Interview posted: 3/26/08
Editor's Note: Sepiachord fan Amanda Thoni conducted this interview Brian Viglione of of The Dresden Dolls about a year ago. It's been orphaned since then. We're now happy to give it a home. Photo above and all photos unless otherwise indicated were taken by Lauren Goldberg on New Years Eve 2007
Amanda Thoni (AT): When did you first start playing instruments?
Brian Viglione (BV): I started playing when I was about five or six years old when my father got me a drum set, and was very excited to get me going and sort of, y’know, develop that kind of bond because he loved to play drums when he was little too and he played in bands when he was in high school and college and stuff. And so he showed me the basics when I was really young and I sort of took it on my own when I was about nine years old and I started getting into music and taking that on as a kind of an interest. I wound up playing every day after school, and it’s what I did all in my free time instead of playing little league or collecting G.I Joes or something like that. I was playing music. Especially in fifth grade too, when I moved to a bigger school and I met a couple other kids who wanted to be in bands like I did. We were like a band immediately. I’m still great friends with those guys to this day, believe it or not. And, um, so yeah that’s where it all started, I really started playing seriously on my own when I was in probably like fourth grade.
AT: Who are your major influences when you’re drumming or guitaring?
BV: Um, my major influences I think, well, starting back when I was young, definitely the first and biggest influence was my father for sure. He’s the one that I, y’know, used to watch play and he used to show me all kinds of different stuff and I used to try and copy the stuff that he did. From there, I think my biggest inspiration and longest lasting influence has probably Elvin Jones who’s sort of a great jazz drummer and who sort of became famous and became known for playing with the John Coltrane Quartet in the sixties. Also, was credited with reshaping the face of jazz drumming because he had a really unique approach to the instrument and my father took me to see Elvin and his band in I think… 1990 in Cambridge MA. It was definitely a life changing experience. To be that young, and that impressionable, and to be front and center in front of one of the greatest jazz legends alive at that time was a really powerful and informative experience, and I definitely admired Elvin’s passion and his spirit. He was very joyful when he played, and he played with so much heart and so much character, and he spoke of really being able to adhere to his own vision for his music, and really trying to develop your own voice, even if people think what you’re doing is sort of weird having the dedication and the discipline to follow your own path was something that I really took to heart and draw inspiration from to this day. That, I incorporate into speeches when I talk to other young drummers.
AT: Since he’s one of your major influences, um, when we see you play live with the Dresden dolls, you’re always so very charismatic. Are you always so Charismatic with all the other bands that you play with.
BV: (laughs) Um, I mean, the Dresden Dolls features me as a performer in a very particular way in that I’m right up at the front of the stage and I have a lot of physical interaction with Amanda and with the songs. If what you’re asking is do I do the same exact kind of performance with other bands that I do with the Dresden dolls, NO. But do I bring the same kind of charisma, yes. It’s not that I do the same movements and wear the same outfits and all that kind of stuff, but I’m definitely bringing the same kind of energy and exuberance for the performance that I do for the Dolls, but that’s just me. Then you learn how to sculpt that and, sort of like, make your stage performance kind of complimentary to whatever else is going on on the stage at that time.
AT: What are the most stressful and the most enjoyable parts about being on tour?
BV: (laughs) Well, I think y’know one of the most difficult things about being on tour is that after awhile it becomes incredibly physically draining, when you’re doing a lot of traveling and your internal clock is being messed with every day. I think one of the roughest points we experienced was last August when we were traveling back and forth between Europe, the UK, Japan and Australia. Everyone was just completely screwed up, I mean no one knew what the hell was going on with the sleep schedule, and that definitely affected everyone’s mood. It makes you feel very fatigued and disoriented and then y’know you can wind up missing home and the consistencies that home offers you like visiting your friends, and coming home and making a good dinner and sitting on your couch, whatever, just hanging with your friends. And when you’re in a new place every single day, you tend to try to focus on the smaller things in life, y’know, the simpler pleasures, y’know, getting to have a good meal, when you curl up in your bunk. I definitely look forward to crawling up in my bunk at night and let the sound of the bus kinda like bring me to sleep and that kinda thing, y’know, you just find the simpler pleasures that you can enjoy. But yeah, it can definitely feel lonely at times, but I don’t know, I have a hard time saying what’s the worst. To be totally honest, the thing I hate about being on tour is when, y’know, I’m not getting along with someone on the road, y’know, if Amanda and I are fighting, or if it happens to be a problem with a tour member, it can make things uncomfortable for sure. That’s easily remedied by just addressing the problem and talking to the person or just making sure they get plenty of alone time and time to do what makes you happy. For me, the best part of being out on tour is, that’s the answer in itself, is y’know, I’ve looked forward to this kind of lifestyle, since I was nine years old and sort of, y’know, getting to play and perform music and play drums and do what I love to do for an audience every night is a tremendous reward, it’s incredible.
