Pilot of the Storm Who Leaves No Trace
Pilot of the Storm Who Leaves No Trace
A Q&A with Jean Violet of Kashmir
By Geoff Gehman
Jean Violet can do what Robert Plant can’t: sing like Robert Plant at his Led Zeppelin peak. As lead vocalist of Kashmir, a Led Zep tribute band he launched 20 years ago, Violet easily, eerily summons Plant’s old soaring, searing siren self. He becomes the calming, raging troubadour in “Stairway to Heaven”; the screaming, spooking Viking overlord in “Immigrant Song”; the time-tripping Shangri-La pilgrim in “Kashmir.”
Violet (that’s his stage name) and his crackerjack comrades will return to the Mauch Chunk Opera House on March 21 to perform atmospheric, magnetic versions of “Going to California,” “Over the Hills and Far Away” and other Led Zep standards. Violet, whose hair is a ’60s-‘70s Plant-like golden waterfall, has developed a sterling reputation at sterling venues with guitarist Andy Urban, bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Paul Cooper. Last year they hit a new high when they played a party hosted and booked by Chris Martin, Coldplay’s lead singer and lead celebrity.
Before Kashmir Violet sang Plant’s parts in Time of Dying, which interpreted Led Zep numbers for Arena Football League games at Madison Square Garden. Outside Kashmir the native of Rochester, N.Y., designs graphics for a Virginia data research company. In the email conversation below he discusses his first Beatles blast, the evolution of his Plant-like power, his favorite show moments and his vow to never, ever wear a cheesy grandmother’s wig
Q: Can you remember the first song you couldn’t forget, the one that slayed and flayed you?
A: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I just heard the Beatles and it changed my life and I wanted to be a singer at around 10 or 11.
Q: What was the first Led Zep tune that put the band permanently on your radar?
A: “D’yer Mak’er” was on the radio 24/7; couldn’t get away from it when I was a kid.
Q: Why did you settle on Kashmir as a band name?
A: I chose Kashmir because Robert Plant said that “Kashmir” was the definition of Led Zeppelin to him.
Q: What was the toughest challenge, the roughest learning curve, of mastering Plant’s unique voice, which at its primal peak screamed, soared and took no prisoners? Did you take voice lessons to extend and strengthen your range and core?
A: Yes, I took voice lessons and I exercise my voice quite a bit to keep it in tip-top shape. It has been a challenge, especially when I have to play two to three shows in a row. Using an in-ear monitor system has dramatically improved my strength by not having to scream as loud to hear myself on stage.
Q: Tribute acts run the risk of being cheesy copycats. What won’t you do besides not attempt Plant’s English accent?
A: We will never make an album performing Zeppelin songs. I have seen several tribute bands do that; how can you record Zeppelin better than Zeppelin? It is kind of silly if you ask me. Also, none of us wear wigs; if we lost our hair maybe we would. What kills me is when you see a guy walk into the venue who looks like a lawyer and then jumps on stage with his grandmother’s cheesy wig.
Q: Can you identify three major band changes over Kashmir’s 20 years?
A: When we hired Blue Raven Entertainment as our booking agency, stopped playing bars and clubs and focused on theaters and festivals, and started playing internationally and private events for celebrities. J
Q: What are three of your favorite moments in the show, stretches that always elevate you?
A: The beginning–the anticipation and getting into gear, or what we call the Zone. Right after we perform “Thank You”–it gets me every time. During our acoustic section the crowd really gets wild and alive.
Q: What Led Zep deep cuts are you hungry to put into rotation?
A: I really want to play “In My Time of Dying” again. It is my favorite and most spiritual Zeppelin song. Also, “Gallows Pole.”
Q: Would you seriously consider devoting concerts to entire Led Zep albums? A: Last year we did almost all of Zep I and Zep II for the 50th anniversary of both albums.
Q: Have you had any significant encounters with members of the Led Zep family? A: No, but I do know Carmine Appice., who was on their first U.S. tour as the drummer with Vanilla Fudge. He told me some good stories.
Q: What question are you yearning to ask Plant?
A: Did Led Zep ever record backward messages.
Q: What do you appreciate and/or understand about Led Zep that you didn’t when you launched Kashmir?
A: How great they were at writing songs. So many great songs and great lyrics.
Q: At 71 Plant can no longer sound like a marauding Viking in “Immigrant Song.” How long can you sound like Plant at his peak–and also wear your hair really long and expose your chest hair? And how do you protect your instrument?
A: As long as God allows me to bring joy to the people I sing to. I don’t smoke and try to stay in shape and rest when I can.
Q: So, Jean, what tops your Bucket List? Musicians have told me everything from touring the world to world peace.
A: I have achieved my bucket list with Kashmir. Twenty years ago I stood in Kenny’s Castaways in NYC and said to myself: I’m going to create a killer Led Zeppelin tribute and play at the best theaters and festivals across the country and beyond. Last year we performed exclusively for Chris Martin of Coldplay in Malibu at a private party for the Hollywood elite. I asked Chris: What made you choose Kashmir? He told me his peers in the industry told him about us and he went on our website and he thought that we were the best out there. Bucket list achieved. J
Q: And what tops your Fuckit List? Musicians have told me everything from ending oppressive religions to assassinating all snakes.
A: Mediocrity, I hate when people do things halfway or with lazy and entitled attitude. You have to constantly push to get better, learn, and grow as a human being. Being stagnant is a pet peeve for me.
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. His favorite Led Zep songs include “The Battle of Evermore,” “Dancing Days,” “Going to California,” “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” “Immigrant Song,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “The Rain Song,” “Ramble On,” “Rock and Roll,” “When the Levee Breaks,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Your Time Is Gonna Come.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.