Nick D'Virgilio: Living To The Beat Of His Own Drum
Nick D'Virgilio is a busy man ? fronting his own band Spock's Beard (since the departure of Neal Morse in 2002), is a member of the newly formed Mike Keneally Band (that Mike formed with fellow Beers For Dolphins members Bryan Bellar and Rick Musallam, and who have just released Dog and who played at two US festivals this month), plus Nick is sitting behind the kit and doing promotional duties with Tears For Fears, whose new album is due out in September. And long time fans will also note his name in the credits of many other albums, including Genesis' Calling All Stations.
During Nick's busy schedule ? on July 11, 2004, in fact, just after the second of two MKB performances, this time at NEARFest 2004 ? he set some time aside to talk with our Joshua Turner, organized with help from the intrepid Eric Corbin of InsideOut Music.
As Josh explains, he was actually scheduled to interview both Derek Sherinian (of Planet X, also playing NEARFest that weekend) and Nick, but a slight hiccup in timings meant that Joshua missed that opportunity, as he was headed off to The Great Outdoor Games in his hometown. But, things were on schedule for the D'Virgilio interview and we pick things up with Eric handing off the phone to Nick?
Eric Corbin: Okay man. Here's Nick.
Nick D'Virgilio: Hello.
JT: Hey Nick.
JT: How's it going?
NDV: Good man, how are you?
JT: Great! I?ve got a number of questions for you. Are you actually on tour? Are you at NEARfest or something?
NDV: Yeah, I'm here with a guy, a guy named Mike Keneally.
JT: Okay, so how's that going? Have you guys performed yet?
NDV: Yeah, we played yesterday. It was a fantastic show.
JT: Is this your first time at NEARfest?
NDV: This is, well, my second. I played here with Spock's Beard [at the] first NEARfest. [But this is the] first time with Mike Keneally.
JT: How did you get hooked up with Mike Keneally to get a show like this put together?
NDV: Well, I've been playing with Mike for about five years now and we did a record called Dog that's just being released. So, we are just kind of, we got this gig booked awhile back and we're here playing.
JT: About the album Dog, what's that about? I mean, what are you accomplishing on that? Are you doing something different? Is there something you can tell me about the album?
NDV: Well, it's just that its the first album I've recorded with Mike and it's the four piece band: Me, Mike, a guy named Bryan Bellar, and Rick Musallam. Rick and Bryan have been playing with Mike for years and years and years. It is just a new record of Mike Keneally. It's a rocking Mike Keneally record.
JT: Is that song-oriented or does it follow a theme?
NDV: It's song-oriented; yeah it goes every which way on the record.
[Mike Keneally, for those who don't know, was once part of Frank Zappa's band, and his sound reflects a very?eccentric yet pointed style - ed.]
JT: How did you meet Mike and these other guys?
NDV: Well, I met Mike through Kevin Gilbert years ago in the nineties. And then my friend Rick [has] played with Mike a long time. Eventually I got a chance to join the band five years ago. Kind of like knowing Kevin and then Rick, I was introduced to Mike.
JT: Just to change gears, I want to talk about Spock's Beard, because I hear that you guys are coming out with a new album really soon. How's that coming along?
NDV: It's great man. We're getting close to being finished. We have about a month left and then we'll be done. We have about eighteen songs recorded.
JT: Oh wow!
NDV: We're going to pick, we are not going to put them all on the record. We are going to pick the best, you know, hour or so worth of material and put out a CD. It is very interesting, more, a little more retro, but it's, uh, still very heavy, you know, uh, a good sort of guitars going on and stuff.
JT: Is this going to be more like classic Spock's Beard or like your new, the last Spock's Beard album?
NDV: It is kind of bridging the gap between the two. I think it is a little more prog than the last record, uh, but it's, you know, still, I guess it's, yeah, a mishmash between the two.
JT: I was interested in hearing about your song-writing process, because every album you work on seems to be completely different. Even looking at Spock's Beard, every one of those albums is different, and then looking at the past Spock's Beard with the last one they are totally different. Can you explain to me your song-writing process and how it has changed between some of these albums?
