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Lorenza Ponce rocks on her latest solo album

Lorenza Ponce_with violin.jpg

As a session and touring musician, violinist Lorenza Ponce has recorded and/or toured with the likes of Sheryl Crow and Bon Jovi. Up until now, though, Ponce really hasn’t rocked out in her solo career.

Soul Shifter, Ponce’s latest album, is a departure from the New Age-y sound featured on her previous efforts. Her transition to rock doesn’t mean she’s shelved the violin: Ponce has merely made some stylistic adjustments, and the same can be said about her singing.

Ponce recently checked in to talk about the fine-tuning she’s done, her career-changing moment that involved Crow, the historic equipment she used on Soul Shifter and other topics. Violins are common in classical and country music, but not so much in rock. On Soul Shifter, did you alter your playing or your attack to make the violin seem more rock ‘n’ roll, or was your violin’s use all a matter of its placement in a given song?
Lorenza Ponce: “I think I definitely approached the violin to fit into rock ‘n’ roll — in other words, to sound less classical and to sound less country, less ‘fiddle-y.’ An instrument is an instrument. Would I ever plug my violin into a distortion pedal? No, somebody kill me, you know what I mean?

“Because the violin has no frets, it is very conducive to sliding. Some of the greatest guitar solos are done on slide guitar, so I have studied that aspect of playing. I’ve incorporated that into my soloing — I sound like Nigel from Spinal Tap (laughs) — because a violin does that so nicely. It actually sounds really cool if you throw a delay on it; then it has a lot more expression and it definitely sets it apart from the classical violin or a fiddler.”

What were some of the bigger challenges as you were making the transition in your solo career to a more roots-rock sound?
Ponce: “Well, first of all, the singing had to change. I used to have that ethereal, operatic quality to it — very trained-sounding. I had to forget about that and try to tell stories as opposed to being a ‘singer.’ It’s a completely different way of singing. I really had to work on it and study it and listen to people who were cool and find my voice in this genre. I’m much happier here, where I am. Let’s say you’re not feeling so great [on a given] day, or you’re tired. Rock ‘n’ roll allows you to push through that; other art forms don’t necessarily allow you to just be whoever you are that day. … You can get your point across if you’re not in good voice in rock ‘n’ roll.”

As someone with broad musical interests and a sense of history, did it matter much to you that the equalizer from Motown’s Hitsville USA studio and the Fender Rhodes from Foreigner’s early hits ended up playing a role in Soul Shifter?
Ponce: “Absolutely, of course. I love that stuff. … You know what it is? I feel the mojo. So if that was Foghat‘s cowbell, of course it’s going on the record — it needs a solo! … That’s history, and I think that if you don’t feel that way — first of all, you haven’t done enough listening, you don’t know enough. And second of all, you don’t have enough respect. Music is a gift, and that’s like a gift from a muse that comes in. … If you can get near any of that mojo, you’ve gotta grab it.”

Talk about the recording session you did with Sheryl Crow during which you gave her one of your records.
Ponce: “It was the pivotal moment of my career, really. And the funny thing is, I have not recommended [what I did] to other people, but for some reason for me at that moment, something said [to me] ‘Do it.’ I’ve always been one of those people who follows their intuition.

“What happened was she was recording The Globe Sessions, and I was in a string orchestra for a two-day date, and I was one of the violinists. … My first record [1997’s Imago] had just come out, and I had a copy in my purse. It was when that whole chant thing was big, and it was a New Age thing.

“We were just talking, and I brought up to her that I had played on the Tomorrow Never Dies [theme song]. That had been a very small session; she had written the theme for that, and we had done that session two or three years earlier. … so we had something in common and a rapport there.

“Everybody walked away, and then all of a sudden, it was just she and I standing there. And I just said, ‘You know, Sheryl, I never really do this, but can I give you a copy of my new record?’ And most of the time, you [feel like you want to] shoot yourself for doing that because it’s so opportunistic, and artists really are never going to listen to it: They would look at it, be polite and then they’d throw it away. But with her, I just had this feeling. And she just said, ‘Absolutely! I would love to hear it!’ Of course, knowing her now, I know that she would listen to it. She’s a very curious person; she reads a lot and listens to a lot of things.

“It just so happens that it was luck … she wanted some strings to go out with her on tour. So I gave her the [CD] and my phone number, and six months later, she called me to get another string player to do her Storytellers show. And then I went on the road with her.

“If everyone hadn’t walked away and left the two of us standing there, I never would have done it. And that’s what I mean by it was sort of meant to be. There have been many times in later years with other people where I had a record of mine in my purse and I didn’t give it out.”

So, when you’re opening up for Bon Jovi, which you’ll be doing this year, are you all sexed-up in those leather pants Crow bought for you years ago that are mentioned on your Web site?
Ponce: (Laughs) “Well, with a band like Bon Jovi, I definitely had to be sexy [when I played with the group as a backing musician]. You have to be a really good musician, but it was also a lot about look. They would definitely put me in some cute little outfits. That’s part of it; that’s show business.

“Now someone like Sheryl Crow or The Dixie Chicks wouldn’t do that. They’re girls. Of course, Sheryl put me in leather, but it was a little different.

“I probably will wear something a little flashy [when I open for Bon Jovi], but it will not be short — it will be pants, probably. The thing is this: I’m a really good violin player, and I have a really, really good band. I don’t want anybody to look at me and go (sounding disgusted) ‘Oh.’ I’m going to go out there and wear something that will read in a stadium, but I don’t want people to walk away saying, ‘I can’t believe what she was wearing. Good lord, everything was hanging out.’ ”

Right — if you did that, people would end up remembering your look more than your sound.
Ponce: “Yeah. The great thing about the violin is it’s flashy enough. It’s right up under your chin, you’re on the big screen, it’s your face on the big screen and there’s that violin right under it. So I don’t really need many accessories. I just have to be comfortable, not wear shoes that are too high and go out there and kick some ass.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Lorenza Ponce on tour (schedule subject to change):

* Feb. 2: The Downtown — Red Bank, N.J.
* Feb. 5: The Stanhope House — Stanhope, N.J.
* Feb. 9: Bryce Jordan Center (Penn State) — University Park, Pa. (opening for Bon Jovi)
* Feb. 22: The Living Room — New York
* March 4: Mohegan Sun Arena — Uncasville, Conn. (opening for Bon Jovi)
* March 11: Bearsville Theater — Woodstock, N.Y.