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| 25 December 2020 | Reply


According to a recent press release: ”Vajra, the darkly hypnotic New York-based band Loudwire said weave “haunting and hypnotic Eastern Indian themes with their melodic, progressive rock sounds,” release Irkalla, the first in a trilogy of releases slated for 2021, on Jan. 15 via Thunder Cult Records. Vajra was formed by the esoteric femme fatale Annamaria Pinna during her self-imposed exile in India, where she wrote the band’s debut album Pleroma. The band has been championed by Loudwire, with the heavy music outlet featuring Vajra on their Loudwire Music Festival and Rolling Stone proclaiming them a “must see act.” AXS said, “Vajra is really something special and have managed come up with a completely new sound of metal. They bring mystical, moody and haunting melodies to the stage that are completely entrancing.” Vajra is Annamaria Pinna (vocals), Dave Sussman (bass), Mark Collom (guitar), Al Javier (guitar) and Jimmy DeMarco (drums/percussion). Blake Fleming (ex-Mars Volta) played drums on Irkalla.” We were able to grab some phone time with Annamaria to discuss new music and so much more…

Toddstar: Annamaria, thank you so much for taking time out. I really appreciate it, especially this time of year.

Annamaria: Oh, thank you. No, it’s my pleasure.

Toddstar: So let’s talk about the exciting stuff – the new album Irkalla dropping January 15th on Thunder Cult Records. What can you tell us about the album fans of your debut from oh-so-many years ago might not know the first or second time they listen through the album?

Annamaria: Where do I start? It took us a while. We were touring heavily. We were still touring off the debut album, and then we had released a single called “The Mirror” in 2017. And then, I just had a bunch of free time in my life happen, which sucked going through it, but was good in the sense that it fueled what became Irkalla, lyrically and physically. Irkalla is the first album in a trilogy of albums that explores consciousness. And this album was the lowest level of consciousness, so that’s: ego, materialism, lie, cheat, steal. The lowest level that you can get. Base-level emotions; base-level thinking. Caught in your head, stuck in your head, just disconnected from the energy that finds all the things. Even though we can never be disconnected from the energy that finds all things. This is just caught in your head, basically. I had gone through a lot of personal, crazy times and that fueled these lyrics. So I had a breakup. I had a health issue. My roommate was diagnosed with Stage 3 Cancer. Dave had left the band. He was playing guitar, now he’s playing bass with the band, but he had left the band because he had his own sort of crazy time. And it was just a lot of different stuff that was happening at once. So here we are. Life works in mysterious ways. It was like I was given a gift from the universe, even though it felt really shitty while I was going through it. But yeah, so here we are with Irkalla. So I worked with Sahaj Ticotin from Ra. He produced the album for us. And Camilo Silva did the mastering and Blake Fleming, who used to drum with The Mars Volta, came back and guest-drummed on the album. We were just really psyched. It sounded fricking awesome and we’re really proud of it.

Toddstar: Well, with the album coming out so early in 2021, I’m assuming – and correct me if I’m wrong, but most of the production and the recording probably happened in 2020 or did you have the thing in the can ready to go before the whole world just went to hell?

Annamaria: We had recorded it. Starting in 2018, we started recording. I had to go out to LA for some of those recordings. And then, we recorded drums here in New York in Oneonta, because that’s where Blake is from. So it’s been in the works, and then it was like, “When do you release it?”, because of what’s going on, right? Should we release it now? Do we want to wait? But I usually do things instinctually and I meditate, and the universe tells me when things happen. And then the other thing that’s informative is the name Irkalla is the Sumerian word for the underworld; and through this process, I had done a lot of research on the ancient Sumerian culture. I taught myself how to write a little bit of cuneiform. And I wrote Irkalla in cuneiform form and had sent it to Dr. Irving Finkel, who was one of the leading cuneiform scholars in the world. He’s at the British Museum. So I sent it to him to correct my spelling and make sure it was correct, and he said, “Yeah, it’s cool.” He’s this cool dude; he’s just so awesome. And he corrected this. There was one letter that was off, and he was like, “Yeah, yeah,” so he corrected it and sent it back, and that was cool. But in this process, I was obsessed with this concept of, “Why are we in this place in the West where we have this one god, and why is this god male?” And so I was just tracing history back and came upon the Sumerian culture, which is considered the first civilization in the world, and started to look at gods and goddesses at that time, and started to learn about the goddess Inanna and the goddess Ereshkigal and how they’ve, through time, kind of morphed into Hekate in Greek time with a K, and then Hecate with a C in Roman time. And as we’re coming out now, Hecate is still here with us and she’s the goddess of magic and the goddess of childbirth and she’s a goddess that, at the crossroads, will bring a light and guide you. And I had gone through such a dark time, so she kept coming up when we were on tour in 2017. We were in Toronto and I went to this witch shop, and I was like, “I don’t know which oil to get,” and I talked to the shop owner. She was like, “Do you know about Hecate?” And that’s when it was like everything was cemented because I kept getting signs from this goddess. So she’s the one that really guided this process. She’s the one that would say to me, as crazy as this sounds, when in meditation things come to you, you empty yourself, and you surrender to these archetype forces. And it’s prayer. And she said when to release and she guided everything. She guided the lyrics, she guided every process here, and on the physical album, physical copies, the vinyl, and the CDs, we have an actual ritual EP called Shadow Queen that we’ve included there. And it’s just really raw ritual music, like one-take thing, one-take stuff. Some people will love it and some people will hate it. It’s just ritual music where I would go into a space, which I usually do when I write, and also when I perform, but I would just go into this space and I remember even one point looking down at my hands on the keyboard and thinking, “Holy shit. I don’t feel like I’m moving my hands. I feel like somebody else is moving through me, or something else is moving through me.” So it’s just special music dedicated to Hecate, this goddess, the Shadow Queen who guides us when we’re in the dark.

