When I called Brian Viglione, drummer for the Dresden Dolls I was surprised by his jubilant nature. He had just finished watching a live video of Black Sabbath recorded that one special night when Judas Priest singer Rob Halford stepped in for an ailing Ozzy Osborne. Celebrating the moment, Viglione took the opportunity to reenact several of the songs in both Halford and Osborneís styles. We both shared a good laugh at what could only have been a rather sublime moment in rock history.
One might find it surprising that Viglione is such an immense fan of Black Sabbath. That is unless you know of the Dresden Dolls. Their music is quirky and rarely conforms to a single mold. Yet the underlying energy is what most often betrays the Dolls passion for all forms of music. A passion they eagerly await to share with all who will listen.
Suddenly Viglione breaks from the story of the video and enters into the business of our interview.
Viglione: But yes, anyway the tour has been going great. The whole Nine Inch Nails band and crew have been awesome. Weíve gotten a much better response from the audience than we expected. We are meeting a lot of great people and weíve had a lot of crossover between our fans. Trent gave us the nod as far as all of our Brigade people coming in with their crazy performances. Itís been a very nice tour with these guys in the sense that we have really been opened up to a different level of touring with a great band and great people, without any sort of uncomfortable situations.
DaBelly: When it comes to touring, itís difficult to suggest that there is a contemporary to the Dresden Dolls simply because your style. Yet the Nine Inch Nails seems to be an incredible fit.
Viglione: Absolutely. We have a unique ability to kind of gap and mold into all kinds of situations. But the expectation level from this crowd, after waiting years to see Nine Inch Nails again, really set the fire under our ass to go out and play as hard as we can every night. Itís a nice sort of challenge to be met with. It keeps you on your toes and keeps the performance engaging. There are a lot of people just dying for the moment when Trent takes the stage. And to sit through us is like, you know, theyíre just like "God this better be good or Iím going to be pissed." So knowing that really makes us try very hard.
DaBelly: Iím sure that weíve all been to the concert where the opening act is great in its own regard, but the fans really arenít there to see them. That offers a significant challenge to any band.
Viglione: All we can say to the fans that scream out "Fuck you!" and "Get off the stage!" is thanks for not injuring us. And thanks for the respect and the patience to just hold on for about 45 minutes until weíre done. But those people are most certainly in the minority and usually get told to shut the fuck up pretty quick by those standing around them. Itís nice to have a very receptive, intelligent and exciting crowd to play to every night.
DaBelly: When it comes to your music, this is a difficult question for me to ask, your style is very eclectic. Stylistically how did you get from wherever you started to where you are today?
Viglione: Itís basically incorporating all of the influences that we had growing up and that continue to this day into our music that gives it character. We donít discriminate by genre or public opinion. If there is something about a piece of music or a cover song or a certain style that we want to play and is enjoyable for us, we follow through. Weíre also very impulsive with this band. When it feels right we just go, we donít really question it. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and punk and metal. And Amanda grew up listening to singer/songwriters and the Beatles and Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Cave. And so when we got together we kind of married all those textures and ideas. And with our theatrical backgrounds too, it gave us yet another vehicle to explore. We got dressed up into these outfits about a year after playing or maybe eight months or so. We sort of looked at each other and said, "Wow, why didnít we think of this before?" It was a very natural thing. We got dressed up for this burlesque show we were playing with. And we walked away the end of the night saying, "God this was the perfect context." It fit like a glove. It was just enough visual enhancements for the audience to keep it interesting. And for us, it allowed us to slip just a little more into our creative outlets rather than struggling with what type of stage clothes we should wear. Having the makeup and costume allowed us to get into the music a little more easily.
DaBelly: While researching this interview I tried to homogenize The Dresden Dolls into a one or two word description and perhaps the most accurate moniker I found is contrary. There seems to be a real yin-yang to your band in the sense of finding harmony in opposition. Youíre cabaret and youíre punk. Your job is to perform, yet your fans also come to the show and perform for you. There is a huge contrast in what you do, yet it all works.
Viglione: A part of our initial mission was to create an environment around us rather than to just be the focal point. By incorporating the audience, whether they choose to dress up and participate or whether they choose to come along for the ride. Itís the mix of all of that that makes it gratifying for the band and the audience. That goes back to the days of Amandaís personal salons that she used to show in Boston where she had multimedia and all sorts of performances going on. We sort of took that to the rock clubs and larger theaters and it works. It helps you to feel a little bit more engaged and a little more at home. Itís more than just saying we went out to a club and saw a few bands and that was it.
DaBelly: It would seem that because of the style of your performance, you would require a level of intimacy in the size of venue you play. How has your show transitioned into the mid-sized venues that you are playing on this tour?
Viglione: For us right now, we have reached a comfort level playing in front of 2,500 to 3,500 people that we didnít have a year ago. Itís part of the experience to make your energy translate to any venue and I think weíve had enough experience where we can be effective. This tour has been a real way to jump head first into that. Getting what might be considered a tough crowd to win over and to be able to play very beautiful rooms has given us a chance to grow into that in a nice way. We noticed that our stage show, as simple as it is, still translates very well. And as we keep going and the shows start getting bigger we start to have better tours weíll find ways to make sure that even people in the back of the room are having just as good of a time as those in front.
DaBelly: You spoke a moment ago about winning over the crowd. Being a former musician myself, I understand that you donít want to walk into a venue and try to be Nine Inch Nails and expect to win over the crowd. You have to be completely different. You have to be yourself. And obviously you have been successful at that.
