LiANA featured on GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE - Jan. 2009
Review by Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS, NYC
Born, raised and based in Toronto, Ontario Canada, multi-varied artist LiANA is a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, music producer, licensed chaplain/celebrant, people-with-disabilities advocate and serious animal rights/wildlife supporter. (whew!) Oh, yes - She's also a professional practioner in the comedic art of clowning. (!)
LiANA's cds include the current I See No Rain, as well as previous releases Amazon Trail and Glitter and Tumbles. At the center of her catchy, self-produced songs lie LiANA's upeat, engaging and ever-in-the-groove rhythm guitar work. She also plays violin/fiddle, whistle, harmonica and all manner of percussion (cuban sticks, triangle, tambourine, shakers, rainstick).
Many of LiANA's songs harken back to the simple folk-pop of the 1950s and 1960s, and contain traces of calypso, latin and/or africana influence. For example, in the single "Sweet Sugar" from her current cd I See No Rain, one can hear the exhuberant fun of folky doo-wop era, one-world pop as found in classics such as The Tokens' "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Early Harry Belafonte, early Carol King, Jose Feliciano and the late great Odetta also come to mind when listening to LiANA.
The star focus of LiANA's music is her full-throated, generous, and joyously energetic singing voice. The instrument displays equal strength in both chest and head registers. On my first listening to her songs I detected a hint of operatic power and technique in LiANA's clarion pop voice. I learned later from her bio that LiANA'a mother sang Neapolitan and other Italian Classics.
This listener also hears in LiANA's voice a kindred approach to the spiritual intensity of Native-American and other indigenous culture vocal music. Check out the fierce primal sound of her chanted vocables in "Scoobydoobydoo" (Amazon Trail) and in "Sweet Sugar" (I See No Rain). There's the ardent, Parisian "apeche" abandon with which she spins the melody out in "Lamour fait mal" (Amazon Trail); and her fiery Mediterranean vibrato in "Non Fa Differenze Dove Vai" (Glitters and Tumbles).
Contrastingly, LiANA's vocals and songwriting are also capable of subtle, dignified sadness as found in the artistic love-ballads "Time" (Amazon Trail) and" I Remember the First Time" (I See No Rain).
With her simple, straight-ahead songs and singing style, LiANA stands refreshingly apart from today's ubiquitous crop of over-riffing, over-techno'd, American Idol-styled performance poseurs. This is a gal with a big honest smile in her voice. LiANA has such a good time with her craft she even breaks into whistling here and there.. Some in today's overly-cynical pop world of teen-age train wrecks and pompous rock divas may hear an "old-fashioned" sound in LiANA's vintage approach to her singing and songwriting craft. But many others (including this listener) welcome the change, the sincerity of sound and the rich, powerful simplicity that is LiANA.
(Robert Urban) - What instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
(LiANA) When I play live it’s usually classical or electric rock guitar, harmonica and voice as I often play solo…when in duo or trio I play either classical or electric rock guitar, voice, harmonica, percussion .. When recording, I’ve used classical, acoustic, electric rock guitar, harmonica, violin, viola, voice, percussion, midi-synthesizer, keyboard
- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
Toronto symphony orchestra classical, Cyndi Lauper (all time fav ), Melissa Etheridge, kdlang , Rita MacNeil , Elvis, Enya , various country tunes, Ertha Kitt , Eurthymics . , Boy George, Platinum Blonde, Beatles, etc…
- Tell fans about your own particular style of music-making; how it became to be your favorite - as opposed to other styles.
My style is my own and eclectic. I like to mix genres and create my own…for example, my first album, “Glitters & Tumbles” is country/folk/adult contemporary…my second, “Amazon Trail” is blues/folk/pop …and my third, “I See No Rain” is spiritual/folk/ countrish ... i believe it’s important to know the rules of songwriting so that we know what we are breaking when we do our own thing…life is about challenging the norm… -
Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
So far I only record my own material. I write/compose my own lyrics/music/instruments, etc…I teach songwriting worshops , I produce other artists when I have time/ luv for their person’s work, and this year getting into recording production for other ‘s demo works….my work has appeared on other people’s compilations
Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording , or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
That’s hard to answer because whenever a new song comes out, it’s my most recent favorite…so it’s changing as I grow as an artist/writer…
Any special thoughts on playing musical instrument(s), and what it's meant to you in your life?
Music is about healing, sharing, expressing and creating magic….it’s an integral part of the air I breath…to hold an instrument such as a guitar or violin is a physical act of motion, strength and power…bringing life to wood…
- Tell us about your special interests and work with animals e.g. cat rescue shelters, adoption programs, wildlife support and your personal experience with service animals for people with disabilities. You must love animals and wildlife very much. Do you have any pets of your own?
I have a zoo…well, I’d love to have the space for a real mini-zoo…. i have an on-duty special skills service dog, a retired service dog, several indoor cats—mostly rescues, outdoor feral cats/colony that my housemate and I care for, a cocktiel that I rescued, a bunch of fish…and lots of ‘dust’ bunnies …ok I could do without the ‘dust’ …I support wildlife and often my friend and I rescue wild ducks in local school compounds..or I should say, she does…she’s good at catching ducks and I’m good at catching feral cats and taking them to get ‘fixed’ and then released back to their own spaces.. although these days their home is our garages…and it’s a good thing we have two…
Personal experience with service animals…well, for me it’s a life-altering experience. I had a car accident the week after I released my second album and it was traumatic on various levels…I healed physically but it took longer on other levels…then one day while weightlifting at the gym, I lost my site on one eye and the rollercoaster ride began…by that I mean, months of recouperation after restorative surgery (during which by the way, I wrote most of my third album’s material)…this experience also led me back to spiritual search and growth and to my current work with Church Choirs for which I’m a member of two…one at the local United Church and the other is the University Theology Choir…
(see LiANA's youtube video "Furry Friends" about rescued cats .)
