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The Virgins Return to LA Just in Time to Be Sacrificed to Our Earthquake Gods.

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The-Virgins-.jpg
Photo: Kai Regan


Photo: Kai Regan
Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but if the big one should show up on Thursday...these New York rockers are toast. Poor bastards. They think they're coming here to headline the El Rey. Of course, we didn't let lead singer Donald Cumming in on this little plan. (Yes, the lead singer of the Virgins is named Donald Cumming. Go ahead. Giggle. We'll wait. Feel better? Okay.) After all, we can't go scaring off the Virgins before they have the chance to save California from sinking into the ocean. (I mean, it's not like we're going to be able to find any around here.)

Although this would mean killing off one of the best neo-disco acts around, which would be a shame. These guys have put out a slinky debut album which would make even a nun's blood run hot. Without any electronics, the Virgins have taken the tried and true disco beats and added some ragged rock edge on top of it, producing a sound that seizes control of your hips no matter how hard you try and fight it. Not that you should. Cumming was kind enough to talk with us over the weekend about the making of this disk. Here is some of what was said.

How old were you when you first picked up and instrument?
I started playing piano when I was probably four and a five, but I started taking guitar lessons when I was eleven.

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Did your parents encourage you to pick up an instrument?
Oh man, I had to beg for that guitar. I was in a band with my two friends in junior high. We would hang out at each others houses and practice. I was always the singer, and there would be lulls where I had nothing to do, so I wanted a guitar to keep my hands busy. I begged and begged for that guitar. When my mother finally bought it for me, I was so happy. It was the best.

Do you still have it?
No, I sold it awhile back.

For how much?
I sold for fifty bucks.


You sold your childhood memories for fifty bucks?

(laughs) Yup, I was just so broke. I needed cigarette and sandwich money. I sold it to Mike Bones, who's a really amazing singer songwriter. He was really sweet and bought it from me. I mean it was in terrible shape. There was no way that it was actually worth fifty bucks. He just wanted to be a nice guy. Besides, that guitar has more function in my memory then in real life. I try not to be too precious about that kind of stuff.

How did you guys get together?

I've always been in bands all through out school, but this one formed when I met Wade. I had been writing some songs that I was really taken with and I had a name hanging around from this band I had earlier. Then I met Wade in Mexico and we got along really really well. I had never met someone who I didn’t know that well, who I wanted to work together with. So we started playing together, and right away we had the same kind of vision for the music we wanted to make. The same perspective, you know? And we both really sucked at guitar. That helped.

Wait, so if Wade had been good at guitar there wouldn't have been a band?
(laughs) No, no, no, there still would have been a band. It just wouldn't have been the same bonding experience. Wade is much better than me on guitar now.

How did that happen?
He cheated. He practiced. (laughs) I really should practice more.

Where did you get the name the Virgins?
It seemed really simple and easy to remember. It's also fun to say. When we were starting out all the bands around us had these pseudo, faux, avant-garde names. Some of them were entire sentences. A lot of people told us that we couldn't be the Virgins because "the" was passe. We were like really? The word "the" is over? That seemed really really silly.

What is your writing process like?
Well when we were writing the EP we did it all at the studio, which is really cool because it captures a lot of the spontaneity of the session. There are a lot of lyrics that were just written on the fly and were just completely ad libbed. For the record though, I wrote most of it soberly in my kitchen at night. It was way more methodical. I'm not sure which way is better, though. There is something to be said for both of those methods. Something to be said for both of those things. What I would like to do next time is find somewhere a little bit mellow. I'm really looking forward to writing the next album. It'll be really great. We're touring through November, but then I'm really looking forward to sitting down and writing again. It’s addicting. It’s an itch. I'm sure the label has some ideas of what they want us to do, but we'll talk it out later. Ultimately we want to do what would be best for us as a band.

When you sat down at your kitchen table did you have a vision for this record?

Yeah, we wanted to make a dance album that didn’t include electronica. We also wanted to do a dance album with a vulnerable streak running through it. I mean we had a lot of goals, and we met some of them.

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Photo: Kai Regan
Who did you write "Rich Girls" about? Was there a specific person?
It's really a composite of a bunch of different people. There may or may not have been one or two girls who fit that description. That song was really a nice accident. I wrote it sitting on my couch. We were packing to go to San Diego the next day and had a bunch of people over. I was sitting on the couch, half hanging out and half strumming the guitar. My brain was in two different places and all of a sudden the song took over and I had to get up and write it in the kitchen. We recorded it the next day.

