Yorker Lenny Revell Takes His Show on the
Opposite Photo Credit:
Photo Credit Brian Campbell
Lenny Revell has been playing
music since he was nine years old, and has grown
into an accomplished talent. His powerful voice
is matched only by his skillful piano-playing and
easygoing charm. Recently, the musician-actor-model-martial
artist had the chance to escape the Northeast cold,
and showcase his music and mirth throughout South
Florida. New York Cool caught up with him at Boston
Johnny's in Hollywood, FL.
Revell describes himself as "first
and foremost, a rock pianist at heart with classical
chops, and a few stolen jazz licks. I'm also a singer
and a songwriter. I'm a much better pianist than
I am a singer, but I think even my piano skills
takes a back seat to my lyrics. I love words."
Back from his southern tour, Revell
will be appearing closer to home at Don't Tell Mama
(343 West 46th Street) on Wednesday, March 12th.
For reservations, call 212-712-7362. To find out
more about this performer, visit www.myspace.com/lennyrevellband.
Elias Stimac: What first prompted
you to take piano lessons at the age of nine?
Revell: My mother went to church for as far
back as I can remember. She would drop me off in
Sunday School while she attended the adult services.
Afterwards, everyone would get together in the basement:
the adults would socialize over coffee and donuts,
and the kids would play. I got bored after a while,
and would retreat into the empty chapel where they
had a beat-up, out-of-tune, upright piano. After
repeatedly finding me in the chapel, she was convinced
that I wanted to take lessons.
Elias Stimac: What inspired you
to write your first song?
Revell: Piano lessons were brutal because
I had a stern teacher, and I hated to practice.
I even gave up for a year when I was around 15.
I told my mom I didn't want to do it anymore, and
she asked what she should do with the piano. I told
her to sell it. She got quiet and felt bad. At that
moment, I felt real guilty and changed my answer
to "I don't know... I just need some time away
from it." Roughly a year later, no one was
home, and my parents left the radio on. I was listening
to some pop music. I looked over at the piano for
some odd reason, walked over to it, sat down, and
started to play back by ear what I was listening
to. Then I started slowly making up something on
the spot. With countless revisions, I finally settled
on something I was happy with. It took me roughly
a year, but it was my first official song.
Elias Stimac: How did you make
the transition into performing for audiences?
Revell: Part of taking lessons means showing
what you've learned. My teacher had plenty of recitals
she would hold at nursing homes, churches, and small
halls. All her students played pieces at their level
of skill. I do recall once asking my teacher what
a career in music entailed. Coming from the point
of view of a piano teacher, her answers were limited
to the point of view as a concert pianist. She told
me, "You would have to practice eight hours
a day!" And as soon as I heard that, I laughed
and thought, "Okay, screw that!"
At that point in my life, I never
even considered a career as a pop artist because
I was unaware of the option. Years later, when I
began to sing, performing became a whole new dynamic
to me. I realized I was doing two jobs at one time
on stage. On one hand, it became easier because
a lot of pop music is just chords you hold down
and sing over, but on the other hand, now I had
to worry about not going flat when I'm singing.
It's harder to sing while you're playing cause you're
sitting down, and your diaphragm is slightly obstructed.
I was intent on growing as a pianist without having
to dumb down everything musically.
Elias Stimac: You have been called
"a modern-day Elton John" -- was he an
influence on you, and who else influenced you?
Revell: Elton was the first piano player
that pulled me out of the classical frame of mind.
His career opened my eyes to new possibilities.
Not to mention, my natural style of composing was
frighteningly similar. I also get compared to Billy
Joel, but what guy that sings at a piano, that's
doing pop music doesn't? He's the quintessential
poster boy for that style of music on that particular
instrument. Billy grew on me over time, but initially
I wasn't into him. Tori Amos was another person
that I also didn't take to immediately, but grew
on me over time as well; I was more into her persona.
