Frontwoman Tiana Woods of hard rock trio Varna joins us on a rainy L.A. day at Madison & Park Coffee to discuss their comeback single “The Craving,” how the current state of the modern music industry has affected independent artists, and never being afraid to be yourself.
Varna is comprised of:
Tiana Woods – Vocals
Eddie Haddad – Guitar
Sean Moriarty – Drums
So right now, you’re riding the highs of your latest single “The Craving.” Wanted to say congratulations! I know it’s been a long time coming.
Tiana Woods: Thank you so much!
Would you care to share a little bit about how the instrumentation and lyrics came to be?
Tiana: Of course! We actually wrote this song a while ago. We have a lot of different ways that we start our writing process where sometimes it’s just me alone writing the lyrics, and then our guitar player is off doing his own instrumentation before we come together. That’s actually what happened with “The Craving,” he had a piece of music and I had an idea for this song. The way that I approach songs and what usually what happens is that go about it as a musician first and foremost. I’m always looking for that perfect song to go along with what I’m feeling, and in this instance it just didn’t exist yet. My goal as a musician is always to write a song that I can’t find for myself, and that is exactly what happened with “The Craving.” I am so proud of this song, and I feel that whoever is listening to it has their own impression of it. I think it’s kind of a straightforward song, but everyone seems to have their own interpretation of it when they listen to it.
That means it’s a good song!
Tiana: Yeah! I really hoped that it would celebrate female empowerment and female sexuality, and I didn’t realize that it did that until I listened to the final mastering of the song. I was just like, ‘Wow!” I definitely didn’t originally set out to do that, but that’s how it turned out. I’m just really proud of this song and I really hope that people like it and see that music is truth. As a musician and as an artist, I really do my best to put out there what I’m seeing and what I’m feeling at the time without censorship. That can be scary for an artist, you know? Every time you’re creating you kind of have to be an open book, but it’s also a safe haven because you have somewhere to channel that creativity.
I definitely agree with music being the truth. Sure, you can write a catchy pop song, but even with some of those pop songs, if you delve deeper and read through the lyrics they can be mind-boggling.
Tiana: Exactly! It’s all truth regardless of what tempo it’s at.
Absolutely! It’s all coming from a certain place for what the artist is feeling is clearly. Even if it’s something that affected somebody else, they were inspired enough that they wanted to convey the experience from someone else’s eyes.
Tiana: I’m definitely the kind of writer that not only writes about things going on in my own life, but also those surrounding me. Even though I didn’t directly experience it, I still feel it’s a strong enough message that it might be able to help someone else that I know who’s dealing with the same thing. It’s a lot of fun because some of my friends are like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I’m going through this!’ and I’m like, ‘This could be a great song to write about!’ *both laugh* So it’s great that I can do that sometimes where I can be like, ‘You inspired me to write a song about what you’re dealing with.’
Yeah! And how was the recording process for “The Craving” similar or different than your past works?
Tiana: It was actually pretty similar. We recorded with our producer Erik Ron, but we were really under the gun for the recording sessions on this one because you have multiple people in the band and everyone has their own schedules. Erik is also getting up there with his work on the new Godsmack album, I think it’s been number one for like a month now, so you have to take his time into consideration too. It forces everyone to come together and be in the moment and the present time, and even though it was a really high pressure situation, I absolutely love working with Erik. We’ve been friends for such a long time, like, I knew him before he was a producer, and we’ve always connected as musicians. It really helps me as an artist in the recording studio because if I don’t know somebody then it’s very hard for me to get super comfortable with them really fast. I always say that I would compare recording with somebody to having an intimate relationship. I’m not that kind of person who can just go in there and work right away, I always like to take my time to trust the person, see what they’re about, see what they want from me, and then fingers crossed that it all goes well. But I always know that I have a good end session with Erik so I’m excited that he allowed me to do what I wanted to do.
And it’s always super cool having a tight-knit relationship with whoever you’re working with regardless of it’s in a recording aspect or a live aspect. Sometimes you can tell which members of the band are closer than other members, or sometimes you can tell when the new person is there and the relationship isn’t established yet.
Tiana: Right, exactly. I always strive to have a strong relationship with whoever I want to work with because that’s when I’m the most comfortable.
