“To bring out the animal:
be it a stampede of elephants or birds chirping in the morning.”
Laena Meyers Ionita. A vessel for sound. What can’t she do? She’s got this special
ability, like a music super hero, to pick, play, and bang what words wish they
captured. But then again, she sings, too. And like all badass super
heroes, you would probably never know. Walk right past her on the street without a
second look, other than to notice her waist-lined jeans you wish you could fit in.
“I’m pretty obsessed with music.”
If someone said they were obsessed with me, it might freak me out. But I’m pretty sure
music feels lucky to have Laena as a translator for the most universal language we have.
A correction to the above: If you do ever happen to run into her and she’s not with an
instrument in hand or singing, rest assured you will still know it’s her, she’ll be dancing
to the music in her head… “bringing out the animal” perhaps at your local grocery store
in the produce section. Yep. At which point, you should stop what you’re doing, join in,
and dance along side her. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. – By Arianna Basco
Full name: Laena Myers-Ionita
Nickname/pseudonym: Laena Geronimo
Hometown: Valley Village, San Fernando Valley, CA
Where do you live now: Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA
Bands you are currently a percussionist in: Raw Geronimo, Dante vs Zombies, Swahili Blonde
Bands you played percussion for in the past: Now Forever
What you do for a living: Bass player for The Like
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing percussion?
Laena Myers Ionita: When I was old enough to hit things.
TTM: Reason that you started playing percussion?
LMI: My dad is a drummer/percussionist, and apparently he used to sit me on his lap while he played. He even built a miniature drum set for me when I was like 4. He collects percussion instruments from around the world and there were always plenty of things lying around for me to make weird noises with.
TTM: What is your favorite percussion set-up? Why?
LMI: I basically like to have a circle of shakers, bells, drums and sticks around me on the floor and sit in the middle of it. That way everything is within reach when inspiration strikes.
TTM: What would your dream percussion set-up consist of?
LMI:A couple of timpanis, a huge gong, a snare, a steel drum, a tambourine, one ride cymbal, a marimba, and me in the middle of all of this with as many bells and shakers as I could possibly strap on to my body. If I could have a couple of extra limbs that would be cool too. Hey, I mean you said “dream set up” haha.
TTM: What do you think the role of a percussionist is?
LMI: To drive the song in a way that awakens the more primitive aspects of rhythm in all of us. To bring out the animal: be it a stampede of elephants or birds chirping in the morning.
TTM: Do you play any other instruments? If so … how does that effect your percussion playing?
LMI: I play the violin, bass, guitar, and I sing as well. For me, the understanding of the different roles of melody, harmony and rhythm within a song that comes with playing different instruments helps to be more discerning.
TTM: Most notable show you ever played?
LMI: I played percussion with Dante Vs. Zombies on the Rocket Boat in Long Beach… It’s literally a little speed-boat decked out with Christmas lights that holds maybe 50 people. They have shows at night out on the water in the middle of the bay.
TTM: Have you experienced any setbacks as a female percussionist?
LMI: No I have not.
TTM: Who are your favorite drummers/percussionists?
LMI: Alan Myers, Louis Hardin, Hal Blaine, Mitch Mitchell, people banging on pots and pans and whatever else they can get their hands on…
TTM: If you could change one thing about percussion what would it be?
LMI: I would like for there to be an inexpensive, better way to mic percussion. Maybe one stand with several small mics branching off to encompass a wider space without getting in the way?
TTM: Where do you shop for your percussion pieces?
LMI: There is an amazing place for African instruments in LA called Motherland Music. The Pro Drum shop in Hollywood is great too, and sometimes they have some interesting imported stuff. In the San Raphael area there is the Ali Akbar Khan school of music’s instrument store, which sells imports from India and other parts of Asia.
TTM: What are some of your other hobbies / interests?
LMI: I’m pretty obsessed with music. I write music, play a lot of different instruments, and love listening to so many different types of music. I honestly don’t really have time for anything else. If I can’t work on music, I draw or read or write. Oh and I really love snuggling with my 2 cats very much. And laughing about absurdities with the few friends I have who share my bizarre sense of humor.
TTM: Who are some of your favorite lady drummers/percussionists right now?
LMI: Tennessee Thomas, Nicole Turley, Mo Tucker
TTM: Who are some of your favorite bands right now?
LMI: Kate Bush, Moon Dog, Martin Denny, Fool’s Gold, Adam and the Ants, Julia Holter, Siouxsie and the Banshees, 13th Floor Elevators, The Growlers, The Kinks, Os Mutantes, Shocking Blue, Suburban Lawns, VUM, Farncois Hardie, Brian Eno… The Soweto collection that just came out is awesome, the Ethiopiques collections are mind-blowing…I love pretty much any world music recorded before like 1975.
TTM: What was the first concert you ever went to?
LMI: Babooshka. It was my mom’s band when I was a kid. I’ve been going to shows for as long as I can remember.
TTM: You’re fortunate now to be playing bass for The Like for a living.
Every artist I know has done a slew of odd jobs to make ends meet.
What’s the strangest job you ever had?
LMI: I worked full time in vintage clothing stores from when I was 17 until 22. Mostly good times actually. We would have crazy BBQ parties in the back with all our friends drinking beer, and put on crazy costumes and stuff, but the pay was pretty abysmal. So then I worked as a cashier manager at high-end designer clothing shops for 3 years. Nothing too interesting there. I did make some money on nights here and there with a busking band playing violin for about a year though. I guess that’s a pretty odd way to supplement a cashier’s income.
TTM: Your all time top 3…
Love Songs :
“Sleep Walk” by Santo and Johnny
“In My Life” by The Beatles
“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys
Break-up Songs :
“Cryin in The Rain” by The Everly Brothers
“I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline
“So Long Marianne” by Leonard Cohen
Dance Songs :
“Temporary Secretary” by Paul McCartney
“Janitor” by Suburban Lawns
“Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones
TTM: Songs that grew you- like the songs that you hear and immediately take you back to…-
LMI: “Thriller” by Michael Jackson was my childhood obsession. THE VIDEO. Dang.
Kate Bush’s “Never Forever” album, ABBA “Gold”, The Beatles, and traditional Romanian folk music all remind me of dancing around the living room with my mom as a kid. Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground, Bikini Kill, The Pixies “Surfer Rosa” album sort of sum up High School. Went through a 2 year long crazy punk phase where I only listened to lo-fi recordings from the years 1976-1983 and had short white blonde hair. Haha. Then the garage psychadelia of the late 60’s took over…. Basically I am always growing musically. There is and has always been a soundtrack to any stage of life.
Please don’t ask me that question when I’m 80- it’ll take 3 hours to get through…