NDV: Well, you know, the old Spock's Beard to new has changed, because Neal wrote so much of the material. In the past, you know, um, he pretty much sent us songs that he was working on and we kind of tweaked them from there. The newer stuff, we all basically kind of individually wrote at home and then got together and just jammed on the songs. On the last record, the long one, "A Guy Named Sid," I had recorded and demoed out the whole thing at home and then brought it to the guys, but other songs we wrote from scratch together at, like, Al's [Alan Morse] studio. We did a lot of that this time and then also for this new record. Dave [Meros], our bass player, would send like MP3s of bass riffs and things like that and ideas for songs to us and we'd build up things from there. So, it is kind of a weird way that it worked out for this record, because everybody brought stuff to the table in different ways.
JT: Can you tell me about some of the songs that you are putting into this new album? Is there going to be any epics? What can we expect or is it a surprise?
NDV: No, no; hopefully it will be a good surprise when it comes out. There is a long one called "A Flash Before My Eyes," uh, about this guy who gets hit by a flatbed truck and right before the truck hits him, his whole life flashes before his eyes, you know, and that's what the whole song is about. It's really cool man; I think it's like I said, bridges the gap between old and new Spock's Beard. It is very proggy in certain sections and, uh, but like the middle portion of the epic is very heavy almost Tool-like kind of heavy and then we go back into more traditional Spock-sounding stuff. It's exciting.
JT: It sounds really good. I'm sure a lot of people are looking forward to it, especially me. Um, about the last album, what is the song "Feel Euphoria" about?
NDV: What is that song about? It was, uh. Let me think. [he laughs]
JT: Something about talking to the devil or something along those lines?
NDV: Yeah; I mean, it is like, this guy is a real jerk about stuff and basically it is like the devil on his shoulder telling him you are going to be that way no matter what, you are not going to change your spots after so long, so you might as well make the best out of it. If that makes sense, that is kind of what I was thinking about when I wrote the lyrics to it.
JT: How did you choose that song, "Feel Euphoria," for the title of the album?
NDV: We were at the studio doing a photo shoot and, uh, we were trying to think of names to call the record and the guys go, hey, why don't we just call it that, that sounds good. We all go okay, so that's what it ended as. [he laughs]
JT: Talking about names, how did you come up with the name Spock's Beard for the group?
NDV: Al, our guitar player, came up with that one day walking down the street. He was, he had seen something, I guess at a store or something like that and he said it is like we are in a parallel universe, it is like Spock has a beard. [I laugh] I guess there was a ,Star Trek episode where Spock had a beard. I was not a Trek fan, so I didn't know, but that's kind of where it came from.
[For the benefit of other non-Trekkies? the episode in question is "Mirror, Mirror" from the series' second season -Trekkie ed.]
JT: It is funny, I have this friend, Adam, who suggested that's how you guys came up with the name and then I remember hearing some discussion in a newsgroup and they said that's not what it was, that somebody had a dog named Spock with a beard or something along those lines. You have finally answered that question that's been out there.
NDV: Yeah, then we had a whole bunch of names on a list and we all voted, you know, and that was on the list and that's what we picked.
JT: Do you remember any of the other names that you thought up?
NDV: Oh yeah, they were all too serious, that's why we didn't pick them. We didn't want to have a serious prog band name. We wanted to be more light-hearted, that's why we chose Spock's Beard.
JT: How did you meet everybody in your band Spock's Beard?
NDV: I met Neal and Al at a blues jam in LA one night. We just all happened to be there and we all sat in together playing some old whatever, you know, like "Mustang Sally" or something like this and we exchanged numbers and that's how it all started. Yeah, Neal already had the whole Light record written, and demoed out and stuff, and I went to meet him one day and he gave me the cassette and we decided to put the band together.
JT: Who would you say are your influences?
NDV: Oh well as a drummer, or??
JT: In general; you've got so many different influences, you guys have such a full spectrum of different types of songs and stuff. Who are your influences?
