“This is so embarrassing,” Tiana Woods is having qualms about divulging a “secret” from her past. I just simply wanted to know if she had formal training as a vocalist prior to assuming her role as the ballsy frontwoman of L.A. pop-metal rockers VARNA—but it set something off in Woods. Something deep and dark and…
“I was on ‘Judge Judy’ when I was 13 because my mom put me in singing lessons and was suing my teacher for a refund,” the now 20-something finally coughs up. That’s courage right there, just like her reaction to the letter that “teacher” wrote her mother, which started this whole judicial debacle.
“She said, ‘Your daughter has no singing talent; she will never be a singer. …And you know, going through middle school and high school and getting made fun of all the time just to have someone of such a professional standard say I had no talent was crushing, but it also gave me the drive to want to do it and prove her wrong.”
That teacher has a whole carton of egg on her face right about now. In the past four years, Woods’ band VARNA has found growing national (and international) success: They’ve been written about in a number of publications, become a mainstay on Internet radio, just finished a residency at L.A.’s Good Hurt club, worked with producer Erik Ron (Panic at the Disco) on their debut EP This Time It’s Personal and recently debuted their video for new song “My Heart” on RevolverMag.com—one of their career highlights thus far and probably indication that the dark-haired, blue-eyed stunner will be an upcoming “hottest chick of metal” if you’re into that sort of thing.
“Oh that video,” Woods says with a husky giggle, giving us the insider, behind-the-scenes scoop. “The air conditioning broke on the sound stage we were performing on, and it was literally 100 degrees. We were sweating our asses off.”
That’s weird, because the band pretty much met the last time her AC broke. “It gets hot in L.A.!” she says, side stepping the whole awesome coincidence. Guitarist Rossen Pinkas also happens to be an electrician by day and back in 2010, was installing a fan in Woods’ apartment during the chance encounter. Woods was bored watching him, so she decided to brush up on her piano, singing along with the tune she was playing. That perked up Pinkas and had him putting aside the fan blades. “Up to that point I hadn’t heard him utter a word; I didn’t think he spoke English,” recalls Woods. “But all of a sudden he was telling me about his new band that was looking for a singer.”
Pinkas is originally from Bulgaria, where, like much of Europe, there is a strong rock and metal community. One of his most memorable concert experiences was seeing The Big Four concert with Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Metallica (the latter even produced a “Live from Sofia, Bulgaria” album in 2010). So, when he heard Woods singing, there was an instant connection—even if she wasn’t holding out hope.
“In L.A. that happens a lot, you’ll meet someone and think you click with them and then you never hear back.” But in three weeks, Pinkas did call and after a “really horrible” first audition they stuck with it, acquiring drummer Rob Shin through an ad in Musicians Institute where Woods formerly went to school. They were originally called Living Eulogy, but for obvious reasons and because “everyone confused us for a Christian death metal band,” they quickly changed it.
“Varna was the street our rehearsal studio was on and in Bulgaria, Varna is one of the biggest cities,” says Woods. “And in my favorite book ‘Interview with the Vampire,’ there are scenes in Varna, so it was a sign.”
What took more time to develop was their sound. “Our commonality was not so much our musical influences, because we all had different ones,” says Woods. While Pinkas was a headbanging metal kid in Europe, on the other side of the world in Hollywood, Woods grew up obsessed with Mariah Carey and Silverchair. “Daniel Johns and his songwriting flipped my brain,” she says of the now defunct rock band from Australia “I’m so nostalgic. I just want to hold on to the old Silverchair as long as I can.”
There was also something closer to home that stuck with her. “I’ve never really talked about it, but my dad was a big musician in the ‘80s. He didn’t live with us, so I never got to know him but I do know he was a big solo artist, like a Lionel Richie-type R&B singer.”
Together, Pinkas and Woods bring an eclectic mix that’s often compared to Evanescence and Halestorm, something that the band welcomes. “I know we have a lot of followers who are Halestorm fans, which is so flattering. We’d love to go on tour with them at some point. They are great people and just so talented. Lzzy [Hale] is just an amazing vocalist.”
There’s also the other blatant thing that she and Hale share, you know being a woman in a rock band and all, which no doubt would give them plenty of moments they could bond over on the tour bus.
“People automatically think I’m the girlfriend hanging around or just a fan, but then I’ll go up on stage and blow them away,” Woods laughs, noting just as many will come up to her after the show to pay their respects. “No one has ever said you can’t do this job because you’re a girl. I’m proud of guys in bands who know that having a girl in your group is actually a big asset.” Something even Judge Judy could agree with.