Ellen Pieroni on the Sax and More!
If you have been seeing or playing shows in the Rochester/Buffalo area, you've no doubt run across more than a few characters, but few are as busy and diverse as Ellen Pieroni. We touched on many of her projects and histories in the accompanying interview, including the recent upstart Lavender Haze Collective. Enjoy the smooth sounds of Intrepid Travelers while you learn about Ellen!
photo by Alana Adetola Arts Photography, LLC
EB: Hello Ellen! How are you doing?
EP: Hey! I’m all good. Hope you’re doing well too! EB: What have you been up to as of late?
EP: I’ve been teaching virtually (I’m a full time band teacher), streaming and playing with Intrepid Travelers, doing a bit of freelance recording projects, hanging out with my dogs, and really trying to devote time and attention to my business, Lavender Haze Collective! EB: Can you give us a bit of history on your past and present musical endeavors?
EP: Sure. When I was in music school, I realized I wanted to start playing out and started a jazz fusion group, Ellen Pieroni Quartet. I had a chance to play some live shows and festivals and immediately fell in love with the live music scene. I joined some other bands along the way, and EPQ eventually fizzled out. Some of the past projects I’ve been involved with over the years include Blue Stone Groove, Folkfaces, Brown Sugar, and The Pizza Trio. I am still an active member of Buffalo Afrobeat Orchestra, THE TRUTH, The Duo+, and most recently, Intrepid Travelers. EB: What is the Lavender Haze Collective? Why and how did it come to be?
EP: Lavender Haze Collective is a conglomerate of all of the skills that I have gained on the organizational side of being a touring musician and talent buyer for 6+ years that I’d like to put to use for helping other local musicians get themselves out there. It mainly started with tour booking, as I got a nice venue list together and some experience booking tours for Folkfaces. I booked some successful tours for other local/regional bands (first just as a favor), and realized it might just be a legitimate business model! I’ve also maintained a booking job at a club since LHC’s founding in 2018 -- right now is actually the first time I DON’T have a consistent booking job (thanks COVID) since I was 20 years old -- so Lavender Haze Collective also throws and promotes live shows. Most recently I’ve added more things on the management and marketing side and an artist collective. EB: Are there any mediums or avenues you can see Lavender Haze picking up in the future?
EP: I’m definitely planning to throw a music festival sometime in the near future -- just want COVID to be a complete thing of the past first. EB: How did pandemic life change your musician lifestyle?
EP: Oh completely, but now it’s starting to regain some normalcy. I watched every gig I had booked for about 6 months get canceled one by one. It was honestly pretty depressing. But it made me learn how to make music in other ways. It was incredibly helpful to be around my partner Donny (who is also a musician) because he is incredibly driven and solution-oriented. We quickly started 2 weekly streams, so we still had “gigs” going on a few nights a week. We did some videos and recording projects. I bought myself an audio interface, downloaded Logic, and learned how to record myself for the first time. I got on Adobe Creative Cloud and learned how to use photoshop and video edit. I’m highly more skilled in content creation (even though I still have a long way to go) than I was before the pandemic. I also started writing more songs - some jazz instrumentals and songs with words too, which was brand new. It was honestly really formative. I left a band, and joined a new one. I was forced to take a step back and reflect on what I wanted to do musically, what my goals were, what kind of music I wanted to make. It was a really bittersweet but beautiful experience. It was equal parts sad and inspiring. Intrepid Travelers has also been really fun to be a part of -- it keeps me from losing my mind most of the time. We do a weekly livestream and some live shows. We did some at home recording and learned lots of new music. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to make music with other humans during all of this.
EB: We have picked up on the fact that you are involved in a lot of different projects. What are some of the ways you keep yourself balanced between all of these commitments and opportunities.
EP: This is something I am still learning how to do without running myself into the ground. The pandemic really forced me to take a look at myself and the fact that I was so busy that taking care of myself was my last priority. One big lesson I’ve learned is knowing when to say no or when something needs to go. I am not, in fact, wonder woman, I am just a human who can only handle so much on my plate. I used to say yes to every band, project, gig, rehearsal, and opportunity that was music-related without thinking because I was just so excited to be involved, but now I try to take a step back and think -- is it something I can realistically add to my current schedule, and if it’s going to be really consuming of my time and energy, is it worth it? Also, don’t schedule a rehearsal on your only night off this week dummy! EB: Who are some of your greatest sax influences? Why the sax in the first place?
EP: I absolutely love Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Fela Kuti, Chris Bullock, Jeff Coffin, and Kamasi Washington. I started playing sax in 4th grade. My grandfather who I didn’t know very well was a saxophone player, and my parents encouraged me to put it on my list when we chose instruments. It was actually my third choice (behind percussion and clarinet), but I’m happy it’s what I ended up with. EB: What are some things you learned during your experiences as a gig booker that others looking to get into the same line of work could benefit from? On the other side of that coin, what are some of the ways that people looking to get booked for gigs could improve their situations?
