British hard rock outfit The Virginmarys recently released their electrifying sophomore album, Divides.

Subsequently, the band has been on the road the best part of this year, undertaking tours across both North America and the UK. The Virginmarys have also made a whole raft of festival appearances which will culminate with the band performing at the prestigious Reading and Leeds Festivals later this summer.

National Rock Review recently caught up with the band at their headline show at the O2 Academy in Newcastle to talk about their latest offering, working with Gil Norton and their experience at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London.


NRR: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it.
You’ve been out on the road quite a lot recently, it looks like you’ve been hitting pretty much everywhere this year. You did a U.S. tour in March, Camden Crawl a couple of weeks back, you had your album launch shows, and you started your headline tour last night in Glasgow. How have the shows been going so far?
Danny: Yeah, it’s all been really good. We started in March with the American stuff with Shinedown, which was really, really cool to get back over there and sort of play with them and stuff. It was an interesting one because we weren’t sure how well we would go down with their crowd because they are a different type of rock to us, but it was brilliant. It’s probably the best support tour we’ve ever done really in my opinion.
Then yeah like you say, the album came out like a month ago, and we did two small warm up shows which were really, really cool, all sold out. Yeah, just on to this one now. So far everything has been great. The biggest thing for us has been the reaction to the album; it’s very different to the first one, but so far it’s all been really well received.
NRR: Obviously you played some shows in the U.S. What was the response like there because it’s such a big market and it’s a very difficult market to break, and it’s also a very expensive market to break?
Matt: I think it’s like Dan said you know, playing with Shinedown we weren’t sure how well we would go with them and their style of music and also their fans, they are very passionate. But it was really good man; we got a really good response from everybody. They seem a little bit more aware of liking something that’s maybe not particularly popular you know what I mean. They were quite happy to have a good time rather than if it’s not being played on Radio 1, it doesn’t mean it’s not cool.
Yeah, it was really good, and it seemed to go really well. When we did the tour, after the gigs when we were doing the merch and stuff, we were there for two hours usually at a time meeting people. There were queues of people who wanted to come and say hello.
Ally: I think it’s a similar thing to England as well in that the people that do like you, we pick up these really hardcore loyal fans, even from the Shinedown tour people that just, they saw us and then they were changing their work routine and kind of followed us around the country. The girls Nicole and Linette, who run the street team and the fan community, they are from America also. It’s like a similar vibe like we are filling some void almost that people aren’t getting from other places.
Matt: Hands across the pond.
NRR: So obviously you recently released your new album Divides, and I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about it and the inspiration behind the album?
Ally: Just all the shit that is going on you know, like now it seems to have got worse and worse and worse, especially now. The album was done before this EU referendum. It’s almost like people don’t want to say what they think, you know like well I think should we stay or I think ….I don’t know there’s just so many issues of like the inequalities, and poverty and all sorts of bad shit that’s not really to do with every day working, honest people. I think the media and government are responsible for dividing and conquering, and I don’t think people understand quite how much power they have, especially if they unite.
You feel it at festivals, something special happens when a big group of people gets together, it feels like you could change the world. So yeah I mean it’s just inspired from the environment that we’ve been living around for the past three or four years.
NRR: I know that you worked with Gil Norton on this album. Obviously, he has worked with everyone including The Pixies, and The Foo Fighters, his list of credits is pretty endless. I was just wondering what was it like working with him and what did he bring to the table?
Danny: Yeah, he was really cool. I mean for this album we sort of demoed a few tracks with other people and it wasn’t quite working. Our label just said write down a load of producers that you would love to work with, so we just did what every band would do and go through their favorite records.
Gil was a name that was in the top three for all three of us. So yeah the stuff was sent off to him, and he came back straight away and asked to hear more stuff. So we sent him more stuff, he loved it, and he asked for Skype call and stuff.
Yeah, it was weird really to hear someone like him, he had like a big A4 pad, and he had written like A4 notes on every single song. It was like fucking hell man, and he really loved it and I thought what he brought to it was very different to how we had worked before.
I worked with him quite individually on the drum tracks and stuff. He certainly from my perspective he got the best performance he could have gotten. There were times where I thought I had done the perfect performance, and he was like nah, you know we will do it again and again and again and again.
