Home / Interview / Interview: Scarlet Sails – “Wow! Your songs sort of remind me of this David Bowie, Queen, T. Rex kind of style, in a way.”

Interview: Scarlet Sails – “Wow! Your songs sort of remind me of this David Bowie, Queen, T. Rex kind of style, in a way.”

Scarlet Sails embarked on their latest voyage with their new album Future From The Past and Music Existence was there to bear witness. The exceptional duo celebrated the album’s release in New York City’s The Bowery Electric, which has been a key component to the band’s history. The night musician Brian Viglione attended the “Barred For Life” book release party for Black Flag would change his life forever. It was there he met Olya Fomina, the classically-trained singer/pianist who was bartending at the venue that night. Now as Mr. and Mrs. Viglione, Scarlet Sails shared with us their story, their influences, what drives them as musicians, and the amazing experiences that has brought them to the future of their pasts.

ME: What was the creative process like for you guys while making Future From The Past?

Brian: Well it started with Olya’s collected songs, she’s always writing a new song it seems like. We basically started working on the material pretty soon after we put the EP out in January of 2016.

Olya: A lot of the those songs were already written during the past seven years. I started writing songs around when I first moved here in 2011, so I have like a catalogue. I have a lot of songs and it’s always a problem because we need to pick the right one. We started kind of jamming on them when we were on tour with Nina Diaz, we had a few favorites and then I wrote a couple more that fall. Then we started putting a setlist together with ten songs and then it became twelve and we accomplished everything.

Brian: Yeah we narrowed it down, it was just a matter of combing over stuff. We got the idea of what the lyrical arc and the idea of what the story was. Olya’s songs are very much a narrative of overcoming either your inner fears, or outside when people are shutting you down.

Olya: It was sort of about this whole journey I took upon myself once I decided to stay here. I didn’t really speak English, it was all completely different for me as I came over from Russia. There was this big change and how that affected me, struggled through some stuff but I came out on the other side. All the songs, they touch upon that.

ME: How did the album title Future From The Past come about?

Olya: I came up with that while we were in the studio. Because we were like, “How are we gonna…you know? What’s gonna be the title for the album?”  Sometimes what you do is take a song and that’s the title. But that was hard in this case because all the songs symbolized different things and we wanted to put it all together. So future from the past is sort of like the best way to kind of sum it all up.

Brian: It sort of in a way touched on the musical references. One of the first things I noticed was like, “Wow! Your songs sort of remind me of this David Bowie, Queen, T. Rex kind of style in a way.”  The chords that you’re using, harmonies, the song craft of it. It was not just meandering quiet laptop music or whatever. It seemed reminiscent of that style. Yet, there was this really fresh bend to it. It was a musical thing, but then it was also the story of the future from the past is now. When you’re your childhood self and you wonder ‘What’ll I be like when I’m this age?’ and stuff like that, well here we have arrived at that time. At that future moment you’ll always project and yet you’re sort of reflecting and learning from all the things you’ve gone through and hopefully you’re using that to create the life that you want right now. Not just going by in a daze.

ME: How do you feel that your style and music have evolved?

Olya: Well it was always me on the piano, there wasn’t a band set up. As a band I feel that we came from a place of me being singer/songwriter with a backing band to a full blown collaboration.

Brian: It was great, the personnel made a huge difference. Just one person on your team can make a huge impact in small ways and sometimes in stuff that you don’t even imagine.

Olya: Different vibes and feels, it shapes us. It’s a beautiful thing.

ME: Olya, could you describe the thoughts and emotions you felt when you decided to leave Moscow, with your new tattoo?

Olya: (Laughs) You know everything!

ME: Yeah! I did my research.

Olya: Awesome! Well, the thing is I came here on a summer program for students and it wasn’t a decision for me to leave Russia right away. I just came here to hang out, to learn English, and listen to some music. Then when I got here, (inhales deeply) and smelled this New York air I was like, ‘Wow! This is something really different’ but at the same time felt like home. I never ever felt anything like that ever in my life. This place I’ve never been to, I don’t speak the same language, I don’t quite understand what’s going on but I feel like I’m supposed to be here. It was like a true calling. It was really awesome I felt like I was doing something terrific with my life. At the same time it was scary and the culture shock, things are different here. It took a little bit of me adapting and adjusting to this rhythm but it was awesome.

ME: What was it like for you working with Jesse Malin?