I liked Jerry Lee Lewis because he was the grandfather
of my style, and also Elton's hero. And, Elton was
my hero. I like to research where things come from.
Not to mention Jerry's shows were crazy, and was
the total opposite of what a concert pianist is.
He caught my eyes and ears.
Elias Stimac: How does your other
skills as model and actor help you as a musician
Revell: You're an actor no matter where you
are in the world. You do it to get by in school,
make friends, meet girls, get job positions, etc.
It's funny how people always say to be yourself,
when acting is one of the most honest jobs there
is because you're actually being truthful by saying
Modeling is a no-brainer in my
opinion. As long as you eat a healthy diet, work
out, and have naturally good genes, you can get
by with standing there and wearing someone's clothes
while someone takes pictures of you. Yeah, it helps
if you have the attitude, and the whole "look
at me, you know you want me" look. But, no
matter how much a person thinks I'm attractive,
or not attractive, it's hard for me to look at myself
seriously. I'm too much of a clown, and I can't
understand how people can keep an ego going for
an extended amount of time. That would mean you
take life seriously, and I really don't.
Elias Stimac: How does having
a good sense of humor help build rapport with audiences?
Revell: People come to shows not so much
to hear music, but to be entertained. Frank Zappa
said that once, and as a musician and an entertainer,
I couldn't agree with him more. You can have the
greatest musician in the world on stage, but if
the person sits still and makes constipated looks
on his face while he performs, you've got a cure
for insomnia. Making jokes, learning to laugh at
yourself, and involving the audience in a humorous
way are all tools any good entertainer should develop.
If you don't take life so seriously, you can avoid
wasting your time of worrying how to live it.
Elias Stimac: Describe how being
a martial arts expert on the side of a pianist led
to the nickname "The Piano Dragon"?
Revell: I wrote a song called "Piano
Dragon" a while back. Initially, I didn't know
what I was writing because it was just coming out
in a kind of "automatic writing" style.
I sat back and looked at it and was like, "What
the hell?" I put it away, then later tried
to justify it with stories of how knights would
go on a mission to search for some hidden artifact,
and in legends, a dragon would guard them. Well,
I imagined what they were looking for was a golden
piano, which when a certain progression was played
on it, doors to other dimensions would open. This
came from my self-studying in metaphysics on how
certain sounds can influence or manipulate spiritual,
physical, and emotional states in people. It can
also aid in healing or suffering. Of course, the
dragon guarding this sacred piano was called "The
When I started playing the song
out, people starting referring to me as "The
Piano Dragon" because the very name is symbolic
of my persona. I was born in the year of the dragon
and practiced Jeet Kune Do, which was Bruce Lee's
personal martial art. Bruce was known as "The
Little Dragon." Dragons have a big impact and
influence on Asian culture, which is part of my
heritage. The piano part was self-explanatory. I
embraced it after a while, because I grew to like
it. This coupled with the fact that dragons in Asian
culture and pianos in dreams are good omens. Yeah,
I know I come up with the most ridiculous justification
Elias Stimac: How did you develop
the songs for your album "Lessons"?
Revell: The songs came to me after I started
studying eastern philosophy and yogic principles.
Mystics and monks in South/Central Asia have discovered
ways to deal with life on a deeper level for thousands
of years. I wanted to marry my love of modern pop
music to ancient teachings, and see how people responded.
I wanted to give people the knowledge of how to
take control of their lives. I mean I know people
don't like to be preached to, but there's only so
much of "you left me, and I'm pathetic"
in song lyrics that I can take.
It's always easier to point the
finger at someone else for things that are your
responsibility. People have to come to terms with
the fact that nobody can make them happy or sad...
it's a personal choice that's not dictated by a
situation, or another individual. So, nothing and/or
no one else can make you feel any specific way unless
you give them that power.
Elias Stimac: What is it
like to be a working musician in New York?
Revell: Being a musician in New York is a
lot of fun. I like to learn, and expand my horizons.