If you had an infinite amount of money right now at this very moment in time, what kind of music video would you do for “The Craving?”
Tiana: It’s funny that you ask because I just reached out to a few directors to potentially do the video. There’s one guy that I really want, but I can’t say anything yet because I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I actually want the video for “The Craving” to be a more simplistic video because the way that I was writing it and the emotion that I was feeling while I was writing it was just very simplistic. The song itself is more about the inner turmoil that you kind of have to deal with when somebody places their emotions on you. It’s a very internal song, like, if somebody does something to you then you have to figure it out, you’re the one that has to fight through your emotions at the end of the day. I don’t know if “The Craving” is the type of song that would need a huge video production, but there’s always the next song. *laughs*
So we’ll pray for an angel donor for the next video!
Tiana: Exactly! If anyone would like to donate to the Varna fund, give me a call! *laughs*
Now with the way that modern music listening has been focused on the streaming aspect, do you think there is still an audience that will support not only the live performance aspect, but the physical music aspect too? Do you think that it will just stay the way that it is in the digital era?
Tiana: So, if you would have asked me this question five years ago, I would have said that the physical music aspect is dead. Now, I definitely wouldn’t say that. The world has a funny thing about balancing itself out. Now that there’s so much technology and things aren’t as tangible as they once were, people are, for lack of a better term, craving for that physical thing that they can hold in their hands. That’s why the vinyl industry is booming and actually surpassing CDs, because people want this huge tangible thing in their face that they can hold, feel, and experience in addition to the music. When streaming became really big, people were like, ‘Oh, you’re wasting your money purchasing CDs. CDs are obsolete now.’ I still love them and know there’s a market for them somewhere, but like I said, the universe balances itself out where if it goes too much in one way then it finds a ways to turn itself back around. I think you’re going to see that physical aspect go way up while streaming is going up. I don’t think it’s going to go in one way or another, they’re just going to be equal to each other.
That’s what we all hope.
Tiana: Oh yeah definitely. Everybody can get their piece of the pie. *laughs*
So continuing on with the topic, the streaming and music listening experience is evolving. Do you feel that singles-based releases, and even EP releases, are kind of surpassing full-length albums? Do you think there are listeners out there that still want that full, collective work?
Tiana: I think that a majority of listeners, audiences, and record labels prefer singles-based right now. For your diehard fans, like, the ones that are going to support and fund the band’s dreams, those are the ones that are going to want the album. They’re the ones that are investing in you so they want more of what you can offer. As an artist, you want to have more than one thing going on as possible, so I don’t think they would ever be like, ‘I just want to make albums’ or ‘I just want to make singles.’ We’ve done singles for a long time not knowing that it was going to be a singles-based industry. We mainly do it because of time restraints or financial reasons, but it also allows us to get content out to our fans much faster and gives us the ability to give them a product while we’re working on other stuff. It really just gives you time that sometimes we don’t get the luxury of having. I’m not writing an album’s worth of songs right now at this very moment, but we’ve decided to release “The Craving,” and that will easily hold somebody over for six to eight months depending on how far the single goes.
Or how patient the listeners are. *laughs*
Tiana: Right?! *laughs* We’ve been really lucky to be able to release our stuff and have our fans just get so excited for us. We have some fans of ours that only follow our YouTube account, and when they finally got to hear the song they were like, ‘This is amazing! I’ve been waiting a year for you guys to put out more music!’ It’s so awesome to see the people wait for you to put out new music, and I think that’s the biggest compliment of all. As a DIY artist, you do everything yourself pretty much. You have no idea if somebody loves your band one week and then ends up not following you the next week, or if they’re completely obsessed with you and are waiting every single day for your new single to come out. As an artist, you have to do everything first and foremost for you. When you’re a DIY artist, you’re never going to be happy with what you’re putting out or what you’re doing if it doesn’t satisfy you. Once you do that and you’re ok with putting all of your stuff out into the world, the people loving it is the icing on the cake. I think it’s cool that we have that option to be single based or album based, but now that everyone else is thinking the same thing it’s almost kind of getting expensive to be singles based. Every single has its own marketing plan: you’ve got to release the single, and then the album artwork, and then a video for it. Before, you would only pick a couple of singles and then you would have the rest of the album that would need to be marketed. So it really depends on who you talk to, but it’s better to be singles based in terms of content. It’s not better financially, but it’s definitely worth the perks and rewards after everything is out there.