Ally: Yeah, he wasn’t really interested in having the other band members around. If he was working with Matt or Danny you know he was getting the best performance out of them; he definitely took charge. He did loads of pre-production, a big part of his technique is to strip everything down and then go in so you all know what you know, you don’t do any of it in the studio. He’s just yeah another level.
NRR: Obviously your shows have got a lot of raw energy, and it seems like you’ve really captured that. I was just wondering how did you approach capturing that energy on the album?
Danny: I think we always want it to be like that don’t we? I think ultimately that’s what we are best at bass, drums, guitar, and like you say play like our lives depend on it. Yeah, we definitely wanted to keep that about it. I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing.
Matt: I think it’s just something that comes across isn’t it. Like when we play, regardless of whether it’s live or in the studio or rehearsal, we play with you know passion and energy, we believe in it. So I think that it’s nice that it comes across, and it’s not like a kind of conscious effort to do that really, it’s just something that happens. Like Al said, Gil was kind of good at eeking that out a bit more from you I guess maybe.
Ally: It’s a completely different thing isn’t it like recording an album and playing live. Whenever we’ve done live recordings, it never quite captures that essence I don’t think. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s almost like doing a painting I think, like you almost capture it better, even though it’s not 100% exactly it. I don’t know if it’s more of a vibe than a feeling that needs to be received and captured on an audio recording, so it’s pretty difficult to do.
NRR: I just wondered if you were all in the room at the same time together when you recorded it or did you lay it down the individual tracks?
Danny: No we didn’t actually. On the first record we did, that’s what we went for, it was the three of us together, but on this record pretty much all of the drum tracks were recorded around midnight and two o’ clock in the morning. It was usually me in the studio, and like Gil and Danny the engineer. Then in the daytime, it was the rest of the boys and stuff.
When we started on the first day, we kind of recorded together and they were almost like the tracks to work off. So whenever I was recording, I had the boys in my head playing, but it was then that I was recording the tracks.
NRR: I know you just brought out a new video quite recently for “Motherless Land,” it’s a great video. Could you tell us a little bit about the song and the concept behind the video?
Ally: We got about fourteen different treatments from different directors. I think initially we’ve got a really good relationship with our label, and they were looking at doing this video you know, what do you think, what’s the song about, would you like to see these things captured?
The song is really, it’s like a kind of couple that goes on the run. It’s really just a comment of stepping out of society and yeah just living off the grid really, sick of turning on the TV and watching the world through the screen. So I had this idea of a couple maybe kind of a Bonnie and Clyde type vibe.
Yeah, out of all these different treatments there was a guy called Kyle who is the director, who had already done documentaries on the train hopping sub-culture and it just seemed to fit really, really well. We were like blown away by the result; it’s an incredible video.
NRR: Where do you find the inspiration for your songwriting?
Ally: I don’t man, you listen to music all of the time and it’s a feeling, it’s a vibe. It’s like kind of I was into the blues, and that’s like almost therapeutic isn’t it? Like getting treated like dirt and having an outlet to ….you don’t have to be treated like dirt. It’s just an expression, it’s an art, pick an instrument up and see what happens.
NRR: I noticed on your Facebook page, that you recently did a session at Abbey Road. I was just wondering how did that opportunity come about and what was that experience like for you?
Danny: I’m not really sure how it came about actually.
Ally: I was from the label Spinefarm wasn’t it, UDTV. They do something with Universal.
Danny: I think we’ve met the girls before who present it and produce it at the Classic Rock Awards when we got the breakthrough award thing.
Ally: It was amazing for me being in that place. Watching the documentaries you know Pink Floyd and hearing all these stories of having just tape everywhere from all the samples for Dark Side. Studio Two with The Beatles and the steps up to the control room. I don’t know it was quite eerie almost I thought, walking around and you could almost feel stuff that had been there. Yeah, I had a great experience there.
Danny: Yeah, same for me man. I mean growing up as a big Beatles fan to you know listen to your parent’s records, The Beatles are the ones that stuck with me. To go to Abbey Road was really cool.
My dad actually came along because he heard we were going, so he was like can I come. We were winding him up saying he had to have an official job, so he was the official photographer. He was shitting himself, thinking you know how to work the camera. But yeah it was cool man, it was really good.
