So I recently got to interview two of the members from Varna, Tiana Woods (vocals), and Rob Shin (drums) after rehearsal one night. Their guitarist, Rossen Pinkas, left to get a soda prior to our phone conversation, and never came back, prompting the three of us to fashion makeshift “Where’s Rossen?” milk cartons during the interview. Personally, I think HE’S Batman, and was called away to save someone, but I can’t prove it. So here is my conversation with two-thirds of Varna. Enjoy!
Amps: How do we feel about where the band is headed right now?
Tiana: We rose from the ashes of a band called Living Eulogy, and after a bunch of line-up changes, we got Rob, and started fresh about 6 months ago, and we decided to change the name, and we’re really happy right now.
Amps: Tell me about the writing process. is it collaborative?
Tiana: I usually am the songwriter, as far as lyrics go, and Rossen writes most of the music, and I’ll come in with lyrics, and show them to the guys, and Rossen will have a piece of music he was working on and we’ll see if they work together, or we show up at the studio and just start randomly jamming a song and I’ll start spitting out lyrics that are floating around in my head, and we do it that way as well. You never know where a good song is gonna come from.
Rob: We have certain ideas of what we wanna write, theme-wise, and Tiana will come in sometimes with an amazing melody, and you know, you CANNOT fuck over a singer when she writes something like that! So we find these moments that really have to work, cause we’re very picky. It’s a long process.
Amps: Who handles bass duties?
Tiana: Our original bassist came out to L.A. to make it as a musician and couldn’t cut it, and we went through about four more, and we just said, “Know what? We’re gonna stay a three-piece. We can’t stop this train we’re on”. Every time you lose a member you have to stop, relearn songs, shoot new pictures, stuff that takes months on end, and kills momentum. So we made that decision, and it’s worked out.
Rob: We’ve been lucky in that Rossen is very talented, and switches over to bass like it’s nothing. And we think it’s better because he knows exactly what he wants out of both parts. We work much better this way.
Tiana: We use backing tracks when we play live, so we still have the full sound of our recordings.
Amps: “Down” seems to be garnering lots of attention. It was selected in Hip Rock Magazine this month for their “Writer’s Block” column. That’s pretty cool, huh?
Tiana: It’s really exciting! Anytime anyone picks up our stuff, or wants us to be involved with their publication, it’s always an honor, especially since we do everything completely ourselves. We have no management, no booking agent, we are unsigned, we answer all our own e-mails, and handle social media. Anytime you contact us, you’re getting US.
Amps: The EP, This Time It’s Personal, is as well-produced as anything out there right now on a major label. How’d you get such a crisp, clean sound?
Tiana: Our friend Erik Ron, who I met here in L.A. years ago is a great producer and a friend. He’s a musician who knows his stuff, but he’s expensive. So once we saved up to hire him, he was able to get the best out of us.
Amps: And the songs are autobiographical?
Tiana: All of the songs are. The emotions are very real. These are songs I wrote in private, thinking no one would ever see them, so it’s a bit terrifying having it all out there.
Amps: Tell me about some of your favorite spots to play in L.A.?
Rob: First off, Good Hurt. We just got a residency there. It’s not just a venue. Everything about it, from the moment you show up, it’s such good vibes there. The sound guys are awesome, and all the bands kick ass when they play there. And King King is great, too.
Tiana: I like the Viper Room, and I like some of the real intimate places, too.
Amps: Where is everyone from?
Tiana: Rob and I are both from L. A., and Rossen is from Bulgaria. That’s one of the reasons for the Varna name. It’s one of the biggest cities in Bulgaria, so that resonates emotionally with him.
Amps: Your music has been described as having “emotional lyrics that deal with the ups and downs of life, making sure that the end result is always uplifting”. I couldn’t agree more. What are your thoughts on that?
Tiana: Well, thank you so much. I mean, when people hear dark, hard rock, they automatically assume depression, and being down. And if you’re in that state, you can relate to that emotion, but when I write a song, I’m trying to write about life. Life will get you down, but you gotta get back up, and you gotta take that next step forward, because life isn’t bad, life is good. Our job as musicians is to be a source of comfort to people who listen to us.
Amps: Does anyone in the band have any crazy hobbies? (Note how silly we get at this point!)
Rob: (laughing) No. Rossen is a big-time NBA fan, and I’m a big-time NFL and Ravens fan, and Tiana…
Tiana: And Tiana does nothing! I’m boring, I read. I’m so consumed with words and music. Maybe if this band takes off, I’ll develop some crazy hobby one day (laughs)! I do have ONE crazy obsession, and that’s The Walking Dead. I’m not a TV person, but I love that!
Rob: She’s a genius! We went to the same music school in L.A. and she graduated from the Music Business program there.
Amps: So, noooo crazy hobbies, lemme write that down…
Tiana: I promise you if we get really big, I’ll develop a big cocaine habit! And I’ll come to you saying, “See? I told ya!”
(All of us laughing hard!)
Amps: No, you’ll probably say I drove you to it! “You encouraged me to get into something crazy!”
(Bringing the conversation back)
Amps: What’s in your iPod/CD player now?
Tiana: Silverchair, because Daniel Johns is such an inspiration. I was just working out to Nickelback. They put on one of the best shows you’ll ever see! (I agree with her). I met Chad at the Billboard Awards when I was little, he was such a nice guy.
Rob: I’ve been listening to American Idiot from Green day a lot lately, and The Artist In the Ambulance from Thrice. A lot of stuff from when music was still really good.
Amps: Anything else you’d like to say?
Tiana: Yes. (Laughing) Where did Ross go? I hope he’s not kidnapped! But seriously, to all our fans, thank you. You are why we do what we do. We put our heart, our soul, every last dime we have into this band, and every comment, question, and e-mail from you makes it all so wonderful, and people like you who want us to come and talk about our music, so thank you.
Rob: Do you mind if I ask YOU a question? What was your favorite song on our EP?
(I tell him “My Heart” is far and away my favorite, but more on the EP in my upcoming review)
So, we ended everything by organizing the search parties for Rossen. Actually, he ended up with food poisoning, and went home, so mystery solved. And Tiana gave love and kisses to my little guy, Mini-Amps, so that was pretty cool. Rob and Tiana were a lot of fun, and by the time this interview was over we were all laughing pretty good. I can’t wait to have them on a podcast in the near future. Hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it!
This Time It’s Personal is available now on iTunes. I highly recommend picking it up!