Gene Simmons, a few years back said that rock ‘n’ roll was dead! More recently he still stands by that statement, but admits that it doesn’t mean it can’t make a comeback. I understand where he is coming from, but dude have you been living under a rock?
Across the North Atlantic Ocean in England, Macclesfield rockers, The Virginmarys, have been consistently releasing records and playing to the faithful for some ten years. Though I must admit I’ve probably been living under that same rock as Gene, when it comes to discovering some of the next wave of alternative rock bands that have something interesting to say. But thanks to a good friend living in London, she directed me to The Virginmarys’ latest EP Sitting Ducks, that seems to effortlessly build upon the strength and success of their previous work (see below), despite late last year, a former band member moving on and the band coming to an end of their record label contract.
Recently I caught up with frontman Ally Dickaty for a chat, buoyed and excited about the future and direction of the band. But beneath that excitement is also your not so typical rocker, whose sense of community spirit to help the plight of homeless in Manchester with the release of a charity Christmas single Don’t Let Go (You can download the song for free and you can donate to this worthy cause here) is as inspiring as anything The Virginmarys’ have released. To come to the point, it made talking to Dickaty, a pleasant experience. Here is some of what we talked about.
Does Self-producing your new EP Sitting Ducks feel liberating despite some of the trepidation you may have had during its recording?
It feels exciting and keeps us on our toes.
We know how good it has to be and we know that given enough time and experience we can get it better than ever.
This has been an important EP for us to do. Feels like the first step on an exciting and necessary journey.
I hate that most commercial radio stations ignore independent rock or alternative rock these days. How do you think you will overcome some of the limitations of becoming an Indie artist?
It’s all about belief, keep pushing and pushing, if it doesn’t happen, at least you fought the good fight.
Sadly commercial radio doesn’t take risks as the money has a strangle hold on it. Everyone is looking after their own position.
Its not what this band is about though, we’ve never written music to fit in with what is current because it makes a mockery of the art. I think this is how we’ve acquired our die hard fanbase.
There’s still so many out there who want something that resonates with them and music that runs a bit deeper than the sugar coated glitz and glamour of the current mainstream.
It’s fair to say I am very new to The Virginmarys’ music. But it didn’t take me long to appreciate the array of guitar work, thumbing drums and boisterous vocals on your albums King of Conflict and Divides. It seems to me your work ethic from your previous release carries on seamlessly on Sitting Ducks. Is that a fair assessment?
Ah thanks a lot.
Again we know what it has to be, there’s a bench mark set and we want to keep raising it higher and higher.
Tell me about some of the things that inspire you in how you approach writing for each album? Are songs really a collection of random social issues that affect or interest you?
It really depends what’s going on in my direct experience.
King Of Conflict was a lot about addiction whilst Divides was more a social commentary, when I stopped drinking I started looking around me a lot more and noticing the things that drive people to addiction in the first place.
The lyrics are always passion fuelled no matter what the content.
I try to involve a good message of love whenever and wherever I can.
The closing track on Sitting Ducks called Sleep evokes a range of emotions. Musically-speaking it builds and subsides to great effect and to be quite honest with you it stands as my favourite track on the EP. Can you elaborate how it came to life as a song? It seems to me to be an important part of where you guys are as a band right now?
The acoustic side of the band has always been popular and also important, it’s how I write the songs, so they’ll mostly always translate really well that way.
Sleep is about depression, insomnia and the feeling of hopelessness.
I’m very much into putting sad content into beautiful melodies and harmonies as it creates a heartbreaking quality. I always want the songs to have the biggest impact.
I have a friend in London who recently saw one of your show. (Same friend who introduced me to Sitting Ducks.) To paraphrase some of what she had to say about your show, words like energetic and driving come to mind. That said, what inspires you to put on a really good show for fans?
It’s so important, why are you there in the first place if not for it to mean something?
We love our fans and value any first time listeners, we want our music to be the difference.
Music is one of the most important things in life, second only to food, water and breath 😉
All right, time for one of those left field questions. Have you ever been compared to Greenday? How does that sit with you? And if not, what are some of the more flattering comparisons made about The Virginmarys?
I get the comparison with Billy Joe all the time, especially when I had black hair. I was hoping that when I went blond it would change but nope, haha.
I respect Green Day have survived the industry with still holding on to their political ideals and heart. Musically I don’t think we are much like them apart from the 3 piece punk influence, but I would love to tour with them. I bet they’re ace guys.
I’d say flattering comparisons are when people compare us to their favourite bands of old, this can vary loads as there’s so much going on in our music, I think it’s a spirit and ethos thing.
We both seem to share an appreciation for almost everything Neil Young does. He’s a bloodly genius! Tell me something surprising about your fondness for his body of work?
Neil Young is like the soundtrack to my earlier life, he is incredible and has been hugely important to my writing and what I aspire to.
I’m not sure I have anything surprising apart from that I really didn’t like him when I was young. Think it was the voice.
There’s definitely albums I have bought that I would steer clear of but that’s what’s so special about him, you don’t lose your love for him because of it, there’s such belief in what he does.
What are some of your favourite memories of other musicians that have influenced your life?
I think when I saw Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Reading Festival followed by the Flaming Lips after they had just released The Soft Bulletin, this was a really special night, kind of setting a bench mark in my head of how good something could get and how incredible performance can be.
Finally, what is the most amazing place you have played? Will we ever see you play some shows here in Melbourne in the not too distant future?
I would say the Olympia in Paris, such a beautiful venue and a great vibe there.
We’d love to come over and to Melbourne, we’ve never played anywhere in Australia and it’s somewhere we’ve always wanted to play!!
The Virginmarys’ latest EP Sitting Ducks is available via their merch store and iTunes.
You can connect with The Virginmarys via their Facebook page or twitter feed @thevirginmarys. You can also visit or contact The Virginmarys via their website. Watch them on You Tube.
Photo credit: The header image of The Virginmarys’ Ally Dickaty and Danny Dolan is courtesy of the band and ©copyright by photographer Alex Wright. It cannot be used without their expressed permission. I am not the uploader of You Tube clips embedded.
Great interview Robert. You always ask such thoughtful questions. I like The Virginmarys too, and I’m guessing it was Maria Savva who turned you onto them, as it was the same for me.