Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Divides: An Interview with Ally Dickaty of The Virginmarys

I've been listening to The Virginmarys for a while now.  I first heard them via the kick ass song below, which I've given heavy rotation to when I'm at the gym, and well, everywhere, actually.

That was the song "Portrait Of Red" off of the band's 2013 album (and their first full length album, coincidentally) King Of Conflict.  If you don't want to burn off some extra calories at the gym or at least in the bedroom after hearing that song, I'm not sure what would get you going.

When Fran asked me if I wanted to interview Ally, the lead singer and guitarist of The Virginmarys, all I needed to know was where to sign.  It's a great gig when you're a music blogger to do interviews but it's a sweet bonus when you get to interview a band you're already a huge fan of.

I was given a phone number to call with an access code.  It was 11:40 a.m. my time. Ally was already on the line, finishing up another interview when I rang in.  Here's how it went down.

Stephanie:  It's 5:40 p.m. there in the UK right now.  Have you been doing interviews all day?

Ally Dickaty of The Virginmarys:  For the last hour I've been doing it but it's cool. It's absolutely freezing here in the UK.  It's been snowing.  It's terrible outside, it's so cold.

So what is your view right now or do I want to know?

I'm looking at a disused church actually. I'm at the drummer's house, Danny's in Macclesfield. So I'm in his bedroom at the minute.  Looking down on the street, what you can see is like a church with a clock in the distance.

The band just completed a tour of the US West Coast, opening for Shinedown.  What are some differences between performing for the UK crowd versus the US crowd?

America is so huge!  The people and the vibes change from state to state really, as well as the scenery and the whole vibe of the place. I don't think there's a world of difference between the UK audiences and the US audiences. Whenever we play the US, everyone's up for a great time. Our accents, as well as where we come from, actually does us more of a favor in the US than it's ever done in the UK.

Those accents are chick magnets!  You had about 30 songs going into the studio and you whittled that down to 12 for the new album Divides.  What happened to the other 18?  Do you put those on hold for maybe a better time and place?  Is there any hope to see daylight for some of those songs in the future?

I would definitely hope so. Some of them we consider to be just as strong as the other ones. We're even playing some of them live and kind of upset a couple of fans because they're like, "Where did this one go?"  You know, they were already loving the song before we started recording the album. Surely at some point we have to record all of these songs that never made it to the album but I think you used to get, a few years ago, you used to get kind of B-side albums, didn't you?

Yes!  B side albums are some of my favorites.  

Oh, is it?

Deftones have a rarities and B-side album.  I fall asleep to it most nights.  That makes it sound incredibly boring but it's not.  

I've never even heard it.

I love to see that softer side of a band I already love.  Which brings me to the Stripped album you guys did.  I mean, I never would have thought that the song "Bang Bang Bang" could translate into a stripped down version but y'all did it.  As a fan, I can still enjoy you three guys with the same songs and lyrics that I love but in a toned down version when I'm in a quieter mood.  I know you write everything acoustically in the first place so that explains how it all fits so well into Stripped

Yeah, but you know what I love?  Creating this stuff and you've got the lyrics there and the general basics of the song and then you just kind of start jamming out on your acoustic guitar. The song's already written so you just kind of do these things, experiment with it.  I think "Bang Bang Bang" turned out really cool.

It's very hard for me to like an entire album, start to finish, but I've listened to Divides several times this past week and I don't want to skip any of it at all.  That's not a bunch of bullshit, either.

Thank you very much.

You're welcome.  Back to touring with Shinedown. Brent Smith, the lead singer, has turned into a fitness fanatic, really into working out and everything right now. Did he make you guys workout with him?

No, he didn't. Luckily enough. None of us are really into that side of it.  He and the rest of the band were really incredible. It was a massive privilege for us to tour the West Coast with them. It's just great to be around a band that's really smashing it year after year and they're really nice guys.

On some of your songs, your scream goes primal.  I think that communicates more sometimes than lyrics, a really well delivered and placed scream.  How do you take care of your voice, especially with the tour dates racking up?

Never had trouble.  I tend to be able to get away with it, as long as it's got the emotion.

Oh, it's got plenty of emotion.  You do it very well.  

Since getting signed, I think before the first big tour in America, our label, Wind-Up, took me to a singing coach a couple of times just for little exercises that I could do.  That was really interesting but I think a lot of it is psychological as well. If you believe that, you can kind of do it.

I've always wondered about the sad songs in a band's catalog and how hard it is to perform those over and over again.  Is there a song - you don't have to name it if it's too personal - that kicks you in the gut every time you perform it?  Or is it therapeutic?

Not so much. It almost becomes something different when you perform it and you step into that performer role. It's almost like you become a different person, if that makes sense, and you kind of put it to bed when you come offstage. So it tends to be more heart wrenching when you have first written it. It's therapeutic to kind of get it out there and then you end up just performing the song better.  Writing is one of the best things.

I love the video of you on the band's Facebook page with the piano backstage, singing "Motherless Land".

That was in Reno, I think. It was in some casino that we were playing with Shinedown.  There was a big grand piano backstage.  It was similar to our Stripped album.  Pick out the song and kind of got to riffing about on it and just filmed.

