Far removed from my usual stomping ground of Glasgow (and occasionally Edinburgh), I visited Stoke to see The Virginmarys play an undeniably brilliant show. Tour manager, Alixe, lets me into the venue, the Sugarmill and I’m led up a dark staircase onto a balcony overlooking the venue. As he goes ahead to check the guys are good to go, I watch the hub of activity below me in the small club. Thankfully I’m not claustrophobic.
Alixe invites me into a dark lounge where Ally and Matt are hanging out. Matt instantly introduces himself to me, shaking my hand “I’m sure I know you from somewhere” and I explain probably at a show closer to home. Ally pipes up from across the room “Hey, man!” he enthuses, grinning. We grab a couple of seats, casually chatting before getting underway to chat past, present and future of the band.
Thanks to Alixe, the band’s tour manager for setting us up with the opportunity, Garry Urwin for the brilliant shot of the band as they performed that night. And lastly, the Official Virginmarys Fan Community who suggested some amazing questions! If you like the band, join one of the nicest groups of people you’ll have the pleasure of knowing.
It’s been quite some time since you played the UK, how does it feel?
Ally: I’m quite nervous but really excited at the same time. Talking about the Fan Community, Nicole’s came in from the States.
Yeah, that’s crazy!
Ally: Yeah, it is crazy! [laughs] It’s mental!
Matt: It really is, man but amazing, isn’t it? Quite an astounding thing, really.
Ally: Yeah, we’ve got fans who have travelled from Ireland to see the shows quite often. We’d just found out that Nicole had flown over to see those guys in Ireland first and then we got a message saying “without your band, we wouldn’t be here”. They’re getting on really well [her and Rachel – another of the group’s admins], like family and it’s just incredible how that can work but amazing at the same time.
You’re playing two isolated dates, tonight and London in a couple of weeks. Was there any particular reason for this as opposed to a full tour or even short four-date tour?
Matt: I think one of the main things was, we did that tour last year and we haven’t done anything since. We wanted to do something for the fans, who haven’t seen us for a while and they’ve been incredibly patient waiting for this new stuff. So we thought it’d be nice to do a couple of shows to say “Thanks for waiting” and play a couple of new tunes.
Ally: I think after doing such a massive one at the Ritz [Manchester] last time and we’ve not really released anything. The next time we play Manchester, we wanted there to be a single or an album out there. The Sugarmill’s a great venue, though. We wanted to play as many times as possible but it’s difficult with the agents when you’ve not really got anything to be on the road for.
You’ve been working on a new album; can you tell us anything about it?
Matt: It’s great! [laughs] Gil Norton produced it and got the best out of us. I think it’s sounding amazing, it’s definitely sounding like a progression from last time. I wouldn’t say it’s a carbon copy of King of Conflict by any stretch.
Ally: Yeah, what we’ve heard from people who are part of the team think it’s a lot different. People seemed to be quite surprised by what they’re hearing which I think is a really cool thing. To me, it doesn’t sound so different because it’s still us and we were there playing those songs for a couple of years.
Matt: Yeah, true.
Ally: But it’s a different flavour but I like to be that type of band, rather than, as much as I like and respect them, AC/DC.
I heard from someone in an official capacity the album is due for release in [blank]. Is that true?
Ally: I think at this moment in time, things keep getting moved. The campaign’s starting to roll out. It’s like “We’ll bring out “Into Dust” here and we’ll bring out another song here”. Different people are saying different things. I’m not sure when the label will announce. I’m not sure it’ll be officially announced until later on, I don’t know.
Matt: We don’t really know as Ally was saying, what those guys want to do and how they want to play it. We don’t want to rush it out and it gets missed, you know? It needs to be brought out at the right time. Maybe there’s truth in it!
And Gil Norton produced it. What was it like recording with him?
Ally: Very thorough! We did King of Conflict mainly live and in the same room and this was recording things separately. He was man-managing each member at separate times. It’s a lot different compared to how we recorded before.
Matt: Yeah, it is. But definitely as I said before, he got the best out of us and I don’t think any of us could have played any harder or worked any harder with him.
How do you put songs together? Is it lyrics then music or music then lyrics or do they just come together organically?
Ally: They can come from lyrics if you’re on a tour bus or walking around and you write something down on your phone. There’s some kind of rhythm in it and you write something around it but it tends to come from an idea and you can sense how something’s going to fell and can take it to the practice room and you all jam on it. Maybe half of them work, half of them don’t and the best ones will appear on the albums and demos and the other ones get put aside to the subs bench. [laughs]
Onto the Fan Community’s questions…
In your opinion, what makes a good song?
Ally: I think it’s a vibe, believability. I think it’s got to have a feeling that you get from it.
Matt: Yeah. Without sounding big-headed, there’s plenty of stuff we’ve done in rehearsals and roughly recorded and thought “That’s really good” and the more you’re playing it, like Ally said, that vibe isn’t there and it goes away. But as to what makes a good song, I think it’s personal preference.
