When Brian Viglione, drummer extraordinaire of Punk Cabaret wonders The Dresden Dolls went along to a release party for hardcore legends Black Flag, he had no idea he would be leaving with his future wife and new musical collaborator. But that’s exactly when his eyes fell on Russian musical prodigy Olya Viglione (who was tending bar that evening). They formed Scarlet Sails ‘an indie rock band with soul and attitude’ named after the 1923 book by Russian author Alexander Grin about true love and following your dreams – story that mirrors Olya’s journey in many ways. Rounded out by guitarist Mark Kohut and Jesse Krakow (since replaced by Ed Goldson) on bass, their debut album ‘Future From The Past’ is out now.
Brian, most of our readers will know you from Dresden Dolls. What have you been up to between then and forming Scarlet Sails?
It’s been a really wild ride, for sure. One that’s provided as many exciting adventures as it did total mental breakdowns, playing music through 28 countries, appearing on roughly 80 releases, working with Trent Reznor on the Grammy-nominated Ghosts I-IV album, touring and recording two albums with Violent Femmes. It really was an expansion of what my life was like with Dresden Dolls, but with far less stress and a greater sense of freedom. However, the single most discouraging factor throughout it all was encountering the difficulty in finding a band that shared the same work ethic, sense of purpose, or dedication. That really took me aback and was hard to adjust to, as I had gotten so used to the intense pace at which The Dolls had worked. I come from a very DIY ethic and realized that if I didn’t make things happen for myself, no one else was going to. However, I hit a wall in December of 2012 and learned one of the most important lessons in my life, which was to take my hands off the wheel and let things happen a bit more naturally, rather than bare down too hard. When I learned that, all these amazing opportunities started to present themselves in my life and I joined Violent Femmes, and met my wife all in a matter of about 3 months, and life changed drastically for the better. I’ve enjoyed the chance to play with so many great people in the past 10 years, and seen places in the world I’ve always dreamed of. I have no regrets about any of it. The best thing I chose to do was play with musicians whose art I really believed in and loved playing with. I became a better drummer and learned an incredible amount from those experiences that I use now every day.
Olya, the story of your life and your journey from Russia to America, is a fascinating one. How has this had an impact on both the lyrics and the sound of Scarlet Sails?
I’m writing my story as I go. Sometimes the songs talk about my experiences, sometimes they come to me as premonitions. Using a post-modernistic approach which feels most natural to me, I use a stream of consciousness to create parallel spaces within the words I’m putting down. They can tell a story from all the different points, colliding what’s going in my head at the moment, what my feelings are screaming out, and what my subconscious is telling me. It can be really cathartic and helps me get through some difficult times. I hope maybe once in a while, it can do the same for the listener. As for the sound, it’s a blend of all of us in Scarlet Sails. We are a multi-cultural entity, all from different backgrounds, and as we are diving deeper in working in our songs we are developing a language of our own, so I’m immensely excited for what the future holds for us as a band. I fell in love with New York in the first place because of its melting pot of cultures, and now we have one of our own, haha.
When did it become obvious that you wanted to do something musical together, was it something you talked about from the beginning?
Brian: As soon as I asked Olya about herself and she revealed to me that she was songwriter, I was already curious to hear her music with her classical background and that smoldering speaking voice she had. So she very kindly sent me four demos that she had made and I was really struck by them, and wanted to hear more. So after about four months of getting to know each other, we eventually made our way one night to a rehearsal studio in Time Square and played together and it was magic. However, since I was about to head off for a year of touring with Violent Femmes through 2014, we took it slow, rehearsing together and eventually forming Scarlet Sails in 2015 and released our debut EP in January 2016. Both Olya and I had dreamt to be in a creative partnership, and sharing our deep passion for music with a partner, so it winds up being incredibly fulfilling, rather than a complicating factor. It brings it all together.
Brian, how does working with your wife Olya differ from working with Amanda Palmer?
Let’s just say that one allows me to feel totally creatively unrestrained, while with the other I’m often left feeling the need to be physically restrained. Olya makes me feel as though I’ve slipped into a beautiful dream, and Amanda as though I’ve slipped on a banana peel.
How did Mark and Jesse become involved with the band?
Brian: I met them both separately playing with a New York David Bowie tribute band, Michael T and The Vanities, that Olya put me in contact with for a Rocky Horror Halloween show. Mark is just the perfect match for us as a player and a person. His spirit and creativity on the guitar just vibes perfectly with us and he joined in the summer of 2016 for our summer tour with Nina Diaz. Jesse has actually been replaced now by our wonderful new bassist, Ed Goldson, who came through Olya’s friend. Ed has played on some huge recordings by Jay-Z, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, but he just kills it in any style, he loves every kind of music and brings that passion into the group. The whole band just gets more dialled in the more we play together and it’s been great to build on the chemistry we have as we started writing new songs. It’s funny, but both Mark and Ed told us they had felt a little bit out to sea and unsure of where they were going in life with music and work, but joining the band has really given them something to focus on and put our hearts into. Olya and I feel the same. So, it goes deeper than even just chemistry, everyone is really putting their collective energy into it, it’s what I’ve always searched for.
You have a long and varied list of influences. If you could collaborate with one other artist who would it be?
