Monday, 17 March 2014

Music Monday - Brian Viglione

Brian Viglione

Brian Viglione photo by Sarah Wilmer

Brian Viglione has been the driving rhythmic force behind The Dresden Dolls since 2000. The band have travelled throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia to critical acclaim, as well as being handpicked to tour alongside Nine Inch Nails in 2005 and Cyndi Lauper in 2007. In December 2007, Brian collaborated with Trent Reznor on the Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts: I-IV. Brian has also been featured in several theatrical settings including The Onion Cellar, a stage production hosted by The American Repertory Theater, Addicted To Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s 20th Century with The World/Inferno Friendship Society, and The Master and Margarita at Theater Dortmund with Botanica. He is currently the drummer of The Violent Femmes.

Viglione has appeared on over 50 albums since 2008, most notably, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I–IV, which was nominated for two Grammy Awards, under the categories Best Rock Instrumental performance for the track "34 Ghosts IV", and Best Boxed Set or Limited Edition Package and sold over 750,000 copies.
Throughout 2008 – ‘09, Brian was the band leader and drummer for Brooklyn’s punk-orchestra, The World/Inferno Friendship Society, touring in 16 countries. He also starred in the band’s theatrical production, Addicted To Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s 20th Century, in the US, Canada, Netherlands, and Finland. Viglione joined Botanica throughout 2010-12, touring Europe and working extensively at the city theater in Dortmund, Germany on several productions.  Brian self-released, Face Of The Sun, a metal album based around drum improvisations he recorded with guitarist Ron Arra in 2010.

Guitarist, John Andrews (Nena, Botanica) teamed up with Brian in 2013 to record the second Loudboy album, Ultra MK. The group opened for Peter Murphy on his 35th Anniversary Bauhaus tour and continues to perform in the U.S.

In July of 2013, Viglione joined as the new drummer for Violent Femmes, performing at festivals in North America and Australia.  He continues to tour around the globe with Loudboy, The Dresden Dolls, and record with numerous artists in New York City.

Photo by Agatha Donkar — with Official Violent Femmes and Brian Viglione at Riot Fest Chicago.

Ten questions with Brian Viglione

1 – Most people know you for being one half of the Dresden Dolls, how did that differ from your musical work with other bands?

The Dresden Dolls remains the deepest and most fully encompassing band I’ve worked with in terms of what I was able to express.  It was the sole, concentrated creativity of Amanda and I, as opposed to me fitting into another band’s pre-existing form. It spanned the entire gamut stylistically, dynamically, and in the performance of the music.  Many of the other bands I’ve worked with operate using more conventional instrumentation and a lesser degree of theatricality, and generally geared toward playing rock clubs.  With The Dolls, it was “ANYWHERE, ANYTIME.”   Want us to play your public library? Done.  Play an arena show? Great. Want a metal cover? Happy to.  We’re only allowed to perform using wooden spoons and kazoos?  No sweat, where the kazoos at?   We just threw ourselves into every context and went for the throat at every show.  We take a tremendous amount in pride in what we do, yet we have no qualms about being the silliest motherfuckers in the room and having a ball at it.  It takes a level of confidence, inhibition, and being fun-loving weirdoes to feel that free, and it’s a special brand of dedication and humour that Amanda and I share.
2 – You collaborated with Nine Inch Nails on their Grammy award winning album ‘Ghosts I-IV’ album, how did that opportunity come about?

That was truly special.  The Dolls were fortunate enough to open 31 shows in the U.S. and Europe on the 2005 NIN tour.  It really brought the band to a new level of viciousness live. We were scared the crowd would hate us, so we went out playing harder than ever, ready to meet the challenge.  After a couple weeks, some of the guys on the road crew started coming up and saying, “Hey man, I don’t know if you’re aware, but Trent is checking YOU out during your set. He likes your drumming, pretty cool.”  Trent and I had a few short chats on the tour and he was always really kind.  Then in September of 2007, I received an email from Trent asking if I would be interested in collaborating on the Ghosts recording at his place in December.  I was thrilled, so off I went.  During the recording, he gave me complete artistic license to play whatever I felt.  He gave me the instruction to build an unconventional drum kit, using whatever materials I chose, and wanted me to improvise grooves on it. Being a part of the recording process with Trent, Atticus Ross, and producer Alan Moulder was an amazing view of the creation of a Nine Inch Nails album.  I also loved seeing footage of “Ghosts 19” which I helped with, performed live in concert as well on the Lights In The Sky Tour.
3 – With Trent Reznor and Amanda Palmer you have worked with 2 of the strongest personalities in music, have you ever had a clash of personalities with someone that has caused problems in your working relationship?