Absolutely. And you guys show a lot of love for the radio stations that give you guys love, which is awesome! With music streaming being the dominant form of how people consume music, do you feel that it is still important as independent artists to continue to tap into the radio market?
Tiana: Absolutely! Depending on who you talk to, people will say that radio is dead and that it’s all about Spotify. I don’t really believe in that statement because the genre that we do is hard rock, so our fanbase can be anyone from a fourteen-year-old girl in Michigan listening to a hard rock station to a truck driver who loves Pat Benatar. That truck driver guy is not going to be over there streaming his Spotify because he might just be set in his ways with tuning into the radio. You always want to tap into the markets because all in all it’s just a matter of percentages. You want to tap into everything that you think your fanbase would be into. I think that with people forgetting about radio it’s better for us because radio is still so prominent as has been extremely supportive of us. I love radio! When I was a little girl I would sing along to all the songs that came on. *laughs* So radio is not dead, it’s very much alive and it can make or break a single or a career. They still do to this day! For us as a DIY band, we would have never had the success that we’ve had if it wasn’t for radio. We just kind of believed in ourselves when we brought our first single in, and we were so fortunate that they liked it so much that we ended up having two consecutive singles on the Top 40 of Mainstream Rock Indicator Chart because of it. If we wouldn’t have done that, nobody would have heard any of our music and we wouldn’t have had as many fans as we do now. It’s all because of radio.
I mean, you just never know who you’re going to reach. A lot of people listen to the radio whether they like to admit it or not. And you can stream radio stations now so clearly, it’s not going away anytime soon.
Tiana: Exactly! There’s just so much out there for everybody no matter what your music taste. So, radio is not dead! I don’t think it ever will be, like you said with the streaming. It’s just going from one platform to the next.
Exactly. Just following wherever the winds of technology is going.
Tiana: Yeah. Some of our biggest supporters when we first started out were the people working in radio, so in the Varna world radio will never be bad.
So as a female singer-songwriter and the lead singer of a rock band, do you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful?
Tiana: I don’t think they need to. If they want to, that’s their own business. They should be able to express themselves in any and all ways that they want to as artists. When you’re a female artist, it definitely gives an impression that you have to do certain things, or you have to be a certain way, in order to reach that next level. Make no mistake, the music industry is notorious for having these types of predatory aspects, and it still does, but is doing a lot better. I’ve been graced with having great band mates that love being in a female-fronted project and believe in the power of women. There’s been a lot of bands that I’ve been on tour with that are guys who were just super supportive and treated me like their little sister. But as a women coming up in this industry, and even more so when I was younger, I definitely thought that you had to do certain things, look a certain way, say things a certain way, and talk about certain things. But I think there is a lot more freedom with being in a hard rock band. I don’t have as much of that peer pressure that I would have had if I was a top pop act. I don’t have all these people look at me like I’m this God-like figure. I love being in a hard rock band because it gives me a platform to be able to say ‘fuck you’ to people, you know? *laughs*
Without people being all up in arms. *laughs*
Tiana: Exactly! I’m a bit of an oxymoron because I can totally be sweet and polite and very introverted, but then I am also a kick-ass female that can take care of business and doesn’t take shit from anyone. *laughs* I’ve seen guys have a problem with that, especially in music. They’ll be all like, ‘Are you this nice, demure little girl or are you some hard-nosed bitch?’ *both laugh* I can be both! I also try to treat everyone with respect, and I expect the same respect back from other people. But yeah, if you’re just looking at social media or just hearing what the media has to say day in and day out, I can see how some people could think, ‘Oh, I have to do these certain things in order to succeed.’
And kind of going into the social media aspect. Do you feel that independent artists have more of an opportunity to get their music out there to people due to social media’s prominence in the modern marketing industry?
