LUNDEN REIGN: The Love Affair & Collaboration that Spawned
By Ray Shasho
Interviewed on January 7th 2015
It’s a rare phenomenon that I write and boast about a new rock band, but L.A. based newcomers, Lunden Reign, packed such a punch with its debut album … an extraordinary- high-energy- esoteric rock gem, integrated with profound lyrical content, that I felt compelled to applause this exciting new progressive-rock powerhouse.
LUNDEN REIGN’s nucleus is ... guitarist/songwriter/keyboardist …
Lora G. (Espinoza-Lunden) and lead singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist … Nikki Lunden.
Matthew Denis (bass),
Steve Ornest (guitar)
and Morgan Young (drums).
But Lora and Nikki are not just bandmates; they are also engaged to become married. It’s a fascinating love affair that began when Lora received an unanticipated kiss from Nikki while she performed with her band onstage at a popular club in Tarzana (San Fernando Valley region of the city of L.A.) called Petie’s Place. Nikki was hosting a jam session there with some local musicians. Lora G. lives a transgender lifestyle, which is certainly nothing new in the world of rock and roll. But Nikki and Lora’s inspiring musical association, unified by a genuine respect and love for one another is exclusive.
LORA G. (Espinoza-Lunden): is Mexican-American. She began performing with her band at age 16 on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Lora’s drummer in high school was Matt Sorum (Velvet Revolver, Guns N’ Roses, The Cult). Lora left music and developed an amazing Emmy winning career in television and radio including working for Disney over 14 years. Lora and Nikki joined forces in the spring of 2013, and now she begins a new chapter in her life as lead guitarist and songwriter for Lunden Reign. Lora defines the band’s sound as “Big Beat Progressive Rock.”
NIKKI LUNDEN: grew up in Iowa City, Iowa and became lead singer & songwriter for a band called The Trollies, before becoming an acoustic artist. Lunden enjoyed a 15 year career of performing for live audiences before moving to Los Angeles in September of 2012. After arriving in L.A. she immediately entered the Musician’s Institute where she graduated in 2013. Nikki says one of her most gratifying professional experiences so far has been to record at Abbey Road Studios in London.
AMERICAN STRANGER: is the incredible debut album from Lunden Reign. The album was recorded at Capitol Records in Hollywood, Abbey Road (Studio 2) in London and Stagg Street Studios. Luis Maldonado produced, played guitar and co-wrote with Lora G. on various tracks. Maldonado is a platinum-selling songwriter & recording artist who has collaborated with John Waite, Patrick Monahan (Train), Lisa Marie Presley, Glen Hughes, Michael Schenker, UFO, and with his own band, 'Into the Presence.' Other album credits include mix engineer Geoff Pearlman (Linda Perry), Morgan Young on drums, Hector Maldonado (bassist for Train) and Cellist Ana Lenchantin (Queens of the Stone Age, The Eels).
The album's concept is a complete story from end to end. It was designed to be a sort of 'rock opera' about intolerance and those willing to stand up to it as well as those it's destroying. Lunden Reign has also signed a distribution deal for American Stranger with Cleopatra Records in Los Angeles.
You can pre-order Lunden Reign's debut CD'American Stranger' at www.lundenreign.com
or Amazon.com -Watch for the official release March 17th.
American Stranger is a magnificent and seasoned debut production … every track is commanding while emphatically seductive …the album has it all, but also entices the listener to cry out for more … Lunden Reign validates musical fortitude and secures the elements needed to develop into a colossal rock group (5) Stars!
Lunden Reign’s music is now playing on over 50 radio/internet stations through Europe, the U.S., Australia and Japan.
I had the great pleasure of chatting with Lora G. and Nikki Lunden about the band’s new release American Stranger …
Their musical collaboration ... How they fell in love … My infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ wish question … And much-much more!
Here’s my interview with /lead guitarist/songwriter/keyboardist/ Lora G. and lead singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/Nikki Lunden of … LUNDEN REIGN.
Ray Shasho: Lora, you wrote “The Savage Line” which was dedicated to the families and soldiers of “The Chosen Company” who bravely fought at the deadly “Battle of Wanat” on July 13, 2008.