Brian: Without question, Jim Henson, if he was alive.
Olya: There are so many amazing artists out there, it’s really hard to pick one. Jack White or Radiohead from the living, and Freddie Mercury or David Bowie from the dead.
Much like Dresden Dolls, Scarlet Sails have a very strong visual aspect. Was that a conscious decision or more an extension of your personalities?
Brian: That aesthetic is very much an extension of Olya’s vision for the band as a vehicle to claim your life like a pirate on the open seas, to go fearlessly after what your life calls you to be and be the captain of your own ship. I love it, although I find myself at odds with it sometimes, because I love to dress up for photoshoots, but when I play drums I like to be practically naked. So, we’ve struck a healthy balance of being dressed to the nines and well, nude.
Olya: Haha yes, it came about somewhat naturally. In Russia they say “your ship is going to sail according to how you name it” so that’s precisely what happened here. Scarlet Sails holds a strong visual within its name, but also opens up a whole new world of its own that has no limits. You can be whoever you want to be on our ship and go to whatever wonderlands, it’s all about exploring and living, experiences we create, and the love we share and spread to the world. It is strong, it is both light and dark. It is adventurous and romantic, like a good novel. But it is so much more thanks to the music. I remember sitting at a local bar once here on Broadway and striking a conversation with a stranger. He said, “I’m jealous of you”, and I asked why. He explained that he is a writer and that songwriters are one step closer to the truth because music has no boundaries. I somewhat agree. Thanks to the music and the multi-dimension it creates along with lyrics, there’s no end to the adventure. So that’s what we represent visually, whatever way you want to take it.
How has the tour been going? Has the reaction been positive? Is it fun being on the road together?
Brian: The Northeast run this past May was killer, and now we are heading out to do a West Coast tour July 28th – August 8th from L.A. to Seattle! Very positive reaction from people, and booking this West Coast run was fun because I went straight to our fans and Kickstarter Backers for suggestions for venues and bands to play with, so we linked up with all the right people and made some nice connections with new that I hope grow in the coming months. Olya and I love being on tour, it feels like the pay-off for all the work you put in sitting at the computer and rehearsing, we get to do what we love and play for people. Plus, it’s very hard to be apart for months on end when only one person is out on tour, so it feels complete.
The Dresden Dolls played in 2015 to support the release of ‘The Virginia Monologues’ for Record Store Day and then three live shows last year. Are there any plans to collaborate again?
Brian: We played three shows last summer 2016; a warm up show in Kingston, NY, then our two largest headlining concerts to date for 5,000 people each in Boston and the Coney Island Amphitheater. THAT was very moving to see how many people turned out for the shows, and I had a wonderful time playing them. The audiences were just so incredible and the energy was palpable. And yes, there are plans to do a bit of work together again soon which will be announced this summer, so keep your ears out for that. The main point for people to understand is that we have found the best way to keep The Dresden Dolls fun and fresh for us is to work in short, manageable bursts where we can be as potent with our time as possible, and give our very best to our fans, rather than burn out. If we can maintain the right balance, then The Dresden Dolls will continue. There are many other factors that people should know if they’re curious about the nuts and bolts of the situation- the band is still sort of in contractual limbo, as Roadrunner Records, to whom we signed in 2004 has been basically absorbed by Atlantic Records and there are many parts of our antiquated fourteen year old contract that need to be revised before the band can properly, legally record again. Also, there is the internal issue of having the proper team members to help us function at full capacity so things of importance don’t get handled in a sloppy, haphazard way. All of that said, The Dolls is something that I very much enjoy doing on occasion and will always feel proud of, but the joy of Scarlet Sails is what drives me currently and is my deepest source of inspiration. My life has finally struck the right balance and I feel more invigorated than ever. That’s something I want to flourish and channel into my work now and help others to feel the same in their lives.
And finally, what does the future hold for Scarlet Sails?
Brian: The future I envision holds a lot of happiness, a beautiful place to live and create, involving ourselves with lots of opportunities for travel and to play music, and people to share it with. We are focused on the moment, not to think there is some rush to get somewhere, but to make the most out of living each day that feels true to yourself, and by doing that which you love to do with clarity those things begin to manifest around you, often in ways you don’t expect, but leads you along the path you create for yourself. An undercurrent to this for all of us is to combat any voices within us that say, “I can’t. I’m trapped. This is just how things are” and break free from any of that bullshit programming. We have a lot to give, so going on the road provides a channel for that and working on new songs right now we’re feeling a particular type of creative inertia that’s resonating on a gut level for us. Also, our Kickstarter was a great way to involve our fans in the music videos which we want to continue, so we’re excited to bring new people into fold. The best place to do so is following us on Spotify and Instagram and keep coming out to support the shows. Music is what saved my life, so getting to be a part of that continuum for someone else is the most meaningful thing of all.
Olya: It’s all about the journey, so we want to create the most exciting experiences for ourselves and our fans, and expand our community of dreamers, doers, and believers. We are incredibly thankful for all who have been with us along for our ride so far and we can’t wait to tour, create more music, art and videos together, and welcome new faces and new places into our world.
Here’s a link to their album, Future From The Past, that was just released. Watch the official music video for “Boy You’re Wrong”.