NDV: You know, the typical ones like Genesis and Yes. Um, I wasn't a huge Yes fan, but the other guys in the band are bigger Yes fans than I am. Pink Floyd, Tull, David Bowie, The Beatles, uh, you know, all kinds of stuff like that. Mahavishnu Orchestra. [he calls out to someone in the background] After I'm done!
Uh, um, who else, King Crimson. Did I say that already? Um, lots of straight-ahead stuff, I'm a, I still love a lot of Motown and funk things and maybe that's my drummer side coming out. I'm not sure.
JT: Probably Deep Purple, too? You do some of those covers.
NDV: Sure, yeah, yeah, all that rock stuff, Aerosmith, AC/DC, you know, I'm a fan of all that stuff.
JT: I'd also like to ask you.
NDV: [someone is talking to him in the background again] Hold on?
NDV: [he is talking to someone on the other end] You there?
NDV: I'll be right with you. [he finishes off his conversation with this other person] I'm back. Okay?
JT: That's okay [I laugh]. The thing I was going to tell you and you'll probably think I tell this to everybody I talk to, but I consider you the best drummer that I've ever heard.
NDV: Oh man, that's a compliment, thank you.
JT: I'm wondering, how did you learn to play the drums? How did that all begin? Can you tell me how you learned about it and what kind of training you have? Did you just practice on your own?
NDV: You know, all I know is I was banging on things when I was three, four years old. My dad got me a cheap Sears drum kit and I broke the heads like in two days and stuff. The next thing I know, it was around Christmas time and Santa Claus brought me a 1965 Blue Sparkle Ludwig kit. I've been playing drums ever since. I basically just listened to records growing up as a kid, you know, and figured it out. It came so naturally. Don't ask me how it came naturally, I don't know, but I kind of figured it out. And my brother turned me onto to a whole bunch of music, Genesis, and all that stuff, and I figured, and I just played along, you know.
And then when I, uh, I was kind of self-taught, probably about eighteen, I went to music school and started studying, really studying at that point, studying jazz and African music and this, that, and the other, and playing with different drummers to learn real technique and all kinds of stuff like that.
NDV: I might lose you. I am going to the back of the building. If I lose you, then, um, I'll have Eric call you back.
JT: Okay. When I heard that you were going to be coming out front and singing, that was a little bit of a shock to me. I thought this guy is a drummer. For him to be able to sing and play the drums it's almost impossible, because like I said, I consider this guy to be the best drummer. How is this guy also going to have singing ability? It would be impossible. You actually sang a few songs on Snow and it blew me away.
NDV: Yeah, hold on one second.
NDV: I'll be right back. [he is talking to someone on the other side] I was just talking to Virgil Donati. You know that drummer, Virgil Donati?
NDV: Yeah, he is playing in the next band [Planet X] and he, his pedals didn't show up, so I was seeing if he needed to borrow my stuff.
JT: Okay. That sounds like that takes priority, so that's okay with me.
NDV: That's cool.
JT: I was saying on Snow you sang a few songs and I remember hearing them and I thought Neal's voice sounds a little bit different on these. After talking to a few people, I found out that you sang "Carrie."
NDV: I sang "Carrie" and "Looking For Answers" and, um, oh wait, I'm going the wrong way. Hold on. Yeah, I sang "Carrie" and "Looking For Answers" and I sang a lot on like "Love Beyond Words," it's all me.
NDV: All that kind of stuff. I sing a ton on that record.
JT: How did that happen, that you decided you wanted to start singing lead on some songs? Can you tell me about that a little bit?
NDV: Well, you know, I've been singing a lot on the records, a lot of the background parts on all the records, kind of like the main background guy forever. Then, we were doing Snow, I was trying to write songs. I wanted to try to contribute some writing to the record and so we decided to use "Looking For Answers" and, um, Neal wrote "Carrie" for me to sing on purpose and then, uh, kind of took it from there.
JT: On Snow, those are some of my favorite songs. The funny thing about "Carrie" is that it rhymes with so many women's names that I've sung it to some women and changed the word to whatever.
JT: One song that I really like on the Feel Euphoria album is "Shining Star." I've played that for some friends and some women and they all really, really like it. Can you tell me some of the background of that song, how that came to develop itself?