Viglione: Absolutely. Thatís something that we hope for every band out there is that they find the self-confidence that makes them truly stand apart, that they really learn to develop their own character. People always ask us "How did you guys get to be so drastically different and unique?" We just sort of said fuck that to everything else. This is who we are. And thatís really what makes a great, true sort of band. It allows a true heartfelt experience rather than saying, "Well these guys are just trying to be the next big thing." We are often told that we are so passionate. Thatís because there is no act, no front to what we do. Weíre not trying to fit into any mold. I think people expect that from musicians these days. Well that doesnít really work or feel as good as the real thing.
DaBelly: You know I can offer you an argument. I believe that there are a lot of bands out there that are committed to standing their ground. They are in their garages declaring, "We are who we are! When we get on stage weíre going to wear tinfoil hats and yellow t-shirts and if the fans donít get it, well fuck them!" The unfortunate fact is that they never take the time to do the important things like perfect their craft. I think that too many bands believe all they need is a gimmick and a lucky break.
Viglione: Well, youíre right about that. If bands put too much emphasis on just being different or developing an act and ignoring the substance of the songs, that will definitely lead you down a path of frustration. Youíll wonder why youíve never been accepted by a wider audience. Well maybe you need to spend a little more time focusing on the music too. Thatís why weíve never focused a significant on our image. Once we found it we said, "All right thatís it, weíre done!" And it was cool. I mean lipstick and white face, great!
DaBelly: Yes but from the outside it looks like years developing this image.
Viglione: Well then thatís just a blessing for us!
DaBelly: So tell me about the Brigade. When did that begin?
Viglione: Thatís something, like I said, began back at Amandaís house parties. But I guess you could say the first official night was at our CD release party back in 2003. That was basically us saying that we want to make this kind of an event. It was a very special night for Amanda and I and we wanted to open the invitation to let these people know that we were ready to celebrate, that we were proud of our record. We really appreciated all the support we received from the Boston community and what better way to do it than to throw a ball. So we said, anyone who is willing to dress up and wants to do some crazy performance or installation, you are welcome. And that was really the beginning of getting people involved at a Dresden Doll show. Then it spread like wildfire across the country. We know have a guy in San Francisco who coordinates these kids worldwide for us. They write to him and explain their performance and he takes care of everything. Itís been great and weíve met a lot of very interesting people all over the world.
DaBelly: What has been the most unusual performance?
Viglione: Weíve seen people with all sorts of like, flaming stilts and bizarre sort of homespun things. We had accordion players and people dressed in "Alice in Wonderland" costumes. Itís not sensationalistic by any sense. Weíre not running a circus show. Itís not like itís a freak parade where there is all these people dangling all these things off of body parts. Itís just a nice flare to the night over all. People like to get dressed up in costumes and it adds a nice touch here and there.
DaBelly: I noticed in several interviews that Amanda has commented that she gets pigeonholed for being a female piano player that writes intelligent lyrics for intelligent songs. It struck me that itís not as much a pigeonhole as much as it is a light in the distance, it either blinds you or shows you the way. It seems over the years that she has embraced her perceived image. I just thought it rather strange that given the eclectic nature of the Dresden Dolls that you could be pigeonholed in any way.
Viglione: You might think that, but anything that seems different at first glance or seems to be a carbon copy, itís very easy to bridge an association with it. When we were first seeking out a publicist and a record label we got panned by everyone because they all said, "No, we donít work with goth bands." And I think that when people hear that the Dresden Dolls is fronted by a woman who plays piano, the only real association that comes to mind right now is Tori Amos and most of pop culture is slightly put off by her for different reasons. Most rockers say that canít relate to that. But because Amanda has a much different approach, when people see what we're about they understand that itís much different than that. This has nothing to do with gender or her chosen instrument. It has everything to do with her cerebral and emotional intent in the music.
DaBelly: And I can tell you, that as a person who reviews CDs and does a lot of interviews, it is easy to become jaded. Itís easy to write a band off before giving them a fair shake. Fortunately, I think your music stands far enough apart from the mainstream that it allows you to be listened to completely.
Viglione: Thanks. But again it was never a particular framework or concept that Amanda and I bonded over and decided to start this band. It was much more a deep personal connection to emotion in music and the personal fulfillment we wanted to give people. We just happen to play piano and drums in a way that compliments each other. I think thatís what gave us out unique sound. It wasnít that we said, "Well, we want to do cabaret/rock with this sort of punk flavor to it." It was just this is who we are and wow isnít it great that we overlap in these areas. Letís see if other people like it too. And people are drawn to it for many different reasons. Some associate with the look. Some associate with the theatrical flare to our performance. Some people like the raw energy when we play Girl Anachronism or War Pigs. That pure energy is just as important to the Dresden Dolls as the intimate relating of a lifeís tale. There is a lot ot pick from if your open to the experience.
DaBelly: You sort of stepped into my last question; I hope you can understand the spirit in which I ask it. I see youíre covering Black Sabbathís "War Pigs," what in the hell is wrong with you?
Viglione: You should be asking what the hell is right! Iím telling you, that song has been the single greatest bottled-in moment between us and new fans. It shows that we have a veryÖ I donít want to make this sound like itís the lowest common denominator, but when you can relate to a Black Sabbath song, that tells people that youíre not pretentious, that you are very much about a visceral rock and roll energy. And if you can pull it off, that earns people respect. We donít do it for kitsch factor, we do it that song because it rocks. Itís got a great political message to it and itís sung with heart. What rock fan hasnít been touched by Black Sabbath in their life? Itís a nice way to say we may look a little weird and play drums and piano but weíve got more in common than you think.
DaBelly: Any closing thoughts?
Viglione: We filmed our first live DVD in Boston in June. That should
be ready for release in September or October. We're touring in Europe and
are playing Fuji Rock in Japan. We are recording our next record in
September and that should be ready for release in early 2006. We have a
lot on our plate, but we are excited about getting out and touring and
seeing the people.
Check out the web site: http://www.dresdendolls.com/
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