I had a chance to talk with Ally Dickaty, the lead singer/guitarist of The Virginmarys, a band from Macclesfield, England. We discussed writing and recording of their forthcoming album Divides, set to be released May 6, along with the meaning behind their newest single, Motherless Land. Ally shared what he feels is the band’s strongest quality and how they aren’t so much influenced by another band’s music but more so their passion. He shared his thoughts on success and some details of their set for the upcoming U.S. tour with Shinedown. He even included a mention of one of his favorite directors. I’ll give you a hint: classic movies from the 80’s, some of which just so happened to be filmed in and around the Chicago area. I can’t say I blame him as they are some of my personal favorites as well.
You recently announced the new album, Divides, will be available on May 6. You’ve chosen an interesting title. Can you tell me the back story on the name and how it ties in with the album cover?
It’s about living in society and the divides between money and where people are in their views. I think now more than ever there seems to be more divides being created with, I don’t know, there seems to be a big tense atmosphere at the minute with a lot of war on terror and it just feels like we’re in this world of divides between people and a lot of the songs on the album are kind of social commentary. So that’s where that comes from.
Interesting. Do you guys normally take a, not necessarily maybe a political view but more of a heavy interest in what’s going on in the rest of the world?
Not so much on the last album, there was maybe a little bit of that but certainly with this album, I think it’s difficult not to. I know over in the UK it feels like things, you know, sink so low. As soon as people do that, people start casting blame on different people and it just creates sides. I always write about what’s going on in my head, really, so living in today’s society it’s kind of apparent every day of my life, so I write that down.
Could you elaborate on what Motherless Land is about?
It’s kind of like a song about escape, I reckon from the view point of a couple of people escaping, from where they’re living, to live on their own and off the grid, I suppose, and they’re sick of fitting in to how society feels they should. They’re sick of seeing the world on the TV and escaping from everything they’ve ever known. Motherless Land is kind of like, I guess it’s a take on Mother Nature, how maybe it seems that it’s past the point where she can look after it anymore, you know, with destroying the planet, so it’s Motherless Land. And then “a couple of pills in the hand,” I guess it’s like, it’s a comment on drugs, whether they be prescription or recreational, it’s just people wanting to escape from what’s going on.
For me personally, because I’ve only heard the two songs you’ve released, I don’t know what it is about that song but musically and lyrically it’s just a really great song, so thank you for sharing that.
Thank you for the compliment.
Oh sure, you’re welcome. Musically, did you guys initially write the album together or did you each bring your own ideas and then get together and figure it, you know, how the songs would go?
No, it tends to be that I’ll write songs, a lot of the time on acoustic, and then I’ll take the tunes to the practice room, to the boys, and then see what’s working and what’s not, and then we demo them all down. We have maybe, about 30 songs, or 25-30 songs for this album and then we chose together with Gil Norton, who produced the album, chose the best, well not necessarily the best even, just the 12 songs that we thought would work and make the best album.
Now, did you record the album live as a group or in parts?
No, we did it separately this time with Gil. We started as a live, we recorded it live, but then kind of went over in this kind of production technique of Gil’s, so it was a different experience for us this time. We recorded King of Conflict live but this was a lot more raw.
Which recording process do you prefer?
I think there is a time and place for both really. This way, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I guess it gives you more control and you’ve got more time to do it separately but there’s something very beautiful about recording something live and it’s a moment in time. I preferred, I think this is the best work that we’ve ever done and we’re all about this album, we’re really pleased with it.
Well good. I’m really looking forward to hearing it. So far you’ve released two singles, Into Dust and Motherless Land. Do these two songs represent the overall sound of the album?
The two are quite different songs I think and the album is a little bit like that. There is an on-going theme of lyrical content, obviously, but there’s definitely light and shade and it’s a bit of a roller coaster ride from start to finish. I think fans can expect a lot more, as well as Motherless Land and Into Dust. There’s also other things going on.
Your first single Into Dust, you released two lyric videos, an official video and a live video. Will Motherless Land and future singles get the same treatment or was this just as a, “Hey, here’s our new song, listen to it and immerse yourself.”
I would hope they get a lyric video and a live video, there’s definitely, we’re definitely doing a video for the single. I would hope that there would be a lyric one as well and it’s always good to have the live stuff. It would be amazing to do a whole performance, you know the whole album live. That would be great.
