Leona's Sister Is All Grown Up


 Submitted By Lenny Stoute

Music is this organic thing which doesn't necessarily need permission or even encouragement to evolve. Check the opus of artists like Eric Satie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis or Brian Eno and you can almost hear passages evolving as they go, eventually tumbling into the mainstream, therein to exert another set of evolutionary influences. Nor is it confined to elite artists. It can happen to any music and any music makers.

In the case of Toronto's Leona's Sister, the initial evolution was from a bluesy, Seventies hard rock style, more riff-oriented to a more inclusive retro rock sound. It was originally formed as a recording project created in 1998 by vocalist/songwriter JT and bassist Barry (Bazman) Twohig, the intent being to get JT's original lyrics put to music and recorded. With a few friends, she went into Studio92 and recorded the first CD, Almost Alive. In 1999, the project developed into a more regular pattern and the band Leona's Sister was started. More songs, new players, another visit to Studio92 and the second CD, Out Of The Basement, was born. Things were looking up and the revolving door of players had stopped to let off a reliable core. Then early in the spring of 1999, JT was struck by falling ice and hospitalized. This brought the band side of the project to a screeching halt but she continued to write songs.

Leona's Sister in the StudioLeona's Sister in the Studio

"JT initially did all the writing, till about 2000. At that point, she had to take a few years off to heal." explains The Bazman. "When we regrouped in 2010, she had a lot of stuff she didn't finish, and her and guitar player Lenny O'Sullivan began working on that together. Usually, they would come up with most everything and the rest of us will fill in the parts in rehearsal and sometimes they'd come with just a concept and we'd bang it out together."

In 2010, even though JT was still dealing with headaches from the injury, she and Bazman discussed reforming the band and approached Mike Buisman, their jamming partner. They later recruited drummer Barb Piatkowski and guitarist Len O'Sullivan, who they met in the League of Rock's winter 2010 session. By 2011 the new lineup of Leona's Sister was back to Studio92 and in August 2011, they released a 5 song EP titled, 552010. The new material was indicative of the band's next evolution; as punk and roots rock influences began creeping into the classic rock sound, it became more expansive and complex. A little Joan Jett in with the Janis, a little Ramones in with the Zep. There was one more change before the crew went into the studio with producer David Barrett to record their best EP to date, Vexed. In August 2012,  Buisman left the band, replaced by Deputy Dave Hanson.

"Having the right people is as important as the music to us. The most satisfying thing about being in this band is that we all get along really well. Everybody contributes positively, everybody's input is taken into account, it's a fulfilling experience. When we put the band together in 2010, first rehearsal, we all gelled really quickly and really well."

So meet the tightly woven creative unit that is Leona's Sister, in its own words.

Leona's SisterLeona's SisterJT - Vocals/Guitar JT is a prolific songwriter with a deep east coast heritage. Grew up in Nova Scotia with music all around her and began playing guitar at the age of 10. JT studied recording engineering and worked as a live sound engineer. Her writing and playing style leans towards the retro heavy rock bands of the 70's. Her early influences wereBlack Sabbath, Deep Purple and Grand Funk. As JT would say, "I love noise".

Barb Piatkowski Drums
Toronto native Barb dabbled in classical piano, switching to guitar as a teen and in her 20's settled on the drum kit, where she has been studying under her guru Robin Boers ever since. Barb's early musical influences include the Runaways, Blondie and Joan Jett and her first ever rock concert was the Who at Maple Leaf Gardens when she was only 13 years old. Barb is a fan of all types of music especially rock, and her favourite drummer (apart from her teacher) is anyone willing to get on stage and put themselves out there.

Len O'Sullivan Guitar 
Len came of age at the end of the golden era of rock and roll. By the time he was old enough to go to clubs, much to his chagrin, all the clubs were playing disco. Through the years as musical genres evolved, Len has always harboured his love for the music of his youth, when his record collection centered around the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones. And though he mostly wears a suit by day, he was thrilled to have been invited by JT and Baz to be part of the new Leona's Sister, and get to strap on his Les Paul by night.

'Deputy' Dave Hanson Guitar, Vocals
That time a scrawny teenager named Dave Hanson wandered into Continental Music in Ottawa and bought a Vantage electric guitar. What happened next was described by Dave's family as "A god-awful racket. Terrible noise. Hellish, really." After attempting to lead a fair number of appalling basement jam sessions while in high school, Dave moved on to Queen's University where he developed a talent for arranging vocal harmonies and was the bandleader and musical director of the Queen's Players comedy troupe. After deciding to grow up and get serious, Dave moved to Halifax to complete his MBA at Dalhousie University, where he played a bit of bass in an informal trio that performed an awful lot of East Coast drinking songs. After moving to Toronto and focusing on non-musical pursuits for a decade or so, Dave is very pleased to have picked up his Telecaster once again and fallen in with Leona's Sister. Dave's most important influence, in music and in life, is Keith Richards. And his favourite superhero is Batman.

Barry (Bazman) Twohig Bass /Vocals
Barry was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but Toronto is home now. He played drums in high school but stopped playing shortly afterward. Early music influences were from classic bands such as Grand Funk, Deep Purple and Steppenwolf. He worked as a sound and stage tech, doing live events for local and touring bands, before picking up the bass. His first band was a jam band from Fenelon Falls. Shortly after, Leona's Sister formed, Barry joined them for their 2nd session and has been there since. Barry also plays the occasional session in the League of Rock.

Mike Buisman Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar
Original string-bender Mike returned to the fold in 2015 and it was like he never left. He teams with O'Sullivan to give the band a larger guitar voice. and also helps develop  guitar parts once the song hits rehearsals and sings backup vocals on numerous songs.

Sounds like a fairly familiar bar band cocktail and for a long time that was the mindset but Vexed changed all that. The decision to do it full band and involve an outside producer (Dave Barrett) opened up a new scale of opportunities within the material. Everybody stepped up their games; the power ballad 'Imagine' gets the full-throated treatment you'd expect from JT, but it also has fitting room for vulnerability in a song about the lonely. Likewise, "Slingshot" is the band's arena rocker, replete with all the swagger and pyrotechnic playing but when O'Sullivan goes all Jimmy Page on the solo, the dude digs into it with a sensibility reflective of the Kashmir side of Page, and that brings a whole lotta something else to the song.

"Signature tunes change for us with the times. "Night Turns Into Darkness" was the second song we wrote as a band and that sound pulled us together, got us on a common thread. That was the one in the early years but now for the newer stuff, (current single) "Praying Mantis"  and "Slingshot" are signatures."

"We've got 4 songs ready for the next EP; albums don't sell anymore so we're getting away from that into a series of EPs. It's a way of offering your music at an affordable price. Not sure who's going to produce. Lenny wants Barrett for a couple of the songs but not necessarily all."

The Bazman allows that some of the tunes have already been road tested, with audience reactions duly taken into account. Not surprising to hear the ominous bass intro and up from the depths vocal on "Praying Mantis" are making it a crowd fave.

Check "Praying Mantis" here

At the time of posting Leona's Sister has no tour plans, focusing on the EP's endgame, but they appear regularly in Toronto and around the GTA, as far afield as Kingston and Belleville, so keep an ear open and check them when you can.

"What I'd most like people to take away from a Leona's Sister show is the name; remember it, tell your friends. come again. You'll not be disappointed. I believe getting along as people is as important as the music. Life on the road is a rough life, it's not always good money, not always smooth, it's challenging to be on the road. Then you get up there and plugin and it's going to be all right."