The Dresden Dolls
mar 17th 2005
interview with Brian Viglione (drums, guitar) by Barbara H
Barbara H : How are you ?
Brian Viglione : I'm alright, tired, my life is getting used to a certain kind of... the grim reality... the sadness and happiness is all sort of an illusion, being on tour can be very comforting at times and having to leave that can be very discomforting although i'm looking forward to going home, it's always just a sort of waiting period to get back on the road, we never have quite enough time to feel like we get to settle. we're facing a pretty grueling schedule, even though we're pretty excited because the next tour is going to be with Nine Inch Nails, and that's, you know, totally incredible. it's different in practice and i have all sorts of mixed feelings now in my head.
BH: Can you tell me how it started with Amanda ?
BV: yeah, absolutely. I first saw Amanda play in a Halloween party at her house that she threw and she played about six songs just solo, on piano, at the end of the night for all the guests and it was one of those extremely profound moments in life, when you realize a major opportunity is presenting itself and for me at that particular time, i had moved down to Boston to get into a musical group and begin my life as a musician, i knew what i wanted to do from a very young age. Here is my starting point. And this girl seemed to be encapsulating everything, all of it, the freedom that i was looking for musically. It grabbed me in a very deep place and it was one of the most exciting nights i have ever really experienced, and, trying to keep my cool i said "hi! i'm Brian, i play drums, a little guitar and a little bass, would you be interested in jamming sometime, i really like your stuff and i think it would be a pretty cool match" and she was like "yeah that'd be fantastic! i've been looking for someone to play with too" and we exchanged numbers and we met up a time or two before we actually played together but on the night that we first played together it was instant chemistry. Right from the go, after i set her keyboard up and everything was ready to go we kind of looked at each other with that awkward moment like "errrr, now what ?" and i said "go ahead, just play something i'll just play along." It's very different when you're with a songwriter because they take their music so personally, like, when you get together with a guitar player, it's easy to say "oh let's play a led zeppelin song!" you kind of have a common ground, but with her i just said "go ahead and play me one of your songs." And she was "uuuhh, ok...yeah...." and she went into one that i listened to for a while and then i let the feeling just wash over me and i just applied what i heard, and that's been the forumal that we've used ever since. We've never really strayed from that, it's a very natural approach to developing the music and how we developed our style, it's primarily based around listening and trying to complement with each other's strengths to benefit the songs. I feel lucky in the sens that as a drummer i get featured a lot and i have a lot of room to stretch out and use my own creativity and for Amanda she has a sort of like an accompanying player who can flesh out in many different ways, we both have that theatrical kind of side, so we overlap in a lot of very fun areas, we're both into musical theatre, we both enjoy driving punk, we both enjoy the emotive side of music, but we have strengths in very different areas: she's very centered around lyrics, i'm very centered around music, and it's the combination of all that that we've tried to implement.
BH: Do you write songs together or is it always Amanda briging songs ?
BV: It's always Amanda bringing songs, she's a very prolific writer and when i met her she had this huge back catalog and she as writing two or three songs a month and for me it was really the perfect thing because fundamentally i've always felt that i'm a collaborator, i have a certain vision for what i do and that i want to apply to other musicians and that's why it worked so well. I have a large part to do with giving a song its shape and fill, Amanda comes to me with a rough draft, lyrics, chords and changes and then from there we start to really infuse it with our own chemistry. There's generally a very basic framework and from there we go "how can we make this fun ?" like in Coin-Operated Boy with the skip and with Missed Me, with all this sort of like, gesturing, and dynamically too and that, again, the songs grew from playing it to an audience, that really brings up the performance element... so you have those three things: Amanda as a songwriter, me is shaping it and then audience.
BH: i think you're both equally important to the band, you bring a lot into the music.
BV: it's all about balance and being able to complement and not stepping on the other's toes. It can be very difficult when you have that much space, i just try to do what i have to do to make each song become fully realized.
BH: How did the European tour go so far ?
BV: This tour was phenomenal. It went much better than we expected, the crowds were a lot bigger than we anticipated in a lot of places and emotionally it was relatively stress-free, it's always a little bit, you know, kind of uncomfortable touring in the snow and the freezing cold, we're extremely lucky to have beautiful days like this here in France and we can go walk around and enjoy the sun, but on the whole it was really amazing, we played to 700 people in Vienna, which totally took us by surprise and it's great that we have a beautiful following in europe that seems to be growing everytime that we come back and we're extremely grateful for that.
