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Story and live photo by Phil Bonyata
All others Publicity photos
Livewire's exclusive interview
with The Dresden Dolls' Brian Viglione
Livewire's "One on One"
Dec. 29, 2007
The Dresden Dolls have dug deeply into a most unlikely blend of alt-rock, self-inflicted catharsis and German cabaret. The brand of German cabaret that dripped decadent sexuality when the Weimar Republic was in power in the '20s (before the Third Reich put a stop to such free thinking). The name The Dresden Dolls acknowledges the terrible Allied fire bombings of Dresden, Germany during World War II and of other things just as fragile.
Brian Viglione, along with singer Amanda Palmer, form a duo that produces darkly theatrical music. Their avant garde stage makeup and bold performances illicit a different time - not one steeped in the past, but one seeking a place in the future.
Livewire: How did the marriage of alternative rock and 1920's German cabaret come to be?
Brian: Well, I think the influence is the ever pervasive spirit of innovation and creativity and excitement and community that is part of the underground art scene. I think that will forever continue to inspire generations of angry displaced teenagers. We found the most comfort or at least a kinship - we both love music and the kind of spirit of that time. The 1920s was this exciting crazy time - you know the age of invention, the jazz age. It was a great cultural age taking place then. That if anything is the kind of spirit that we're a part of and perpetuating. For people to be involved, to look at things in a new way, to be creative. That's the loose connection that we have, other then the fact that I'm a huge jazz fan and obviously admire the performers of that time. For me it was like "how do I want to dress onstage?" and I was like the 1920s with this sort of Duke Ellington style, but we've put our own kind of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" twist into that look.
Livewire: Are you a fan of The Dadaists and the school of Bauhaus?
Brian: For me, and probably Amanda as well, it was great that people were pushing buttons in past generations. I feel that we're part of a lineage of exciting and thinking people. Actually, we get a lot of questions thrown our way about gender and gender-play. I do a lot of this dressing in drag and there's loads of androgyny and quote me on this "I think the place that resonates most with Amanda and I is where art and music comes from - we as individuals want to share of ourselves to the world - no matter how conflicting those aspects may seem. Being aggressive or feminine is all about who we are and that's something that we always want to incorporate into the music."
Livewire: You seemed to have found quite an original concept for both your recorded music and highly theatrical live performances. How much did "being different" play into it?
Brian: The factor of quote / unquote "being different" actually comes down to being who we are rather than try to fit into some kind of pre-existing mold. We just embrace everything that makes us up inside and incorporate that into our music. I think everyone has the potential for great individuality and within that you see how similar we all are. That's the cool thing - everyone has their own unique way of expressing a very common emotion. That's kind of what we celebrate in the band, I think, especially with our fans and the amount they contribute to the album artwork or the paintings and the sculptures, you know baked goods (laughs) or whatever. Like bringing things to our shows and saying "here your music inspired me to do this in this form." And that's great - no matter if that's how they dress or any other kind of artistic thing. Or hopefully, it's an outlook on life and a level of respect with which we deal with each other. That, I think is the most important thing to Amanda and I. We feel blessed with the open mindedness and intelligence of our fan base and the people that we work with and that's something you might take for granted.
Livewire: Your name - The Dresden Dolls is said to be inspired by a song by the British punk band The Fall. What's the story behind that?
Brian: That's actually not really true (laughs). It was of the many references along the way. Amanda sort of came up with that title and concept. The song was perfectly fitting because of the juxtaposition of imagery - something like this delicate porcelain doll amid the bombings of Dresden. And we thought - this is cool. We're drawn to evocative imagery and stuff like that why we were attracted to that particular title. Slaughterhouse Five and Flowers in the Attic - books like that. We felt it was a great subtle reference to cross culture.
Livewire: The band's lyrics are rife with subject matter that many would find taboo in the music industry. (nightmarish stories on nazi sympathizers, first orgasms, sex changes). What muse is behind (lead singer's) Amanda (Palmer's) dark and challenging lyrics?
Brian: The lyrics are culled from personal experiences and points and things like that. Occasionally, we will write songs from the perspective of a character playing out a scenario that Amanda's gone through. She's really not a political writer as much as lyrics based on personal experience and what she's going through at the time.
Livewire: I love your second album, Yes, Virginia... but have to be honest, I haven't heard your first record.
Brian: You have to hear the first album, but before you listen - you have to just read the lyrics to the song "Coin-Operated Boy" and I will guarantee you that they will leave you with a much different impression then when you just listen to the song. One of the striking things about Amanda's songwriting is the way she puts very personal sentiment to her contrasting music. Not all of the time. The lyrics to "Coin-Operated Boy" are as much about loneliness and fear of intimacy and isolation, but the music it's wrapped in is ironic. A lot of people get the wrong idea they'll say "Hey 'Coin-Operated Boy' that's about this robot or about a dildo" or something like that, but it's about something much more stark and more real and more common.
