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New York Cool - Music

Native New Yorker Lenny Revell Takes His Show on the Road

Written by Elias Stimac

Opposite Photo Credit:
Jeff Garbaz

 


Lenny Revell
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?

Lenny 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?

Lenny 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?

Lenny 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?

Lenny 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 onstage?

Lenny 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 "I'm pretending".

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?

Lenny 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"?

Lenny 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 Piano Dragon".

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 for things!

Elias Stimac: How did you develop the songs for your album "Lessons"?

Lenny 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?

Lenny 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?

Lenny 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 well, etc.

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?

Lenny 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?

Lenny 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 backstagewriter@aol.com.)

 


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