Vajra


Our latest feature, Vajra, may be relatively new to the scene (having just performed their first live show one year ago at The Bowery Electric in NYC), but this brainchild of composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Annamaria Pinna has been in the making for several years. It was during her tenure in India that Pinna refined her musical craft, questioned her assumptions and the world around her. With new inspiration in hand, Vajra released Pleroma(June 2012), a collection full of the music that has earned Vajra a startling amount of attention over the past 12 months:
  • Virgin America picked up one of their songs for their In-Flight Entertainment Series.
  • They’ve signed licensing agreements with The Discovery Network, Showtime, Bravo and MTV
  • Regular rotation on over 200 radio stations.
The music itself is “hauntingly dark and hypnotic, weaving Eastern Indian themes with melodic, progressive rock creating foreboding and mysterious lullabies.” We asked Pinna to dive deeper into Pleroma with us: “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…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.”
Get into Pleroma; sample it at http://vajratemple.bandcamp.com/album/pleroma. Vajra is just getting started, so keep your eyes open for more extraordinary things out of this NYC band. There’s so much more to learn, so keep reading for all the answers to the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Vajra

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?

Annamaria Pinna (AMP):  Vajra’s music is hauntingly dark and hypnotic weaving Eastern Indian themes with melodic, progressive rock creating foreboding and mysterious lullabies.  That was chock-full of goodies for ya!

We stand out because we are true to ourselves and while you can certainly hear influences, you can’t entirely box our sound into one particular category.  A friend described Vajra’s sound as an amalgam of our respective life experiences.

PEV: Calling New York home, what kind of music were the members of the band into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?

AMP:  Will loved (what is now) classic rock, blues, jazz and punk/hardcore/metal.

Luke was born and raised in the Syracuse area, which had a pretty established “hardcore” scene at the time.  So he grew up listening to a mix of that and the screamo/Warped Tour scene (The Bled and Underoath).  But at the same time he was in his school’s various jazz bands so that music had an impact on him as well. Also, like most kids, his parents gave him a love for classic rock.  His first concert was Metallica and Godsmack at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo.  Still to this day, it was the longest concert he’s ever been to.  Apparently, they did three or four encores, and it was nuts.

I went through various musical phases, including rock, pop, R&B, dance, and Gregorian chant.  I played violin at 6 and flute at 8 and mainly played classical through high school.  Also, I started dancing at 3 to classical piano and jazz.  When I lived in India, I developed an appreciation for classical Hindustani music.

My first concert was Robert Palmer at the Poughkeepsie Civic Center.  I really didn’t know much except that he was in The Power Station with John Taylor, the bassist from Duran Duran, with whom I had a major crush on.

PEV: What was it like trying to break into the music scene in your hometown, when you first started out as a band? What was your first show like together as a band?

AMP:  Well, we just played our first show in November, 2011.  So, we are still pretty new.  We are currently trying to break into the scene.  We are still trying to get our name out there.  But, I think we are doing well, considering that it has been less than a year.

We sold-out our first show at The Bowery Electric in New York, NY, and we were thrilled.  The show went pretty well, aside from the usual first-show demons that crawl around.  Blake Fleming (formerly of The Mars Volta) played drums with us that night.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Vajra show?

We hope to take everyone on a journey somewhere other than where they were before the show by tapping into their aural and visual senses.  We hope that both the lyrics and the music give fans pause to ponder.  In addition to the music, we have a multimedia presentation.

PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?

AMP:  Breathe, connect, feel, and give the best performance I can.  Will wonders whether or not he is in tune.  For Luke, it depends on the gig.  Sometimes, he thinks about something new he’s going to try during the set, sometimes he just feels a rush of confidence and a grateful feeling, and he wants to give the crowd a great show, especially, when there is a great crowd.

PEV: Do you have any war stories from any live shows? Where something happened and you were not sure how to handle it?

AMP:  Oh yeah.  During one of the shows down at SXSW, some of Luke’s drum hardware failed, and he had to improvise, which I must say, he did quite well. That was a devil show.  Every time I would get close to Will, his phaser pedal kept interfering with my mic and my monitor.  So every time I held a note for long, my vocals would phase.  Ugh.  I had to step away quickly.  It was frustrating.  There have been shows where the sound was a little off or the monitor mix was off.  We are always evaluating and try to foresee issues so we don’t run into day of show problems and also so that we don’t repeat the same things at future shows.

PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do you get your best ideas for songs?

AMP:  Life.  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.

PEV: Thinking back to when you first started out do you ever look back at your career and think about your earlier days and how you’ve arrived where you are today?

AMP:  Like I mentioned earlier, we are still pretty new, but I always try to assess whether or not we are growing musically and I think we have.  I feel more confident in my vocal delivery for sure.  We are gaining new fans every day.  Since our first show in November, 2011, Virgin America picked up one of our songs for their In-Flight Entertainment Series. We signed licensing agreements with The Discovery Network, Showtime, Bravo and MTV.  We’ve been added to regular rotation to over 200 radio stations..  Supercuts added us as one of their Brand Ambassadors, Sylvia Massy invited us to play her 4&20 Blackbird Music Festival, and we just got done with a mini West Coast tour, which included shows at The Bottom of The Hill in San Francisco and The Roxy in Los Angeles.  We’ve played The Bowery Ballroom, The Mercury Lounge and The Bowery Electric in New York, and will play The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn in September.  Also, we’ve been receiving a lot of favorable press from all over the world.  Looking back, I feel blessed that we have accomplished so much in such a short time.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of Vajra?

AMP: From Will’s perspective, all four of us are very different.  There is not a song or a group that all four can say that we ALL like. We’re all that different.

Luke points out that Will was born with 14 toes. It’s really pretty gross. And, that he (Luke) looks even better in person.

For me, I lived in India.  I am also an attorney.  I have synesthesia.  My dad was a monk.  Doug and I have the same birthday.  We only do major band things on auspicious days.

PEV: What is the story behind the band name?

AMP:  Vajra is Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu.  It is the thunderbolt or the diamond–that which cannot be broken–that which cuts through all things.  It is the ultimate truth of the universe manifested in a symbol because we cannot possibly understand the ultimate truth of the universe.  We can only strive to experience as much as we can and grow closer to this knowledge.

PEV: Tell us about your latest release, Pleroma. What can fans expect from this work?

AMP:  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.

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.

PEV: What is the feeling you get after a song is complete and you can sit back and listen to it being played the way you envisioned?

AMP:  I feel a sense of accomplishment and I feel proud that the baby can breathe.  But I always think of other directions that I could’ve taken with certain parts of the composition.

PEV: With all your traveling is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?

AMP:  Yes, I can’t wait to get back to Europe and back to India.  I love traveling (both metaphorically speaking and literally speaking), so really anywhere!

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?

AMP:  My parents still ask me when I am going to go back to practicing as an attorney.  But aside from that, they and my friends have been really supportive of me and the band.

PEV: What can we find each of you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

AMP:  Will still goes to live music performances, but since he works in the biz, sometimes he actively tries to do other things that have nothing to do with music or show production, like going to sports events.

Luke likes to play sports (mostly basketball and golf).  He’s also really into poker, and most card games.

For me, I like to run, meditate, do yoga, eat, cook, sit in nature, mountain bike, learn, and spend time with my friends, family and my hairless cat, Rex (the King of the house).

PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration? Why?

AMP  Past: Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Ofra Hazaa.  Do I really have to answer why?

Present: Alok Dutta, Zakir Hussaine, Ravi Shankar, Jimmy Page , Prince, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Tony Levin, Rammstein, Tool, Tori Amos, so many more.

For Will, Past: Frank Zappa or James Brown

Present: John Zorn.

For Luke: The Bad Plus are doing some really cool things.  That’d be a tough one to work out though since they already have an incredible drummer.  A past artist that I’d love to work with would be Bill Evans.  Love the way his trios sounded and the way he affected and was affected by the other members of his band.

PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?

AMP:  Yeah, Vajra.

PEV: If playing music wasn’t your life (or life’s goal) what do you think each of you would be doing as your career?

Will would be a great audio engineer and backline tech.  Luke would pursue a career in law.  It’s always been a back-burner interest of his.  If he is not going to be doing something he loves for a living, you can be sure he’ll be doing something that makes him summer-home-rich.

For me, I don’t know specifically what I would do, except that it would be something creative.  I’ve already explored the law/corporate thing.  I’m much more interested in creating something from nothing at this stage in my life.  Of course, this is always subject to change.

PEV: So, what is next for Vajra?

AMP: We are currently getting the word out and increasing our fan base.  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 and Bamboozle next year.

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