Brian Viglione interview – by Travis Marc and Zel Kaute – 2011.
If you’re into energetic, yet extremely musical drumming you simply have to check out Brian’s playing. Brian recently toured the U.K with one of his groups called Gentlemen & Assassins and was kind enough to give up some of his time to do an interview with us, here’s what he had to say…
Hi Brian – Tell us a bit about how you started drumming and what your initial reasons behind wanting to play the instrument were?
My father was a drummer when he was growing up and wanted to share his love of playing with me, so he got me started very young and bought me my first drum kit, when I was nine years old. Music became a very important part of my life and I began to see it as a very powerful outlet. Things were pretty stressful back then and it was really important release and form of self-expression. I was going through a lot of family turmoil and also lived in very small, poor and out in the country type surroundings. Music became my focus and source of fun around which everything in me was centered. There was a lot of hard drug use in my town and I knew that path was not for me, so I saw music as a way to create a life for myself doing something positive with my passion.
You’re renowned for having an energetic and eclectic drumming style, who or what would you list as your influences?
My father and Elvin Jones are my two biggest direct influences. My father took me to see Elvin perform live in Boston in 1990 and it made an incredible impact on me. I watched the “A Different Drummer” film about him until the tape wore out and was so inspired by the joy and freedom that flowed out from him as he played. Art Blakey, Tony Williams, and Dannie Richmond (Charles Mingus), and Bernard Purdie, are all very important to me as well.
The rock drummers that made the biggest lasting impression on me are Dave Grohl, Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Sim Cain (Rollins Band), and Chuck Biscuits (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), Mikkey Dee (Motörhead), Vinnie Paul (Pantera), and Dave Lombardo (Slayer). Even though the music is loud and furious, each has a unique style that gives their band a distinctive sound. My two favourite rock drummers who have a simpler style, but who I think integrate and express as one unit with their bands are Ralph Molina (Neil Young & Crazy Horse) and John Densmore (The Doors).
You’ve performed with numerous artists over the years, but currently play with the Dresden Dolls. In addition to drumming for the group, you recorded guitar and bass on several of the Dresden Doll tracks. Tell us a bit about how you approach guitar playing being a drummer?
I started playing both guitar and bass at 13, so I try to approach writing in the studio or live playing with what would best compliment the song. That’s sort of like asking a turtle, “So how do you approach walking on land, being that you spend most of your time in the water?” Also, I am not technically “playing with The Dresden Dolls” these days. I was hoping that things were going to revive after we did our tour a few months ago in 2010, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. Life goes on, things change.
Your shows are extremely energetic, could you tell us if you have any specific warm up routines that you do before you perform?
I’ve noticed that I always perform better if I do some stretching and warm up my hands drumming before a show. Try to eat 2 hours before playing to cut down on burping, and stay away from drugs and shit that will distract you. Try to get a few minutes to clear your head and then hit stage ready to wail, so you can focus on the music.
You’re currently touring the U.K with your group ‘Gentlemen & Assassins, how’s it going?
The tour is going really well. It was a very spontaneous project, Elyas Khan, Sxip Shirey and I did an improv show together in Berlin last September and decided to try a full tour, call it Gentlemen & Assassins, and invite Martin Bisi on tour with us. So, I am playing drums in both Martin’s band and for Gentlemen & Assassins. There’s no album to promote, this is just for the fun of experimentation and to see how it goes.
What have been your highlights for you?
The highlights have been all the times in the countryside I’ve spent here. I got to go horseback riding in the Czech Republic and we spent some off-time on a mountaintop farm in Austria. Most of the time your just sitting in a van or a dark club, so I appreciate getting out into the fresh air and eating some home cooked food with friendly people. It’s also a nice group of people to travel with in these bands. There’s no bullshit, we’re all here for the same reasons, for a short time, so everyone is just relaxed and trying to enjoy it.
Can you offer our readers any advice on how to try and stay healthy while on the road?
Yep. Find out through experimentation where your limits are for sleep depravation, shitty gas station food, beer-intake, and playing and then straddle that line as carefully as possible. If possible, stay on the side of sanity. Unless you have a really long tour that is more than 7 months long. Then just let yourself go nuts, because you’re going to anyway. Have fun.
If for some reason you could no longer be a musician, what do you think you would do career wise?
I’d probably be one of those guys in a big fury mascot costume, who stands outside the car wash with the “50% OFF!” sign, or work at street festivals and get in trouble for doing weird dances and annoying the other vendors. I’m definitely not going to go work in a factory again, though. I’m getting’ in the dog suit.
Tell us briefly about the gear that you use? Also is there any piece of gear that you’d love to endorse but have not yet managed to secure?
Here’s a full list here for people who are interested in my gear, http://www.brianviglione.com/gear My current set up is a new Yamaha PHX kit in Garnet Fade finish, with “12, “16, and “18 toms, Paul Leim or John Robinson signature snares for live and recording. Zildjian cymbals; “15 hi-hats, “19 Hybrid Crash, “22 K Ride, “19 Hybrid China. Vic Firth AS-5A model drumsticks. Coated Remo Emperor heads on the toms, Emperor X on the snare, clear Ambassadors on the bottoms. I have a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender Telecaster that I play live, and a Fender P-Bass Special that I use when needed. I was fortunate to actually get picked up by the companies I wanted to work with several years ago, so I am covered. There’s nothing else that I need.
What’s next for Brian Viglione – where would you like to see yourself within the next three to five years?
Probably at the car wash in the dog suit
Do you have any hobbies that are not music related and if so what are they?
Nope. In fact, I don’t know anyone in my line of work has a non-music related “hobby”, unless their really rich or so bored with the music their making that they need a hobby to have something they enjoy doing. This is pretty much a life-style choice, not a 9-5 job that just stops at dinner time when you go home. If you’re not working, you’re falling behind. You just have to find the right balance for what you want out of life.
What do you feel has been the most important piece of drumming advice you have ever received and why, also who gave you this particular piece of advice?
Give it everything you’ve got
For more information on Brian or any of his projects please visit www.brianviglione.com