Interview with Brian Viglione, Scarlet Sails, Pt.1

  • August 3, 2016
  • 10 min read

brian viglione

Interview with Brian Viglione, Drummer for Scarlet Sails

AudioFuzz conducted a most enlightening interview with Brian Viglione, drummer extraordinaire from Scarlet Sails, The Dresden Dolls, and Violent Femmes.  The answers we got are astoundingly deep.

1.  You have played and been the integral parts of the Violent Fems and the Dresden Dolls?  What were some of the differences between the two?
It’s funny, sitting here thinking about how to answer this by contrasting the two bands, I actually feel like I came up with more similarities, in that both bands are heavily improvisational in the live setting, work from very stripped down instrumentation, readily bounce between musical genres, and lyrically deal with every topic from war to sexual frustration and play with dramatic themes.   The clearest difference would be the visual presentation with the Dolls deliberately employing costume and make up to further the theatrics of the music, whereas the Femmes have delved into the realm of the zany in the past, but for pure fun and absurdity sake. Also, Amanda and I have in comparison, a very direct and immediate rapport, sort of like two people dancing, whereas playing with the Femmes it felt more appropriate for all of to support Gordon who was the direct conduit to the audience.
2.  I have seen many live videos of you and Amanda from the Dresden Dolls day.  I have never seen anyone so expertly and beautifully use percussion in such a way, yet never overshadow Amanda.  You just seem to know instinctively where to add loud percussion and when to be barely there.  How in the world did you learn to do that?
My view has always been that the job of a drummer is to provide the proper foundation, accompaniment, and propulsion to the song. That’s our role, our function.
It’s not about how fast and fancy you play. I find it vastly more satisfying to explore the ways you can juxtapose space and simplicity, with intensity and power, and with a sense of fun and risk taking.
 I was always encouraged to keep an open mind to all kinds of music, listen intently to what is being communicated by the vocalist, and then use my imagination and creativity to compliment and support that.  Much of that is learning to trust your intuition.
3.  What all instruments do you play?  I know you play guitar, because you and Amanda’s version of Mein Herr is better than Liza Minelli’s which is amazing.

Ha, I was the kid with the drums at his house, so all my friends would come over and after school and so guitars, basses, and keyboards were always around and I got my hands on them, got lessons from people along the way, but mostly spent hours just playing along with my favorite albums, figuring songs out.  That’s what I did instead of collect baseball cards or frivolous pastimes like schoolwork.

4. What made you decide to form Scarlet Sails?  What a great band, and Olya has a great voice. Tell me more about where the name comes?  Olya’s voyage to America sounds like a dream.  Please tell us more about that.
I consider Olya a true soul-mate in every sense. Scarlet Sails is the most natural manifestation of our chemistry and shared passion for music and desire to create and perform.  When we first met, I related to how Olya felt the desire to leave her hometown and head off with her dream to the big city. It takes a lot of guts and belief in yourself to do that, but if you learn to navigate the more dangerous waters and stay focused on what’s important to you, you can really carve out the life you want.  I had a tremendous amount of respect for her from the start, particularly after hearing some of her early recordings that she sent me.
Olya took the name Scarlet Sails from the famous Russian novel by Alexander Grin, I which an outsider village girl stays true to herself in spite of the naysayers around her, eventually meeting up with a ship captain’s son equally in search of a life different than what his father has planned for him.
“The meaning of this novel is that people need to have hopes about their dreams. You just need to believe in it with all your heart in spite of everything. This novel shines in explaining how it is in our power to make little miracles happen. The captain, Arthur Gray’s final speech: “I have come to the person who is waiting only for me. I want only her, perhaps for the precise reason that thanks to her I have been able to understand one simple truth; that so-called miracles are made with one’s own hands. But there are other miracles: a smile, gladness, forgiveness, and a word which is needed and said in time. To experience them is to possess everything. As for Assol and me, we will remain forever in the glow of scarlet sails created in the depths of a heart that knows what love is…”
5.  Are you going to reunite with Amanda Palmer in the future?  I have the t-shirt from the first album, which I have worn until it has started to fade. (I was to where it to the concert before I got sick).
Yes, we have three shows planned now in August, and will see what fun and exciting opportunities the future holds.  However we are in a weird contractual limbo right now and are seeking out where we stand with our record label situation and what would need to take place for us to be able to legally record and release new music.  From what I am told, Roadrunner Records was basically absorbed by Atlantic Records. However, at the time Dresden Dolls went on hiatus in 2008, we still owed Roadrunner FOUR more albums.  But we are looking to find fun places to tour in the meantime.  The point  with us is to keep the world of The Dresden Dolls fun at this point.
6.  What do you see as the future of Scarlet Sails?
I see a wonderful chance to play around the world in a rock band with the person I love the most. I’ve enjoyed every step of growth so far, and am just basking in the glow of working really hard on something I deeply care about.  Olya and I plan on recording a ton of new music in the next few years and and traveling far and wide, and encourage young people to have the belief in themselves and the discipline to develop the life that is true to their own path. I’ve always just a wanted to be a part of the continuum of artists who offer some sense of inspiration and hope through music, like I needed so much as a young person.
7. What do you enjoy more, live performances or studio work?  I do know you are a tremendous live performer.
I absolutely love both for different reasons, but if I had to pick one, yes, the live performance is something I live for and integral to what I love about playing music. Being in the studio is like experimenting in the laboratory with fellow scientists, pushing yourself in the process to find the most satisfying means to your creative end, letting your imagination run free.   But for me, it’s even more exciting to take that finished concept and then explore it deeper in front of a living, breathing audience. It always seems to pull new elements out of the music, as you have the benefit of the listeners reaction and energy. THAT to me is where the music truly comes to life.
8.  Do you and Olya write the songs together?  Where does she get her great ideas?  Do you both have knowledge of the great Russian authors?  Did Olya’s life in the conservative music school teach her to be more adventurous musically?