EP: It’s honestly pretty tough -- it kind of depends on what your situation is and what your goals are. Unfortunately it’s not easy to keep everyone happy. Some of the most talented bands I’ve ever booked played to empty rooms, but a Grateful Dead night will always do great numbers. I guess my piece of advice would be that whatever you do, keep a tight calendar. Have a system for making offers to bands, and keep your word when you book someone. When you inevitably double book a night (even the most organized do), make it right with the band that gets the boot. I also always tried to give talented touring bands a shot. As a musician who has toured myself, it can be so hard to get booked in new cities. It’s nice to help folks out, and sometimes you may end up discovering an incredible new band. If you’re looking to get booked, your press kit needs to be in tip top shape, and Lavender Haze Collective actually offers a service for helping you with that! ;) EB: Could you tell us some of your thoughts and philosophies on live playing and improvising?
EP: I’ve always geared toward using my ears instead of strictly reading chord charts. Listen to other people -- don’t bulldoze over your bandmates. Have a goddamn good time. Anything else I have to say about this is a cliché. EB: Do you have any favorite gigs or standout memories from your playing career thus far?
EP: I’ve had lots of fun and wild times playing festivals and touring with Folkfaces. I love being on the road and playing a place you’ve never been to, especially when it seems to be in the middle of nowhere. I’ve met some of the coolest people in places I’d never imagine being. We played Grassroots a couple summers ago and that was awesome. Opening for the Felice Brothers was pretty rad too. Intrepid Travelers also hosts their own music fest every summer, IT Fest, and last summer was my first one playing as a member of the band. It was really memorable and creatively inspiring. I can’t wait until IT can play full capacity live shows! EB: Do you have any solo projects in the works?
EP: Sort of -- but it’s pretty loose. I don’t see myself ever being a singer-songwriter who can perform by myself. (How can I play my sax if I have to play piano or guitar or some shit??) But I am writing songs, and have some thoughts on leading a band, at least for a few shows here and there. EB: What is it like being in a relationship with another professional musician?
EP: Honestly, pretty great. I can’t imagine having to explain or justify my lifestyle to someone who wouldn’t understand. There have been tough times -- one summer, his tour with Intrepid Travelers overlapped with my tour with Folkfaces. I think I saw him for an hour or two before I left. We hardly saw each other for almost 7 weeks. It was really hard, but it’s still easier when one person’s on tour and the other is just sitting at home -- at least we were both doing what we loved. It’s great playing duo gigs at restaurants. Those are basically our date nights. Joining IT has also been really awesome in that regard. It’s nice knowing that when we tour or play really fun shows, we get to share those experiences. I also just genuinely love making music with Donny. He’s super creatively driven and hard working. It’s really nice to be around. He inspires me constantly. I love his playing, and we also play super well together because we’ve been doing it so long. We can look at each other mid-song and somehow communicate without saying a word. EB: What kind of innovation would you like to see the coming years bring to the fields of music performance, recording, and distribution?
EP: I’d love to see some sort of solution to the streaming / bands not making money off of recorded music conundrum. Like I hate how much I love Spotify! It’s so evil but so incredible at the same time! It would be great to see some sort of streaming service that could somehow be affordable but still compensate artists for their music fairly. I’d pay more for it if it existed. EB: Any advice for those looking to make an honest living playing music?
EP: It’s honestly just a lot of fucking work. I still have a day job so I’m not sure I’m even qualified to answer this question -- but my partner/friends who are full-time musicians just grind. All the time. EB: Do you have any favorite albums released 2020 or 2021 for the readers to check out?
EP: Cuttin’ Grass - Vol. 2 - Sturgill Simpson Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was - Bright Eyes Circles - Mac Miller It Is What It Is - Thundercat Self-titled - Einat & the Good Guys Also, the single from Silk Sonic by Anderson .Paak & Bruno Mars was great -- excited for the full release. Otherwise I listen to a whole bunch of old music. EB: Are there any local women in music that you'd like to shout out? This could help Evil Bubble interview more women in the future!
EP: Oh, so many. Sara Rodriguez (Saranaide), Alex McArthur, Katie Mangiamele, Kathryn Koch, and Ann Philippone are some of my favorites. EB: Favorite Star Wars film?
EP: So I didn’t see any Star Wars movies until I was an adult, but have watched them all a few times since. The Last Jedi is incredible, and I also enjoyed the shit out of The Mandalorian if that counts.
for the record, The Mandalorian does count. anyway, big thanks to Ellen! stay evil...