NRR: I’ve seen lots of people try to describe your sound. It’s been referred to as hard rock with punk commentary, but I was just wondering if you could choose a few words yourself, how would you best describe it?
Matt: I think Fizzy.
Danny: Yeah, I like that it’s definitely Fizzy.
Ally: You’ve got to say it’s rock, but there’s just so much going on. I think there’s like a song behind everything. It’s just not like a jam and I think because we’ve all listened to stuff from blues and Sixties onwards. You are gonna hear the likes of The Doors pop up. Like I’ve heard kind of Jim Morrison being said for my voice, Jim Morrison on acid, which was fucking great.
But then if you like The Doors and then you like The Sex Pistols as well and The Clash and then you kind of like The Fall and that type of delivery. But then you are into hip hop and listen to that kind of social commentary in the lyrics. But then you kind of grew up around that kind of Brit Pop when that was kicking off and then there is the revival kind of punk like Rancid. It kind of makes sense if you listen to our records I think.
Danny: If I had to pick it would just be honest, energetic rock.
Ally: We need to come up with something don’t we.
NRR: You need a strapline.
Danny: It doesn’t work though because we had the first album and everybody just immediately were like it’s a blues-rock album, which I don’t think it is. There are songs on there like “Dead Man’s Shoes” and “Just A Ride”.
Ally: Yeah, there’s blues on it, isn’t there.
Danny: Yeah, there’s a couple of tracks. Then on this album it’s like we are a punk band.
Matt: People instantly aim to pigeon hole you don’t they. Whatever you can do, it’s a lot easier for everybody if they can do that.
NRR: I think record companies like to do it because then they feel comfortable knowing what you are so that they can market you in a particular way.
Matt: Fucking right, everybody does man. So it’s nice that you can’t do that with us.
Danny: It seems like big rock bands listen to us and think fucking hell, this is really fresh.
Matt: That’s what it should be called “Big Rock.”
Danny: “Fresh Rock” (laughing).
Ally: Then you get people because we are a bit of a crossover, you get people more on the indie side and they will listen to it and think oh it’s rock. I’ve heard it before and they’ve probably never listened to all that many rock bands, do you know what I mean. I get that impression anyway.
NRR: Obviously you’ve got some festivals coming up as well, I noticed you’ve just been announced for main stage at Leeds Festival and Stone Free Festival this weekend. How do you go about approaching a show like that?
Danny: It almost feels like it’s all kind of just starting really. We did the first album which was three years ago and then we did a load of touring in America and Japan and stuff. Then it just feels like the last eighteen months before the album came out, it was spent demoing these new songs, trying different producers, you know not necessarily gigging so much. Whereas I think ultimately with us lot our best asset is playing live you know.
So to me, it feels like it’s just kind of started again really. We are still trying to feel around what is gonna work and what isn’t gonna work, but I would have thought for probably Leeds and Reading we will be thinking what are we going to be doing. The Stone Free Festival, we will pretty much be cherry picking a little bit of this set, won’t we, I would have thought. I think we are only going to get 45 minutes aren’t we.
Ally: It’s a huge thing for us to be on the main stage for one of the biggest festivals, I know we can fucking do it, definitely. You just go into it the same as any other gig really, but with that, you’ve always got that in the back of your head that the stage is probably the size of Old Trafford. I don’t know, just to kind of remember to keep close to each other I think because I just don’t think it works if I’m stood here and Matt’s kind of way beyond. I think it’s gonna translate, but we will step up and do it.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year?
Danny: I don’t know, it’s just a load of touring isn’t it. We are planning to go back to America in July, and then come back for Leeds and Reading and do some more in the UK. I think it’s probably gonna be a load of pond hopping between America and England, but it will be just flat out gigging really.
Ally: Yeah, more kind of singles and videos and what you would expect I would think and obviously always writing and playing you know. We don’t want to leave such a gap between, we just kind of finish the touring and then come in with like album three rather than there was a bit of a gap this time.
NRR: That’s great, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us.

 

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About The Author

Adam Kennedy is an experienced music photographer based in northeast England. He has been shooting concerts for several years, predominantly with the band Vintage Trouble. In 2013, he was one of their tour photographers, covering the UK and Ireland tour including the headline shows and as opening act for The Who. As an accomplished concert photographer, Adam's work has been featured in print such as, Classic Rock Blues Magazine, Guitarist Magazine, Blues in Britain magazine, broadcast on the MDA Telethon on ABC Television in the US, used in billboard advertising for Renaissance Hotels in the US, and featured online via music blogs such as Uber Rock and Guitar Planet. He is also the official photographer at Newcastle Rock and Blues Club.

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