Lora G: “I thought we had to do something to preserve the memory of those guys, and that’s where we came up with that concept of “Savage Line”. My dad was a marine and used to tell me how lonely and cold it was in Korea, and he went over there twice, I can’t even imagine anyone going over there once. So I just wrote from what he told me and from what I read about ‘The Chosen Company’. This happened in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan, I read about the description online, about what some of the people wrote about, how alone they felt and how they missed their families. The description of the battle is in the song, and is very specific to that battle. But I kept it somewhat vague so any soldier could relate to it, but the specifics were about that particular battle in Wanat. There’s a little bit of commentary in the beginning where … this wasn’t against our soldiers but against our government …because even though I am so pro- U.S.A., I felt horrible that we sent our troops to war without the support they needed. I’m not pro-war just pro-soldiers. There’s a line in the song that says … “Is it war or is it crime” and that’s my one commentary in the song.”
“We hear a lot of music today that is angry but not directed at anything, we wanted to not be angry but issue based and directed. That’s what we wanted to do, it’s nothing new, but it’s kind of been forgotten, and we’re trying to bring that back.”
Nikki Lunden: “The music you hear on radio today sounds like the same thing repeated over and over again but with different singers and we’re a little burned-out over the Top 40 stuff. We’re just trying to make a change in the music and trying to get people to start thinking again.”
Ray Shasho: Nikki and Lora, you both mesh so well together, musically and personally.
Nikki Lunden: “I’m very fortunate that Lora and I found each other, and in what I thought was a very huge city, turns out to be kind of a small town.”
Ray Shasho: How did you both meet, I know you had your own bands at the time, did one of you open for the other?
Nikki Lunden: I was hosting a jam session in Tarzana (Los Angeles) and Lora had brought in a couple of the singers that she had been working with at the time. We talked a little but I was pretty busy that night and wasn’t really able to sit down and chat with her. So a couple of days later I found her on ReverbNation, left her a message, and she called me. We were on the phone for probably two hours talking about music and what I was doing out here in Los Angeles. I had just moved here from Iowa City, Iowa and she invited me to one of the bands rehearsals, and the rest is history after that.”
Ray Shasho: Let’s get back to ‘Lunden Reign’s debut album “American Stranger” … the official release date is March 17th and some critics are already labeling the sound of the band as ‘Original Big Beat Progressive Rock’ … But I’d like to characterize the group’s sound as … Progressive-Powerhouse-Rock! “Mary” was originally released as an EP … and “The Light” a heavy rocker with a very cool melody is definitely one of my favorite tracks.
Lora G: “Mary” and “The Light” were recorded with ‘The Lora G Band’ and I wasn’t completely happy with them, but when we recorded the new album, and working with Luis Maldonado, we were able to remodify the tracks to fit the Lunden Reign sound. So several songs were reworked from previous periods when we were in other bands, and other tracks are brand new like “Hush and Whispers,” “American Stranger” etc. Once we nailed the sound we wanted for Lunden Reign, we realized we could go back and get some of our other material, and that has worked out really well for us.”
Ray Shasho: I find it remarkable that I couldn’t contrast the Lunden Reign sound to anyone else’s, and that’s a compliment in itself. I don’t give many new bands kudos, but Lunden Reign has all the right tools to become successful in this haphazard music world.
“Love in Free Fall,” another favorite could easily be a James Bond film intro-soundtrack!
Nikki Lunden: “We’ve been getting a lot of good responses on “Love in Free Fall,” when we were putting together the track order and we kept coming back to that one …then decided to use it as the opening track of ‘American Stranger,’ and I think it’s a perfect fit because everyone’s been going crazy about that song, so we decided to shoot it straight out of the gate and not holding back anything, and just gets right to the point right away.”
Lora G: “That one really shows a lot of Luis Maldonado’s chunky guitar styles. I’m more of an open note kind of dreamy player. Dreamy notes and sort of things like that, the melodic chords, and I create the riff, but that really chunky heavy stuff is Luis. He’s a world class guitarist. He performed with John Waite for years, also Glenn Hughes, Michael Schenker, and he just finished a tour with Lisa Marie Presley and Bigelf. He’s also a demonstrator for the Rivera Amplifier Company and we got lucky because Hiwatt endorsed me, which was fantastic! When we found out that Hiwatt was going to endorse us … we were shocked and we quickly looked on their webpage and it had all these legendary acts from Nirvana to The Who. Then there was Lunden Reign and it was sort of like …Who? (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Talk about the track… “28 If” (Without, Which Not) which has sort of a Joan Jett & the Blackhearts tempo to it.
Nikki Lunden: “That song is geared towards the artists that we lost at the age of 27 … Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Richey Edwards … written mostly about Richey Edwards of the band Manic Street Preachers. Every time I get onstage I really enjoy singing it.”
