Nick DíVirgilio exclusive interview
From Dusk # 68 Ė September 2011
First of all, just a curiosity: do you have Italian origins? Your second name looks Italian, although the apostrophe is strange (we would say Di Virgilio, not DíVirgilio).
Yes my name is very Italian. My motherís side of the family comes from Sicily and my fatherís side comes from Bari. You are correct about the apostrophe. It is strange and has been a small pain in the ass for my whole family ever since my grandfather changed it to look that way sometime back in the 1930ís. I still donít know exactly why he did that but I think he thought since he was new to America it would look better. Wanting to get past the immigrant status or something. Anyway, we are very proud of our Italian roots and one day I hope to get to the South of Italy to see where my family is from. I have been to Italy many times now but have never made it south of Rome. One day Iíll get there.
I know you are an old Genesis fan. When did you discover them?
I have an older brother who turned me onto most of the music I got into as a kid. His friend gave him The Lamb and the shortly after that gave him Selling England. He brought that record home and played me The Battle Of Epping Forest and I have been hooked ever since. I still vividly remember that day. I was already very much into Led Zeppelin and John Bonhamís drumming and when I heard Phil on that track I was so into it that I tried learning that song that day. I took me a while but I eventually learned everything on that record and then when onto pretty much everything I could get my hands on.
Your love for Genesis was also showed in several reinterpretations of their classics. I remember a Spockís Beard cover of Squonk that you sang, an outrageous rendition of Carpet Crawlers with Neal Morse (NickíníNeal Project) and eventually the whole The Lamb by Rewiring Genesis. How do you consider all these different experiences, particularly the latter, being a very ambitious one?
I am a fan and it is just good fun to try these things. They donít always work out well but the ones you sited did work out, especially the Lamb project. My friend Mark Hornsby and I were recording for something else at this studio in Nashville Tennessee and he was the one who suggested that we record Slippermen in a country or even bluegrass style just for the hell of it. We pitched the idea to our friends there in Nashville and a bunch of them were into the idea and we went for it, mostly for the challenge and to see what we could do with that song. A lot of the guys had never heard that song and to me that is what made it work so well. They played what they felt and not what they knew from the past and it gave the track a very fun vibe. After that tracked turned out so well is when we decided to try the whole thing. It was indeed a big undertaking but it was great fun to do.
Before all of that, a band called Giraffe performed most of The Lamb at the Progfest in 1994. You played drums and that band was fronted by Kevin Gilbert, can you remember that show?
Can I?!!! That was the show that gave me my ďbreakĒ in the music biz. I had met Kevin at a very random place about 6 months before that show, at a local ski resort near Los Angeles. I was a very big fan of his band at the time called Toy Matinee. We ended up talking about music and our love of progressive music and Genesis. He ended up calling me a week before that show and asked if I wanted to try and play the Lamb at that festival. I of course said yes and after we did that show he asked me to join his solo band and everything went on from there. He was very connected with a lot of big people in the music biz and through him I got to meet a lot of those people and got some of the bigger gigs in my life.
I have read somewhere that it was through Kevin Gilbert that you actually learnt that Phil Collins had left Genesis, is it true?
Yes that is true. I was on the road with Tears For Fears (I got that gig through knowing Kevin) and he called me in London because he heard Phil quit and said I should try and get an audition. I found out where the Hit-n-Run offices were located in London and went there with a Spockís Beard CD (We had only our 1st CD at the time, The Light, and it was all I had recorded in my career at that point so I brought that to give them) I invited everyone in the office to the Tears For Fears show and told the secretary that if there was anyway at all that I could get an audition that I would really love one. I didnít see anybody at the Tears For Fears show but I did end up getting a phone call from Nick Davis about 6 months later on a Sunday morning asking for some other things that I had recorded on. I sent them whatever I could find and they called back to say they wanted me to come an audition. They flew me to the UK and I went to The Farm and jammed with Tony and Mike. I was on cloud 9!
And is it true that Kevin was also due to do an audition for the role of lead singer, which of course wasnít sadly possible because of his tragic death?
I donít know that to be totally true. I think they knew who he was but I donít know if it ever got that far. He would have been great in the role I think.
Whose was the decision to invite you for the audition? Tony Banks? Mike Rutherford? Tony Smith?
I donít know. Like I said, I got the call from Nick Davis and then I think someone from the office called me after that and set up the time for me to come over to the UK.
How many times did you go at The Farm studios?
I got to go there 2 times, once for the audition and again for the actual recording for the record.
Can you remember the dates of your auditions?
I donít. I am horrible with dates. I remember it was at the beginning of the year. I will have to go a look that up because now I am curious.
What were you asked to do? Did their demos have drum programming on?
I recorded one every song they had written at that point, all of the songs that made the record and more. They did have programming and stuff like that on the tracks. We didnít jam or play the songs together. I played and they listened.
Was there any vocal track on the demos, or did you just work on musical tracks?
I think there was.
In the end, only two drummers were selected by the band, you and Nir Zydkyhau. Were there any more drummers seriously considered by them, as far as you know?
I donít know if there was.
You recorded drums for all the songs the band had composed, right?
Yes, I recorded all of the songs they had.
Did you bring your drum kit, or did you use the one they had there?
No I used a Gretsch kit there at the studio. I donít think it was Philís but just playing on a Gretsch kit in that same room where some many amazing records were made was AMAZING!