BH: How do you feel about this growing popularity ?
BV: So far it's wonderful. It's what one hopes for its band when you take those sorts of steps, when you sign to a big label and try to promote your cd, you hope that people are into it and are having a good time at the shows. We have a very specific but understated agenda with our music and our show, we'rre not trying to create a new trend and cash in, it's about promoting the ideas that saved us as music listeners, the inspiration, the cathartic release and because we feel we can share that with our audience, that's to a great degree what drives us in this business. And so to see people reciprocating that is the most fulfilling thing ever. We're not rich by a long shot, you know, yet we're able to achieve in a pretty steady rate a comfortable and exciting and fulfilling musical career so far so i hope that keeps up. And really i think it's about staying pro-active and if you have a good team of business people around you it's much easier to enjoy your rise in popularity maybe some bands, like Nirvana or Pearl Jam, who said "we got thrown into the spotlight and we hate the success!" I don't think Amanda and I are really afraid of that because we really want to have a hand into how that's developping. I would think that this music is sort of weird enough that it's not going to be the next big thing. I think it's already sort of accessible anyway a lot of it is just standard pop songs, with a twist... So it's great, people are like "are you feeling all this pressure?" "No." We're actually having a good time, i have loved talking to journalists, i love doing the shows, and we're excited about the next record... we just take it step by step.
BH: How did the NIN tour happen ?
BV: Apparently, the way that i heard it, Trent had heard about us and apparently he had gotten a lot of great recomandations from his people, Twiggy Ramirez had come to see a show of ours and apparently had a lot of good things to say, Trent got some copies of our records and he really appreciated what we were doing and he basically hand-picked us, like "that's the band i want." It's great, listened to NIN a ton when i was in high school and now when i tell my friends they're like "WHAT? GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!" (laughs) it was only like 6 or 7 years ago that we were all, or maybe 10 years ago and we were all listening to The Downward Spiral in my bedroom. And now here i am i'm going to tour with the guy who made that record. It makes the world small in a beautiful way, i like it. We've heard that Trent is a really cool guy, down to earth, i've respected his stuff since day one, i have lots of respect for artists like Trent Reznor, Bjork, Beck, artsits who managed to articulate a lot of different musical ideas and directions and pull it off in style, with class. I think we're going to learn a lot on this tour.
BH: you're going to play on big stages, do you think it will suit your music ?
BV: yeah. at most there are about 3000 seaters, which will be the biggest set we've played to so far, but you now we've played in 1500 and 2000 seaters places before and it worked and it made me feel like the show has grown, we can fit that size. In the same time it's going to be a nice new challenge, it's nice to feel pushed, and we've heard thet the NIN audience can be very antagonistic at points, so we're going to go out there very determined to do our best and deliver a solid, powerful show. It fills me with a special hunger, to really impress.
BH: you're going to get a lot of exposure from that
BV: yeah, we're going to do a tremendous amount of press on the tour and play to a whole new crowd... good problems to have!
BH: there's a lot of energy during your performances, is it ok do pull this out every night?
BV: yeah! for me, that's always been a dream of mine, since i was little. Very deep down that always called me. I'm young, i'm going to do it as hard as i can, you hopefully give yourself a place to grow to as you get older, that's one very smart thing that i feel Tom Waits, Neil Young and Nick Cave have all done. All these people get their very intense performances in their younger days and as they grow their artforms shaped to a place where they could rest comfortably and it wouldn't be a thing where their audience said "they're not as powerful as they used to be when they were young" and i feel like a lot of jazz artists that i love did the same thing as well, they gave themselves a beautiful place to come down into another state of being. Right now it can be very difficult and we keep a pretty disciplined routine on the road, in terms of, try to eat right, get enough sleep, avoid alcohol and drugs basically and it's funny because all the tour managers are like "god, you guys are so boring!" But we can't you know, we've been there, done that, we both have done interviews after a night of drinking and had to get up from the table and go puke (laughs) and go to play the next show the next day and, for the kind of performance that we do, we really need a lot of focus and it's about having your wits about you, in the moment. Having a foggy fucked up head does you no good. And it's boring after a while... it's not us, we're definitely not the fucking Libertines. that's just not our scene. there's too many other exciting things to enjoy, the tour schedule really helps us to keep us in shape, Amanda does an hour of yoga everyday, she tries to keep her body healthy, and for myself, i stretch and try to take care of myself.
