Interview by Greg Mania

Born from the mind of Annamaria Pinna during her self-imposed exile to India, Vajra marries the sound of eastern India with the abrasive, melodic infrastructure of progressive rock. Since playing their first show in 2011, Vajra has been captivating the NYC music scene with their eyebrow raising theatrical antics and uncanny sound. Their single ‘Blind’ currently rotates on Sirius XM’s Octane and they are in the midst of a fall tour. I caught up with the band’s valiant lead singer to talk about their latest single, her tour, and what else she has up her sleeve.

Your sound is an eclectic blend of eastern Indian themes and progressive rock. Have you always had an affinity for this marriage of sound or was it born from the duration of time you’ve spent in India?

I’ve always loved the Classical Hindustani music, Sufi Music, etc. The music from these areas always resonated with me. There is something about the sitar and tabla and dhol from India and the Oud from Iraq – the microtones and the rhythms are yummy. And my appreciation of this music definitely deepened when I was there. As for prog rock. I think the odd time signatures really got me. Listening to Tool helped open the door to that arena for me. So, when I wrote ‘Pleroma’, it was a natural progression to incorporate both genres. It wasn’t even a conscious decision. It just happened.

I’ve had an affinity for these genres and they became the palate from which I chose to work when I wrote Pleroma.  

Why did you pick India as the destination of your self-appointed exile?

The first time I traveled to India, I felt like I was home.  A little less than a year later, I found myself on an edge. I was at a fork in the road.  I was questioning who I was, my purpose, how I fit in the world, what I wanted to experience in this life, etc.., and I felt the need to get out of my comfort zone in order to discover the answers. I thought travel would help me dig deeper and challenge my assumptions about life in general and about my self in particular. It was a journey of self-exploration. And it had to be a place that was different materially from where I had been existing (language, culture, food, expressions, etc). So, I chose India.

Your current single ‘Blind’ is on rotation on Sirius XM Octane. You have licensing contracts from conglomerates like Viacom and Showtime. How is your music changing as you garner a larger audience?

Life changes the music. Experience changes the music. Generally, the audience doesn’t change the writing. I mean, we don’t write thinking that the audience will like or not like something. For me, the process of writing is communion with spirit. It is deeper than just a material connection. The music leads me to explore. The writing is a process of listening and then translating what one hears. We are conduits that filter what we hear through the lens of our own experience. That being said, when we play live, the audience becomes part of the organism. We, and the audience move together in one experience. It is a give and take. So, we do make adjustments based on the audience for that evening but generally, the songs are already there.

The sonic infrastructure is giving me a bit of Tool and Nine Inch Nails. Do you listen to bands like these? Who are you listening to now?
Yes. I love both those bands. Lately, I’ve been listening to Terence McKenna, Ram Dass and Tim Leary. But that is because currently, I am obsessed with consciousness. Musically, I’ve been listening to Om, Sleep, Palms, Katatonia, Wardruna, Shubh Mudgal, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, etc.

Your video for ‘Inside the Flame’ is haunting, yet captivating. Can you tell me why you chose to go in this direction and how this particular imagery correlates with that specific song?
We discussed the imagery that would best represent what we were attempting to convey aurally. When we were introduced to Jordan’s [Stone] work, we knew it was perfect. Jordan is a true artist and is truly skilled at portraying the esoteric and abstract into a visual medium. He is amazing. He had produced a short film, and when we saw it, we knew it was perfect. So, the video was an adaptation of the short film.   

You’re in the middle of a Fall tour. How are you enjoying life on the road? Does it prove to be a conducive environment for writing new music?

It is awesome. I love being on the road. We’ve grown so much on this tour, and learned so much about each other. It is tiring, and it is difficult to write time wise, but, we are going to take some time off this Winter to really focus on the writing the next album so it’s all good.
You’re a bona fide bad ass, that’s for sure. Where or whom do you credit inspiration for your sense of style?

Oh my god, thank you. My sense of style is a reflection of my life interests. My first main interest probably was my mother. She is a beautiful diva who is always dressed, accessorized, and makeupized (making up a word).  Even if she doesn’t leave the house for a day she has her lipstick on. I think also, because we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, I learned to be creative with the clothing and things I had. So I started putting things together myself instead of running to the store to buy some new stylish item.
My heroes consist mostly of females in rock. Do you have any badass female rock icons that you look up to, and if so, who and why?

Awesome! PJ Harvey, Grace Slick, Linda Perry, Gwen Stefani, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Joan Jett, Madonna, Pat Benetar, Stevie Nicks, Cristina Sciabba, Janis Joplin, the Heart sisters, Cyndi Lauper, Patti Smith, Bjork, etc.  Each person has a distinct element that inspires me. For some it is their powerful vocals, strong sense of self and stage presence, for others it is their creativity and musicianship. I have learned something from each one of the aforementioned females. I’m still learning from them. Would love to meet them one day (those who are still alive).

Your live show is like a cathartic punch in the face, in a good way, of course! How much thought do you put into the live treatment of your songs when you’re writing them?

That’s awesome. Thank you. We don’t think of the live presentation when we write. Like I mentioned above, the writing process is more a communion with spirit. It’s a patient process of listening and discovering and then translating what we hear into this material realm.  After the writing process, then we begin to focus on how we will present the material in a live setting.  For our shows, we have a visual component where we project snippets of experimental works onto us.  In addition to the projection, I think of an overall concept to explore for each show and then make my costume, discuss lighting and appropriate stage props.  For The Trilogy Shows this past Spring, we explored time. My costume was a combination of native and futuristic elements that reflected this theme. Our goal is to create an experience for the audience to feel something. Anything. 

You’re a prominent presence in the NYC music scene. What elements of NYC do you think transcend your music and style?

NYC is a melting pot. I think that eclecticism is reflected in our music and our style. We take bits and pieces that seemingly clash and blend them into our own brew.

Have you ever been tempted to make any drastic changes to your band’s look or overall sound? Anything that you secretly have wanted to do for quite some time that you want to tell me about? Any juicy details are appreciated! 

Musically, we want to delve into unexplored spaces and push the extremes even more than we did in ‘Pleroma.’  We are always morphing the live show.  I would love to add some elements to the live show or do some creative photo shoots or inspiring artwork.  But the concepts or ideas I have in mind require a bit more funding than we have at this stage. So, we work with what we’ve got, and it’s all good. I wouldn’t want to spoil that surprise. When the time is right, the opportunities will present themselves.