NDV: Well, I was, it might sound cheesy, so don't laugh. My wife has always ripped on me a bit, because I have never written her a song, you know, and I, uh, every time I've tried to write a love song it sounded contrived and you know, like its been done before. So, I was writing this song for her basically and it's, uh, I was happy with it. Kind of turned out; I go, yeah, that's kind of the cool thing. That's basically, that's where it came from.
NDV: Yeah. I'm glad chicks dig it. [we laugh] That's kind of what I was doing it for, you know.
JT: Is there anything like that on the new album?
NDV: Yeah, there is a couple things like that on the new record. There is a good ballad that is part of the epic, you know, that will attract, for some reason, women; there are women who like prog, but this is, you know, definitely male-oriented music, so I find it, uh, good when I can make some music that will bring people, bring women to this style of music.
JT: What other side-projects are you currently working on, cause I've seen that you've come out with some DVDs and you said that you are currently doing a project with Mike Keneally that's expected to come out soon?
NDV: I've been doing that for awhile. Right now it is the Mike Keneally Band. I'm doing Tears For Fears again. They have a new record coming out, so I'm doing a little work with them on the side and this new Spock's record. That's pretty much the three main things I'm working on at the moment.
JT: Ok, just to find some things out about your personal tastes, what is the last CD that you purchased?
NDV: Well, I bought, last week I bought this record by this band called Jet. Have you heard that new band from Australia?
JT: Yeah, I heard of them.
NDV: They're like the new AC/DC kind of thing. It is pretty much straight-ahead power pop kind of rock. It's really good. I bought that and I bought the Best Of Rainbow, [he laughs] which is kind of disappointing, but I bought that for some reason. I just felt like I needed to buy it, and, um, what's the last record before that, um, oh, and I bought David Bowie Aladdin Sane. I've been getting some old records I didn't have on CD.
JT: Along the same lines, what's the last concert you attended as a fan?
NDV: Geez, it has been forever. [I laugh] It really has, because I'm always working and I miss so many great shows. As a fan? I don't even remember.
JT: Are there any shows you didn't get to see that you wanted to see?
NDV: Oh yeah tons. I would have loved to seen, well I like funk, I would have loved to seen Prince on his last tour. I don't know if you are into that kind of stuff at all, but I dig him a lot. Um, I missed stuff like that. There is, I'm spoiled living in Los Angeles where there is so many people playing all the time, so? [he talks to someone in the background] Guys go that way. Go that way. There you go man. There are stairs right there. [he talks to me again] There are people all over the place. [I laugh].
JT: That's okay.
NDV: You know, it sucks, because I've missed so many live shows lately 'cause I just don't have the time. I'm always working.
JT: I've got a question for you that a lot of artists have trouble answering. I get the impression that you are not going to have any trouble answering it and you'll probably have trouble leaving this to one example, but can you recall any Spinal Tap moments?
NDV: Many. [I laugh] Oh god, many.
JT: That's what I figured.
NDV: For me personally or from the movie?
JT: For you personally, just something that happened that was kind of Spinal Tapish?
NDV: Oh, just, you know, some of the places Spock's Beard has played, you know, has been low budget at times. [he laughs] We don't always get the most professional things happening. There has been many of those moments where we played in just the most icky clubs. In Paris, when you are showering, you got to wear shoes to shower and stuff like this, just gross. You go out and do a show. It's what you do for music. [he laughs] There has been a few of those kinds of things. We've never been billed underneath a puppet show like Spinal Tap has, but definitely dealt with some crazy things.
JT: I saw you guys play in Milwaukee a few years ago at Shank Hall.
JT: I guess it is a Spinal Tap shrine.
NDV: Yeah, that's where they recorded some stuff in the movie.
JT: Ok; I want to ask you about some of your favorites just to get an idea of you as a person. This isn't necessarily music-related, but what would you say is your favorite movie?
NDV: Favorite movie? Well, I'm Italian, so The Godfather is right up there. [I laugh] One and two. I mean, I love stuff, I like dorky movies like Spinal Tap, Caddyshack, you know, Animal House, things like that, um, definitely into the more light-hearted comedy stuff.