Livewire: You released Yes, Virginia... in early 2006 to much critical acclaim. What was your reaction when you read a negative review?
Brian: Um... we weren't really surprised. We have always been met with mixed reviews. There are people who really understand and relate to what we do and there are people who see us as pretentious or a put on or schticky or they get put off by very superficial elements like the makeup or the stage show and they think it's this kind of White Stripes knockoff. You know chick singer and the drummer thing. But, hopefully the band achieves on the level where people can drop their preconceptions and take a moment to stop and listen and reflect on what they are coming into to contact with rather then cast judgment like so many jaded music listeners. You get so used to every type of label, genre box they put you in, but hopefully we have something in us that allows people that are skeptical to take a closer look. Universal acclaim is not what we're seeking.
Livewire: Would you say that Marilyn Manson is more shock than substance?
Brian: Um... Well definitely - that's because he chose such a severe visual and verbal tactic and granted there are obviously so many variables at play to a musician's career and what they want to achieve and how they go about achieving it. At the core - what Marilyn Manson did speak of was a good message, but fell on deaf ears to a lot of people with such an antagonistic approach, But, by the same token that also granted him a lot of attention. There are so many levels of intensity that you can get your point across. I think sometimes there is a real beauty in being subtle. Marilyn Manson is definitely articulate. He has a tremendous wit. I'm a really big fan of Henry Rollins - what he says in his music and his spoken word performances.
Livewire: I've always wanted to see Rollin's spoken word performance, but something always comes up...
Brian: (excited) Oh dude, do yourself a favor you'll be very happy you went!
Livewire: How far along are you on your new album?
Brian: Well, to be totally frank there is no real quote / unquote "new album." We have a plan to release a B-sides record from the Yes, Virginia sessions. We actually recorded two or three new songs to add on to that. We're actually taking a sort of definite hiatus at the moment. We actually won't see any new Dresden Dolls action until 2010 or 2011.
Livewire: Don't you fear losing your fan base by waiting so long for new material?
Brian: That's true, but we've always been consistent with the fact that we try to do what's right when we feel we're with the core level of our music. To force it in any other direction that doesn't feel natural is a disservice to the fans, to our performances and the music.
Livewire: Do you see a strong musical evolution with the Dresden Dolls in the coming years?
Brian: Revolution or evolution?
Livewire: Either one. (both laugh)
Brian: My hope for the evolution of The Dresden Dolls is that we hone and refine ourselves like the great performers that we admire. Refine the essence and get it more and more pure. More beautiful, more deliberate, more self aware and more tasteful, you know as performers and musicians and communicating that as eloquently as we can to our fan base. Yeah, we'll see where Amanda's mind takes us over the next few years.
Livewire: What other music would you suggest an ardent Dresden Dolls fan to check out?
Brian: Well, I'm listening to Mozart right at the moment and it's beautiful. I would highly recommend any Leonard Bernstein. He is one of my favorites ever. Nina Simone Feeling Good: The Very Best of Nina Simone is a great place to start. Definitely if you can catch Neil Young on tour right now - I just saw that show and it's absolutely wonderful. Oh, there is a beautiful record out by Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Oh yes, and two more bands that I'd like to tack on - people should definitely check out Sleepytime Gorilla Museum out of Oakland, California - they are absolutely wonderful! The Dresden Dolls have toured with them several times and they put on the most incredible, creative, unique, exciting live show that I've seen in a long time. I absolutely love them. They'll be on tour throughout the year so people should keep an eye out for them. They have an album called Of Natural History that's their second record. Another sort of sister band is Faun Fables and they're awesome.
Livewire: What film director would you choose to have "The Story of The Dresden Dolls" made?
Brian: (laughs loudly) Um...Penny Marshall - no just kidding. Actually, she's wonderful - "A League of Their Own" is one of my all time favorites ever. You know who I would probably go for is Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I love "Delicatessen." John Waters would do a great adaptation of our story as well.
Livewire: What do you crave more - the start of a Dresden Dolls tour or the end of it?
Brian: The start...I absolutely love being on the road! Touring is kind of what I build my life around (laughs). It's like the payoff for all of the hard work.
Livewire: When the time comes for future writers to chose a legacy for the Dresden Dolls - what do you hope that might be?
Brian: We'll probably donate our bodies to science. There'll be a stick in the ground saying "This spot is open for anyone else as The Dolls bodies have been donated to science, please feel free to plant a tree."