Interview with Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls

Harvard Independent, MA
Nov 7 2004

Interview with Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls
An intimate look at punk.
By Justine Nagurney

With their eponymous debut album garnering national attention, and a
recent US tour hot on the heels of a European one, one might have
assumed that Amanda Palmer (piano, vocals) and Brian Viglione (drums)
of The Dresden Dolls had finally outgrown Boston. Then they go and
win “Best Local Act,” “Best Live Act,” and “Best Female Vocalist” in
the Phoenix’s Best Music Poll. To convince you, we even tracked down
the affable and articulate Viglione en route to South Carolina to
explain his cross-dressing, the real meaning of “punk cabaret,” and
why the duduk is “righteous.” Enjoy.

I: How has it been interacting with fans across the nation? Are you
seen as a novelty act or do people know your music?

BV: We get the same overwhelmingly positive and heartfelt response
wherever we go. Like last night, there were kids who were crying at
the show, hugging us. We dole out more hugs than Mr. Rogers. It is
pretty ridiculous at times, and pretty beautiful… and we are
traveling with a fantastic band from Boston, Count Zero, who we love
dearly…

I: I think that what makes your live show one of the best I have seen
in recent years is the element of theater, and I was wondering how
you saw that fitting into your music.

BV: It’s definitely an integral part of who we are as people. And the
music is really a vehicle to be able to express all those different
sides of us…Acting is something that has been with both of us since
we were little. We both love theatrics and getting dressed up in
costumes and makeup and playing with images. We were extremely
fortunate to have found in each other the ability to play around and
manipulate these looks and roles and to find that sort of central
duality that we are involved with….We used to just get up and play
in our street clothes and let the passion and energy speak for
itself. We’ve found that the passion and energy can still hold their
own without our being seen as pretentious in having a look. It’s only
an enhancement and not a crutch.

I: No, it seems completely organic. That’s what is so powerful.

BV: Yeah, absolutely. It’s great to see people turned on by that. We
are lucky that the climate right now is very conducive to playing
with image. Bands like Slipknot, Britney Spears, whatever, are all
very much into that kind of play. So for us, we’ve always seen this
look as a neutral, traditional kind of look. We perform wearing suits
and striped stockings, which we see as a timeless, classic
look….People ask us, “How do you feel about kids coming to the
shows dressed up as the two of you?” Well, if that is a starting
point, then so be it. But we hope that it carries on beyond the
Robert Smith phenomenon of everyone coming in white face and big hair
and the same kind of makeup. We hope that kids really take this and
run with it to their own punk shows, their own creative outlets. It’s
more of an idea and a spirit than a look that needs to be copied.

I: Your music is characterized as “punk cabaret.” Do you think having
this terminology that people aren’t necessarily familiar with has
helped you?

BV: Absolutely. We saw that as an empowering move, to label our own
music before the press did…. We said, it’s definitely punk in the
spirit and energy of it, as well as the rebelliousness of saying that
this is absolutely our own thing that sprung from pure energy and
ambition. There is no conforming to any preconception…A really fun
aspect of the show is that people come and say, “Okay, I see a girl
on piano and this guy drummer in a suit and I know what this is going
to be,” and then, by the end of the show, these people say, “God, I
had no fucking idea.” The cabaret aspect is there in the very
intimate atmosphere, the intimate connection with the audience, and
the very vulnerable open lyrics. We hope for the audience to have the
same sort of release that we are afforded ourselves as performers.
That’s very much what cabaret was: to hold up this mirror for people
to take a look at their own lives, you know, through parody or satire
or drama or comedy or whatever, and that is something that we
definitely hope to provide for our audience as well. Joni Mitchell
said she felt that in recent times there have been a severe lack of
role models for young performers to try and emulate or glean ideas
from for direction and I sort of agree. I definitely have found
myself looking back for inspiration to these jazz drummers from the
1940s and 1950s, and performers like Billie Holliday, Louie
Armstrong. We definitely have a lot of inspiration from that kind of
dedication to art and the delivery of the performance.

I: Is there a role for politics in your art?

BV: Hopefully it’s again that we can challenge people to think for
themselves…. I think that is the greatest thing that an artist can
offer the public: the chance to challenge your preconceptions and
perspective…

I: [rambling question about creative energy, influences, and
lynchpins]

BV: I have been listening to a lot of weird world music, a lot of
jazz stuff recently.

I: Like what?

BV: Well there is this amazing group of gypsy musicians who put out a
CD called “Taras de haĂŻdouks.” and another one called “Armenian
Lullabies” which is beautiful stuff, all sort of traditional
lullabies from Armenia with the duduk. It’s totally
righteous….Another great woman called Iva Bittova who’s got a
record called “Bile Inferno.” And so that stuff, mood-wise, has
absolutely influenced the stuff I play…And Amanda keeps me in touch
with the newer stuff, like The Decemberists…we have a lot of
different stuff.

I: I know you guys are working on a new album. Do you see it as going
in more of a rock kind of direction?

BV: There is always a natural sort of mix of moods. The last record
had “Coin-Operated Boy” and “Miss Me,” and this record may have
“Amsterdam” and “Pierre.” There is a lot of driving material on this
record…. Sean Slade is a great Boston rock producer and has worked
with bands like Dinosaur Jr and the Pixies and Radiohead and Hole, so
he has a real handle on what we are trying to do and I think we are
going to really try and harness the energy from the live show….It
is going to be very stripped-down, only drums and piano and just
really to keep straight on record what we do live.

I: I’ll look forward to hearing the new stuff on Saturday.

BV: We have some surprises planned. It should be cool.

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