A Conversation with Lez Zeppelin founder Steph Paynes

Lez Zeppelin (Joan Chew, Marlain Angelides, Leesa Harrington Squyres, & Steph Paynes) perform together. (Photo property of Lez Zeppelin & courtesy of Effective Immediately PR)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

It is a pleasure to welcome Steph Paynes to Jake’s Take.

She is a founding member of the New York City band Lez Zeppelin. The band is made up of Paynes (guitarist), Marlain Angelides (vocalist), Leesa Harrington Squyres (drummer), and Joan Chew (bassist and keyboardist). Since its inception back in 2004, the quartet delivered their interpretations of the Led Zeppelin songbook.

Lez Zeppelin’s work caught the attention of major media outlets including ABC, the BBC, CBS, and MTV. Their music has also been heard on several radio stations including NPR and SiriusXM.  The group also performed around the world including the Bonnaroo Music Festival, Madison Square Garden, the Isle of Man, and India. Spin Magazine called the band: “The most powerful all-female band in rock history.”

In this edition of A Conversation, Steph Paynes talked about the Lez Zeppelin origin story, receiving Jimmy Page’s support, and the band’s upcoming studio album: The Island of Skyros.  

Jacob Elyachar: Could you describe Lez Zeppelin’s origin story to my readers?

Steph Paynes: I decided back in ancient days around the beginning of the millennium (2004) that it would be “fun” to play the music of Led Zeppelin. It was not an intentional career goal. I simply wanted to dig into the riffs, have a blast once in a while by playing this amazing music and have a go at living out my fantasy, if you will. However, when I started telling people about this crazy idea and then started looking for good enough musicians to pull it off, it became clear very quickly that this was “an idea whose idea had come!” When we finally got onstage (after six months of rehearsal), the audience went wild that very first night. Clearly, this is what The People wanted. And, 15 years later…here we are.

Jacob Elyachar: There are many cover bands that try to interpret legendary bands from the 60s and 70s. How does Lez Zeppelin stand out from the crowd?

Steph Paynes: Led Zeppelin’s music is unlike any other form that time and genre – and any genre as far as I am concerned. It is vibrant, dynamic, and magical. As corny as that sounds, it’s true — you cannot play this music and remain unchanged, and the audience cannot experience it and stay unchanged either. That’s magic. At the crux of this phenomenon of Led Zeppelin’s music is the skillful playing, composition, inventiveness, and the emotional punch, certainly. But it is also what Jimmy Page calls “light and shade,” or, in simple terms: opposing forces. Whether it’s loud and soft, complex and simple, male and female…you cannot have one without the other and have it be any good. The best art — painting, music, dance — has to have these dialectical conversations. If it’s just one or the other, it will never survive the test of time.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page posed with Steph Paynes backstage at Lez Zeppelin gig at London’s The Garage on June 14, 2013. (Photo credit & property of Judy Totton)

Jacob Elyachar: Led Zeppelin co-founder Jimmy Paige gave the band his blessing. What does it mean for the band to have his approval? Also, has the band approached either Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, or the Bonham family for their support?

Steph Paynes: Eh, who cares what he thinks? NO! But, seriously, are you kidding? It means everything. It is like being ‘knighted.” We are still recovering. As for the others, I’ve met them all as well and each of them know about Lez Zeppelin and seem to really love the idea. JPJ especially is just lovely and embracing about the whole thing – as true a musician as you can get, that JPJ. But, of course, being “Jimmy’s girl” on the geetar, his seal of approval is the greatest honor.

Jacob Elyachar: What are some of the challenges that you have faced throughout your career? How did you overcome those obstacles?

Steph Paynes: We have faced every challenge every band faces – I could write a novel about it. Oh wait, I did write a novel about it! In short, it’s a crazy world filled with crazy people and you have to be calloused all over. Not just on your fingers.

Jacob Elyachar: Let’s talk about your upcoming album: The Island of Skyros. Could you describe the process that the group took to select the tracks from the Led Zeppelin Songbook that you put on the album?

Steph Paynes: The new album, The Island of Skyros emerged from our wondering whether adding some live orchestration in the form of a chamber group might allow us to illuminate and explore some of the less obvious sonic possibilities of this music. We did not want to tone down the music or tame it in any way. We selected songs for the album that were a bit heavier and perhaps not so obvious a choice for string accompaniment. Songs such as “Immigrant Song” and “Achilles Last Stand” for instance. They are certainly epic to begin with and almost seem like they’d be impossible to further orchestrate. Yet, when given the ‘string treatment’ we found new, vibrant moments and other colors in the pieces that we hadn’t noticed or at least focused on before. That is super cool.

Jacob Elyachar: If you had the opportunity to meet with other bands who want to take their careers to the next level, what advice would you share with them?

Steph Paynes: Practice! LOVE what you do or don’t do it. Never give up…unless it’s no longer fun. And, most importantly, do not forget to have fun because chances are your success is out of your control anyway. 

For more information about Lez Zeppelin’s website. You can also connect with the band on their social media channels. Visit their Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter pages.


  1. Arlena Kreppein says

    Fabulous conversation. Learned some things that I wasn’t aware of. I’m so very proud of you and your accomplishments. Your Mom must be “busting her bubbles!” Love your life. You deserve it!

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