Ray Shasho: Have you performed all the material from the new album onstage yet?
Lora G: “Every one! I think the toughest to perform live was “American Stranger.” We finally nailed it when I went to the twelve-six string double neck and that’s how we pulled it off. I switched to the twelve-string much like Jimmy Page did in “Stairway to Heaven” and it allowed the song to come through. Then I do six strings in combo with it on my guitar. It took us awhile to get that one ready for stage but now we can do them all onstage.”
Ray Shasho: “When Love Lies” had a bit of a Blondie melody…
Lora G: “It’s basically a heartbreak song, somebody I was with for about seven or eight years and then we broke up … the seven year itch kind of thing, but going on and learning to forgive that person and that I could emotionally move on from that relationship. But it didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt and the concept was that I thought we were in love and I realized that love can lie. It was exactly what the title says … “When Love Lies.””
Ray Shasho: “Hush and Whispers” … let’s talk about that track.
Nikki Lunden: “About standing up to intolerance. It was actually one of the songs that we had gone back and forth about making it the opening track. I really love the beginning of that song. In the end we thought that “Love in Free Fall” was more of a powerhouse with cleaner vocals, we get a little bit more gritty on “Hush and Whispers,” it’s a little darker, having two faces, knowing who this person is one minute and not the next.”
Ray Shasho: Nikki is “Love in Free Fall” your favorite song to sing?
Nikki Lunden “Oh my gosh, it’s hard to say, it depends on what mood I’m in really … “Love in Free Fall” is extremely fun to sing, I love the part going into the bridge. “The Savage Line” is another favorite, drawing a lot of emotion inside, and sometimes I’ll cry while I’m singing it because the story that I’m telling is just so intense. “American Stranger” does the same thing. And sometimes on “It’s About Time” because that’s my story. It’s about leaving home and coming to California, it’s my moving away song, and so that one can get pretty emotional too. So to pick one is an impossible task, but I guess “American Stranger” will take the number one spot today.”
Ray Shasho: Lora do you have a writing process for composing these inspiring lyrics?
Lora G: Nikki can tell you … when I write a song, I’ll rewrite it like four hundred times because it’s in my edit nature from working in Television. I’ll edit and edit until I like the song. For “28If” it originally had over 42 verses … I’m not kidding you. But I finally cut it down and finished writing it.”
“I was driving with Ana Lenchantin who wanted to meet Terri Nunn, the lead singer of Berlin in person; we were going over to her house for lunch. They had played together at a show a long time ago but never formally met. During the drive, I was telling her about the concept, the most bizarre thing; the concept came from Grace Slick, who I had met during the time I had lived in Santa Rosa. On the drive, I was chatting with her and she looked at me really shocked. I thought you don’t like the concept? She said no, do you know about my Brother Luciano? I said I know about your sister Paz who was the bassist for Perfect Circle, and then said, what about your brother? She said my brother died at age 27, he committed suicide. I had no idea. Because of that I had to rewrite the lyrics over again, because I couldn’t write a song that she could potentially be playing on and take a risk of hurting her feelings or insulting her. So I rewrote the entire bridge. I wrote it as if I was her talking to her brother, and that’s what that bridge is about. So the bridge is my tribute to her little brother. When I played it for her, I was so nervous, and she liked it. Later she came back and did that amazing cello on the bridge of it. Isn’t that a crazy story? So that’s how I write, it’s more inspirational.”
Nikki Lunden: “I’m more of a lightning bolt type writer, I’ll get one little short lyric line in my head and it’s …Go! If it’s not written down … melody thought out and chords pretty much figured out in about half an hour. A lot of times I don’t even come back to it, it’s too much of a struggle. It’s got to come out like water in a faucet … if it comes out clean and clear that’s good … if it’s brown and icky, not going to do it. (All laughing) I’ve has some times when I’ve woken in the middle of the night and written out a song right then and there. And I’ve lost a few things … oh I don’t want to get up and get out of bed! But you have too. So Lora and I have completely different writing styles and we’ve been learning how to co-write together. She always comes up with the riffs first and the concept of what she wants the song to be about. Where I’m wham bam thank you ma’am, write and get out of there. But Lora is a peach to work with and I love her to death.”
Lora G: “We’re almost opposite in everything we do musically, but we complement each other, the things I can’t do, she can do. And a lot of the same … what she can’t do, I can do.”