Olya: It was awesome! It was good. I was actually bartending here [The Bowery Electric] and we became friends. One day he came to me and said, “You know my keyboard player can’t make it a SXSW gig. Do you think you could come with us and play the keyboard for me?” I said “Sure!” I went to classical music school but I never played in a rock band as a side man. It was very exciting and sort of a challenge for me but at the same time it was super cool. I was gonna be playing at SXSW and Slash, Sean Lennon, and Blondie, all those people are already there. It’s my first experience, it was mind blowing. In five days I played nine shows with him. Then I continued on a northeast tour, it was a great experience and I’m still really good friends with Jesse.

ME: Brian, what was the experience like for you working with Nine Inch Nails and Violent Femmes?

Brian: Oh crazy. The NIN experience was completely out of the blue. Really amazing. That was something that kind of came off the back of the Dresden Dolls touring with Nine Inch Nails in 2005. And one of the most exciting moments on that tour was when one of their roadies, Trevor, came to me and he’s like, “Man, I don’t know if you know this but like T-Dog is coming out and watching your set, like on the daily. He’s watching you. Jerome [Dillon] is starting to get nervous.” I was like “Get the fuck out of here!”  It was awesome and then sure enough one year later in September of 2006 I got a call from my manager, “So some people in the Nine Inch Nails camp are asking about your contact information.” One year after that in 2007 I get the email from Trent Reznor, “Hey so we’re doing a record in December. Alan Moulder and Adrian Belew are gonna come out and just mess around, do you wanna come out and see what happens? Just fuck around see if we get anything?” I was like ‘WHAT?! Of course I’ll go’ but trying to be cool about it.

It was great, we had a cool conversation on the phone and he said, “I really just wanna try and take the band in a different direction right now and get away from the angry guys smashing their guitars and more of a musical sweep. Compose different sections that could be interchangeable throughout the show.” The whole concept to me sounded really cool. It was sort of like collected soundscapes that they did. So I got out there to his house in Beverly Hills on December 6th or 7th and he was doing a lot of remodeling. I walk in the front door and there’s a living room with like a five-foot big screen tv, a video game setup, a couch and nothing else. Bags of groceries all around the thing and food in the bathtub and of course a backstage catering thing. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s like being on tour.’ There’s chips and hummus, the deli tray, the fruit bowl. So funny. Everybody kind of holed up.

Adrian had left right before I got there and laid down all this insane guitar stuff. I talked to Trent that night and asked ‘Why me? You’ve worked with all these people?’ He said, Dave Grohl is an amazing drummer but he told me ‘I’m only good doing four-four straight ahead stuff, I’m not into your weird odd times and stuff’. Josh Freese is really really great, does anything you tell him to but has a little bit of difficulty with doing sort of creative stuff, you have to come up with things. The original drummer was a phenomenal good friend but this and that…” So we just kinda went through and he said, “This is what I wanna try to get now, so tomorrow I’ll just have you build a drum kit out of whatever you want and we’ll just improvise at night and see what we get.” I came back the following morning and he goes, “Take the keys and go with Bret, you can rent whatever, buy whatever, just make a drum kit. We’ll record tonight.”

So I go to Home Depot and I scoured all around his house and got these water bottles and wood planks, giant metal trash cans, all this crazy shit from Home Depot and assembled this kit. They took two PZM microphones, flat mics on the walls and that was it. That night they gave me the headphones and said, “We’re gonna give you a tempo, just play whatever comes to your head. Try not to make it like a drum circle, feel free to do whatever. Just play to the click.” I was like this is nuts, what do you do when Trent Reznor says ‘Go boy, do your thing’? I thought ‘Ok, cool.’ So I laid down this kind of heavy groove, played for a couple of minutes on that. I came in and was like, (panting) “How was that?”, he said, “Sounds great. Loved the beat. Go do some more.” I finished up that, and he says, “Awesome. We’ll do some more tomorrow.” Then they sent me to the studio in S.I.R. and I just played around on the drum kit and they sent me home. Six months later you get the Ghosts record. It was incredible and listening to it all, watching Atticus Ross cut stuff together and edit, do the Nine Inch Nails thing was just outrageous. As a fan being there, not only have everybody be so cool but to be a part of that process, and what was a really interesting and kind of in a way a groundbreaking record for Nine Inch Nails, ‘cause they had never done that crowdfounding thing before. They did all these amazing packages and whatever. It was really special to be a part of. I’m happy with that.

