion, and this is not a criticism in any way, he’s not a very technically precise guitar player like Yngwie Malmsteen or someone like that. In some ways, it’s harder to capture those moments of idiosyncrasy. The best analogy I can come up with is that it’s like when you pretend to trip and then you actually trip, but only because you were pretending to do it. It’s hard to be somewhat off the rails and still be under control.
NYMM: Has there been a special reaction to the fact that it’s an all-female band?
GM: I’ve noticed, for better or for worse, that there’s something audiences react to about the fact that it’s four women. A lot of women say they really enjoy it, that it’s empowering. Some guys say that they appreciate getting to hear the music in a different way, with the words and the stories being delivered in a female voice. It adds a different element of interpretation to the songs.
There are always going to be people who don’t dig what you do. The wonderful thing about music is that nobody has to listen to it. Nobody has to show up. Well, I guess maybe the bartenders if they’re scheduled to work that night [laughs].
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