The lyrics to "Motherless Land" really got me.  "We grew up with the fear of God and made guilty of the things we're not."  That gave me chills the first time I heard it. My dad was a preacher so I was raised very strictly.  Where did that lyric come from for you?

I was christened Methodist.  Every time that we went to school, it was the Lord's prayer and it was Bible teachings. I've kind of still got this fear of going to Hell even though I'm not religious. I kind of believe that everything happens in the present moment but that shaped me really, growing up with that.

It's a real thing. The fear of God.

Yeah. The rest of the West was really like that and I got to grow up with that.  It just becomes part of you even though I don't necessarily believe it. It's something that stays with you.

It does.  "Push The Pedal" could not have been a better opener for Divides and then you ended it with "Living In My Peace", which couldn't have been a better closer, in my opinion. Does song order just kind of fall into place or is it a hard thought out process?

I never write something thinking "I need an opener" but there's certain ones that just leap out and you think it will be amazing as an opener. Same thing as thinking "This is going to be the last track."  I don't think "Living in My Peace" could be anywhere else on the album really and make sense. I love the idea of albums kind of taking you on a journey and almost like the Dark Side of The Moon, the album is actually like a piece of art in itself. It's not just a collection of singles, it's kind of a journey from as soon as you press play to as soon as it ends. I know it's not really exactly the same with the times we're living in with downloads.  I'm still from that time where you buy the album and then play it from start to finish, if you know what I mean.  I think it's important to take time on placing these songs and taking you on this journey. It's the same as a live performance, really, how you put songs into a set.

And you still have to have that flow when you're coming up with the setlist for a show but pulling material from more than one album.

Yeah it's still got to make sense. You know, like the journey.

Okay, we're winding down. What is the weirdest thing that's ever been thrown at you onstage, besides the basic bra or strange pair of panties?  Or has there ever been anything thrown at you onstage? And if not, you need to come here to Birmingham, Alabama so I can correct that.

I don't think there's been anything particularly that strange that's been thrown to us.  We need to come to Alabama, don't we?

Yeah, so then the next time a reporter asks you that same question, you can reply, "Well, actually this strange blog lady from Alabama threw (fill in the blank) onstage at us one time..." We can work that out.

What type of lines are we thinking of throwing on the stage?

I'm open to any possibility.  Bras are cliche at this point so I'd have to do better than that.  We can work on it.  I'd better get back on track. We're big on Top Ten Lists at the blog.  What have you guys been listening to a lot on the tour bus?

There's not all that much modern music that we listen to. I listen to a lot of hip-hop.  Killer Mike has done a lot of work with Bernie Sanders, like rally and support.  I like a group called Run The Jewels, a band called Slothrust that we checked out in Brooklyn when we were up there. They were really cool. We're always on the hunt for new bands.

Is it the lyrics that draw you to hip-hop?  By nature, it's very lyric driven.

Yeah and it's kind of like the conviction and the word play. It's not so much all of the mainstream stuff but like Public Enemy.  It's like a calling for people to come to their senses and just fight. It seems more likely to talk about what's going on in society really than rock music is at the minute, I think. You have a lot of bands from the '60s and '70s, when it wouldn't have been unusual for rock bands to be singing politically about what's going on, against war, and it just seems to be kind of lost now. There's no Bob Dylan, there's no current Neil Young.  I think I kind of get more of that from the hip-hop side of things.

I hear a lot of Social Distortion in your new single "Into Dust", particularly their song "I Was Wrong".  I'm not sure if it's your voice or the message.  Am I crazy?

I like Social Distortion.  White Light, White Heat, White Trash, I really like but then that's kind of really honest music, you know.  

My last question is my traditional interview question. Well, I've actually only asked one other band this question but asking two bands makes it a tradition now.  Who in the band of you three guys, Danny, Matt, or you spend the most time on hair styling before a show?

I think that would be Danny.

Danny, really?  You have a lot of hair!  I've seen the pictures. 

I'm the one on the phone, though, so I get to choose someone else.

Thank you so much for your time, Ally.  I really love the new album.  You guys did an incredible job. 

Thank you very much!  We'll get in touch. I'm on Facebook. Anyway, get in touch on that and then next time we play down at ...

Birmingham, Alabama!  I'll be the one throwing (fill in the blank) onstage at you guys.

We were given early access to the new album here at the blog and I've been listening to it for a couple weeks now.  Divides is one of those albums I'll play over and over again.  I already know it will make it into my Top Ten Album List for 2016 and I daresay, as much as I'm listening to it right now, it will be my most listened to album of the year.  From start to finish, it's incredibly good. Here's their newest single "Into Dust".

Thank you to Wind-Up Records and Ally Dicakty of The Virginmarys for the interview.  It was a pleasure talking to Ally and I can't wait for the rest of you to hear this album!  Be on the lookout for my full review of the album coming up soon.  In the meantime, Divides is available for purchase today. Buy on iTunes or stream on Apple Music.  It will be available everywhere else on May 6th.  

'Till next time, y'all!


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