Tiana: Definitely and 100% yes! What you’ve done with social media is you’ve just cut out the middle man. Before, you needed somebody to bring your product to the fan base or else they would not have known that you existed. Now your fan base can just run into you regardless. They could find just from following another band like yours, or they could be friends with somebody that likes your band. The downside is that now that it’s easier, you have an onslaught of everyone putting out their work too. There’s so much material and content that I think you’re almost desensitized to how much stuff there is and it’s really hard to focus on things as much. As an artist, you have to do what you have to do to catch someone’s attention and then hold it for as long as you can without degrading your product. I actually love that social media has blown up. I’m not going to wait around for a record label to come knocking at my door. I’ll just work as hard as I can and let my work speak for itself. If someone notices that I’m doing stuff, then they can come on board and see if they can do something for us.
And those are the ones that clearly value the quality of the product as opposed to, ‘So how many songs can you get me in two months?’
Tiana: Exactly. In any business model, they’re more often focused on putting out content than the quality of the piece. When you’re working on something that you care about, you want it to be the best that it can be. I think that with social media, artists are starting to let fans into their process where they can see that, ‘Oh wow! It took a month for you to record this song because you had to re-write it.’ or ‘You were sick or had a death in the family and that’s why you’re only going on tour for three months instead of six.’ I think it’s giving people a lot of understanding of what goes on in an artist’s world and keeps them in the loop.
And it shows that you’re a real person too, not just this company generated musician whose sole purpose is to make lots of money.
Tiana: *laughs* We all know that if we were in it for the money then we wouldn’t be musicians.
So living in L.A. means there is quite literally music in every nook and cranny and in every possible style. Do you feel like there is some sort of unpublicized competition between all the artists that are trying to accomplish the same things as you, especially within the rock scene?
Tiana: If it was 1980 I would say yes. The thing about L.A. that’s really funny is that we don’t really have a thriving hard rock scene here. There’s a joke that we musicians like to say that’s like, ‘Everyone lives in L.A. Your manager and your agent are here, everyone that works for your band or in your band lives in L.A, but when it comes to going out and playing your shows, you outsource.’ We’ve been all over the U.S., and have really come to notice L.A.’s lack of a modern hard rock station. The only hard rock station that we have primarily plays classic rock, and maybe if you catch it at like four in the morning you might hear, like, one modern rock song. We really don’t have that much of a hard rock scene here, so I don’t feel like I have to worry about anything. But I definitely see while being around other musicians of other styles of music that there is a competition. In any business that you’re doing with somebody, you’re going to be quote unquote in competition with them. L.A. is a town where people come to help themselves. Networking and growing a community I don’t think is really a part of the ‘L.A. agenda’ anymore like it was when all of the big bands were coming up. Big bands broke out because there was it was a completely different world then. You had fans, you had labels, you saw all these bands doing things together, everyone got there together because there was a camaraderie. I mean, it’s still there, but you kind of have to go out of L.A. for it.
And I’m sure that in the near future that camaraderie will come back and everybody will want to work together to bring back the scene.
Tiana: Yeah, I hope so! I mean, we musicians don’t go down that easily. We still try to hit up the clubs like Lucky Strike Live where they have the musicians come out to jam out. We’ve played there before, but that’s only one venue, and people normally just come out there on their days off from tour to play a little gig before they head home. There’s really no reason to stick around L.A. if there’s not a huge rock scene, but I kind of like it that way. I’ve never been the kind of person who went out of their way to compete with other people, but I’ve always been good at competing with myself, so I like that there isn’t a huge competition here. *laughs*
The biggest person that we compete with is ourselves.
Tiana: Exactly! And that’s really the only person that you should be competing with. There’s a lot of female-fronted bands out there that I’ve met, and there’s definitely more good ones than bad ones. There’re always people that think they’re doing a little bit better and have a lot to say because of it. I’ve decided to live my life a different way by being supportive of women and women run businesses. I grew up with a single mother, I’ve only known women as kicking ass in life, so to me it just doesn’t make sense to try to bring another woman down. There’s very few of us in this industry, we need all of us to come together!
Right! And with going out on tour in a bunch of different places, how would you say those experiences were different than performing in L.A.?