Ally: It’s not necessarily formulaic. Put a verse on and the chorus lifts; that can be great and it does work but then you can get a song that’s just the same thing over and over. It’s just a feeling whether you can believe it, whether you can connect with it and if you feel what they’re singing about.
Matt: Maybe like circumstance and time and place. What could maybe not be a great song but you can transform it into a great song if you’re in the right frame of mind and you’re in the right circumstances.
The state of the music industry is never far from conversation in some shape or form. How do you feel about its current state?
Ally: We try and stay out of it as much as we can; we just stick to writing and playing as much as we can. We’re lucky in the respect we’ve got a good label who have left us to make an album, that we got to choose the producer we wanted. And they’ve backed it. There’s no question there’s a lot of sharks and people left disillusioned for various reasons. I think a lot of it is people making up roles to justify their position; when all you need is a good band and a good manager and label. Then you get all these other “hangers-on” somewhere along the way. Stuff like downloading – two ways of looking at it; it’s great that people can access the music they want to hear but it’s got to be made sure, somewhere along the line, the artist has enough money to get by and still do what they’re doing. If you don’t, you’re just going to have the quality of the music drop because they’re going to have get a day job rather than put all their time and effort into it. It’s a long-winded answer, that one. Sorry!
That’s alright! With announcements for next year’s summer festivals gearing up, can we expect to see you at any of them?
Matt: I hope so. Hopefully with the album coming out next year, I think that can only help push us back onto festivals. We all love doing them and it’s such a great time when you’re there.
Ally: I would say we will be there.
Matt: Yeah, I think there’s a good chance.
The footage of you playing Sonisphere in 2014 looked brilliant. I wanted to make the trip just for you guys and Iron Maiden.
Matt: I think that’s the first time we’ve been mentioned alongside Iron Maiden so thanks for that!
What gig have you been to that was “the one”? The one which still gives you goosebumps to this day.
Ally: I got a massive buzz from the Ritz gig that we did last year, just because it was the biggest attendance and closest to a hometown show. It was just the feeling in the room that night. It was really cool.
Matt: For me, there’s something about when we played in Japan. I think because you go that far and the people are there, singing your songs; that really got me. Don’t get me wrong, the Ritz was amazing, it was great playing the hometown crowd, it always will be. India as well, something about those two times at gigs we’ve played really touched me. Gigs I’ve been to…I really liked watching Queens of the Stone Age, that was like a bucket list thing. Foo Fighters, I saw them just before the third album came out and that was really cool.
What or who inspired you to take up music and make it your career?
Matt: Chicks, fast cars and the lifestyle…
Ally: [laughs] It probably did when you grow up. When you’re at school and you see what you consider to be rock stars. In your eyes they look really cool. Since I was born, I’ve always been played music by my dad so I’ve always had that shivers down my spine stuff where you think “If I can look cool and I can play the songs I want to and there’s loads of money and chicks and whatever…” Then you realise it’s not really like that. [laughs] But it’s just a passion for music, really.
Matt: For me, definitely, it wasn’t about the chicks and the fast cars, obviously! [laughs]
Ally: Yeah, it was! [laughs]
Matt: I never even use that word. I think for me, the chance to be able to play your own music and if people enjoy it, it’s a bonus; it’s such a thrill. It’s such a buzz that something you created, people really enjoy and when you hear some people say how much it means to them, something you’ve done; wow. That makes it worth carrying on, regardless of if you’re earning nothing or however much. The money should be out the window. It’s the fact you’re doing something for people. This one girl in America, we got a letter from her.
Ally: Yeah, she was going through a really tough time. It’s kind of life-saving stuff which just blows your mind. You always got the feeling “This is what I wanted to do, this is what I’m good at” and you can perfect your craft and you know how good something’s got to be. Apart from maybe money, there’s no desire for me to go into something I’m mediocre at just so it gives me a comfortable life because I’m just not going to be happy doing it. I’m going to feel like I didn’t do what I was supposed to.
You’ve seen quite a bit of the world as you’ve toured. Where was your favourite place and where would you like to play in future?
Ally: We loved touring in India, I love touring around the States. England is obviously incredible because this is home. But it doesn’t take too long…you can do it in two weeks. And we’ve done it so much.
Matt: Japan’s always good. I’d love to do Canada. Australia, too.
Ally: Definitely. Or Brazil, South America.
Matt: Our single did pretty well in Canada but we never got over there. Like Ally said, playing around the UK and Ireland is always amazing. We’ve hardly played in Ireland at all. The little we have played there; it always goes down really well.
Ally: So, everywhere, really. [laughs]
Matt: From the smallest island to the biggest.
Ally: Definitely! It’d be amazing to play more places in Scotland, we just tend to do Glasgow one year and then Edinburgh the next. We used to play Inverness quite a bit.
There’s so many venues in Glasgow, you can be at six different gigs in one night.
Ally: I love the vibe in Glasgow. It’s just so real.
And with the new album, can we expect tours on both sides of the Atlantic?
Ally: Without a shadow of a doubt.