Lunden Reign is a Rock and Roll band out of Los Angeles, California - that formed when two local bands in the area decided to join forces. Lora G. Espinoza and Nikki Lunden were leading up-and-coming bands respectively when they had a chance meeting at a local showcase venue. The two discussed their goals and visions, and Lunden Reign was born. Pooling together their songwriting talents, Lora and Nikki began writing and creating a very unique and exciting brand of music. The result of this collaborative effort is the brilliant debut album "American Stranger". The album was recorded at Capitol Records in Hollywood, Abbey Road Studios in London, and Stagg Street Studios in LA - with the help of renowned producer Luis Maldonado. Lunden Reign has tested the waters of their music by performing at major festivals and venues in America and Europe with great success. I recently caught up with Nikki and Lora G .
R.V.B. - Hello Nikki?
N.L. - Yes, Hi.
R.V.B. - Rob von Bernewitz from New York. How are you today?
N.L. - I'm good, How are you Rob?
R.V.B. - I'm good but a little cold over here on this side. How is it over by you?
N.L. - It is like paradise over here buddy.
R.V.B. - Yeah well, try not to rub it in too much?
N.L. - (Hahaha) I hear you man... I'm from Iowa, so I'm finally blessed with the weather of California after 34 years.
R.V.B. - Do you have some of your other band mates there with you?
N.L. - Yeah, Lora's here and I think she's grabbing a soda and coming on in.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your great collection of songs. I gave it a listen, and there was an impressive flow from one song to the other. How long of a process was it to record that album?
N.L. - Oh goodness. I believe we worked on it for a couple of years. When I first joined with Lora in the spring of 2013, I pretty quickly went in and started with 28if. The writing process just kept on... when we would finish something, we would just go back to the studio and record more. We got the opportunity to record at Capitol Records out in Hollywood, which for a little farm girl from Iowa is pretty crazy for me. Yeah, it took a couple of years. Lora had written a couple of songs previously. We recorded "When Love Lies" at Capitol Records. The day before we recorded the song, we re-wrote the whole darn thing. It was pretty intense. (hahaha)
R.V.B. - Very cool. They sound well produced, well written, and it's hard to tell that they were recorded in different places.
N.L. - Yeah, well that's in respect to our wonderful producing and mixing team of Geoff Pearlman - our engineer, and Luis Maldonado - our producer. We were maintaining the same amps and microphones. I particularly like to record with the SM7, which is a microphone that Michael Jackson used... Bono uses it. Rather than the standard gigantic condenser mic in your face with a pop filter and you can't really move. This is one that you can hold in your hand, and I can sing in the studio like I can do live. It's like hanging on to a hot dog. I can hold it in my hand, and I can move around the room, and I can do what I need to do. The freedom of moving, instead of standing stationary, instead of standing in front of the microphone stiff as a board. Say Hi to Lora.
L.G. - We have video of her singing one of these songs, and we're gonna put it out. She sings in a recording studio like she's singing on stage. She holds the big ol' microphone that's bigger than her face.
N.L. - Most things are bigger than my face.
R.V.B. - (hahaha)
L.G. - As she holds it, and she's down on her knees, recording in the vocal room. It's really wild. At Abbey Road, they were like "You don't want to use one of our house mics?". "No, no just give me your 7 and I'm gonna go crazy with it." They said "Wow, if it works for you it's cool."
R.V.B. - So where did you guys meet up?
N.L. - We met at a club in Los Angeles called Petie's Place. I was hosting a jam session there, with some other local musicians. Lora came in with a couple of singers that she was working with, pre Nikki Lunden. We met... I was kind of busy, and didn't get to talk that much that night. We exchanged numbers, and I called her a couple of days later, and we were on the phone for a couple of hours. Lora invited me to hang out at one of her band rehearsals. So I did, and never went home after that.