AT: Do you ever listen to Dresden Dolls CD’s in your own time, or do you just keep it to playing it and not listening to it at all ever?
BV: I generally only listen to Dresden Dolls music if I want to go back and refresh my memory in some way or if I’m comparing versions of songs, like listening to a studio record and then listening to a live version, but I generally don’t. It’s not like I’m a Dresden Dolls fan, y’know, and I put it on when I’m cooking my breakfast in the morning and then like singing along with it. I’m in the band. I don’t view the music like that. It’s my work, and I love it, but it’s not what I go to when I wanna kick out the jams, per se. It’s not that I dislike it, I’m definitely proud of our records and I like to listen back to them for fun. It’s hard for me because often times I’m listening with a critical ear, y’know, because it’s my work. It’s not like I put it on for enjoyment. Plus, the music that I listen to very specifically I listen to because I’m trying to learn something that I don’t know. I’m listening to music because I want it to either give me some kind of relief, y’know, if I just wanna play a Slayer record or hear a beautiful Mozart opera or whatever. Y’know, there’s usually some kind of thing of looking to get back from it. To learn from it too, a lot of it’s educational listening. Like, listening to a Louie Armstrong record and kind of studying the way he phrases things or an Art Blakey record when he’s playing with his Afro Drum Ensemble, y’know, a lot of that I enjoy it because I’m learning as I listen and so that’s what sort of forms my musical taste in a lot of ways.
AT: What’s your favorite Dresden Dolls song to play live?
BV: Favorite Dresden Dolls song to play live? Well, "Girl Anachronism" is right up there, definitely. That’s a fun one. I love playing "Mandy goes to Med School", that’s a blast. Definitely "Half Jack" is great. I love being able to stretch it out with Amanda and jam together. Lemme see, I love playing "Modern Moonlight". That’s a great song. It’s always been a really fun one to perform. Yeah, and "Coin Operated Boy" too, as insane as that might sound, Y’know. People always ask me, "Like, how do you not go crazy after playing "Coin Operated Boy" a thousand times in a row?" But it’s fun. That song offers a kind of freedom, and spontaneity and playfulness that I love about playing with the Dresden Dolls. So, those are like my top few favorite songs to play.
AT: You’ve been playing with HUMANWINE, and recording with them, and starting touring with them.
BV: Yeah, it’s awesome, I can’t wait!
AT: Have you played with them live yet?
BV: Yeah, I started playing shows with them in the fall of 2005, and we’ve done a handful of gigs together in Boston and New York. And then when the opportunity came up in January to start recording, we basically scheduled it so that as soon as the last day of The Onion Cellar was done on January 14, I hit the studio with them the very next day. So basically as soon as the last Dresden Dolls gig I had scheduled I went into the studio with HUMANWINE like twelve hours later. It was pretty funny, so.. But yeah, it was fantastic, like and kind of a fun story, I went to first grade with Holly, the singer. It’s a pretty crazy story. We grew up like half a block away from each other and, y’know, knew each other when we were like six, seven years old, and then she moved away and I didn’t see her for almost twenty years. Which was insane, it was like seventeen, eighteen years that I didn’t see her. And then when I got back from tour in 2005, back from Japan, there was a voice message on my phone, and it was an old friend of mine, named Susan who said, “I just read this amazing article in the paper about this girl I think you went to school with. She’s in a band called HUMANWINE, you should look them up." And so, I went home, googled the band, and then like wrote a letter to them through their website. I was like “hey do you remember me? We were kids together in first grade and blah blah blah blah blah, I’m in town and I’m in a band too.” She wrote me back that day and I went up to see her that night and she and Matt were living just one town away from me and it was great. I mean, we hung out 'til like six in the morning and just laughed our heads off like we were little kids again. And we listened to all these CD’s and stuff, and we were immediately best friends. It was great. I really, to the core, believed in their band and thought that they were one of the most interesting things going on in Boston at the time, and I really liked their stuff and, I always said, if ever the opportunity came about I would love to play with you guys. And so they asked me to do the new record with them, and I was of course, you can’t do a record without going out to promote it, that’s just sacrilegious in my opinion. So we had Emily, who’s the day-to-day person for the Dresden Dolls, book this U.S. tour. And going out, we’re gonna do about 25 dates across the U.S. It’s gonna be great.
AT: I was reading about your drum clinic that’s coming up on Saturday. What will that entail?