Tiana: Oh my god! *laughs* I mean, it all comes back to not really having a hard rock scene here in L.A. anymore. There’s so much music here that I feel like we’ve become a little bit desensitized. You get in the room and everyone is crossing their arms being like, ‘Ugh, when is this set gonna end?’ or ‘When can I go on my date with the hot girl I just met at the bar?’ It’s kind of just a blasé attitude here. But then we go on tour in Arizona, and they’ve been so awesome with supporting our shows and our singles. People in other places will just go out and fill the venues and sing along to all the songs and are just so appreciative to have you there. When we were on tour with Drowning Pool, we opened up for them in New Orleans for their Halloween show, and the crowd was just so great! There was a rainstorm that night so everyone was just dripping wet and going crazy. I love when everyone is having fun together, and I feel like L.A. has lost that unfortunately. I hope it’ll come back one day. Never say never!
Always have to stay hopeful! *laughs* So if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose an what would you tour be named?
Tiana: Ooooh. Do they still have to be a band?
It’s your dream tour! They can be whoever you want! *laughs*
Tiana: *laughs* Ok, so I would pick my favorite band – Silverchair. I would also love to tour with Darkest Hour. And, let’s see, let’s get another kickass female-fronted band in there for good measure, apart from us of course. Let’s do Halestorm as that last one. Yeah, that would be a cool lineup. And what would it be called? Hmm. Maybe the ‘Hell On Earth Tour’ because all of those bands don’t fuck around. *laughs*
Whoot! Now if you could give your younger self advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far in your music career, what type of advice would you give her?
Tiana: Regardless of what anyone says or makes you feel like, always believe in yourself. Things will not always turn out the way that you want them to, but you can still be successful. It’s not about how you do it, it’s how you get there. There’s a picture of me as a little girl floating around on the internet where I had one of those little play microphones and I had on this little stage outfit, *laughs* but from that moment, I made a promise to myself that whatever happened in my life that I would be a musician in whatever form that came, that I would be true to myself, and that I wouldn’t stop for anybody. A lot of times when people have these dreams, they’re always like, ‘Oh it needs to be like this.’ I always said that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter, and for right now, I’ve done that. I mean, you have new dreams every single day. The band is always progressing and I’m so thankful for that. I would love to have Varna exposed to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, I really let people tear me down when I was younger, and it made it very difficult to get past that. I might have not ran when I should have. I sort of just crawled. But don’t give up and remember that things don’t always have to go the way you want them to.
Great words of wisdom! And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Tiana: I always say that in Varna, we focus on writing about the ups and downs of life. We’re basically there to help you along and give you a tangible thing to work out your feelings. Whether you like the instrumentation or you like the vocals or you just like what the song is about, it’s all about your interpretation. I just hope that we can relate to people and their situation and what they’re going through. We all need help in this life. I mean, even though there’s books being written about how to deal with life, we really don’t know what we’re doing.
You just have to do it. Jump feet first!
Tiana: Exactly! So we’re here to be your support system and to help you as much as you help us.
And that’s why people always say that music is such a universal connector. Like you were saying, you can have that fifty-year-old truck driver or that fourteen-year-old girl listening on the radio and they can still have a connection with people across the world. You just never know who you’re going to reach with your music.
Tiana: Exactly! We’re all connected because we’re all human beings. We all feel the same stuff regardless of if you want to admit it or not. It’s cool being a musician because you get to be the little truth tellers of life.
And apart from an upcoming music video, what other exciting things should we be expecting from Varna in the near future?
Tiana: I’m currently writing more songs so I’m hoping to be able to get a single out by the end of this year, but if not that’s ok. We have some gigs in the works. Nothing’s confirmed yet so I can’t give away any specifics, but that will be exciting if it comes to fruition. I always say that nothing is confirmed until it’s really confirmed.
It’s like, ‘I need it to be a written confirmation!’
Tiana: Oh yeah, definitely! And we definitely want to keep touring and progressing as a band. The more you progress, the more opportunities you have, the more people have a chance to know your music, and the more opportunities you’ll have to do what you love every day.
Yup. Life’s too short to not do the things that you wanna do.
Tiana: Exactly! People don’t realize that we are all limited in this life. You never know when your last day is going to be. I never really understand why people don’t try to reach for their dreams. I understand that there are a lot of obstacles and a lot of reasons why you can’t, but considering no one knows how much time they have, all those things mean nothing at the end of the day.
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