Brian Viglione was first introduced to the drums the morning of December 25th, 1983. He was shown the fundamentals of technical development by his proud father, who after a few brief lessons, brought the kit upstairs to let his son experiment and play as he pleased. By mid-afternoon, after much experimentation, Brian found the most pleasurable of all sounds to be pulled from his new instrument, was the snapping reverberation which came from puncturing the bass drum head with sewing needles and paper clips.
Consequently, the Muppet drum set was soon discarded. A second attempt was made by his father two years later as Brian was entering the first grade. A pilgrimage to Daddy’s Junky Music was made and a shiny, blue-sparkle drum kit made its way back to Greenville. There it waited, patiently, for the years of G.I. Joe and BMX obsession to pass, before Brian would discover the release that would carry him through his adolescence.
The single defining point at which Rock’n’Roll sunk its fangs into this young boy’s soul could be traced back to the opening of Shaw’s Supermarket, in 1988. This unlikely haven of evil, hid deep in its shelves of Better Holmes & Gardens and Family Circus, the pages of Metal Edge, Circus, Hit Parader and RIP Magazine. All of them seething with “Live&Kickin’!” images of rock fury that set fire to Brian’s curiosity and already great love of music. He started to amass tapes by groups far more daring, it seemed to him, than “Weird Al” Yankovic or The Fat Boys. Or even Michael Jackson, for that matter. Soon, mix tapes filled with Kiss, Skid Row, Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Guns’n’Roses, Bon Jovi and (that’s as far as we’ll go), blared out of the boom box next to Brian and his drums as he would sit and play along.
“I remember cranking ‘Slippery When Wet’ at night, in the attic bedroom, playing my father’s drums. My legs were too short to reach the pedals if I sat, so I stood to use the bass drum. I would get completely lost in my ‘arena rock world’ and pretend I was playing to thousands of screaming fans. Playing along with those tapes was the most useful tool for me at that stage because I learned the patterns of the beats and how to keep steady time playing to those songs…”
1990, Brian entered the fifth grade and developed an invaluable friendship with another music-obsessed boy named Casey, who was learning guitar. The two, ecstatic at finding one another, jammed everyday after school, writing songs and honing their skills. A small dream came true the night they performed ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘I Remember You’ to the school auditorium. An encouraging teenager ran up to the stage and started to ‘head-bang’. It was a euphoria never before experienced.
The following spring also introduced a new depth to Brian’s life: vibrant, live music in the form of The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine.
“In between sets, my father told me to go up to him and shake his hand. He gave me a marker to get his autograph. I walked up and extended my eleven year old arm. I remember his hand completely engulfing mine. I asked if he would sign my jacket under the KISS patch on the right lapel. He took the marker from me with a big smile and said, ‘Lets see if there’s a place on the back!”. He signed his name clear across my shoulder blades. It was awesome. I watched the documentary, ‘A Different Drummer’ all the time and when it would finish, I would run to my room and play. Elvin is a great inspiration to me and I savor and learn so much every time I see him perform.”
my pop: “he was always a very solid drummer”al coe
Another exciting opportunity was to watch and meet the late Tony Williams in 1993. “The power and clarity that he played with absolutely blows me away. I’m most drawn to powerful, expressive players like Art Blakey, Jo Jones, Elvin, Tony, Jack DeJonette, and Buddy Rich. Musicians that can melt the drum set before your eyes, when they’re only using brushes. That kind of finesse and grace floors me.”
In January of 1996, Brian joined his first gigging band, Green Eggs and Ham. The group played shows at clubs around southern N.H. for about two years before disbanding. Over the last few years, Brian had become quite interested in hardcore and punk music as well as free jazz and was listening to gobs of Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Crass, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and put flyers up around Harvard Square, Cambridge to find like minded band mates. He joined up with several Arlington fellows to form Sic Semper Tyrannis. This group offered the perfect outlet of aggression and energy that was needed during the turbulent time of late teenager-dom, but not quite satisfying the musical direction that he wanted to pursue. With a chronic case of small town burn-out and determined to move to “the city”, he joined up with Boston band Asciento in summer of ’99. He took a detour from the drums to play bass in the group, whereupon he developed a most hostile relationship with the instrument, (most likely due to the lack of pounding and smashing he was accustomed to), however, trust was established and feelings were reconciled with the bass in the end.
photos by Tina Tietz
Founding member, Jason Celat, also took great care in guiding Brian through the as of yet untread musical waters of Nick Cave, The Birthday Party, Diamanda Galas, Swans, Miles Davis’ later work, PJ Harvey and the Gun Club. The group worked hard through the next two years and even gave a Halloween show, performing ‘Pornography’ by the Cure, in its entirety in full make up and light show. The group was a great experience, however, Brian felt a deep desire to return to his first love of drumming.The band went on hiatus for the month of November. During which time Brian was invited to a Halloween party by his friend and humanitarian figurehead, Shawn Setaro, where he met a young woman named Amanda Palmer.