Toddstar: A lot deeper than I expected, to be honest, but I don’t know why. Seriously, because everything about the debut, and now this release, it seems so detail oriented. It also hits for me on a different level, because you guys are very meticulous about the music and you can hear it in the music, but you guys are also very visual and you’re very purposeful about the visual aspect of the band. Is there a reason that that piece is just as important to you now, when you don’t have an MTV airing videos all the time and things like that, where most everything is so music-based?

Annamaria: To me, it’s all an experience, so the most influential players for me always had this aural experience, but also, they would always have a visual experience. So one of my favorite bands, and one of my greatest inspirations is the band Tool. When you go to their shows, it’s not just the guys just standing there playing; it’s also the visuals in the background that inform the music that takes you on a journey. And to me, that had such a profound effect on me in terms of not just creating an experience, a space to sit in at the moment, but that it all echoes after the show in your head, in your eyes, in your energy. I think it’s a transformative experience when you can hit people through the different senses all at once. And that was always a very important thing, so we do that through the eyes, but we also do it, I don’t know if you’ve been to one of our live shows, but we burn candles, if we’re allowed to burn. Sometimes we’re not allowed to bring the candles. But we also burn incense, and I select certain incenses based on what I feel the space needs or what we need based on where we’re at in the day, in the tour, whatever I feel we need. I still get very nervous performing. People are like, “What? What are you saying? It doesn’t look like it at all.” And I’m like, “Well, it is.” It’s a weird thing. It’s great that I can hide it.

Toddstar: I don’t mean to stop your train of thought, and I have not seen you live. I don’t know that we’ve been fortunate enough to get you guys up in Detroit a whole lot, but just with all the performance video I’ve seen, whether it be a filmed video, which we know can be a little more canned than live performance, you don’t come across as who’s not comfortable on that stage.

Annamaria: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I mean, for me, it’s a process of emptying myself and surrendering to, like I said, the energies that move through me. It’s staying out of your own way, and one of the ways for me to do that was I would have to go into a ritual space before I perform, so I don’t usually interact with the audience members before I perform. I will go into even the bathroom to sing and go into a space. And then when we go on stage, I would clear the space with a palo santo or a sage. Clear the stage, clear the energy on the stage, and then put on incense to bring whatever energies in that I want to inspire this performance. So I did that because it would all calm me. That process and that ritual would calm me and put me in the space. And I know we have to actually, as performers, sit in the space ourselves. We can’t fake it. We can’t ask the audience to be a part of that space if we’re not genuinely in that space. So it’s very important that we all sit in the space first, and then, if you’re willing, you will come and join us. So it’s always been, from the very first show I’ve had, a spirit table on stage, this is 11/11/11, with Tibetan prayer bells, with a singing bowl, with the incense, with crystals, all different crystals. And if I were feeling weird here or there, I would always pick up a crystal and hold it in my hand and perform. And so, it’s just a part of the whole experience. It truly is a ritual for me.