There’s a very interesting answer in that. When you use the word “personality” in terms of someone’s overall demeanour and personal likes and dislikes, I can get along with almost anyone very easily.  I do NOT suffer the selfish or the cruel any longer. I have no time for that. The great irony is that with Amanda, we had some drastic personality differences that eventually did lead to the breakup of the band, yet we shared the most fundamental qualities of our strong work ethic in bringing our band to the world.  The amount that Amanda and I cared about our band and seeing move forward and grow was so satisfying and helped give us the thrust to achieve our dreams.  So in a strange turn of fate, I actually get along on a personal basis better with other band mates, yet constantly seem to hit a wall with people who are unwilling to commit the level of time and energy that feels productive and positive to me and that has been THE issue that has led to me leaving many bands I’ve been in.
I don’t enjoy the feeling of simply idling with a creative project. I feel so fortunate that I get to do this for living, there’s nothing else I would rather do. But, when I encounter apathy or indifference to something I feel so passionate about, that energy begins to feel toxic to me and I need to move on.  I can say that although I went through many ups and downs, I’m glad I never sacrificed my vision because that is what now landed me with being a part of Violent Femmes.  The Femmes are back on the touring circuit in 2014 and looking forward to more things down the road.  I’ve fallen into total despair several times over the years when long stretches of time seem to portend my whole musical life falling apart, and then out of nowhere something amazing happens.  I’ve learned to embrace that when you really commit to your calling, no matter how terrifying or elating it can be.  It’s who I am and what I want to be, so I’m here to experience the whole ride.
4 – After witnessing the raw power and camaraderie of the Dresden Dolls, live at Reading 2006, do you miss it?

I just always enjoy playing Dresden Dolls shows and love touring when we’re able to, I can’t say that I “miss it” or “don’t miss it”, it will always be a part of me and I’m thrilled to do it when the chance arises. Fortunately, at the same time, I’m totally at home with Violent Femmes and feel totally connected to the band on stage.
5 – What are the lowest and highest points of your career so far?

The high points for me are always when I’ve felt a certain group momentum taking place. The early days of the Dresden Dolls with our community around The Cloud Club in Boston and everyone pitching in at shows and on projects together, and on later tours when you feel the massive energy of the audience everywhere you go and that people are feeling uplifted by your music.  There’s a great sense of shared triumph in that with everyone that’s pitched in to be a part of it.  Touring is huge for me as well; the 2005 Nine Inch Nails tour, The 2007 True Colors Tour, this  last Australian Violent Femmes tour, they have all been incredibly special times for me personally.

6 – You’ve been heavily involved in humanitarian work through your music, how did that start and how rewarding do you find it?

In 2011, I was invited to be a part of SOUND CENTRAL, the first rock festival in Kabul, Afghanistan, which included bands from all over the Middle East and Central Asia, and be presenting workshops for Afghan rock musicians to learn and share ideas.  It goes without saying that there were tremendous safety issues involved, not just because the Taliban strictly forbids that kind of music but also the musicians there had been threatened numerous times. But I thought it was a very compelling and courageous move for these musicians to take and I was interested. As ludicrous as it sounds in hindsight, I felt at the time that I booked my flight that the festival organizers would have things under control enough to, but it was not the case and I had to cancel the trip due to escalating violence in Kabul. The week I was supposed to be there, the head of Afghanistan's high peace council, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, has been killed and there were raids on the guest houses where I was supposed to be staying.  So I opted to do two online drum clinics via Skype instead and it was wonderful.

CBS News Video Link:

I really enjoyed speaking with all the men and women musicians and not only sharing my experiences and offering words of encouragement to them, but hearing their stories and experiences as well and hearing that music for them, is the main way they feel they can express their voices and who they are as individuals, and how important it is for us all to have that in our lives. I’ve done some similar outreach programs to kids in the LGBTQ community, to just straight up mentoring to people who’ve contacted me through email to ask advice about their music careers, and it all has the same satisfying effect for me. I love to see people embrace who they are and feel confident to find and creative way to express themselves through art.

7 – Being such an interactive person with your fans must sometimes have its drawbacks, what’s the strangest request you’ve ever had?
Brian:  To be totally honest, it’s not fans having strange requests, it’s having people sexually assault you in a public place when they're drunk or think they can do whatever they want to you and you won’t react that is the most difficult.  I’ve had both men and women grab my crotch while, try to stick their tongues in my mouth, and do all kinds of fucked up shit while I was trying to sign a CD or take a picture with them and in front of other kids right after the show waiting to meet and say hello.  It leaves you with the same disgusting feeling every time it happens, and you just have to address it.  But that fortunately really has only happened a few times.  Ninety nine percent of the fans I’ve engaged with are all very sweet and respectful, so I try not to let the bad apples it for the rest of the folks who just want to express their thanks or good wishes.  But it certainly gave me a whole new perspective on celebrities who choose to avoid contact with the public.  It’s not for everybody.
8 – If you could play with any other act, live or dead, who would it be and why?

Black Flag back in the early ‘80s. That music saved my life, still some of my favourite songs. That band was a force of nature.
9 – What would be a necessity for you on your dream tour bus?

I’m a food lover, so I would love to have a tricked-out kitchen and an inspired chef.
10 – What can we expect from Brian Viglione in the near future?

Plenty of music and touring with Violent Femmes!  We’re gearing up for a lot of work in the next few years and looking forward to hitting the road. I’ll still be recording, teaching, and kicking it in my beloved home of NYC when I get the chance!

Having been lucky enough to witness Brian and his musical power when drumming for the Dresden Dolls, it has been a massive honour to get him featured on the blog and having the chance to ask him a few questions. Whether it is a side project, a solo project or being a member in a band, one thing is for sure, the music world is a far better place for having Brian Viglione in it! Thanks for your time Brian and I look forward to following your next adventures soon!


Photo by Tina Hammersmark -  

Links for Brian Viglione

Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts: I-IV:
The World/Inferno Friendship Society:
Violent Femmes:

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