- You have spoken on the subject of Women in Music and also on the subject of People with Disabilities. Can you elaborate on your interest and experience in these topics? Women and music…I did my undergraduate degree in sociology and women studies. I surfed the topic while studying various English and sociology courses…at the graduate level, I specialized in the area of ‘the representation of women in country/folk music’… basically, I examined the discrimination of women artists ableism , sexism and sizism .
And the sad part in my research is that other women are most culpable of discrimination ….for example, I interviewed one academic- feminist and by the end of our discussion discovered that 90% of her music library was music by males and only 10% were women artists….on the other hand, the best and kindest women were artist/performers who are/have been at the top of the charts—they were the most modest and caring… In terms of people with disabilities…it’s sad but that is one group that is in my humble opinion, at the bottom of societal list…the barriers are loud and prominent .. the respect still needs to be fought for…they’ve finally passed the law that by 2025 all places in Ontario at least, have to be fully accessible…by then I’ll be a million years old…and basically, in 2008 it should already have happened given the human rights laws on accessibility goes back to 1980. I can’t help but wonder if the lack of respect and attention to disability issues has more to do with people’s own fears of mortality and limitations than the politics of it all. Although I’m in great shape and much more able-bodied than after the car accident, it scares me to think that if I was in a wheelchair I’d have a much more limited life. Sure we’ve come a long way but hell we’ve got ways to go…
- As a licensed Chaplain/Celebrant, you officiate at a variety of religious services. Does your music and performance talent also come into play in your capacity as a Chaplain at religious events? Yes and no. When I officiate weddings, I do not mix music performance. It’s a conflict of interest and impossible physically. It is also controversial in theological circles because marriage is a sacrament and my role is spiritual for that 20 30 minute service. So the couple either provides their own music or they get my MP3 player with whatever material is chosen. Funerals on the other hand, can be quite creative and celebrative. The last one I did was for the passing of a well-know local folk musician and dear friend. For his funeral I was asked to do a service/memorial and perform my material…and I did do that…now keep in mind I am in two church choirs—however, those are different circumstances…and I do solos in those too sometimes… Well, I sort of semi-retired from clowning after the car accident…clowning is very physical as of course, kids expect you to be….
- OK, I can’t help asking You are also a professional clown. Tell us about your experience entertaining comedically . Are you a musical, singing clown? i was more of a silly country clown with my straw hat thingies dangling off of it, striped overalls—I would take my beat up classical guitar and balloons/clown make up and just be a nut ball with the kids…. i don’t think I was that funny other than looking like a cartoon clown…but the kids loved it and it gave me a chance to practice making up stuff on the spot…the kids would ask me to do a song on cats, I’d make one up. If a kid cried, I’d make a funny song about crying…I’m pretty improvisational in that area…I studied improve with Second City in Toronto during the early 90s…and although I did it to overcome shyness, it turned into a interesting journey in theatre, clowning, etc…
- Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a LGBT musical artist in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
Well, looking back over the past twenty years, I can’t help but feel that in some ways, the scene might have been safer 20 years ago. These days there is so much more focus on T&A than on actual music talent that it all takes away from the politics of LGBT artists anyhow. Instrument wise, there’s nothing hotter than a woman on guitar. A woman on violin, hmmm, not so sure how others perceive that.
I know that as a teen all the cool girls learned guitar.
For an openly out LGBT player - how do you think the overall music scene differs today from years ago?
Today, it sucks. Or would you prefer a more academic response? We still have to be better than the best so that we can at the very least have a fighting chance at a career regardless of prejudice. And that prejudice, in my opinion, is still alive and kicking out there…
Any advice for new, upcoming LGBT players?
When it comes to the music world, you can survive or thrive. These days, a lot of artists regardless of orientation, are in survive mode. If you want to thrive, it’s important to stay on the ball in terms of the internet. Most important, start with your local community. What most often happens is that musicians/performers get so into their instruments and dreams of career that they forget the passion and mode of life. Music is internal. Perfect what you love, share that passion with the world and take risks. Being in the closet will only limit your creativity.
Forget the labels and focus on the openness of human life, love and God. Being queer doesn’t mean that we can’t believe in a higher being …define what that means to you and choose a path/direction. Don’t worry about what the world thinks of you cause no matter what they have you believe, they do not pay your bills and they are not your conscience. In the end, it’s about loving yourself and trusting that what’s meant to be will be.
How is the overall music scene in your locale? These days, it’s a roller coaster. Sometimes it is happening a lot. Personally, I’m in a writing phase and academic world right now so I’m not much into the clubs….coffee houses are more my thing but it’s quiet right now…and snow does contribute to that…
- What are your current and future musical projects?
Right now I’m working on my second master’s degree (Divinity/Ministry) and that is part of a greater plan as I write new material. My next album will most likely be gospel/spiritual. When I work on new material I generally get another degree… part of the process.
My first album was released the year I got my B.A.(Sociology/Women Studies), my second album was released the year after I got my Master’s degree (Environmental Studies) and right now I’m working on possibly my next Master’s of Divinity/theology…hence, my next album will be themed in the same vein…in the meantime, most fans will find me singing in church choirs and by next summer I’ll be preaching from the pulpit and I promise to be doing more solos…church will never be the same … I’m also working on writing so returning to journalism roots briefly… My next album will likely be within 2 3 years … Thank you for including me in your own journey. -
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