You mean to post on YouTube or something like that?
Yeah, you know like a live DVD and whatnot. A whole performance would be great. I think we still kind of consider ourselves, well, it’s definitely one of our strong points, a live performance.
I would agree. With the ups and downs of the music industry, and I know this is only your second full length album but, how do you define success these days?
Well, personally I think it’s about being happy with the work that you do and being able to get by and being able to hold your head up. We’re never going to be one of the bands that writes music to what we think is current it’s just not ever how we’ve done things so you’ve just got to stay true to yourself and you pick up a lot of loyal fans that way. I don’t know a lot of people that consider success with money. It’s not really how I view things and as long as you can get by and still be an artist, and you’re happy with the work that you created, that’s success to me.
Very good. So you guys have recently started a Tracks of the Week playlist on Spotify and there’s a pretty wide variety of songs. Everything from Jefferson Airplane and Simon and Garfunkel to Wolf Alice, Iggy Pop, David Bowie and more. Are these bands that have had some sort of influence on you guys or just songs that you’re diggin’ this week?
It’s difficult to pinpoint because I believe the tracks that you’ve just named there, not to say that I wouldn’t listen to them, but I think they are from Matt [Rose, bass] and Danny [Dolan, drums]. It’s difficult to say what influences us. We’ll listen to a wide array of bands, I don’t know, when we go in and we play that’s just what comes out. We never kind of think, “Oh, the new Queens of the Stone Age record sounds good, let’s try and kind of replicate that,” it’s just, my voice doesn’t sound like anyone else and you try and kind of work, I’ve never really tried to impersonate anyone else and that’s kind of how I try to write as well. But then you can take a lot of influence from how much passion someone puts in, you know, like Nirvana. I think there’s probably some similarities there. Kurt Cobain’s vocals, there’s maybe a similar type I would go for but I’d never want to sound like Kurt Cobain’s accent or, I don’t know, it’s a difficult one to add. I don’t really know where the sounds come from but we just listen to shitloads of different music and then when we get together and jam stuff, what you listen to is the kind of sound that comes out.
Well, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.
(laughs) Thank you.
You’re getting ready to start a West coast tour in the U.S. opening for Shinedown. How long will your set be and will your focus be on new songs or an even combination from your last album, King of Conflict?
We’ve got the West coast with Shinedown. It’s going to be a mixture. There will be a lot off King of Conflict. It’s going to be about a 40 minute set. We’ll probably do about half and half.
The last time you were in the U.S., I remember reading about how you ran up the same steps as seen in the movie Rocky.
Once you’re back in the U.S., is there anything else on your wish list to see or do?
Well, if we go back to Philadelphia, I’ll be doing the same thing again, I think. What else do we want to do? We want to see more of the actual city. I know Chicago was one that, we played there a couple of times, but the venue that we played with Buckcherry wasn’t really near the center was it? A lot of the times when you play the cities you don’t really have time to walk around and see the sights. You’re holed up at the place because you’re kind of in and out. I don’t know. It would be amazing to see a lot more of Chicago and we’re all kind of, especially me and Dan, we really like the John Hughes films and they’re all shot in Chicago aren’t they, or they tend to be. Yeah, just generally to see more of the places that we tour, but it’s not always possible.
So you’re heading back to SXSW again in March. Are you expecting another crazy schedule?
I can’t see it being as hectic as we did last time. Actually I think it was about 14 different performances that we did over a few days, but stuff is getting booked in. Maybe 12, maybe it will be history repeats itself. I would hope that we would get a little bit more re-cooperating time in between.
Hopefully you can check out Austin.
Yeah, it will be great.
Alright, so after the dates in March, do you guys have any other tour in the works or what can we expect?
There are going to be festivals in the UK and Europe. We want to get out to the States here as much as we possibly can this year and not just do the West coast but do everywhere as much as we possibly can. We love touring over in the States. Hopefully these singles do really well and there’s that much demand that we’re going to be out time and again.
Well great. I look forward to a Chicago date and I just want to say thank you for taking the time to speak with me and best of luck with everything.
Pre-order Divides on iTunes here.
If you want to see The Virginmarys in the U.S. sometime this year, watch the videos below and then call your local radio station and request them! No, DEMAND to hear them over the airwaves!