You get this from putting yourself in uncomfortable
positions or trying new things. My method is to
listen to as many different kinds of music and play
with as many different people as possible. This
also makes you smarter, because it challenges your
brain, and teaches you how to adapt to different
circumstances and personality types, which if you're
in music, you will encounter quite often.
Elias Stimac: What advice do you
have for other performers trying to make it in NYC?
Revell: Garner as many friends as possible,
and save as much money as possible. Believe it or
not, this takes priority over the songs if your
goal is to make music your career. Clubs and bars
will book anything as long as you can bring in a
following. I don't advise sounding like crap, but
just understand the politics of what you're trying
to do. Buy "Anything you want to know about
the Music Business" by Donald S. Passman, and
study/understand it like no tomorrow. Then, write
a few simple songs no more than 3 and 1/2 to 4 minutes
in length that identify with whatever you want to
express or communicate with people. If you're a
singer songwriter, leave a lot of space in your
songs so you can have opportunities to hold notes
for long periods of time, sing really high, and
play vocal gymnastics. Crowds think this is a big
deal for some reason, and singing also connects
better with an audience than flashy instrument playing.
If you're good at both...even better. Next, record
your music using the best producer and engineers
you can afford. People will be judging you off what
they take home after seeing you, so make sure it's
the best quality of everything: production, engineering,
tight music right on the beat, no flat vocals, mixed
Get yourself a manager and agent,
and do as many media outlets as possible: tv, movie,
radio, magazines, newspapers, internet, etc. Make
as many industry connections as possible. Copyright
all your work, never sell your master recordings
or publishing. Play everywhere, invite all your
hard earned friends to all your shows, and put all
your time into marketing, promoting, and gaining
a strong fan base. The fan base and your buzz is
the MOST important foundation for anything later
to happen. When you're selling out shows and cds
like hotcakes, the industry will come to you like
a bunch of vultures on a carcass cause they will
see you as profitable. Get a good music attorney
to review the contract so you don't get screwed,
and then...good luck! :) One other thing...say no
to anyone that asks you for a fee up front for A
& R Consultant services. These guys are crooks.
The only one you should be paying a fee to is an
attorney, and that's only when you get a contract
from a label thrown at you. If someone is real and
believes in you, they will invest in you, and ask
for a percentage later.
Elias Stimac: Do you think
being a New Yorker gives you an advantage in the
challenging music industry?
Revell: It does, and it doesn't. Most anywhere
else, you're a big fish in a small pond. But there's
no industry, and that means very little chance of
making a living off of your art. In this town, it
seems like everyone comes here for the same thing
because there are a limited amount of places that
allow you to be part of the industry. In New York,
the competition is fierce, but you have a chance.
The industry is constantly changing, and the major
labels are losing power, because everyone is downloading.
Artists can even buy their own recording software
at a more affordable rate than in the past. Websites
like MySpace, Reverbnation, and PureVolume give
artists free exposure without owing their soul to
some guy in a suit.
Elias Stimac: Anything else you
would like to add?
Revell: I would strongly suggest for anyone
that wants to be a musician to go to school. The
training is second to none. Sure, anyone can learn
things on their own, but having a name school behind
you, and top teachers guiding you, is invaluable.
The more of the technical aspects of your craft
you learn, the more freedom you have to work with
it. It also gives you more options and directions
you can go in. You will be more in-demand, which
will bring you more work. Specifically speaking,
pay attention to music theory, composition, dictation,
sight-singing, sight-reading, and do those boring
finger exercises like arpeggios, trills, chords,
scales, etc. These give you the groundwork for more
complicated work later. All these things make you
well-rounded, more competent, and as a result, more
respected. Learn classical and jazz cause they compliment
you like the left and right sides of your brain.
One is more logical and structured, and the other
is more improv and artistic.
(Elias Stimac is a freelance writer
and producer on the East Coast. Send feedback and
article pitches to email@example.com.)