Nikki Lunden: “I’m pretty blessed to have Lora as co-writer, teammate, bandmate, business partner and life partner … she pushes me harder than anyone ever has. In the past two years or so that I’ve been in Los Angeles, I’ve worked harder than I’ve ever had, become more disciplined than I ever had, I have a better understanding of how to communicate with people, and without that I don’t know what would have happened to me. I’d only been here for a few months when I first met Lora and I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t come into my life, I might have been working at the local hardware store in Iowa City for all I know. (All laughing) I doubt that, but she definitely keeps that fire lit in me. I learn constantly from her every day.”
Ray Shasho: Nikki, besides performing as the lead singer for Lunden Reign … you also play the acoustic guitar?
Nikki Lunden: “I do, I play acoustic, bass, a little bit of percussion … I was more of a singer/songwriter growing up and Sheryl Crow was my biggest idol, so I sort of have a tendency to write in that style …Ani DiFranco, Brandi Carlile … those kinds of female icons in the music industry. So it’s been a transition for me as well …going from cute little singer-songwriter … to get right in your face with a wireless microphone, wearing high heeled boots and black eyeliner. (All laughing) My perfect description of how I turned from little Iowa rocker to L.A. woman is … I took my guitar away and put a wireless microphone in my hand … which unleashed a person that I did not know existed inside of me.”
Ray Shasho: Nikki and Lora here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Lora G: “It would easily be Jimmy Page or George Harrison for me. I got to meet Jimmy Page about a month ago for a book signing here. He doesn’t really sign but he stamped my book for me. He was very cordial and such a gentleman, I couldn’t believe what a nice guy he was. He shook my hand and chatted with me. He took my download card and he said he’d try and download it. I heard that he loves to hear music from unknown artists.”
Nikki Lunden: “I’d love to work with Sheryl Crow, and in a full band it would definitely be Radiohead. I met Sheryl Crow in 2011 and actually have her autograph tattooed on my arm… I’m that big of a fan. She also gave me a necklace that I keep in my lockbox for fear of losing it. I take it out once in awhile and rub it for good luck. I would love to get a vocal track with myself, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks doing some backup harmonies … the three of our voices together would be like heaven.”
Lora G: “We’re already really more than half way through with songs for a second album. The new one will have more ballads on it, kind of like Zeppelin did ballads on steroids. So they’ll be like that.”
Ray Shasho: So how did the both of you fall in love with each other?
Lora G: “Nikki was opening for my band in a club in Hollywood and I went onstage while she was performing to adjust the volume on my amps so we could come out and play right away, I don’t like people to wait. While she was performing, I was behind her doing some adjustments with my amp, and she came over while she was performing and kissed me in front of everyone. I had no idea and never even knew she had an interest.”
Nikki Lunden: “It was kind of an out of body experience and it wasn’t in my character to do something like that. I’m usually shy when it comes to that sort of thing. Something just came over me and drew me to her. Definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”
Ray Shasho: So how did the relationship develop after that?
Nikki Lunden: “Well the show must go on so I finished my set, and then the Lora G. Band finished their set, then I hung over at her house and never went back to my place again.”
Lora G: “We have a recording studio at my house and we started hanging out …and I never forgot the kiss.”
Ray Shasho: Lora and Nikki thank you so much for being on the call today ... I wish you all the best and look forward to great things forthcoming for Lunden Reign.
Lora G. and Nikki Lunden: “Thank you Ray!”
You can pre-order Lunden Reign's debut CD 'American Stranger' at www.lundenreign.com or Amazon.com
– Watch for the official release on March 17th.
-Music Journalist Ray Shasho
More reviews by prominent music artists …
“Every so many years an album comes out that redefines modern music.’AMERICAN STRANGER' is that next album. Grab some headphones, close your eyes and let your senses explore the music & lyrics of Lunden Reign’s sound. Today the cycle goes full with a long-awaited return to music that touches the soul and embraces the test of time.”-
Prescott Niles (bassist - The Knack, Missing Persons)
“The song 'Hear Me' is wonderful & heartfelt.”
- Martha Davis (lead singer of The Motels)
“Lora G is a great songwriter and musician.”
- Terri Nunn (lead singer of Berlin)
“‘American Stranger' is a masterpiece! Every song is great!”
- Dale Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons)
“What an amazing album, incredible songwriting, lyrics and groove!”
-Phil Soussan (Bassist - Ozzy, Billy Idol, Grammy BOD)
Special thanks to the ‘incredible’ Billy James of Glass Onyon PR
COMING UP NEXT…
Legendary International Contemporary Singer/Songwriter …
Legendary International Contemporary Singer/Songwriter …
ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK ("Release Me")
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