Stairway to Zeppelin with all-female tribute band


Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin will visit Iowa City tonight to fulfill all standing desires of hearing the hard-rock legends. However, the group brings a estrogen-flavored twist to the famous quartet.

To some, four women being able to pull off the rocker tunes of Led Zeppelin seems more unlikely than five men throwing on wigs and successfully taking the place of the Spice Girls. However, New York-based band Lez Zeppelin has defied norms and broken boundaries, creating a worldwide phenomenon in the land of the tribute band.

Lez Zeppelin, the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band, will play at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., at 8 p.m. today. Tickets are $17.

“For some reason in music, there still is this kind of bias that there’s a kind of women’s music, and that it’s not the same as men’s music — it’s not as powerful, and it’s not as technical,” said Steph Paynes, the guitarist and founder of Lez Zeppelin. “When you get four women on stage playing Led Zeppelin, that barrier falls.”

Lez Zeppelin formed in 2004, when Paynes, a longtime Zeppelin lover, decided she really wanted to play the band’s classic tunes. This sparked the idea of the tribute band — though she didn’t think of it that way.

“I didn’t so much decide to make a tribute band per se,” she said. “I just really wanted to play the music of Led Zeppelin. I was just into it.”

She found the other three members of her group through word of mouth. Because of the demanding nature of playing Led Zeppelin tunes, Paynes said, it was a challenge to find women who could pull off the legendary hard-rock band’s sound. Lez Zeppelin has gone through a few membership turnovers since its start.

“It just requires a certain complete musicality that is really hard to find in any musicians, but a little more rare in women, I’m afraid,” Paynes said.

The idea of specifically forming an all-woman Led Zeppelin cover band was something Paynes knew she wanted from the start. Despite noting it would have been easier to find men who could play Zeppelin, she believed that an all-female angle on Zeppelin would make it more interesting.

“I really felt like it would be much more powerful, and I never had any doubt whether women could do it,” Paynes said. “I just had to find the right players. There can be 99 percent of guys that play instruments, and they’re not going to be able to play this music the right way. It’s the nature of what it is. It takes a lot of deep study, and commitment, and musical prowess.”

The success of Lez Zeppelin — named such because the substitution of a “z” immediately says female, though the group retains the mystery of the members’ sexualities — has been beyond anything Paynes imagined it would be. The group has sold out venues throughout the world and has received incredibly positive feedback from publications including SPIN and the New York Times.

Lez Zeppelin was also given the opportunity to appear at Bonnaroo, a huge festival, where it played at midnight to 20,000 screaming fans.

“It was absolutely glorious,” Paynes said. “I feel like I was completely present, and I was just able to drink it in, every minute of it. It probably was the height of the band at that point, for sure. It really was just extraordinary to walk onstage at midnight to the roar of a crowd like that.”

The women released a self-titled album in 2007 with the help of producer Eddie Kramer, who was present at five of Led Zeppelin’s album recordings. Paynes said she came up with the idea of working with him simply because she thought it would be fun to get him included with the band. It worked out in her favor; Kramer was willing to help.

Her favorite Zeppelin song? Paynes has too many to narrow it down to only one.

“I don’t think there is a way to really answer that question,” she said. “There are just so many of them that I cherish, and we tend to start favoring a song that we are working on. That tends to be what happens is that if we’re working on something new that becomes the new favorite song. I don’t think I could possible pick a favorite song. I love them all.”

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