|Crossroads: Lana Lane|
Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
Sometimes finding the rightperson to take a direct interest in your music can have a profound effect on your career, with that person's inspiration and dedication backing your endeavors. Of course it helps if you are a talented musician to begin with so someone can take that kind of interest in you. When the wonderfully powerful voice of Lana Lane caught the ears of a keyboardist/producer whose career was also poised on the launch pad, it wound up being a perfect match.Lana's professional relationship with Erik Norlander would burgeon as she would perform and record on a multitude of CDs with him over the next ten years including the most recent Lana Lane release "Winter Sessions." Her career was lifted to a point where today she is one of the most respected performers and recording artists in the progressive rock scene.
A native Californian, Lana was raised in a musical household which included a mother and aunt in a vocal group, and a brother who was in a glam metal band called Vain. Lana started by taking vocal lessons and went on to compete in several talent shows in junior and senior high school. "It seemed natural for me to be a musician as well," Lana notes. "But at that time I wasn't really thinking about becoming a professional singer. Towards the end of high school though, it became clearer that this was what I wanted to do." Lana had cousins, friends and even a teacher who were in various bands in the area, and she used to hang around them to discover the inner workings of a music career. Eventually, she started auditioning for bands herself and began singing in jazz swing combos. "My soul may have been in rock and roll, but I had grown up with the big bands," she recalls. "Tony Bennett, ArethaFranklin, Frank Sinatra...that was the type of music I was doing at first, but as I became a better singer, I wanted to follow my heart which was with lead guitars and big loud drums!"
Along with the jazz acts Lana also performed with several top 40 bands including one that toured up and down the West Coast. She then delved into songwriting with a guitarist who was in one of those bands and moved to L.A. where there was more of a scene for original music and a larger pool of musical talent to get involved with. She joined a pop rock band called Trey Max with two other women, a unique trio because all three had diverse vocal styles. While she was with the band, they were looking for a keyboardist to fill in for the original one who had been offered a slot on the tour with the band Nelson. He recommended a local musician named Erik Norlander who Lana called and convinced to play on the project. Perhaps neither of them knew what would grow from that initial phone conversation, as the love of music first drew them together. "Erik was the one who convinced me to leave Trey Max because he told me I was a much better singer. The songs I wrote were more interesting and if I stayed in the band, it was going to drag me down. It was really difficult for me to leave because I had become friends with the other members of the band and I felt that I was letting them down. But I also had to do what was best for me at the time, and with meeting Erik, well the rest is history."
Lana's first work with Erik was doing some vocals on the debut CD by Erik's band the Rocket Scientists. Then in 1995 came Lana's debut CD "Love is an Illusion" which was originally intended to be a demo. "We did it in a real professional format on a shoestring budget and convinced our friends to play in it for free or for Jack Daniels or whatever," Lana muses. "They contributed whatever songs they thought were right for me. We weren't trying to become huge rock stars or make a big impact on the music world with it. We just wanted to take the best songs and let everyone know that there was this good singer that was starting out and trying to create a place for herself." In unknown circumstances, a rep from a Japanese label called Belle Antique got a copy of the CD. The prog label would later change its name to Avalon, and they ordered two hundred fifty copies of "Love is an Illusion," which was how many they had manufactured in the first pressing. Avalon kept reordering more copies of the CD, as they created interest by advertising it in Japan's most prestigious music magazine Burn, adding to that a glowing CD review. Product moved well enough that when Lana's second album "Curious Goods" was finished they pressed twenty-five hundred copies to send to Japan. Europe started taking interest in Lana's music as well, with a re-release in 1998 of "Love is an Illusion" on Transmission Records. This created the necessary international market since prog rock in the U.S. has always been a tougher sell. "If you live in Los Angeles or somewhere in the States, you will die if you try to put prog rock out here," Lana laughingly notes. "There are die hard fans here, but you can't make your living doing it here, so if you want to make a living you have to somehow break into the Japanese or European markets. I never really thought my music was purely progressive. I think of it more as melodic hard rock with progressive elements. But because they can't really label me, they only really give it a chance overseas because in the States you're kind of programmed with the commercial music that they cram down your throat."
Some labels were attempted for Lana's music, as in Europe she became known as the metal queen and in Japan she was dubbed the queen of symphonic hard rock. She and Erik would tour Japan and Europe once a year with only sporadic performances in the U.S. and they continued to watch their fan bases and notoriety grow in the overseas markets. Lana would go on to record several more albums often showing her diverse musical roots and tastes. She would also appear on solo albums by Erik and the two would go on to form Think Tank Media; their own entity for coordinating the distribution and some releasing of CDs by Lana, Erik, the Rocket Scientists and albums by musician friends who had often appeared on their CDs. Lana's latest CD "Winter Sessions" harkens back to her roots in jazz,big band and psychedelic rock with very little of the hard edged rock that is normally prevalent on her albums. Avalon originally wanted a collection of Christmas songs, but withthe traditionals already done so many times before by numerous artists Lana did not want to go down that road. "I've always tried to put a bit of jazz influence in songs that I write, whether it is cord structure or even with some of the lyrics.Erik was really the one who had the idea of doing sort of a winter theme including some of the melancholy jazz songs that were important to me and my family that we thought I would sound good singing. These were classic songs that I did not want to see forgotten."
One way that Lana and Erik are going to try to crack the U.S. market more in the near future is to release a live DVD that showcases them performing in front of packed houses of adoring fans overseas. Most progressive artists are respected for their musical diversities and Lana Lane is no exception. Often mixing up musical styles in concert as well as on her albums, Lana has a clear ideal of how she continues to push the musical envelope to keep her fans happy as well as bringing new ones into the fold. "To become a better musician I think you need to push yourself and to me writing has always been a scary aspect because I don't consider myself a prolific songwriter. If I'm going to write a song, I would like to have a little offspring in it so my fans think, 'oh, she's getting better and doing something interesting'. You have to do it different enough to keep the interest there but not so different that you derail yourself."
Lana Lane's advice for musicians: "The main thing is you have to surround yourself with really good musicians. People who live it and are well-crafted. Like if you are playing somewhere and the power goes out and your keyboardist can play piano and your guitarist can play acoustic then you can still finish playing because the musicianship is there. If you are great, it will happen for you because there is so much shit in the world as far as musicians go that I don't think there is any use for. It's just like any other business; if you work hard and are good at your craft, you persevere and survive. Just become the best musician you can possibly be on all fronts."