Donati, Virgil (February 2002)

The Case Of The Percussionist From Planet X: An Interview With Virgil Donati

Virgil DonatiCould we let pass the opportunity given by the Steve Vai concert in Milan to talk a little (in Italian) with the incredible Virgil Donati, the eclectic drummer with Italian ancestors? Obviously we could not! So here we are with the young Australian talent, currently a vital member of Planet X and Ring Of Fire, but a man with other relevant collaborations in his resume as well ...

Igor Italiani: OK, Virgil, can you tell me something about the next Planet X record?

Virgil Donati: Yes! Last summer we started recording in Los Angeles. I've recorded the drums in Simon Phillips' personal studio, given the fact that he is the co-producer of the record. It was a wonderful collaboration, fantastic. He has a unique human kindness, and so we fell almost immediately in synchrony regarding the majority of the work that had to be done. However I've written a lot of songs for this record, and the next time we return to the studio I think we'll finish off everything. A lot of guitars are still to be put down, but bass, drums and keyboards are already finished...

II: When do you think it will be released?

VD: I hope around March or April, but there's no precise date at the moment.

II: Meanwhile can you tell me how the tour went that you managed to do in Australia?

VD: Yes, it was wonderful. You know, maybe you can't believe it at first, but rock music is followed in Australia, there are a lot of people who appreciate underground genres like progressive or metal. For me it was actually a unique experience, because I've lived all my life in Australia and I couldn't wait to feel the emotions of finally playing there with a great band like Planet X.

II: In fact I think that it was you that swayed the other members into going there?

VD: No, no, they asked me to set up something because they wanted to go there...

Ring Of Fire - The OracleII: Ah, ah ... really? OK, Virgil, on the other end what can you tell me about The Oracle, the first Ring Of Fire record, an album on which you play?

VD: It was interesting. Now they've sent me an e-mail in which they have confirmed a tour to do in February, going in Japan, Europe, Italy. So maybe I'll return here very soon [chuckles] ... you know, the music I play with Ring Of Fire is not the music I usually play, it's not my favorite cup of tea, but I like doing it. It was really interesting confronting myself with a new reality like this. And I also love to work with Mark Boals, because he is such a wonderful person, and a great singer as well. But you should consider that on this album I didn't write a single song; Vitalij [Kuprij] and Mark did everything.

II: At this point Virgil, given the fact that I'm a big, big fan of Kansas, I want to ask you something about playing with Steve Walsh on his solo album Glossolalia?

VD: Oh, that was incredible! Steve is a legend, unbelievable...

II: You should know that when I interviewed him he said that you constantly wanted to re-record your performances, even if they were already perfect at the first take?

VD: [Laughs] He really said that? Yes, I remember that when I finished songs he was saying things like: "Great, everything's OK! So we go with the next one?" and I was: "No, let me do another take" ... and Steve would reply: "Well, if you want ... but ... I think it's already OK" ... so let me say it was just a great experience, and that I would like to play with him again in the future.

II: Virgil, now I would like to ask you how you started playing music, considering that a lot of people, me included, rate you as one of the best modern drummers?

VD: How I started? From zero? Well, I started when I was 2 years and 11 months old, the exact moment my father bought me my first set. My father and mother were musicians as well, so there was always some music at home, as they also practiced at night ... and my father played the piano and philharmonics, too, so I was really interested, I always wanted to hear?

II: But why did you choose the drums?

VD: Well, because my uncle noticed that while I was sitting on the ground, listening music, I always kept the rhythm with my hands, so they decided to buy me a drum (toy), even if I quickly destroyed it [big chuckle! -- II]! The following years I also began to play the piano, because my dad wanted me to learn that instrument as well. He took me to a lot of piano lessons, and at one point I played drums, practiced with the piano, sang, and also went to school ... I was doing everything. And then ... everything was ruined [laughs] ... and I remained with the drums. However studying the piano enabled me to write songs, and this is important to me.

II: But have you've gone to some music institute like Berklee or not?

VD: No, I'm completely self-taught, even if I did take some private lessons the first few years. But the thing that proved really important to me was the fact of playing on the road with everyone, everywhere, even if I never overlooked working out at home, too.

II: But who was your (drums) teen idol?

VD: The first, first idol when I was younger was Ian Paice. I have to give him full credit about starting my passion, because I simply loved his style. Then I also liked Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham ... the first time I went to the US I had some lessons with Philly Joey Jones ... I really loved how he played jazz. Terry Bozzio has been fundamental, too.

II: So you said Ian Paice, but your style seems very different to the classic rock one?

VD: Mmh, I played a lot of pop and rock while I was in Australia. I don't know, I don't want to say I can play everything with ease, but I think I can flex into a lot of styles, I can adapt very well. That's how I was raised. I've played with rock bands, pop bands, fusion and jazz musicians, so I think I can be considered sort of well-rounded.

II: Virgil, I've also spotted a solo CD of yours on the merchandise table. Can you tell me something else about it?