JT: Ok, what would you say is your favorite book?
NDV: Favorite book? Anything by Nick Hornby. You know, How To Be Good, um, you've ever heard of High Fidelity?
JT: Uh huh.
NDV: You've heard of this guy. Yeah, he's a great writer, very easy read. I like his stuff a lot, um, so it's probably that.
JT: Ok, and what would you say is your favorite album?
NDV: That is almost too hard to answer, [I laugh] but you know, geez, shoot, like it could be anything from Houses Of The Holy by Zeppelin to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is up there, oh god, there is, Beatles records, Abbey Road or The White Album, stuff like that. There is a lot.
NDV: That's a hard question.
JT: Yeah, [I laugh] it is hard for me too. What would you say is your favorite band?
NDV: Favorite band?
NDV: Well, you know, growing, I don't have a favorite band anymore. Growing up as a kid I was way more into that kind of thing, but, I mean I, you know, Genesis was my, Genesis and Led Zeppelin were my two favorites growing up as a kid and I still love those guys obviously a lot, too. Those were my like two heavy, heavy, you know, they were better than anything else in the world man, you know.
JT: You actually brought up Genesis a few times and if I'm correct you played on an album.
NDV: It's called Calling All Stations
JT: Yeah, Calling All Stations, right. How did you get involved in that project?
I was touring with Tears for Fears and my friend Kevin Gilbert told me that Phil Collins quit and they might be auditioning drummers and I happened to be in England, so I brought a Spock's Beard record to the management company and said, you know, invited them to the Tears For Fears show and said I'd love an audition if it was at all possible sometime and, you know, they called me six months later. I kind of forgot about it and they called me and I sent them some more music that I played on and they flew me up to audition. Kind of crazy how it happens.
JT: Yeah, it is crazy? With Spock's Beard, are you planning any upcoming tours or concerts or anything?
NDV: Well, we are going to try; we'll tour after the new record comes out. I don't know when, you know, hopefully probably either, probably the beginning of the year by the time, you know, everything gets put out, released, and stuff. We'll put it out, get it out, and start playing.
JT: I've got kind of a goofy question here, but I'm kind of a pet lover. I have a dog, he is my best friend and all. I like to ask, do you have any pets?
NDV: I have quite a few pets. We have, at home, we have four dogs and two horses.
NDV: Yeah, a beagle, three wiener dogs, and two Arabian horses.
JT: Wow, that's cool.
NDV: It's all on a farm.
JT: Uh huh. I also like to ask if there is anything you'd like to say to your fans at this time?
NDV: Well, just thanks for the continuous support man. I hope we can still make, you know, you guys entertained for a few more years here.
JT: Yeah, I'm really looking forward to this next album, too. When is that expected out? Are there dates firming up on it?
NDV: We are trying for October.
JT: So, I'll be waiting on pins and needles until that comes out.
NDV: Alright man.
JT: Ok, and that's pretty much all the questions that I have. I just want to say I consider it an honor to get a chance to actually talk to you.
NDV: Thank you very much.
JT: I think you are extraordinarily talented. I just appreciate all the stuff you are putting out. Like you said, I hope you an continue doing this. I just wish you a lot of success as well.
NDV: Thank you man. Yeah, check out the new Keneally record if you have a chance, called Dog cause it's some of my best drumming I have ever done, I think.
JT: Really? That says a lot.
NDV: Yeah, check it out. Alright dude.
JT: Ok, just good luck on the rest of your week or whatever else you are doing over there at NEARfest.
NDV: Thank you.
The Light (1991)
Beware of Darkness (1995)
The Beard Is Out There Live (1995) (cd/vid)
Official Live Bootleg (1996)
The Kindness of Strangers (1997)
From The Vault - 1995-1998 (1998)
Day For Night (1999)
Live At The Whiskey and NEARfest (1999)
Don't Try This At Home (2000)
Feel Euphoria (2003)
The Light - The Artwork Collector''s Series (2004)
Gluttons For Punishment (2005)
Spock's Beard (2006)
Don't Try This At Home & The Making Of V (2002) (DVD)