How do you consider Phil as a drummer?
He is still my favourite drummer of all time. He was the best. I can still put on Selling England or even some of the Brand X records he made and still me in awe. The thing about his playing was not necessarily the chops but the feel. He had and still does have such a great feel. He made progressive rock music groovy. Nobody else did that and that is what drew me to his playing so much. Like John Bonham made rock so groovy, Phil made prog swing. I used to have arguments with other drummer friends when I was a kid who was the best and I always said Phil was.
I guess it was exciting for you being in the same room doing music with two of your heroes, Tony and Mike. Can you describe your feelings?
It was strange, exciting, surreal, and just plain fun. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be recording with my favorite band. Seeing my name on the record still is crazy to me. Somehow for me it all worked out. God was on my side for that one.
They were totally cool to hang out with but very mellow. The work schedule was not that strenuous. We started after breakfast, around 11:00 and they also had a lunch break and then after that there was a big dinner cooked for us and we all ate together at the end of the day. They are all just regular guys who happen to be in a huge band. We talked about all kinds of things. I remember Tony not being that into talking about the old days of Genesis, probably because he has talked about it some many times and lived it. I told him the very first Genesis song I had ever heard was The Battle Of Epping Forest and he just smiled.
Did you know, and have you ever met the other drummer, Nir Z?
I did not know him before the recordings but I did end up meeting him at a music convention in Nashville Tennessee in the US. It was by chance as well. I was just hanging out and I guess he knew what I looked like because he introduced himself and we ended up having a good chat. Very cool guy.
Were you disappointed when they toured with Nir?
Yes of course I was. I would have loved to play with them live but that was not in the cards I guess.
Why did they choose Nir for the tour, in your opinion?
From what I heard, I donít know that this is exactly the case, is that Nir was also in a band that was managed by Hit-n-Run and they pushed for him to get that position. It is good to have the big wigs on your side for those kinds of decisions.
Should have you been the chosen one for the tour, would have that represented a problem for your own career and for Spockís Beard?
No I donít think so. We all had to wait around for everybody in the band. We all had other gigs going on. Especially at that time so it would have just been another time to hang out. It would have been good for Spockís I think.
Have you ever met Ray Wilson?
I did meet Ray at the studio while I was there. He was only there for a short while but we did get a chance to hang out.
Do you have any recording of your performances done during the rehearsals?
Did you take any photos with Tony and Mike?
Yes for sure, I have no idea where they are right now. I didnít have a digital camera then but they are in storage somewhere.
According to the liner notes of Calling All Stations, you have played drums on three tracks (If That's What You Need, Uncertain Weather and Small Talk) and the first half of Alien Afternoon. But Genesis also recorded another bunch of songs, which were later released on singles. I am sure itís Nir on 7/8 and itís you on Sign Your Life Away. Can you remember if any of your drumming was eventually used in the definitive versions of the other tracks, called Anything Now, Sign Your Life Away, Run Out Of Time and Nowhere Else To Run?
I donít remember to be honest. I am pretty positive though that it is me on the 2nd half of Alien Afternoon. I recorded on everything like I said I just donít know if I made the final cut on everything. I would have to hear the songs again to tell.
Have you ever seen Genesis on stage?
I saw every tour from Abacab onward. My brother saw them during the And Then There Were Three tour and Duke. I still am mad at him to this day J I begged him to take me to the Duke tour show. He didnít want to deal with his little brother I guess. I didnít talk to him for weeks.
What can you say of Tony and Mike?
Very nice guys and musically they have been a part of some of my favorite music of all time.
Have you ever heard from them after your involvement?
Not directly but I have heard through Nick Davis that Tony like my version of the Lamb and that one day when I get back to the UK we are going to play a round of Golf. That will be super fun.
Did you have any contacts with the manager Tony Smith? What do you think of him?
I met with Tony when I got the job. He was cool to me. I dealt more with Carol Willis than I did with Tony.
Who else did you meet at The Farm, apart from Nick Davis?
I met everybody who worked there at the time. I ended up spending a good amount of time with Dale Newman who did just about everything there. I think he started and Mikeís tech back in the old days and worked there ever since although I donít think he works for them anymore. Heís an American and was/is a big baseball fan like I am so we had some things in common. He also played in a baseball league in the UK, which I had never heard of before. I didnít know they played that game in the UK. I also had dinner with him and his family at his house one of the nights I was there.
I read somewhere that you have also collaborated with Peter Gabriel. Can you remember that experience?
I was recording for Roland Orzabal (Tears For Fears) at his studio, which is not to far from Peterís place Real World. Peter was working with a guy named Chris Hughes who had produced some of the early Tears For Fears hits. Chris phone Rolandís studio and asked if I wanted to come and record on a track with Peter. After I came back down to earth I asked Roland if he minded that I leave, he said no, and I got in the car and drove out to Real World. It was another amazing experience in my musical life. It was for a song Peter did for the Princess Diana tribute record. After we had dinner and played about 10 games of Ping Pong (Peter kicked my ass! I am a pretty good player too but Peter is really really good) we finally made our way into his studio and he showed me the song and we went for it. The song was pretty mellow except for the end where it picked up a bit. The big difference from that recording with Peter to recording with Mike and Tony is that Peter played along and jammed with me. He played electric piano and sang and then and the end of the track we just jammed and is was so great! What an experience!
Nick with the Big Big Train