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Did you freak out when Rolling Stone listed Rich Girls as one of the best songs of 2008?
Yeah man, it was an honor. You never think of something you write on your couch to turn out like that.

What danger are you referring to in "One Week of Danger?"
You know those moments in life when you're in danger of having your consciousness expanded?

What?
You know there are moments when you're really living. When you're really awake and alert? It never comes in one week chunks. It usually happens all at once and you're usually not ready for it. Sometimes it's a bit much to take all at once. That's what that song is about. Wishing that it would come in weekly increments. It's a bit tongue in cheek.

What was your most dangerous week?
Oh jeepers, I’m still having it.

The video looks like a good time. Did people just follow you around one Saturday night or was it all planned?
We like to plan the theme for our videos in five minutes or less. If it's more complicated than five minutes, then we chuck it. For the "One Week of Danger" video we had been on tour for almost a year in a half straight, so we thought, "Okay, what would be the easiest, laziest thing we could do?" We were brainstorming in our cramped little van and thought about how we used to pay for a SUV for a night in NYC and drive around listening to hip hop. So we thought, "Hey that's easy and fun." So one night when we were home we did exactly that and shot the video. It's the unofficial sequel to the "Rich Girls" video.

What was the original concept for the "Rich Girls" video?

Well, the original idea was getting drunk at our favorite bar, but apparently the record people thought that people wouldn't want to watch that. (laughs) So they added a Victoria Secret model. So the video became fifteen dudes hanging out drinking with this ridiculously hot woman at a bar. Her presence was not representative of our daily experience, let me tell you. It was really cool that she came through though. She really owned that video. The "One Week of Danger" video is basically the same video, but without the girl. We wanted our videos simple. We want people to get a feeling for what we’re like as people. I mean, videos can go so wrong.

What is your favorite venue in LA?
We’ve played the El Rey before and it was fucking incredible. I can't believe we're headlining. That's really crazy.

What was the worst show you ever played?
We’ve played some fucked up shows. Every classic and cliché mishap has befallen us. I really don’t like to think in those terms, though. I like to consider bad shows as sign posts for new directions we need to take.There hasn't been a show that has left us in complete despair. Not yet, anyway.

What is the weirdest thing you ever saw at a show?

It was actually last night! It was a packed show and the the crush was intense. There was this girl in the very front who was wearing a corset, and it was so jammed that her boobs came out over the top. She didn't even notice apparently and danced like that for the entire show. There were nipples bouncing everywhere. Well, this is what I heard anyway. I didn't see it.

How did you miss the topless girl in the front row?
I don't know! I was preoccupied. I completely missed it. Apparently the whole band saw it except me. I miss all the good stuff.

Do you have any strange promoter stories?
Yeah dude, we’ve played everywhere. We've played for square dancers, rodeos in Texas, we’ve played cocktail parties in New York City. We've played places where the booker says, "Oh so there's no PA or monitors or microphones and could you do five covers and have an electric set?" At this point our response is always, "Yeah sure, fuck it. Why not?" We're really flexible. We'll play with half a set up and half a band. All you have to do is forget what would have been ideal and just adapt to the circumstances.

Do you have a favorite local band at the moment?
Lissy Trulie and Amazing Baby. They're both fucking fantastic. I’ve been listening to Amazing Baby's record on repeat for weeks.

If you were going to put together a dance party and you could book any three bands, who would they be?
Hmm...Foals with the Klaxons headlining...and Mt Sims. That would be a really good party.

What can we expect next from the Virgins? Do you guys have any ideas brewing for the next album?
Oh man, we could do anything. We might put out and EP with only acoustic country covers There's going to be a lot of experimentation on the next album. We've made a decent dance album, so we can pretty much do whatever we want now. We'll see.

Well thank you so much for talking with us.

Thank you!

We suggest you put on your dancing shoes on and head over to the El Rey on Thursday. The Virgins will be playing with LissyTrullie and Anya Marina. Doors open at 8pm. Tickets are $17.

Your curiosity is still unsatisfied? Check out LAist's full album review here or live review here.