R.V.B. - Right. I get a vision of straight ahead rock, with a little bit of progressive rock. I know on your website, it states that you lean towards progressive rock, but I heard pop songs and just standard rock and roll. What were your guy's influences?
N.L. - Well for me, actually being a mid-westerner, I was really big into Sheryl Crow, Fleetwood Mac, more along the roots rock kind of stuff. On the rock side, some of my vocals influences, with the delays and some of the craziness would be from Janes Addiction, Radiohead for sure... Thom Yorke, I'm a huge fan.
L. G. - I'm strictly pretty simple, mine is old style like Jimmy Page, George Harrison, David Bowie, Bob Dylan.
R.V.B. - Gee, you would never know with that double-neck guitar that you have?
L.G. - I like really good singer/songwriters whether they're new or old, but I really like people who know how to put great lyrics with it. I like very stylized kind of people.
N.L. - Manic Street Preachers.
L.G. - Manic street Preachers, yeah like them.
R.V.B. - When you guys first got together, did you guys start writing originals right away, or did you play a few covers also?
L.G. - We haven't really played too many covers. Nikki's band and our band both were original bands here in LA. One was the Laura G band and one was the Nikki Lunden band, so it was pretty much two original bands. We just liked each other's songs. We just started playing each other's songs. Once in a while we would play a cover, but not very often. We totally suck as a cover band. (Hahaha) If we do throw one in, we do it our own way.
R.V.B. - Well the one video I saw that didn't suck was with Dale Bozzio.
N.L. - Oh yeah, Dale Bozzio (hahaha)
L.G. - We put that together very quick with her, and it came out pretty good.
N.L. - Prescott Niles was playing bass there
L.G. - That's one of two songs we played with her
N.L. - Destination Unknown we played with Dale, Prescott and Prescott's son Gabe. Their band is coming up now too.
L.G. - We did that in Long Beach, at an outdoor festival. That's on tape also but we haven't had a chance to put it out.
R.V.B. - It looked like a beautiful place. It sounded so good. Did she ever approach you about backing her up?
L.G. - Yeah, she wants us to record with her and we love her to death. We're thinking down the road, that we'd love to have her join us on one of our songs. We have 3/4 of our next album pretty much done in terms of the material. Some of it's already recorded. There's one song in particular that we want her to join in. There is an early recorded version of it called Sex Suicide. Prescott Niles is now going to play the bass on that. He's just a world class bassist. He's gonna sing a verse on part of it with Nikki on Sex Suicide. So we do have a song for her to join with us on our next album.
N.L. - I'm actually taking some bass lessons from Prescott right now, as well.
R.V.B. - I'll put this question out to Lora. Were you always a guitar player? Was that your first instrument?
L.G. - Yeah, pretty much. I was lucky enough to have a world class drummer as my first drummer in High School. His name is Matt Sorum and he's in Velvet Revolver now. He's been in Guns N' Roses and a bunch of other bands. He and I started together in High School, and we split later because he went harder rock and I was into the kind of the Pink Floydish', kind of droney' melodic sound. It's obvious which one picked the right course... he'd done fifty times better than I have. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - Well, I wouldn't say that. I'm very, very, very impressed with the record. The song writing is fantastic, with powerful lyrics. I know this album has a theme to it. Did you have the idea right from the beginning? or did it come later that you were going to tie all of the songs together?