Olya is very prolific, always jotting down lyrics and singing melodies into the voice recorder on her phone on the subway or walking down the street, getting funny looks from people, but she doesn’t ever care! So she’ll generally present ideas in a sketched out form, and then we both build on the arrangements and changes together, finding the feel we like and bouncing ideas off each other.  But she also plays guitar a bit and is staring to write on that in addition to piano, which pulls a completely different side of her writing out.

In terms of Russian literature, Olya is certainly the better educated of the two of us and had an absolutely voracious appetite for books all her life.  I had read a bit of Bulgakov, and poems by Nabokov, but Olya is a full blown junky for Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Mayakovsky, and the like.

With her conservatory training, it was on the contrary- her teachers very much looked down on her for writing songs or improvising, and they tried to squelch that sense of creativity to the point where she wound up up completely despising the school and the instructors there, although she loved playing music by Debussy, Ravel, and Greig, which definitely opened her up to melodic ideas that influenced her writing.

10.  Finally, if you and Olya were animals, what type would you be?
I am, and have long known, that my soul and totem animal is that of an old, Southern, black dog. Most certainly a Labrador.  I have had close friends of mine, my wife included,  in unrelated circumstances say, “Brian- you’re like… a big, black, DOG!”  I agree to the fullest. I love to eat, sleep, and play. I am a pleasure hound. I’m fiercely loyal and the company of the ones I live bring me great joy.
brian and dog
Olya, it has been said, is a Unicorn. Powerful yet elusive, colorful and joyful, and with a big  flowy tail when she puts her hair back.  Not to be fucked with, either, lest ye find yourself on the losing end of her point.

11.  Not to neglect Nick Emde and Joe Noval, where did you find such a great guitarist and bass player to meld so perfectly with your band?
Nick was a long time friend of mine from a well known Dallas band called The Destro, who eventually moved to New York and I thought would really understand the hard rock element of the band and be a fun, experienced, guy to team up with.  Joe Noval actually was a pure strike-gold find via a Craigslist ad of all things! His reply was very genial and I loved his playing that I heard when we rehearsed, he showed up with all 5 songs memorized on short notice and we gelled right off the bat as a rhythm section. Joe built on the fantastic bass parts on the EP that Jesse Krakow recorded.  We have also been playing with Mark Kohut on guitar on select shows, who has a beautiful, textural approach which really compliments the songs as well.  New York musicians always have 10 things going on, so we’re very lucky to have connected with these guys.

12.  I almost forgot:  who are some of your major influences and who do you listen to now?
My foremost influence was the great jazz drummer, Elvin Jones, who completely informed my view of drumming.  Other major influences along the way would be of course major rock, jazz, and punk artists I grew up listening to like, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Nirvana, Metallica, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Louis Armstrong, SWANS, Nick Cave, etc. There’s a long list!

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Phil King

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