VD: It's a band I had back in Australia before leaving for the United States. After the change of place I started to think that it would be good to record something of that experience for "posterity." Believe me, it's a good record. It's a little heavy, but also progressive, with some fusion passages here and there. However it's an instrumental record.

II: The musicians are all Aussies?

VD: Yes, they are Aussie, even if some songs were written by Americans. But I'm still in contact with the boys in the band, and two years ago we even did a little tour. I would really love to continue this adventure too, but it seems very difficult at the moment. We'll see...

II: Do you recall the first time you were contacted by Derek Sherinian for Planet X?

Derek Sherinian - Planet XVD: Derek called me to play on his solo album, which was to be titled Planet X. We did some jams and he liked what I wrote, my ideas ... so a good collaboration started. After that we called in Tony [MacAlpine] and decided to form Planet X. That's everything.

II: Virgil, are your father and mother Italian or do we have to go back to your grandparents to find that characteristic?

VD: No, my father and mother are Italian. But I've stayed in Italy only for a small piece of time. The first time [I went] I was 4 years old, [and] the entire family came and we remained for nearly a year. You won't believe me, but even in that case I played with my father. We did the "Zecchino d' Oro" [a renowned children's songs program - II], and I played on TV ... I was 5 years old.

II: But do you remember something about that particular experience?

VD: No, I don't remember anything [another big chuckle - II], and it seems that I can't find any video tape of the show, too. I would really like to view a tape of that performance, it would be a great remembrance. However, I returned to Italy in 1986/87, if I'm right ... but I love Italy, and who knows ... maybe if I receive a great offer someday in the future I could also decide to live here the rest of my days.

II: And what about your next projects, not counting Planet X?

VD: I'm writing a sort of soundtrack at the moment, an exciting and new experience for someone like me. So I'll drop the drum sticks for some time and focus on this project. The movie will be an American one, and I really hope it will be all fun.

II: Any teaching videos, considering your immense technique?

VD: Yes, I already did them, but I would like to realize some others in the future. I've also a couple of books on the horizon. I have a lot of things to do, maybe too much! [Laughs]

II: But how much time do you practice on the drums during the day?

VD: Oh, I still love to play, but average ... I play 3/4/5 hours a day. The rest of the time I play the piano ... maybe ... [chuckles]

II: OK, Virgil, I think that's all. Thank you for the wonderful talk and compliments on your Italian, which seems excellent!

VD: Well, thanks to you. Goodbye to all my Italian fans. You know, I try to speak Italian as well as I can, [chuckles]

The State - Elementary (1988)
Southern Sons - Southern Sons (1990)
Southern Sons - Nothing But The Truth (1992)
Various - Jesus Christ Superstar - The Album (1992 Australian Cast Recording Highlights) (1992)
Jon Stevens - Are U Satisfied (1993)
Stretch (1995)
Jon Stevens - Circles (1996)
Southern Sons - Zone (1996)
Just Add Water (1997)
Derek Sherinian - Planet X (1998)
Various - Montreal Drum Fest 1996-1997 (1998)
Garsed & Helmerich - Under The Lash Of Gravity (1999)
On The Virg - Serious Young Insects (1999)
Planet X - Universe (2000)
Mark Boals - Ring Of Fire (2000)
Joel Hoekstra -Undefined (2000)
Steve Walsh - Glossolalia (2000)
Ring Of Fire - The Oracle (2001)
Ring Of Fire - Burning Live In Tokyo (2002)
Planet X - Live From Oz (2002)
Planet X - Moon Babies (2002)
Ring Of Fire Dreamtower (2003)
Freakhouse - Beautiful Misery (2003)
Joel Hoekstra - The Moon Is Falling (2003)
Erik Norlander - Music Machine (2003)
Brunel, Bunny - LA Zoo Revisited (2003)
Ring Of Fire - Lapse Of Reality (2004)
Loose Change - Live At The Grainstore (2004)
Various - Alfie - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2004)
Soul Sirkus - World Play (2005)
Vertigo - 2 (2006)
Gambale, Donati, Fierabracci - Made In Australia (2007)
Planet X - Quantum (2007)
Devil's Slingshot - Clinophobia (2007)
Cosmics - The Cosmic Year (2008)
Derek Sherinian - Molecular Heinosity (2009)
CAB - Theatre De Marionettes (2009) Terminal - Tree Of Life (2010) (as special guest)

Obsessive Rhythms (VHS) (1989)
Power Drumming (VHS) (1991)
Live At The Modern Drummer Festival (VHS) (1997)
Ring Of Fire - Burning Live In Tokyo 2002 (DVD) (2002)
Various - The Ultimate Drummers Weekend 2002 (DVD) (2002)
Steve Vai - Live At The Astoria In London (DVD) (2003)
Live In Stockholm (DVD) (2007)

Added: February 8th 2002
Interviewer: Igor Italiani

Artist website:
Hits: 2384
Language: english

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