L.G. - The very first song was thematic for this album. It started with the song "Hear Me", because we're LGTB and we wanted that song to come out right away. We have it on the original Lora G. Band album - Streets of Hollywood. It's recorded more of a rock version on that. We re-did the song completely for this album. The only thing different is, it was recorded to fit the sound of Lunden Reign. We truly came up with what we felt was... if there's such a thing to as a sound to identify a band. I not sure if there's a such thing anymore as unique sound, but I think if there is such thing as an identifiable sound. We went for that. Once Luis, Geoff, Nikki, and I came up with a sound we thought was what we wanted to be the Lunden Reign sound, we went back and took some of the older songs and re-did them to fit the new sound. "Hear Me" was one of those songs. That song was about my experiences in life and what I had to go through in the LGTB community. From there, it was a matter of adding on songs that fit that. It honestly didn't come together as the full rock opera until I finished the lyrics to American Stranger. That was the song to tie everything together. I started writing that song about fifteen/twenty years ago and I never completed it. It was written about a young Vietnamese boy who came into Orange County and he was beaten to death for being Vietnamese. He was just a good kid... went to school and he died on the playground. The original thinking was , I wrote the story about him but as time evolved, I wanted to make it about everybody. I started realizing, how many of us felt like strangers in their own neighborhood, country land, family, whatever. It would end up being in your own country as well. American Stranger finally came together for this album and ironically is the oldest song lyrically of any of them. I just re-modified it to be omnipresent to the entire album.
R.V.B. - That's a very strong and very touching story. It was one of the songs I checked off that I like. I like how it finished up real strong. It seemed to gain momentum as it moved along.
L.G. - Oh thank you. I was on an interview with Martha Davis of The Motels. She was interviewing me along with Terri Nunn from Berlin... when Martha heard the song Hear Me, she started crying. She said the song hit her that hard, that much. She told me during break "I would be honored to play that on stage with you". Terri said "Oh know you don't, not over my dead body. I'm joining you and Lora". That was nice that two legends loved that song. In fact I just got off the phone with Terri Nunn yesterday. She came out and introduced me when I was playing the Roxy, which was really nice.
R.V.B. - Those are two big well known, household names.
L.G. - We're really blessed that we are getting a lot of legendary people supporting us. Mainly, it's because they like the original sound we have, the lyrics, and Nikki's voice. Those three things are hitting people real well. It's really working for us and we're really blessed that it's happening.
R.V.B. - I can almost see this concept being brought to the stage as a play.
L.G. - Thank you. We want to do it as a musical.
R.V.B. - Did you ever throw it out to anybody, or are you gonna wait to see what happens with the record?
L.G. - We're kind of in the middle of those two. My backround is in television, and when I took a little of time off from music to go make money. I went and became a television producer. I wound up working for Disney, Universal, and ABC, and I wound up winning about five Emmy's from my work. Edward R. Murrow's and a bunch of awards. I started realizing that I could put this together, but I just need to get a good director. I'm already writing the synopsis for the stage play. We have our own video production company... that's one of the things we do here. That's how we were able to put that Christmas song together so quickly.
R.V.B. - Yeah, that was really nice. I saw the other video of where Nikki was in a cave.
L.G. - Everything we do is in more like the old school 60's. Songs have to have a purpose, and meaning and that song, was in dedication to U.S. soldiers fighting overseas. They're forgotten hero's, and they're still over there fighting. The Savage Line, was written about those who died in battle in 2009. We wanted to give the feeling of isolation. We've had some criticism on it, when they were saying "Why didn't you put more in that video?". We said the whole point was to show isolation. What it was like to be alone. That's how they feel over there, so that's the point of that video.
R.V.B. - I heard cello in the song.
L.G. -That was amazing, and it was done by Ana Lenchantin. We get so lucky sometimes. She's played with Smashing Pumpkins, Queens of the Stone Age...
N.L. - The Eels
L.G. - She's played with everybody... a world class cellist and she's on about three or four songs of ours.
R.V.B. - Nikki you play the keyboards? Did you start with the piano?
N.L. - No, actually I'm a guitarist. I've been playing the guitar since I was about nine years old. When I came to LA and I met Lora, she took away my acoustic guitar and put a wireless microphone in my hand and unleashed a monster that we had no idea, lived inside of me. I didn't know what I would do without a guitar to hide behind. I did figure it out after about ten minutes.
R.V.B. - You guys have a very professional stage presence... it's obvious. You're playing some really nice clubs. I understand you're playing the House of Blues in San Diego, coming up?