BH: the first record was released on your own label, 8ft records and then signed a distribution deal, which was a pretty smart move, how are you going to release the next record ?
BV: Well, the next record is actually going to be released through Roadrunner records and the distribution is being switched over to Universal distribution. That will help in terms of having the record available in more different places, which is great. 8ft records is going to stay primarily Amanda's project, in terms of being able to put out compilations of artists we're interested in... we're not going to eliminate 8ft records. We're really excited about the next record, we're working with a very cool production team, Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie, they've worked with Radiohead, Hole, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and bunch of other cool bands. We've been working with them off and on for like about a year and we've got about 20 songs so we're going to go to this beautiful studio up into the mountains in New York and record in July so we're pretty excited about that...
BH: How is the next record going to sound ?
BV: Over the past 6 months we've been playing 6 or 7 songs that are contenders for the next record. It's interesting to see how the songs are taking shape, we're really excited, there's a definite straight-ahead rock edge and maybe a slight cohesion in the sound that wasn't as present, we put out a diverse-sounding record, with you know, The Jeep Song, Missed Me, Half Jack, Good Day...
BH: I think it made the record charming, it fit the artwork, the diversity...
BV: there will definitely still be that diveristy in the songs but i think there's a little bit tighter connection between Amanda and I, I think there's more Brian in the material, while a lot of the songs that were on the first record, half of them, were written before Amanda even met me.
BH: Who go to your show, what is your audience like ?
BV: It's really diverse, but there definitely seems to be a very particular quality about the people that come to the shows and what they're looking for. They're hungry for that rock energy but they're not loud like in an Iron Maiden concert, we don't have people jumping up and down in time to the music. they're bright intelligent folks and they're not too heady, intellectual types. There seems to be people that are generally turned on by something different that seems to stimulate their feelings of perception. We don't get a lot of people who come knowing what to expect. They come with an open mind and they're open to the experience. We don't really expect that this band will appeal to just one type of people, it's nice because it's expanding beyond what we imagined in the first place. When we first started playing, we were getting the 21+ crowd, sort of like art galleries. Then we started playing in rock clubs and it became 18 to 30 and now music is available in stores and kids who are 9 and 10 years old are into the band and people who are 50 and 60 are into the band, we had two guys who were 70 years old come to our show in Scotland, in Edimburg they were in the audience yelling "yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaah!". It's sort of like the Rocky horror Picture show in the sense that the audience is invited to participate to whatever extent they want to, there's no dress code, you don't have to come dressed like in a 1930s cabaret but it definitely encourages. Even though we've been promoting the idea of this very particular group of fans that we call "the Brigade," there hasn't been an overwhelming response, we find some people who do it and the majority just come and are ready to just enjoy the music. and maybe that will change as the years go by but it's nice...
BH: I was wondering if it wasn't going to get out of control, the whole Brigade thing.
BV: it's not, we've maintained a very good balance...
BH: Roadrunner is basically very into metal and goth bands, how do you think the Dresden Dolls fit ?
BV: In terms of being able to tour with all of these bands, it wouldn't make the most cohesive package (laughs) but we saw that the people at roadrunner are very helpful and sympathetic to our vision for our band. That would have been the same with any other label, we thought that initially we would sign with a major indie label like Merge or Matador but when we really look at it, we're getting a lot more freedom, encouragement, and a much stronger push by the folks of Roadrunner because we have a lot of our own vision and Roadrunner is used to working with bands who need help in developing image and developing a way to break through. When we came, they were like "what are you going to do with you" and we said "you can do this, this, this and this" we've had a very significant amount of input from the beginning and they've been really willing to work with us.
BH: I first heard of you on brainwashed.com, and now you're on roadrunner! (laughs) In a way it's going to broaden your audience, but in another way, maybe signing to roadrunner is also narrowing it. If the people at brainwashed hadn't heard of you before your signing to roadrunner, they would totally dismiss you...
BV: I anticipate, primarily because i have been a music listener, that our audience will constantly shift, people will go "i hate their new record, they suck, the first record was the best thing they ever did and they should have just broke up after that!" (laughs) and other people, hopefully maybe 10 or 20 years down the line if we're still making records, people will be like "i don't really like their older stuff"... that stuff always changes. I will never begrudge fans for saying "i fucking hate your new stuff" or hating the older stuff. What's important is our input to the music, we'll try to stay honest and true in what we do, and i think that's all that matters.
BV: thank you
/apr 1st 2005/