The Violent Femmes similarly came along in a time where I was completely not expecting anything like that. Dresden Dolls had done a tour in Australia in 2012, we did a show with Brian Ritchie where we played the Femmes record all the way through. He seemed really pleased at the end of that and then May of 2013 I get a call saying, “Hey so me and Gordon [Gano] are coming to the city just to do a session are you around?” I was like ‘Yaaa! Like what do you mean just to kinda do a session?’ It turned out to be that they re-recorded like half of the first record. At the end of that day they shyly asked me if I would want to join the band. I was like, ‘Yeah! Definitely.” So it’s crazy. To keep very long story short it was amazing to be on the road with them and travel. We went to Greece, Australia, Europe, and all over the States. I put out two records with them and met a lot of wonderful people and had a blast playing those songs and writing and working with those guys. It was at that time I was ready to leave in December of 2015 basically. When we did that, Olya and I looked at each other on New Year’s day and went, ‘Alright, it’s on! Let’s do the thing.’ It was great and life has only gotten better. Being a part of your own original project is simply the most fulfilling thing, when you have the opportunity to cultivate the world around your band and your music, it’s the best.

ME: With such an intense chemistry shared between the both of you, how do you deal with creative differences and the possibility of too much similarity?

Brian: Either beer or open mindedness. Well Olya I will definitely cop and say has pushed me probably further. Olya is very much a fan of bands like Arctic Monkeys and stuff.

Olya: The Killers and like more pop.

Brian: I tend to like weirder stuff or heavier things, so she’s like we’ll try that beat like in the Killers’ song. I’m like, (groaning) ‘Really?’ and she’s like, “Shut up, trust me! Just shut up, play it, and trust me. It’ll be fine.” 

Olya: (Laughing) After two weeks he finally tries it.

Brian: I have a really great pattern, (while imitating a French accent)  ‘No! No I can not work with this! This is terrible!’ She’s like “No! Do it!” Then I do it and I’m like, ‘God, you know that was a great idea I had!’ Then she’ll be like, “I thought of it you dumb ass!”

Olya: That’s literally how it works with our creative differences.

Brian: But when you’re conscious and you know the patterns you just let it go.

Olya: I’m like, ‘Yeah, OK. I’ll just wait for two weeks and then he’ll see my way.’

Brian: I love that. I’ve come to realize through time that I’m totally open. I obviously have my instincts that have come through certain experience. But I love hearing where other people are coming from too. The biggest obstacle is language. Because sometimes when you try to describe something like how do you describe that cloud to somebody at the sunset? You can, ‘Well yeah it sort of looks like a rabbit and it’s got pinkish, bluish, purpleish?’ You know what I mean? So then you go, ‘Here, draw it!’ ‘Like this?’ “No, no, no, no, no!” Because of those intangibles with music, getting on the same page with somebody, wanting to explain what I’m hearing in my brain, that I can’t yet play for you in it’s entirety. That’s a really cool challenge. But if you stay open enough and you keep any stubbornness to the side, you uncover all kinds of great stuff.

ME: Olya, to all the young musicians that find themselves in the same situation you were in while in Moscow, such as not being able to musically express yourself like you wanted, what do you say to them?

Olya: Well the thing is right now in Moscow it’s gotten a little bit better. There is more of an underground scene that wasn’t there. It becomes a bit more possible for them to do what they want because the community is building up. I really hope that it’s gonna become a cool music community in Moscow, that it’ll blossom. Right now they have a choice, they can get the hell out and pursue a dream like I did. To go to England or the United States or wherever they want. But no matter what it is you gotta stay true to your heart and you know, not to be afraid to take risks to go for what you really want. Because that is what life is about. You gotta give it to yourself and everything is gonna be cool.

ME: Last but not least, do you guys have any shoutouts?

Olya: So many.

Brian: Oh yeah! Go ahead. Go for it.

Olya: (Laughing.) Well we want to give a shout out to Bowery Electric. I used to work here, we met here, so it’s a symbolic place for us. Shout out to Jesse Malin and everyone in that team, in that world. Cutting Room, Steve Walter always helping us out, I also worked there and we played there.

Brian: You see a pattern here? She worked there and then they wanna help.

Everyone laughs.

Olya: I don’t know it just all came together. Also to all the people that were part of our Kickstarter and made that dream come true, Future From the Past, came alive with their help. Who else?

Brian: You just covered all the main ones that I was gonna go for. Shoutout to everyone that we’re gonna see on the tour coming up. Really excited, so happy that there will be people coming out to support live music, live independent bands, and West Coast we are coming for you next!

To learn more about Scarlet Sails make sure to click the links below:

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About Nadia Pulgar

Concert lover, music fanatic. If it sounds good to me, the rest doesn't matter.

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