L.G. - We've played the House of Blues many times. They keep asking us back and it's really nice. We do fewer shows, but better venues is our goal. If we do small venues, Nikki and I will just do it with acoustic guitars. If it's a small venue, we do it like a coffee shop mentality, because we like that Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan kind of thing where if your song can't be played on an acoustic guitar, it's not a song.
R.V.B. - It's a lot easier to play acoustically. You just show up with your guitars. So how was the experience playing at Abbey Road? With all the history involved.
N.L. - It was awesome. When we first started and I asked for the SM7, they kind of raised an eyebrow and went like "Oh great". It was really nice and a very clean, sterile environment. It was very nice. No craziness going on there. The engineers were very helpful once they got over the fact I was asking for an SM7. The vibes in the room were amazing. Just to be in there to play music, no less record in that room where legendary icons of music recorded there. History was made time and time again in that room. You kinda just walk in the room and get tears in your eyes.
L.G. - It was tough to play guitar in the room truthfully. I kept looking for the spot where you saw Lennon and Yoko dancing around, or George working with Clapton in there. You just look around that room and get caught up in that daze, and the next thing you realize you're recording a song... you'll be like "Ok I gotta focus".
R.V.B. - Yeah, you don't get much more sacred rock and roll ground than that.
L.G. - The day we went there, it happened to be the retirement party for one of their longest and oldest engineers. All the engineers were there from the past. We were really lucky, because it was not opened to their clients or anything else, and they invited us. They were handing out commemorative plaques of the Abbey Road album to the retiring engineer. I thought, what a moment of history this was.
N.L. - The London Philharmonic was setting up in the other room.
L.G. - Of course, we did everything touristy we could do. They were hero's of ours.
R.V.B. - Did anybody take their shoes off?
L.G. - No, that was one thing we didn't do.
R.V.B. - I hear it's a pretty dangerous turn.
N.L. - There's a line to get that photo. I would hate to live on that corner. We were one of ten groups that were all trying to do the same thing in the intersection.
R.V.B. - How long were you there?
L.G. - One full day in studio 2.
R.V.B. - Did you make a vacation out of it, and do some site seeing?
L.G. - We did seventeen shows in sixteen days over there. We could have done more but we just ran out of time. We played the Fringe Festival up in Edinburgh. We were supposed to play Paris but we ran out of time.
R.V.B. - Well that sounds exciting to do a tour over there. Were there any memorable moments?
N.L. - So many. Even just getting into London was quite a task. When we arrived there, we got held over. Everyone except for Laura got held over in customs. I think we spent about 36 hours in holding, while they tried to decide if we were there to try to make money or not... which we were not. I guess we just didn't say the right things. We were within moments of getting on a plane and shipped back to the United States. It was intense, and as soon as we got out of there we went to our first gig and everybody was just embracing us. When we first got there, we had just a couple of things on the calendar and by the time we left, we had to turn people down because we had so many bookings.
R.V.B. - That's fantastic. Have you guys ever made it to the east coast over here to the New York area?
N.L. - No, we haven't yet
R.V.B. - Come on, what are you waiting for? We're looking forward to it.
L.G. - Cleopatra Records just brought us aboard, and we have to wait to see what we're supposed to do. We're in the process of figuring out the festival schedule for this summer. It's tricky, because the festivals are signing us now. We know we can do really well at the European festivals, but our goal is to get into the American festivals this year. We're at a catch 22 with the album coming out in March. We may do the old style RV tour across the country gradually. Just go right up 80 all the way across to Chicago through to New York and just play as many places as we can in a two month period... if we miss the festival season.
R.V.B. - Well it sounds like a good problem to have, and it sounds like you have nothing but good days ahead. Congratulations on all of your hard work. It obviously paid off on the album. Did you guys co-write any songs together? How do you get inspiration to write?