BV: That basically is the result because a lot of kids had written in to me, sort of asking me about my approach to playing and, you know, “you have sort of a unique style.” And, I really had gotten so much satisfaction out of talking to kids on tour and just through the internet, you know, they had questions about drumming. I wanted to go out and start doing some of my own presentations and clinics about the subject and I feel that, at this point, it’s really important to get out and get into the music education field if you’re willing and able because there’s such a lack of funding in schools these days. To me that’s something that’s very important. I definitely benefited from it when I was young and now I wanna be able to give that back in some way. The clinic basically goes through the basic fundamental principles of drumming and how to hold the sticks and basic exercises. Then from there it’s really about how to develop your own creativity in the instrument. It really is to inform you and give you some tools that you might not otherwise think of when you’re playing in a band or working on songs or, just philosophically in life, just a mindset is really present and communicating with those around you.
AT: Do you like having so much hands-on time with your fan base?
BV: Yeah, I mean, I love it. I don’t see myself as being any different than the fans in a lot of ways. I still feel like I am that kid who’s still kind of in awe of my favorite performers and I’m still too shy to go up to people that I admire. I also remember several times when I did have the guts to, sort of like, say to somebody that I saw at a show like ‘Hey it’s nice to meet you.', and they blew me off, or made me feel bad for doing that, and I never wanted anyone to feel bad for wanting to come up and say "Hi", or "I like the way you play.", or "I dig your show.", or "I dig or band." or anything like that. Again, too, the thing that gives me so much satisfaction is seeing other people being inspired by music too, just the way that I was. I feel like that’s an important part of the cycle, is that people like me are granted the opportunity to do what we love for a living. Part of the joy is being able to give it back to other people so that they can keep it going too, when we’re gone.
AT: How has your music style progressed throughout the years?
BV: Well, I think I’ve learned to listen a lot better. And I think I’ve learned how I’m still learning a lot about the value of subtlety and silence and, also, structure in my playing. One of the things that can be easy to fall into as an exuberant young player is that you want to play as much fancy stuff as much as you can play it in the song. And one of the greatest lessons to learn is what not to play and how that can really benefit the music that you’re playing. And how weighing out and leaving space is really essential to giving room in the music. So that’s something that I focus on now when I’m playing with the jazz trio and how to really listen to and accompany a soloist when they’re playing and key in on that really intense sort of communication and sort of anticipate what they’re going to play and, y’know, when you have a really good friend how when they tell a joke, they always tell it a certain way and they kinda laugh a certain way, you can sort of do an impression of your friend, and I sort of try to apply the same sort of mentality when I’m playing with a musician and I hear them play something, I sort of play along with them. You almost start to finish each other’s sentences after awhile. And that’s really kind of fun to do. So I think overall my goal is to become a more eloquent and sensitive player and still just as powerful and even more dynamic and more in control of what I wanna say through the instrument.
AT: Do you feel the connection every single night that you play as a Dresden Doll?
BV: No, not every single night. I mean, provided that people’s attitudes are in a good place when you go on stage, there’s an extremely high chance, that yes, you do feel that kind of magic. But if people are fighting against that and fighting against focusing on the music and fighting against making that connection, it can be extremely difficult. It was difficult in The Onion Cellar in a lot of ways. But, in general, yeah, I think we try to develop that kind of connection. In the early days, when we first met, and within the first six months or a year of playing we would just set up our instruments facing each other in her bedroom and just jam. Not even really work on songs, but start playing music. That again, too, you learn to start watching each other’s body language. You learn how one another speaks through music and from there you start to build that kind of telepathy. You can start to think and play with one mind. That’s something that Amanda and I spent a lot of time on. It just takes a lot of listening.
AT: You guys will be on a six month break, and I read about you guys going on tour again. Are you thinking of doing another CD anytime soon?
BV: Probably not anytime soon. We’re gonna do the tour in the summer and then Amanda’s gonna try and do a solo record and she’s been sitting on a whole batch of songs that she hasn’t been able to put on a Dresden Dolls record, and I know she’s really excited to get some of her new stuff out. So she might do some stuff there, and then we’ll see where we are come 2008. I’ve got some other projects that I’m thinking about doing that I’m really psyched about, now that we’ve finally got some time. I’m gonna try to put a project together with Dawn McCarthy, who’s the singer of Faun Fables and Zoë Keating, who’s the cello player from Rasputina and Meredith Yayanos who is a violin player who played on A is for Accident and who’s done a whole bunch of live Dolls shows. So I thought putting together a small group with those people would be really fun. So, I think in the summer I’m going to get out to California and do a record with those guys.
AT: Who was your favorite band to tour with?
BV: My favorite, the one I remember most fondly, is when we went out with DeVotchKa and Faun Fables in the fall of 2005. That was totally amazing. Just great bands and great people. And again, that was the first time I got to collaborate with Dawn and play music with her. I played like two or three songs with her. It felt like one big happy family. We had a great crew and it was like a fun camping trip kind of thing. It was cool.
Amanda Thoni bio:
Amanda Thoni is a good midwestern girl who is an avid music and art lover who enjoys catching concerts in her free time. She spends much of her time and efforts hitting venues and catching concerts of her favorite bands and new acts as well as creating her own art through various mediums.