Chicago – U.K. trio The Virginmarys will soon be releasing sophomore album Divides. In preparation, the English punk rockers have been touring relentlessly, including supporting Shinedown on a North American tour and playing South By South West in Austin, Texas. The Virginmarys first formed in 2007, as a project between friends Ally Dickaty (vocals/guitar) and Danny Dolan (drums). In 2009 bassist Matt Rose joined the band, and the three have been in punk-grunge-rock heaven ever since. In 2013, The Virginmarys released the debut album King of Conflict, via Cooking Vinyl records in Europe and Wind Up Records in North America. Later that year the band was named Best Breakthrough Act at the 2013 Classic Rock Awards. After waiting three, long years, fans are finally getting album number two… well, in May, that is. Best New Bands talked with The Virginmarys frontman Ally Dickaty about Divides, the economic and social divides bringing inequality to the U.K., and his unfortunate SXSW performance back in 2013.
This summer you’ll be releasing your sophomore LP, Divides. I took a look at the artwork. It’s stunning, strong, and it obviously references death, with the coins on the eyes, as payment for the ferryman. The coins are U.S. silver dollars. Seeing as you’re from England, I found this curious. Was the use of U.S. money intentional? Is the artwork different or the same in the U.K.?
No, it’s the same artwork, across the board. It was actually Danny’s brother’s idea, the artwork. He came up with the idea for the coins. I think he ended up sending off for them because they looked big… it’s not necessarily directed at the U.S. for any other reason.
Does the title correlate with the album imagery and are there specific divides discussed or referenced in the album?
Yeah, I mean the whole album is really social commentary. There are a lot of divides in society now. People’s views and things like that… Danny had a few ideas that we all looked at, and this one, with the money on the eyes we liked… I haven’t actually asked Danny what his view is. [laughs] But yeah, it’s cool imagery.
I had thought it was saying “money will be the death of us all” or something along that line.
Yeah, I believe it. That’s it! [chuckles] There’s a song with that message on the album that is kind of keeping it real, and being true. That’s what we’ve always been about.
Well, I was going to bring this up later in the interview, but since we’re touching upon it, I want to bring it up now. I know you’ve been touring the U.S. with Shinedown and we – I’m sure you’ve been experiencing it while you’ve been here – we’re experiencing a weird political climate here in the States, being in the midst of the primaries and well, with Donald Trump. I don’t know if I even need to say more than that. [laughs] And in the U.K., I know that you guys have also been dealing with the rise of conservatism and inequality. I was wondering – well clearly you guys come from a punk background, so you’d always have something to say about it – but I’m wondering how much of what you’ve been experiencing back home has been influencing you?
Yeah, it’s ugh, really – I’ve never known it, growing up, to be as tough as it is right now in the U.K. with inequality. It’s just ridiculous right now. There’s more suits and policies than I’ve ever experienced over there. I’m watching what’s happening in The House of Commons. Politicians are acting like children. It’s just pretty heartbreaking, really, and it’s not in touch with the real world. I don’t know, I come from a background where, no matter how successful I become or not become, I will never really see myself, you know, being deserved of any more money than anyone else. That’s just not the way I think it should work. No matter who you are, you should always have some shelter and food, and that’s just not happening… somehow we got swept under the carpet. There’s always been bigger heads that really try to bring it back and say this is how it is, but these people tend to get assassinated or whatever.
You talked about success and becoming successful, and I know one of the tracks that you’ve released from Divides, “Into Dust,” well, I was listening to the lyrics, where you sing, “Give me people I can trust,” and was wondering if as you grow as an artist and get more success, do you find your circle of friends growing and wondering, “Why are you wanting to be my friend?” Is that what the song is referencing or is it something else?
Yeah, I think there is a reference to that, and I think it’s probably no matter what industry you are in, as soon as business comes in, people who aren’t just there for friendship come in. There are quite a lot of sharks, no matter what industry you’re in. We’ve been lucky enough to have really great people around us… and [it also references how] it’s upsetting when you turn the radio on and nothing seems right there. It just doesn’t seem like real music or it does’t touch you.
Let’s also talk about “Motherless Land.” There’s a lot of imagery involved with the lyrics. I was trying to figure out what the background was. What inspired this song?
It’s kind of like a Neil Young influence for us. We’re all massive fans of Neil Young. I remember I was writing it at Danny’s house… lyrically, I don’t know, “Motherless Land” is almost like Mother Nature and how much damage we’ve been doing to the planet as a whole. It’s written about about a couple of friends to0… It’s a song about escaping, really.
I couldn’t help but wonder if you were raised Catholic, given the lyrics concerning religion and guilt.
No, I wasn’t raised Catholic myself… [but] I think living in the West, you can’t help but be influenced by Christianity, as a whole. Everyone is, whether you take part in it or not. It shapes the world that we live in… I’m not a religious man, but it’s difficult not to feel that [guilt].
That makes complete sense, especially here in the U.S., where politics and so many of our laws are influenced by Christianity. I also want to discuss the stripped-down version of “Motherless Land” you put on your Facebook wall. It is amazing! It seems you guys got a great response on social media, so do you think perhaps in the future you’ll do more stripped-down, acoustic work?
I was really surprised by how that took off! We played this show and in Reno, and we were lucky enough to have a grand piano back stage… I just started messing about with the song, and ten minutes later Dan took a film of it and then posted it up. I never really expected that reaction from it. The song – well pretty much all the songs are written on acoustic or can be changed like that. We did do a stripped-down version for the first record. We’ve recently just been in a studio called Village, in L.A., which is incredible… We’ve done like six songs there, so those will make it out for the fans.
You’ll be playing South By South West 2016. Is there something specific you’re looking forward to?
Well, the vibe; the whole vibe of the place is incredible. There’s a lot of weird and wonderful things to see just walking down the street! I was pretty unlucky last time because we actually all got food poisoning.
Yeah, and we had to do like about fourteen shows. [laughs] And I’m used to the U.K. climate, so to have that heat and food poisoning! If ever I feel bad before a show, I always compare it to that! [laughs]
The Virginmarys will be playing an official SXSW showcase at Trinity Hall, on Saturday the 19th, at 9pm. For more information, check out the trio’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Divides is available for pre-order on iTunes.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.