L.G. - You know it's interesting, because the way Nikki contributes is very natural. A lot of times I'll complete the lyrics, and they'll be a bridge or something... all of a sudden Nikki will just come up with something and just start singing into it. If she doesn't have the lyrics... I'll just put lyrics to it or she just does it. For example, the bridge on Mary where she just starts singing. That's not even in the original recording. She just came up with that, and put her heart and soul into it. That's what's she's so good at. She did that on American Stanger... that little bridge. I had the lyrics for it but I didn't know how it was gonna be sung. She said "What do you want?". I said "I don't know, just sing it high". That bridge made the song for me, when she put that in. That's how she contributes to the songs I write. When she writes songs like It's Time or It's About Time. My major thing is, I'm taking a little country out of it and putting a little darkness into it. I'm a darker, psychedelic, more haunting kind of writer and she's more of an upbeat...
N.L. - Roots Rockie'.
L.G. - Roots Rock kind of writer. I take her songs and make them darker. She puts vibe into some of my songs. It's a nice contribution, and both of us benefit by having a writing partner of Luis Maldonado join us in the co-writing music portion, and coming in and producing it and having world class musicians join us. Geoff Pearlman, Ana and Morgan Young on drums.
R.V.B. - It's a very, very good piece of work. Do you headline your shows or sometimes support other acts?
L.G. - Both
R.V.B. - Anyone that you have supported that's noteworthy.
N.L.. - Well I think over the summer at the LA Pride Festival, we were on the bill with The Bangles, Jennifer Hudson, Iggy Azalea and we opened for Missing Persons. Kelly Rowland at the Long Beach Pride Festival.
Lunden Reign with Dale Bozzio
R.V.B. - That's awesome. you're getting to know people and you're working your way in. It sounds like you guys have a great career ahead of you.
L.G. - Yes we do. We have a second album in the works. It's gonna be more like power ballads and kinda like Zeppeliny' ballads on steroids. Then we're gonna have some harder songs that are edgier. We're gonna have more keyboards and more synth.
R.V.B. - I thought American Stranger had an edge to it... with a little bit of progressive rock in there. I heard catchy pop also, that's radio worthy.
L.G. - Thank you. We definitely don't do a lot of instrumental stuff in our songs purposely because we want it to be more about the songs.
R.V.B. - The song Mary has a nice lead guitar solo in it.
L.G. - That's the wonderful Luis Maldonado joining me. Most times I just play rhythm. He's just a wonderful, world class guitarist. He's fantastic.
R.V.B. - He is fantastic. Well congratulations again and good luck to your upcoming season. I hope you get on major festival stages... although it does sound like fun hopping in an RV and seeing America along the way.
N.L. - I've always wanted to do that... get a little camper, but now we're a bigger band and we need something a little bigger. But to just go around the country dragging our cases around and just doing the old school thing man... Route 66.
L.G. - If we come to New York, would you introduce us at the show? We got a lot of people who like us in New York.
R.V.B. - I would absolutely love to do that. I'll keep an eye on your website and we'll keep in touch. One more question I have to ask you Nikki. In Franklin, Iowa... did you know every single person in the town?
N.L. - Just about. There's a few people that I don't know now because I've been away there for so long, but there were about 140 people there.
R.V.B. - Out of those 140 people, how many were musicians.
N.L. - Probably many. A lot of fiddle players and banjo players.
R.V.B. - It must have been quite a difference moving to the west coast.
N.L. - Oh yeah. It's a little different than the shindig we have in the town square. My father owns Franklin Tap which is the only business in the town. Across from there, is Franklin park with a gazebo with an old timey' red, white and blue banner that goes around it. We have our little shindig every 4th of July in the summertime with a fish fry, barbeque chicken, and everybody brings a pot luck dish. There's kids running around with no shoes. I mean it's real.
R.V.B. - It sounds like small town America at it's best.
N.L. - That's the exact definition of it.
R.V.B. - Alright ladies, thank you very much for taking this time. I enjoyed it.
L.G./N.L - Ok, Bye
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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Abbey Road photo credit Judy Shaw
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