Toddstar: A lot of your process and ideology reminds me of another performer, Karyn Crisis. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Karen and her whole… She’s a little more on the witch side of it. Just the depth at which you analyze every move because this is not just performance for you, this is more of a life-based situation for you. So I can appreciate that. And it adds texture to the music when you get that information, which is why I’m so glad I’m able to do this, because it’s making the music better, in my opinion, as I get the backstory so to speak. The album itself is about six songs. Of the six songs, which couple do you think strike you as hard now as they did when you were constructing them? Whether it was putting the music and the melody together or putting the lyrics together, which couple of songs still hit you and wring depth within you of that same emotion?

Annamaria: That’s a difficult question to answer because they all contribute different things. So I can’t say that I prefer one over the other, because it’s just great to experience all the different emotions that they all provide, emotions and spaces that they all provide. I mean, I loved “Maya” from the very beginning, but the chorus outro to “Sever the Tie” is just… It’s just like there’s these different parts that just get at you. And then in “Crown or Crucify,” those verses are just like… It still felt intimate when we recorded them. Sahaj did an amazing job at capturing vocals. So it’s different pieces. And then when you hear “Wavering,” it’s so freaking… It still freaks me out. I still have a visual of nails nailing in a coffin. I have this thing called synesthesia, so maybe this is a part of the visuals and the music too. So I see shapes and colors when I hear music. I don’t separate. It’s just all kind of together for me. And when I describe music, even to the guys, I’ll take my arm and dip it down and dip it up, or do some kind of weird shape, and I’m like, “It’s like this. This is what it sounds like.” Or I remember coming over to Dave’s several times and he plays something, I tap his arm a certain way, and I’m like, “This is not like this. It’s like this.” And I would like tickle the arm instead of tap arm or something, so it’s all connected to me. I don’t know why I have that. I don’t know what it is. When I first discovered this, some people had said that’s what it is. They had described it to me. I thought, “Oh God, there’s something wrong with me.” Like, “Great. Add it to the list.” But I think it’s really, truly, because I started dancing when I was three, so I always saw a movement associated with music. Because I was so young at three that that probably informed this understanding and perception. I’m not sure. I think I just went on a tangent, but it just came to me. But yeah, it’s just all this stuff is connected and it’s… Oh. You had asked about the favorite ones. It’s hard to separate. Favorites are always hard for me. It’s always difficult for me to say, “This is the one I want,” because I just love all of this experience.

Toddstar: I do it purposely, especially when I get something where the music is a little more methodical. I always hate to ask a favorite. That’s where I come from with that question – is there anything that just still digs into you as hard as it did? Like you said, you guys started recording this two years ago, so are some of the songs that you started a couple of years ago still as powerful to you now?

Annamaria: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, to me, these are… They’re maps. They’re maps to kind of go into a space. And if I’m being honest to the spaces, then they will still get me to that space. The map will still get me to that space. And part of a live show is doing that, is getting to the space, but you don’t always get to the same exact space, because your experience at the time also is another spice that you add in. And the audience, for example, would be another spice. How one person could be an additional… Or a loud person could be a spice. Somebody in the front row just going into a trance could be a spice. It could be anything. It could be an outdoor show. Just being outdoors under the moon would be a different spice. There are all these different elements that will call it, so you won’t go to the exact same space necessarily, but the gist of where you’re going will still be there, if you’re emptying yourself to that energy.


Toddstar: You mentioned “Maya,” and “Sever the Tie.” You’ also mentioned “Wavering,” so that leads me to wonder is “Wavering” the next… I don’t know that we’re going to call them singles anymore. I don’t know if that concept really exists anymore, but is “Wavering” maybe that next piece you’re going to kind of project for your fans and for the music listening population? Or was that just one that spoke to you at the time to bring up that it reminded you of nails into a coffin and things like that?

Annamaria: So the way the album is structured is we have… Everything’s based on a derivative of three, so there’s three albums. Within each album, well, at least within this first one, there are three songs and there are three interludes. And then there are the bonus tracks, the bonus Shadow Queen tracks, which there are three of them. So there’s nine pieces of music on the album, at least on the physical copies. The electronic copies will only have six. And I think in terms of releasing the dark, ambient kind of interlude tracks, they’re not really interludes because they’re long. They’re dark ambient pieces. Probably won’t release those to radio because they’re just not feeling that vibe, right? Right now, they’re not playing that vibe. We probably would only release the songs to radio. But every piece of music has a video component and everything will fit together as a cohesive film, short film, and that will be out this year.

Toddstar: And to go with that theme, I know a lot of times, track listings are structured a specific way. Will the short story, or the film that goes along with this, will this follow the music in sequential order?