“During one point in the evening, she sat down to play her songs on the piano. What came out of her when she started though…..when I saw how she was grimacing and POUNDING on the piano keys, when I listened to how the lyrics and the erie melodies she was evoking from the piano came flowing out onto everyone listening with these floods of emotion and angst, I thought, ‘Ohhh yeahhh, I have GOT to play music with this freak…’ It was such a tremendous feeling. I knew I had found some kind of kindred spirit. I feel an amazing connection with Amanda. I feel totally solid with her, on stage and as a friend. We trust and respect each other a great deal. It’s a very interesting thing, playing off only one other person. The amount of concentration it allows you to play off what they’re doing musically can allow for very intimate and dynamic interplay. I feel very fortunate to be in a situation with this person where I’m allowed to play as expressively as I can and the styles can shift between jazzy “saloon” type numbers, or bombastic, high energy songs, or more interpretive pieces that I can play with mallets. It’s always a real challenge and a great way to let your imagination go…”
my sis, unable to avoid her genetic preconditions, circa 2001
Brian Viglione has been the driving rhythmic force behind The Dresden Dolls for the last eight years. The band has traveled throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia to critical acclaim, as well as being handpicked to tour alongside Nine Inch Nails in 2005 and Cyndi Lauper in 2007. In December 2007, Brian was invited by Trent Reznor to collaborate on the new Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts: I-IV, where he appears on tracks 19 and 22. Brian has also been featured in several theatrical settings including the film score ensemble for, Neovoxer, by director Michael Pope, and starred in The Onion Cellar, a stage production hosted by The American Repertory Theater.
In 2008, Viglione gave a series of drum clinics at several schools around New England including Harvard University, and spoke to his audience about his approach to drumming, performance, and encouraging the development of self-expression on the drum kit. Also a multi-instrumentalist, Brian plays guitars, bass, keyboard, percussion, and sings on The Dresden Dolls recordings and in concert.
During live performance, Viglione is truly in his element. His highly energetic, musical, and dynamic approach to the drums is always focused on how to compliment the other musicians in the group while deepening the energy of the songs. His strong, eclectic, whisper-to-roar style stems from his deepest influences of classic punk and metal acts ala Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Slayer, and SWANS, and also a deep alignment with innovative and powerful jazz drummers like Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, and Art Blakey. At age eleven, Brian was first exposed to the passionate and emotive playing of Elvin Jones while seated in the first row at a concert in Boston, which left an indelible impression. Since then, the ideals of using the instrument to express a unique voice, listen attentively, and perform with power, sensitivity, and showmanship, have been the core foundation of Viglione’s strengths as a drummer.
From May 2008 – November 2009, Brian was the band leader and drummer for Brooklyn’s punk-orchestra, The WORLD/INFERNO Friendship Society, touring in 16 countries and recording a new studio album with the Dresden Dolls production team of Sean Slade, Paul Q. Kolderie, Adam Taylor, and Benny Grotto. He also starred in the band’s theatrical production, Addicted To Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s 20th Century, in the US, Canada, Netherlands, and Finland. Viglione’s final performance with the group was a sold-out performance at The Grand Ball Room, NYC, for the annual HALLOWMAS 2009 gala.
During this period, Brian also produced two albums, first for New York chanteuse, Emilyn Brodsky (Greatest Tits, 2008), and later for the classic dark-wave act, Black Tape For A Blue Girl (10 Neurotics, 2009), with founding member, Sam Rosenthal. Viglione has appeared on 30 albums since 2008, most notably, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV, which was nominated for two Grammy Awards, under the categories Best Rock Instrumental performance for the track “34 Ghosts IV”, and Best Boxed Set or Limited Edition Package and sold over 750,000 copies.
In 2010, Viglione released his latest hard-hitting album titled, “Face Of The Sun”, which he produced and co-wrote with guitarist Ron Arra. The songs for FACE OF THE SUN were not composed in a conventional way, but rather written over a series of live drum improvisations. In order to evoke different moods and textures, Ron would describe a mood or specific imagery and Brian would improvise a drum piece with this concept in mind, with Ron accompanying on guitar. The result is a uniquely heavy mix of melody and sheer sonic brute force, echoing The Melvins, Slayer, Ministry, and Faith No More.
The album is available digitally via Bandcamp and will be featured on his website, http://www.brianviglione.com/
Photo: Jeff Wasilko
INSPIRATIONS AND GUIDING FORCES:
Papa Jo Jones
Big Sid Catlett