Scarlet Sails | Music in SF

Q&A: Scarlet Sails

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Brian and Olya Viglione’s pop-noir outfit Scarlet Sails is set to make an appearance in San Francisco at the Hemlock Tavern on Aug. 1. They’ll be supporting their debut album, “Future From The Past,” an album that was entirely funded on Kickstarter. In anticipation of their Bay Area performance they agreed to answer a few questions for us. We discussed everything from how they first met, to the challenges of working on this new album, to the realities of being in a band when you’re husband and wife (yep, they’re married!)

Can you tell us a little bit about the band for people who may not be familiar with it?

Brian:  The musical alchemy of the band is sort equal parts Bowie, Queen, Radiohead, and Otis Redding. Olya often writes impressionistic lyrics about rising above your inner demons and believing in yourself, with a wrapped up in soul, glam, and old time rock’n’roll.

How did you guys meet and come up with the band name?

Brian: I went to a Black Flag book release show at The Bowery Electric and met Olya while she was tending bar there and knew immediately somehow I had to know her, so we started up a friendship and spent two months hanging out, talking music, and when the relationship progressed, we admitted to each other that our secret dream was to find a partner who could love us and understand our passion for music, someone that we could share it with, and luckily for us we found that in each other.

I read that you two actually ended up getting married. Can you talk about the challenges of being in the same band as husband and wife?

Brian: The advantages actually outweigh the challenges in our case because we’re so aligned in what we’re striving for.  We’ve found we have the same arguments, personality clashes, miscommunications, and opportunities to work things out and grow in our romantic relationship as we do in our artistic collaboration. They’re very much intertwined in a healthy way that feels replenishing as opposed to burdensome.  When each of us needs space, we just take it and get the time we need to recharge, as we see how important it is to have that balance.  Olya can take off for a bike ride along the river, I can delve into nerdy studio gear videos, or whatever and we get back to what we were working on.  It’s the most fulfilling relationship I’ve ever had. Not to say that it doesn’t take work, but it’s the type of balance, reciprocation, love and understanding and compatibility that I’d always longed for.

Congratulations on the release of your debut album, “Future From The Past!” Do you have any interesting stories you can share about recording the album?

Olya: Thank you so much! One of my favorite stories was Brian encouraging Mark during tracking of the guitar solo telling him a story about a lobster who’s trying to escape the pot where he is going to get cooked in. Yep, that was exciting to watch. Also, learning the Brian has singing cheeks.

Brian:  It was a definitely an experience that pushed everyone out of their comfort zones because so much had to be worked out on the spot as opposed to rehearsed, and that rattled some nerves sometimes, but ultimately we got the best out of everyone on that recording because we had the right balance of pressure to get things done, and the creative burst and team around us to sculpt it. Our engineer, Diko Shoturma, and mix engineer, Nic Hard were an awesome team to work with and really knew how to pull the power and details out of the sound, even during the experimentation process.  I edited together “making-of” doc online that captured the process, we had a blast.

What were some of the biggest challenges with working on the album?

Brian: Trying to make sure we got what we needed in time, given that we had 12 songs with essentially ten different instrument parts to capture, and also find the continuity between the different styles we had juxtaposed. Also, it was hard for Olya to have to wait nearly until the end to do all the vocals because as anyone knows, 14 hour days in the studio can be quite draining and you have to keep your energy up to sing!  But otherwise, we found the balance of doing just enough pre-production and leaving enough room to say, “Fuck it, just go for it and see what happens…”.

What drew you guys to start a Kickstarter campaign to fund it?

Brian:  It seemed the best way to reach out and rally people around our mission. There was already a base of people online who’d followed my work for some years who’d recently learned about Scarlet Sails, and many of them are excited to see new projects get off the ground and share that enthusiasm for a grassroots band with the Gung-Ho spirit.  It also helped to lay out a schedule of goals we could work to that set us on a course that we’re still riding on of creating and presenting to the public.  It helps the creative process feel less nebulous to have a deadline sometimes, and those parameters can act as a wall to bounce off of and gain momentum.  We were very surprised and excited when we made almost 200% of our goal. A ton of work, but ultimately a great experience that set us in motion.

Scarlet Sails | Music in SF
Scarlet Sails

You’re gearing up to go on tour with a stop in San Francisco. What can fans expect at your shows?

Brian:  Yes!  A tour booked via reaching out to our fans and friends directly on Facebook and teaming up with local bands excited to put a bill together with us!  Much nicer than groping around in the dark for whatever scraps you can find 3,000 miles from home.  We’re going to come out blazing, as we’ve been cooped up all Spring, so it’s time to cut loose.  We’ve got the album songs, a couple fun covers, and maybe even a debut of some new songs that we’re working on for the next release.  But we’re almost as excited to meet people at the mercy table after the set, as we’ve been dying to get out west since last year!

This is more for Olya, but how has the transition from Russia to the States influenced you with your music?

Olya: It’s easy. I didn’t write songs before I came to New York. I found my musical voice in the States. It was a perfect scenario: Russia prepped me up and New York set me free.

Growing up, did you all always want to be musicians? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?

Brian:  I knew that I wanted to play music in a rock band from the time I was 8 years old and never looked back. Earliest memory would be getting my first set of drums for Christmas when I was four years old.

Olya: I always wanted to be a singer but was afraid to embrace that idea for several reasons. Growing up I didn’t learn that there was such a thing as being ‘an artist’ so I conformed to the society that I was living in. But just for a while. I went to a classical music school at the age of 5 and studied piano. It was too formal and I hated spending hours upon hours learning musical pieces, but my hands always wandered into unknown directions which my teacher wasn’t fond of. I wrote my first musical piece when I was 8, and that was the first time I got really lit up playing music. But I’m grateful to what I’d learned there and that I’d built the foundation early on to what has since become my passion.

What are some of your musical and non-musical influences?

Brian: Dogs, the ocean, Elvin Jones, Jim Henson, Fred Rogers, Leonard Bernstein, and The Marx Brothers.

Olya: Books, Kafka, Sartre, Dostoevsky, bike rides, the ocean, French everything, Otis Redding, Radiohead, Queen, Placebo, Bowie.

This is more for Brian, but how has your time with the Violent Femmes and Dresden Dolls influenced your music today with Scarlet Sails?

Brian:  The influence has actually been far more personal, than musical, come to think of it. I always try to refine and broaden my playing in any band, and I worked hard to do that in the Dolls and the Femmes, but even more the experience gave me a greater appreciation for the quality of relationships I have with the PEOPLE in Scarlet Sails.  It’s nice to finally be in a band where there’s no battle of wills or egos and the sense of shared purpose is what prevails, not bizarre levels of drama. Both Violent Femmes and Dresden Dolls musically had the kind of openness and wide spectrum that I love musically where you can throw yourself into all types of different worlds and I still find that an attractive part of working on music with Mark, Ed, and Olya, and it’s a lot of new territory for me, so that in and of itself is a healthy challenge.

What’s one thing that most people would be surprised to learn about each of you?

Brian: I once had to kick my belligerent grandmother out of my father’s house on Christmas Eve for going psycho on everybody.  True.

Olya: I didn’t speak English before I came to New York 7 years ago nor did I write songs. It all was a dream. 😉

Scarlet Sails plays the Hemlock Tavern w/ Radiator King, Night Animals 2017 on Tuesday, August 1

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for and, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.