Annamaria: That’s a great question. Yeah. Well, we were back and forth with that. We’re still back and forth with that. Right now, what we have is, yeah, it is following in a sequential order. “Maya” is the second chapter and “Sever the Tie” is the fifth chapter. But what we’re doing is we probably are taking out the band footage that we have and we will be supplementing that with the other footage that we shot to make it more film-like as opposed to performance-like. We’re still in the process. We’re still doing it. And we’re doing everything ourselves. Everything ourselves. So we’re shooting, we’re editing, we’re colorizing, we’re selecting the locations. I made the red costume myself. We’re doing it all, so it just takes us some time because we’re not hiring anybody to kind of help us do it. We did have a girl, one of my girlfriends, who’s an amazing performance artist, Erin Ellen Kelly. She did choreography for “Maya.” She was in the video, and then she also helped us shoot “Sever the Tie,” so we’ve had some assistance in that way, which is amazing. She’s just a super creative, awesome, soft person. But aside from that, it’s just been us.

Toddstar: Well, you’re very striking, both visually and sonically, with your voice and the way you use it to intertwine with the music. I wouldn’t say that the music is your support or your foundation. It truly is a couple of pieces woven together when played. What is it about “Maya” that felt like the first piece you want to introduce the fans to? To give you some background, I heard “Maya” and watched the video. This goes back to September 22nd. We’re three months later, but September 22nd, I said to Monica, I said, “Hey, can I get an interview here? Because this was amazing.”

Annamaria: Thank you so much.

Toddstar: What about “Maya” spoke to you to release that first instead of “Sever of the Tie” other than it comes to sequentially first in the album compared to the other?

Annamaria: Well, I mean, there were different considerations. There are artistic considerations, but there’s also probably business considerations as well with that. Because “Sever the Tie,” it’s got more of a Middle Eastern rhythm and instrumentation, so that song is, for people that… We’re in a place right now in rock music where there’s a lot of the same music happening. So I’ll start with this. A lot of safe music happening. A lot of easy music. A lot of music where I put on the radio and I’m like, “Oh, okay. Cool.” The next song comes on, I’m like, “Sound like the same band.” And the next song comes on, I’m like, “Sounds like the same band again.” And that goes on and on and on. This music is not that. Intentionally. We are trying to do our thing. It’s naturally not our thing. We are capturing something. I think of us like translators. We go into a space, we hear something, and we bring it into the material world. And that’s what this is all about. And it’s packaged as our thing because we’re the translators, but it’s not ours. None of it’s ours, right? None of this music thing, or art thing, whatever. So it’s a difficult song. “Sever the Tie” is probably a more difficult song for listeners who are used to the same type of music that’s happening right now, as opposed to “Maya”. So in a business context, “Maya” is an easier song. But for me, “Maya”… It’s just the rhythm that always got me. And it’s kind of in the probably A Perfect Circle kind of vein. I don’t know. It just hit me like that. And I thought the name of the song is in Hinduism and Hindi and Buddhism. The concept of maya is illusion, so it was, to me, just a great song to welcome one of the emotions, one of the elements of the underworld, which is illusion. Because we all get caught in different illusions, maya being the greatest illusion: the illusion of life. The perception that “I” is only limited to your ego, the perception of who you are, instead of the “I” behind the “I.” The observer that observes who you think you are.

Toddstar: I got so much more out of this than I had hoped for I’ll be honest with you. This has been amazing. Having listened through the six tracks, I can’t wait to go back and listen to them again. I’ve already got a newfound appreciation for them, but now to listen back through them, knowing what I know and having some of the backstory and some of the underbelly of the tracks, I think will add to the reception of the songs themselves, not only lyrically, but sonically.

Annamaria: Great. That’s great to hear.

Toddstar: Again, I’d love to thank you for your time, and hopefully soon the world will open up and all my friends, new and old, in the music industry will be able to do what they do best, and that’s entertaining and bringing their message to the masses. Because, again, I don’t know if you’ve ever been lucky enough to come to Detroit. If you were, I unfortunately missed it, but I can’t wait to see you guys gracing a stage near me soon so that I can come in and be part of that light and be part of that experience and follow the same roadmap with you in a live situation.

Annamaria: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And anytime, and if you have any questions or want to get in touch, just let me know. It’s all good. So no worries at all. Happy Winter Solstice, by the way. It’s the day to celebrate the light.

Toddstar: Annamaria, be well, be safe, and hopefully we’ll see you guys live in the new year after the album is released on Thunder Cult Records on January 15th.

Annamaria: Thank you so much. Have a good one.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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